BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 03/06/2017

Thiel: Market dictates Seahawks fix defense first

The Seahawks may want back Russell Okung, but he will find himself with multiple suitors in the NFL’s free-agent marketplace. When they can’t afford him, the secondary becomes the first priority.

Jabrill Peppers now sees himself as an NFL safety, and the Michigan blue isn’t that different from Seahawks blue, so . . . / Sportingnews.com

The combine ends Monday, Seahawks godfathers Pete Carroll and John Schneider already have spoken, and negotiations begin Tuesday ahead of the commencement of free agency Thursday. The Seahawks’ immediate future is taking shape.

The Seahawks will:

  • Make a free agent offer to the left tackle who helped them win a Super Bowl, Russell Okung, but will be out-bid;
  • In the draft’s first round April 27, take a defensive back, and will try to move up to get Jabrill Peppers of Michigan;
  • Not draft an offensive lineman with the intent of playing him much at all in 2017.

Why these moves? Because they have few other options to make them better right away.

And the Seahawks are always in right-away mode, unlike the San Francisco 49ers, who gave out six-year contracts to new coach Kyle Shanahan and new GM John Lynch, suggesting that after a 2-14 season, they have plenty of runway to lollygag, dawdle and procrastinate. Even dither.

In Seattle, it’s Super Bowl or bust.

Looking at Seattle’s O-line, closing in on Washington Huskies hoops coach Lorenzo Romar as Seattle sports’ longest-running conundrum, Carroll spoke out of both sides of his mouth last week during his podium turn at the Indianapolis combine.

On the one hand, he said the Seahawks “have a chance to do things very aggressively and very actively” in free-agent market. On the other hand, he committed to George Fant at left tackle, and Schneider indicated they are likely to re-sign right tackle and restricted free agent Garry Gilliam. For the line’s two weakest positions, that about wraps it up.

If they aren’t going to mess with guards Mark Glowinski and Germain Ifedi center Justin Britt, what’s left?

Carroll explained the double-talk this way:

“One thing we do know is that our young guys are going to get better,” he said. “They’re going to make hopefully a significant first-year to second-year jump like most players do, and that will really help us.

“But we need to make those positions as competitive as possible. If we can bring in a guy to take a spot, we got better. If we can bring in a guy who makes another guy have to play better to hold his spot, we’re getting better.”

What seems to be happening is that Carroll would like a vet such as Okung on a one-year deal to push Fant, who can still be the Seahawks’ left tackle, just not right away again.

The problem with that scenario are two functions of the marketplace: Okung, 29, is one of two decent tackles in free agency, along with Cincinnati’s Andrew Whitworth, who’s much better, even at 35. The Washington Post reported the New York Giants, New York Jets, Los Angeles Chargers and Minnesota Vikings all have interest in Okung.

The other thing is that the draft is especially weak in O-linemen.

So Okung, derided last season for acting as his own agent and getting a modest deal from Denver ($5 million base and another $3 million in incentives that he made) to leave Seattle, will be in position to cash in on a marketplace desperate for his talents after the Broncos declined to pick up the $48 million option on his contract.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks will be left to rummage in the J’Marcus Webb Memorial Remainders Bin for veteran talent to push the kids. Carroll likely will have the same five starters that finished the season ranked 32nd by Pro Football Focus.

Would Okung take a hometown discount from the team that drafted him in the first round and paid him $48 million over six years? Oh, hell no.

Absent good options in free agency and the draft for the line, the Seahawks need to put their 26th pick overall on someone who can succeed SS Kam Chancellor or FS Earl Thomas. They could go for a cornerback in a draft rich with them, but Peppers was such  a versatile athlete at Michigan as a linebacker/safety/returner that he would be a great fit in Seattle, even if they have to climb up to get him.

At the combine, Peppers surprised some by measuring 5-foot-11 and 213 pounds, making him too small for linebacker in the NFL. But Saturday, he told reporters he was all about safety. To prove it, he was to work with the defensive backs in Monday’s final workouts.

”I don’t have a lot of tape at safety,” Peppers said. ”But I’m a pretty damn good safety.”

He’s not built like Chancellor — who is? — but he is a replica of Kansas City’s Pro Bowl SS Eric Berry. NFL.com reported the Peppers’ combine numbers were very similar to what Berry produced in 2010.

It’s true that Peppers had little pass coverage experience at Michigan as a linebacker, but that’s something that can be learned, particularly since he can be a backup for a year or two in Seattle.

The Seahawks finished the season 4-4 with a Thomas-less defense that was whipped soundly by Green Bay and Atlanta. You may have thought the O-line was a football crisis, but giving up 38 and and 36 points to the Packers and Falcons was, in Carroll World, a crisis.


YourThoughts

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  • John M

    At the pro level some may be leery of a linebacker moving back, so Peppers could fall. They don’t have that many picks, seems like they have to do something in the FA market . . .

    • Jamo57

      It seems like at some point the Hawks would trade down to pick up more picks. When probably depends on who is out there and where they think they can get the players they have targeted. I wonder how they see Peppers vs. Budda Baker. Or more importantly how the league views the two.

      • art thiel

        Baker is a CB and a little undersized, but is ferocious competitor and experienced in coverage. Peppers is a better athlete but has limited pass-game experience. Peppers probably will go ahead of Baker.

        • wabubba67

          Baker is a S (not CB) isn’t he, Art?

          Given Peppers lack of size, I’m now looking at him as a FS (take over for Thomas someday), and Baker as a possible SS (Kam) who could also play FS. Does that seem right?

          • art thiel

            Not sure about King’s football savvy. I think he’s a later-round guy, which where Carroll has scored with DBs most often.

          • Bruce McDermott

            Would love King. A perfect bookend for Sherm. Would be shocked if he did not go in the first round, given his film and his combine. Budda will not play corner in the NFL, except occasionally, perhaps, in the slot. More of a Honey Badger, hybrid safety type.

          • art thiel

            Baker has been a safety but I suspect some teams would try him at corner. He hits better than he covers.

          • wabubba67

            I agree, Art. But if he hits better than he covers…even more reason to keep him at safety, right?

    • art thiel

      Peppers has a limited resume in pass coverage, so teams are taking a risk, which might cause a drop.

  • Jamo57

    Hey Art, is Okung acting as his own agent again or did he learn a life lesson the last time around?

    • art thiel

      He’s repping himself, and it’s turning out well. He played all 16 games last season and earned $8M, which is what he earned his final season in Seattle. Since the Broncos didn’t pick up his option, he’s a free agent in a market with few good tackles, and even fewer NFL-ready Ts in college. Call him lucky, but don’t call him a fool.

      • Bruce McDermott

        Actually, Art, one can be a fool for gambling on being lucky. It evidently will pay off for Russell, but he was one play away from a bad salary last year (depending on when he got hurt) and thereafter a questionable future as an injury risk this year, even in a weak OT year. Getting lucky has nothing to do with wisdom. Presumably, he can now get an extended deal with good guaranteed money, but that was a serious gamble in two senses: 1) he stood to lose big bucks then and in the future if he got hurt once more, and 2) his injury history indicated an injury-free season was unlikely.

        • art thiel

          You’re right is Okung’s specific case, but isn’t it often true with most professionals making an entrepreneurial living that, by definition, they gamble upon themselves? It was risky to work without an agent, and I wouldn’t recommend it for most players.

          He did have the good fortune of health and a 2017 marketplace thin where he is strong. If you can describe to me a catch-all definition of the difference between risky and foolish that can be deployed ahead of a decision, I welcome it.

          • Bruce McDermott

            Not sure there is one in this case. Perhaps a risk is foolish if its sufficiently risky? In Okung’s case, there was a lot to indicate that representing himself was sufficiently risky, given the hand he was playing regarding his inconsistent and injury-plagued history. Riskiness and foolishness are on the same continuum in this sense. My own thought is that this was pretty far along the way toward foolish. But he lucked out, so bully for him…

          • art thiel

            As has often been said in sports, better to be lucky than good.

  • DJ

    SEAHAWKS Please, if they can’t provide the personnel to protect Russell, change the plays to slide the pocket, etc, to give the kid a chance! I’m just so frustrated with what seems to be stubbornness in running plays that expose Russell if the line doesn’t perform flawlessly. Call plays to put the players you have in the best position to succeed, instead of calling plays for the players that you wished they were

    • art thiel

      I think the Seahawks know what they have, but once Lynch retired and Wilson was hurt the first time, the line was exposed as way too young and thin. The bosses did a poor job of working around the vulnerability.

      • DJ

        Amen

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