BY Art Thiel 07:19PM 03/10/2016

Thiel: Seahawks keep to Pete’s prime directive

The Broncos went to school on the Seahawks’ emphasis on defense, and won a Super Bowl. Except now they have no quarterback. Score Russell Wilson’s contract a bargain.

RG J.R. Sweezy (64) is gone, but C Patrick Lewis (65) and LG Justin Britt (68) return to a line that figured things out in the second half. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

The great thing about the first day of NFL free agency is that it’s like a grade school talent show. The least are the loudest. The audience squints hard to see the next Elvis, Beyonce or Bieber. Everyone is excited and nothing is conclusive.

But everyone hands out trophies when it should be participation ribbons.

Regarding the Seahawks’ position, they are happy to be the stage band, drawing courtesy applause.

They know one thing for certain: It’s good to have young Russell Wilson signed up as the franchise quarterback, and watch everyone else scramble to keep up.

After watching the Super Bowl champion Broncos lose quarterbacks Peyton Manning to retirement and Brock Osweiler to Houston in free agency, then try to say everything is fine, I’m reminded of a cat that flies head-long into a sliding glass door that’s closed.

Stunned and staggering, the cat nevertheless quickly cops an attitude: “Hey, I meant to do that.”

The Broncos did not mean to have tweety birds and stars circling their heads in early March. But there is general manager John Elway, with little X’s where his eyes should be, trying to fetch a QB from among Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Robert Griffin III. He may end up with Brian Hoyer. Or Jamie Moyer.

Remember, this is the team where Tim Tebow flourished — for a memorable NFL nanosecond.

”We’ve now turned our attention to other options at quarterback and we are confident that we’ll find the right player and person for our team,” Elway said Wednesday. ”Our organization thanks Brock for his contributions and wishes him all the best.”

Yeah, right. The Broncos thought Osweiler was worth $16 million a year, and so offered. That he told them to drop dead, and took $18 million from the Texans, tells the world why the Seahawks were thrilled they buttoned up Wilson for $21 million a year earlier.

Wilson is a proven winner. Osweiler, 25, has seven starts and was benched in January for an injured 39-year-old.

Yet, it isn’t reasonable to conclude that the Broncos are in disarray. They are in much the same position as were the Seahawks, Patriots and every other NFL champion since the 1994 introduction of free agency — subject to wholesale predation, but not fated to collapse, necessarily.

The predation is happening to the Broncos at the position of highest vulnerability, but it isn’t a disaster. The Broncos won the Super Bowl with a passing attack that was 31st in the 32-team NFL. That’s two years after they had, with a slightly healthier Manning, the most productive offense in league history, yet were slaughtered by the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.

The humiliation turned out to be Elway’s come-to-Jesus moment as a GM. He knew if he was going to win his high-risk bet that an aging Manning could win a Super Bowl for Denver, he had to get one of those Seahawks-style defenses that smothers any offense in its path. So he did.

And Elway still mostly has that defense, including Von Miller, the franchise-tagged defensive end who was hurt and did not play in Super Bowl XLVIII. If the Broncos can find a serviceable but not necessarily starring QB, they are again credible contenders.

Which brings us back to what the Seahawks did Wednesday’s during free agency’s first 24 hours — attempted to hold serve on defense.

Coach Pete Carroll, who didn’t invent the idea but is the highest current practitioner, knows that a fast, efficient defense can keep a team in every game, year after year, while hoping the offense stumbles into a touchdown or two.

The Seahawks knew a year ago that LB Bruce Irvin, barring injury, was as good as gone when they informed him they would not pick up his fifth-year contract option that first-round draft picks get.

They were right. The Raiders gave him a deal averaging $9 million a year over four years. Irvin would have received $7.8 million in 2016 if the Seahawks picked up the option. So good for Irvin.

But three other starters on defense were free agents. The Seahawks moved quickly to secure the two youngest among them.

They struck a deal with Ahtyba Rubin, 29, whose productive first season in Seattle made expendable his running mate at defensive tackle, Brandon Mebane, 31. The longest tenured Seahawk and a much-admired guy in the locker room, Mebane went to the Chargers on a deal that paid him $13.5 million, including $5.5 million guaranteed. So good for Mebane.

He made $5.1 million in 2015 with the Seahawks, who likely would have offered him less to stay. Just before free agency began, Rubin accepted $12 million over three years. He likely will be paired with fourth-year player Jordan Hill in the middle of the line.

In the secondary, Jeremy Lane, 25, was the best available choice to fill the spot opposite Richard Sherman to play the position to Carroll’s specs. He drew $23 million over four years, with $11 million guaranteed, to plug a leak in the Legion of Boom.

So the Seahawks on defense have only to be concerned with the strongside LB position, which may get filled numerous ways, including a more prominent role for last year’s rookie, Frank Clark.

That leaves the rest of free agency and the draft to fix the next priority, the offensive line. The permutations for that are almost endless, which is helpful if the Seahawks have to replace both RG J.R. Sweezy and LT Russell Okung. But they have back three O-linemen — C Patrick Lewis, LG Justin Britt and RT Garry Gilliam — who were part of the hottest offense in the NFL in the season’s second half.

Filling those holes is work. But it is nothing like the heavy lifting going on for what seems like half the NFL to nail down a quality quarterback.  And Thursday afternoon, WR Jermaine Kearse returned to his hometown team.

So if you’re a 12 inclined toward fretting this time of year, feel free to pop a few chill pills. You’ll enjoy the show much more. No need to find the next Elvis.


YourThoughts

  • Colin Sowards

    Denver is certainly at a crossroads. Pretty good roster, absolutely nothing at QB. I’ve refused to believe Elway is a great GM, but rather very good, to this point- I think he got lucky winning the Manning sweepstakes, and rode his coattails for 3 years until he could buy the right coaches (cough cough Wade Phillips cough) and defenders (cough Ware, Ward and Talib) to get them over the top. Needless to say, I’m skeptical Elway can keep the Broncos in contention for the longterm.

    • art thiel

      Well, buying the right coaches/defenders is part of the game. And he remade both after SB debacle. I think he grades out well, but he left the team vulnerable now with no QBs. Everyone in any GM job makes mistakes; the question is can you make up for them?

  • Matt712

    Not being particularly fast, Kearse (and Baldwin to an extent) have had to develop other skill sets to up their games. Those are the kinds of receivers who get better with age and experience. A speedy Z guy will always be important to keep corners and safeties honest, but two vets who have developed at the pro level with each other and can catch a contested ball in traffic, AND have built multiple seasons of chemistry with the QB. This was a big unexpected and welcome surprise! This could be huge.

    • Matt712

      Sorry wrong piece. (See Kearse signing)

      • art thiel

        No problem. Kearse was an asset worth keeping, at a reasonable price. He’ll get all his guaranteed money ($6.5M) in ’16, meaning Seahawks can cut him with little $ risk.

  • 1coolguy

    Question: Why didn’t the Hawks trade Irvin, presuming they expected him to go FA after they didn’t extend?

    • Colin Sowards

      Why downgrade your defense when you’ll get a comp pick for letting him go anyway?

      • Jamo57

        Yeah and a trade would have netted a low round pick anyway. I think trading him also would have sent negative waves through the locker room. By letting him go FA, Pete can turn to the rest of the young guys and say, “See how much our players are worth?” on the open market. It softens the blow with the others in the room when losing a teammate and dangles the carrot that being coached up by the Hawks’ coaching staff is going to make the players money either way. Keeps locker room harmony going year to year.

        • art thiel

          True.

      • art thiel

        That’s it. Seahawks knew Irvin was incentivized to perform well. The comp[ pick might be close to what they could have gotten in a trade.

  • Jamo57

    The arc of an NFL player’s career is such a different shape from an MLB or NBA player’s. I’m sure the Hawks have some sort of variation on actuarial tables for each position group which predict the longevity and production that can be expected over time. For me, NFL free agency has seemed so much riskier than the other major league sports in terms of whether a team is acquiring a player at the beginning of the peak of their career vs. acquiring a broken down player with not much tread left on the tires. (See Mike Holmgren’s defenses the first few years he was in SEA).

    The Hawks are shrewd in this regard and certainly one of Carroll’s strengths is coaching up the young guys and having them play productive snaps by the end of their rookie year. No need to change the formula. And I can’t wait for the draft.

    “….may end up with Brian Hoyer. Or Jaime Moyer.” Ha! Good one!

    • art thiel

      You’re right about FA risk in NFL. Bust rate is high. But relatively little of the financial risk is high because of the small pct of guaranteed money. It’s where MLB’s structure fails. But there’s no cap, so no reason for Dodgers, et al, to worry if they err on talent.

      • Jamo57

        Yeah, the Dodgers seem to have a weakness for Cuban talent that has trouble adjusting to the big bucks and all the distractions in the US. Nothing $50 parking won’t cover though. ;-)

  • Kevin Lynch

    I don’t know that Russell’s contract was a bargain but he did finish #1 in passing last year. Brock Osweiler finished #24 and was #28 in drop back situations and he’s getting, what, 80% of the yearly average in Wilson’s contract? Doesn’t make sense. Crazy. John Elway typically does not do what you want him to do when you put a gun to his head. So he passed on Brock. Osweiler has started 7 games and in three of those he could not produce a point in the second half, even with that defense getting him the ball. That doesn’t spell $18 mill to me. RG3? Maybe? At least he can run when the line breaks down.

    • art thiel

      Osweiler is unworthy of such an investment. Wilson was a three-year starter and SB champ when he cashed in. But such is the desperation on many NFL clubs.

  • Paul Harmening

    “Whatcha gonna do when…” Ric Flair to all the NFL teams this time of the year. This is fun for some…Art’s header says it all for Seahawks. Can’t wait to see what Elway does next…resign Tebow? 49′ers have the greatest circus clowns on turf. Love it. The black hole in Gary Peyton’s back yard is sucking up some serious stuff.

    • art thiel

      Assuming you mean Oakland, I like what they’re doing.

      • Paul Harmening

        Absolutely. Just keep those Seahawk/Raider games going in the pre-season. West Coast NFL will be prime time with LA coming back on board getting the Rams returning to their real turf. Before the Seahawks were birthed, I was an L.A. Ram fan and a Raider. This is gonna be “King of the West Coast hill baby” and I’m loving it.

  • MrPrimeMinister

    Something is not connecting. Mr Thiel has made it abundantly clear above that championships can be won with a stiff at QB. So the question is why does Carroll allocate so much of the salary pie to Russell?

    • art thiel

      It’s difficult but not impossible to win SBs with QB stiffs (Dilfer, PManning at 39). Both had great defenses, Sustaining success is easier if QB is top-tier low-maintenance.