I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong

If you remember my post titled Could 2013 be the best year for online comments ever? — and if you don’t, check it out — you may know this is not my first time writing about the Seahawks defensive line.

That makes sense. A unit once-prized for its ability to stop the run got run over over the second half of the 2012 season, and then lost its best/only consistent pass rush when Chris Clemons went down on the same FedEx turf that victimized RGIII all season. The line failed to pressure Matt Ryan in the Seahawks’ subsequent loss (and elimination) to Atlanta, so the team went into free agency with one overarching imperative: upgrade the D-Line.

Meanwhile, the team has a lot of young players due for contract extensions in coming years — contract extensions that threaten to strain the Seahawks ability to stay within the salary cap. Finances, then, were an obvious constraint on Seattle’s ability to upgrade.

So it was when knowledgeable people broke down Seattle’s options in free agency, they tended to focus on lower-impact, cheaper players to fill out the defensive line. Danny Kelly, over at Field Gulls, broke available players into tiers and discussed the likelihood of the team signing a player from each. Here’s what he had to say about the “Young, talented, super-expensive, probably” tier:

As far as I’m concerned, you can get your hopes up about these guys, understandably, but it doesn’t seem likely that any of them will be real targets, and here’s why I’m more or less taking that stance: Melton will likely get franchised. Johnson will likely get franchised. Kruger will probably get way too much money, and he’ll probably go to a 3-4 team (Colts?). Starks will probably get franchised (if he’s not franchised, I could see interest, I’ll give you that). Bennett – well I just don’t want him because of the principal of it all [Editor’s note: the Seahawks’ former management inexplicably dropped him a month into the 2009 season]. Avril said he’d like to get Mario Williams money [Editor’s note: 6 years, $96M, $50M guaranteed]. So. Yeah.

In other words, Kelly thought it unlikely the Seahawks would get any of these players — understandably, he focused most of his article on “The “Interesting” group of guys with little or no connections” and “The “Pete Carroll/John Schneider/Tom Cable/Scot McCloughan Connection factor” guys” and the “The 2nd chance new team new system guys” and the “The “hahahaha just kidding” group”.

In short, he prepared to settle.

And then the Seahawks signed Cliff Avril to a two-year, $15 million contract. I excitedly dug up Kelly’s article — published two weeks ago — and pointed out what a steal the signing was in an email to my brothers:

Henry Melton (26) – 6’3, 295 Franchised
Michael Johnson (26) 6’7, 267 Franchised
Paul Kruger (27) 6’4, 265 5 years, $40M
Randy Starks (29) – 6’3, 305 Franchised
Michael Bennett (27) – 6’4, 274 Doesn’t want to leave TB for some reason
Cliff Avril (26) – 6’3, 260 2 years, $15M

In case you’re having any trouble deciphering that list, it’s what Kelly had called the “Young, talented, super-expensive, probably” defensive linemen. The words in italics represent Kelly’s original list. I added the words in bold to show what had become of them. The three “Franchised” players were tagged by their teams for a one-year, ~$9m contract, and never hit the free agent market. Kruger got a monster deal from Cleveland. And I’d seen a few articles saying Michael Bennett wanted to stay in TB. In other words, the Seahawks got the only guy out of this group who was still realistically available — meaning they ostensibly had very little leverage — and signed him to the most reasonable contract of them all.

I was very happy with that outcome. And while I knew the Seahawks still needed to upgrade at DT, it did not even cross my mind that they would end up with another player off this list of the six most-desirable free-agent defensive linemen.

And then the Seahawks re-signed Bennett to a one-year, $5 contract. In other words, they got the last two players on the above list who were technically available — without overshooting the salary cap. And that can mean only one thing: pants-off dance-off! #SEAHAWKSSUPERBOWL2014

The outcome is so inexplicable that it has spawned two competing narratives over how Seahawks GM John Schneider managed to pull it off.

The first is that Schneider outlasted the market, played the “wait and see” game, and when the market for pass rushers failed to materialize, capitalized on it — big-time. But while this narrative might have some element of truth, I don’t buy it completely. For one thing, players are also capable of waiting out the market to see which teams might get desperate. When the Seahawks signed Sidney Rice and Zach Miller — two players who failed to generate the interest they had anticipated — in 2010, they did so after a week of free agency had already passed. The Hawks got Avril and Bennett after two and three days, respectively — and shortly after Kruger commanded a $40M deal. He’s good, but he’s not that much better. It’s also worth noting that at the time of their signings, Avril and Bennett each had considerable leverage as the best DEs remaining on the market.

The second is that Seattle has turned itself into a destination for young, hungry free agents who want to win the Super Bowl. The Hawks ended last season as one of the best teams in football, and made the first huge splash of free agency by going all-in on erstwhile MVP candidate Percy Harvin. When young, hungry free agents thought about who they wanted to play for, it was an easy decision: the young, hungry, up-and-coming team that’s going all-in for the 2014 Super Bowl. Some players want money — but some really do just want to win, and  the opportunity to prove themselves on a national stage. It would seem they’ve come to the right place. Especially when viewed through the perspective of what other teams paid for defensive linemen — franchise tags, big money, two years for Glenn Dorsey, three years for Jason Jones — I have a hard time believing the bottom fell out of the market. I think — hope — wishfully think? — that, for once, players are excited about coming to Seattle. And after hearing for years how no one would ever come to Cascadia of his own free will, that’s a conclusion that makes me happy.

Go Hawks.


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