BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 03/07/2016

Thiel: Investing in Lane helps Seahawks the most

Free agent Jeremy Lane is the best available player at the least cost to fill the most important vacancy on the Seahawks roster — the cornerback opposite Richard Sherman. Show him the money.

Jeremy Lane should be the higheat priority to retain for the Seahawks. / Flickr

Now comes the hardest week of the NFL calendar: Filling roster holes faster than they are made. It’s particularly difficult in Seattle, where success has made free-agent Seahawks players seem special and thus expensive, even though Forrest Gump long ago issued his immaculate box-of-chocolates wisdom to the NFL: You never know what you’re gonna get (see Williams, Cary).

Forecasting how general manager John Schneider wields his shovel is generally a fruitless exercise, partly because even he can’t know much ahead of the market’s opening about the personnel maneuvers of other teams. Some of his biggest moves have come via trades, including the acquisitions of RB Marshawn Lynch, WR Percy Harvin and TE Jimmy Graham.

To hear Schneider tell it, he claims to have been surprised when he learned teams were willing to trade those ascendant, top-end talents. Typically, the teams doing the unloading are burdened by the players’ big salaries or difficult personalities.

The Seahawks, of course, think they can turn every Yosemite Sam into Bugs Bunny. That wasn’t true with Harvin, and they walked a five-year tightrope with Lynch. Thanks to injury, Graham hasn’t had a full season in Seattle.

But whether the prospective player is all cactus or all daffodil, like WR Tyler Lockett, the trick is to know whether the club can fill holes in-house or be forced to go to the, um, out-house.

The in-house guys are known quantities and typically less expensive. Which is why there is strong logic to make CB Jeremy Lane the No. 1 priority for retention, ahead of any other Seahawks free agents.

When the NFL opens its bazaar at 1 p.m. PT Wednesday, most of the attention regarding Seattle players will go to LT Russell Okung, RG J.R. Sweezy, WR Jermaine Kearse and LB Bruce Irvin, all of whom likely will command more money than the Seahawks can afford to pay under the salary cap.

Their departures will leave voids, but the ability to replace them is marginally easier than it is to find a good cornerback who fits coach Pete Carroll’s system opposite Richard Sherman.

Lane, 25, is the best available player at the least cost to fill the most important vacancy.

Even though Lane has started only six games in the 41 he’s played since he was a sixth-round pick from Louisiana’s Northwestern State in the 2012 draft, he’s the only guy at the position the Seahawks trust. And he’s good on special teams.

The Seahawks last week reportedly made qualifying offers to exclusive-rights free agents DeShawn Shead and Mohammed Seisay, corners who would compete for the starting job if Lane went elsewhere. But they aren’t Lane’s caliber, and could be best at the nickel spot.

After Lane returned to the lineup after his long recovery from double injuries in the Super Bowl (broken arm, torn ACL), Pro Football Focus reported over the final four games of the season, Lane allowed only 0.75 yards per coverage snap, 13th in the NFL in that span. Sherman in the same time was fifth at 0.53.

The Seahawks also have on the roster two former fifth-round draftees, Tye Smith and Tharold Simon, the latter playing six games in three years due to injuries. Neither has done enough yet to warrant confidence in 2016.

Lane didn’t make the top 10 list of free-agent cornerbacks done by Pro Football Focus, which might be an indicator that the market has more prominent choices. Lane doesn’t have the track record for a huge bump in salary. He was playing at $660,000 last year, the minimum for a four-year vet.

The counter-argument to paying Lane market value is that the Seahawks already have  invested heavily in the defense — seven of the team’s top nine salaries are on that side -- especially in the secondary with Sherman, SS Kam Chancellor and FS Earl Thomas.

But defense is always Carroll’s priority, and the secondary its most important position group. So shifting money away from a strength that helps push opponents toward a one-dimensional offense makes little sense.

Needy as the O-line will be after the pending departures of Sweezy and Okung, answers are easier to come by with younger players in-house and as well as free agency and the draft, because of the larger pool of candidates.

Lane has made himself into an officer in the Legion of Boom. Show him the money.

Seahawks’ unrestricted free agents

Player Pos. Age ’15 cap hit 2015 season/skinny
Russell Okung LT 28 7.3M 2010 No. 1 pick, 15 starts, 2 more in playoffs
Brandon Mebane DT 31 5.7M 15 starts, 24 tackles, 1.5 sacks
Jermaine Kearse WR 25 2.3M 49 catches, 5 TDs, 2 more in playoffs
J.R. Sweezy G 26 1.6M 15 starts, 2 more in playoffs
Tarvaris Jackson QB 32 1.5M 33 in April, mopped up in 4 games
Jon Ryan P 34 1.5M 47.3 yards per punt with long of 73
Michael Morgan OLB 28 1.0M Played in 14 games with 2 starts
Jeremy Lane CB 25 692K Played in six games after injury return
Will Tukuafu FB 32 666K Played in 14 games, scored 1 TD
Demarcus Dobbs DE 28 665K Played in 11 games, no starts
Ricardo Lockette WR 29 660K Season-ending neck injury at Dallas
Fred Jackson RB 34 615K Played in 16 games, 2 receiving TDs

Restricted free agents

Player Pos. Age ’15 cap hit 2015 season/skinny
Alvin Bailey G 29 587K Played in 15 games, 3 starts
Patrick Lewis C 25 585K Tendered for $1.67M in 2016
Derrick Coleman FB 25 585K Three starts, 32 yards, charged in car wreck
Cooper Helfet TE 26 510K Tendered for $600,000 in 2016
Nick Moody LB 26 413K Played in three games, no starts
Christine Michael RB 25 103,235 Two late-season starts after re-signing

Exclusive rights free agents

Player Pos. Age ’15 cap hit 2015 season/skinny
DeShawn Shead DB 27 660,000 Tendered for $760,000 in 2016
Steven Terrell CB 25 510,000 Played in 12 games on special teams
Marcus Burley CB 25 510,000 Played in 13 games, not yet tendered
Jesse Williams DT 25 393,706 No NFL games, not yet tendered
Moh. Seisay CB 25 333,000 Played in 13 games, no starts
Eric Pinkins LB 24 179,117 Played in six games, no starts
A.J. Francis DT 25 150,000 Played in one game, no starts

YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    If the Hawks end up losing Shead IMO they’ll have a good chance to keep Lane. With his injury history and being right at 6 ft and weighing 190 works against him. Shead has the more ideal size at 6’2″. 220 lbs but Lane might be the more developed CB right now. As long as the Hawks don’t lose both they’ll be fine. Be great if they can keep both.

    • art thiel

      They’ll keep Shead, but Lane is a better cover guy.

  • Sonics79

    That corner spot has to be a priority. The blown fourth quarter leads last season are Exhibit A.
    If Lane hadn’t gotten blown up in the Super Bowl, he was in line to take over for Maxwell.
    Funny too how players that leave the Seahawks don’t really perform that well on their new teams. They’re like the Un-Mariners.

    • art thiel

      Byron Maxwell is the most recent example of a system guy who gets exposed in other defenses. He was the go-to CB for opposing OCs.

      • jafabian

        Philly is dumping all the Chip Kelly players to make a clean break from that era. IMO, Maxwell is a great #2 CB but isn’t a #1 and was getting paid like one. If the Hawks still can’t get a CB opposite Sherman would not surprise me if they talk to Byron in 2017. Reportedly Miami took his incentive clauses and backloaded them. Bet they release him after the 2016 season.

  • John M

    By all means, Lane. I’d also like to see Rubin and Kearse stay. And Art, why do you seem so sure they’ll lose Sweezy? Would it take that much to keep him (now that he’s playing consistently) and is there that much demand out there for Guards?

    • art thiel

      Veteran O-linemen from championship teams are gold. College kids coming from spread offenses don’t know how to block for the pro game. Some have never had to put a hand on the ground.

  • The Cane

    But on a more timely and seasonal note, I was down at Southcenter Saturday when Mariners single game tickets went on sale. There must have been at least ten people in line.

    • art thiel

      Were you injured in the stampede?

  • Jeff Shope

    spending big money on guys who are not as bad as whats available not good idea I like lane but they need to remember what a good move they made by NOT signing Byron Maxwell for big money philly has already dumped him

    • jafabian

      Philly is dumping all the Chip Kelly players to make a clean break from that era. IMO, Maxwell is a great #2 CB but isn’t a #1 and was getting paid like one. If the Hawks still can’t get a CB opposite Sherman would not surprise me if they talk to Byron in 2017.

    • art thiel

      Every situation is case by case. Lane is more versatile than Maxwell.

  • Stephen Pitell

    I disagree. Simon is fine, and there is lots behind Simon. Sure, I like Lane loads, but at what cost?

    • art thiel

      Simon’s few game appearances were OK, but has yet to show what Carroll seeks. That could happen, but Lane is better and proven.

  • Paul Harmening

    Hey, I love Lane too, but this puff? Wow! Shades of W.R. Hurst puffing Billy Graham in 1949.