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Seahawks poised for free-agent frenzy

Posted Mar 11, 2013

The NFL free-agency period begins Tuesday, and the Seahawks are prepared for anything and everything – especially if it fits their build-through-the-draft philosophy that includes using draft picks to acquire talent.

(The opinions and analysis contained in this feature are those of the author and others credited and do not necessarily represent the thoughts and opinions of the Seahawks’ coaching staff and personnel department)

If free agency was a game of high-stakes poker – which it is, in more ways than one – John Schneider could stand pat with the hand the Seahawks’ general manager has dealt himself.

The Seahawks could make zero moves this offseason and still feel pretty good about the team they would field for the 2013 NFL season, in large part because of the shrewd moves the club has made since hiring Schneider and coach Pete Carroll in January 2010.

Last March, All-Pro running back Marshawn Lynch and run-stuffing defensive end Red Bryant were re-signed before they could hit free agency, where they were expected to draw considerable interest. The NFL Draft in April delivered help for the pass rush (first-round pick Bruce Irvin), a starting middle linebacker (second-round pick Bobby Wagner) and the steal of that draft and the past several drafts (quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round).

Fourteen of the other starters from the divisional-round playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons in January also have been added by Schneider and Carroll in free agency, the draft or trades.

So if Schneider opted to sit out this offseason it would be understandable. It won’t happen, of course. Not with the wheeling-and-dealing power provided by holding 10 picks in next month’s draft and ample salary-cap room to be players in free agency. Schneider and Carroll are constantly looking to increase the pile, and amp the competition, at every position.

Schneider is a build-through-the-draft guy, and 19 of the players on that final 53-man roster from the 2012 season were acquired in the three drafts since Schneider arrived, including 10 starters – All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas, Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung, strong safety Kam Chancellor, right guard J.R. Sweezy, wide receiver Golden Tate, linebacker K.J. Wright, Wilson, Wagner and Irvin.

Schneider also has been adept at using draft choices in trades for players, and also acquiring additional picks in trades for players. He is not adverse to adding players in free agency, but he uses the vehicle to enhance the roster rather than stock it.

The 2011 offseason was the exception to this rule-of-thumb approach, because of the 136-day lockout that erased the offseason and also because the team was unveiling a new offensive approach under coordinator Darrell Bevell and assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable. Wide receiver Sidney Rice and since-departed quarterback Tarvaris Jackson were signed as free agents because they had played under Bevell with the Minnesota Vikings. Tight end Zach Miller and since-departed left guard Robert Gallery also were added because they had played under Cable with the Oakland Raiders.

What transpired last year is closer to the way Schneider prefers to go about his business. The Seahawks did not participate in the pricy first wave of free agency, were even selective when it came to the second tier of the process and then loaded up during and after the draft with collegiate prospects.

The Seahawks could have holes to fill, with linebacker Leroy Hill and defensive tackles Alan Branch and Jason Jones scheduled to become unrestricted free agents Tuesday.

They’ve already had defensive end John Abraham and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins in for visits. Abraham (Falcons) and Jenkins (Philadelphia Eagles) were released recently by their former teams to clear room under the salary cap. Jenkins is reportedly set to join the New York Giants, while Abraham also is visiting other teams.

Here’s a look at the offensive players who could be available in free agency, with position rankings and comment by NFL.com:

Quarterback

Best of the bunch: 1, Matt Moore, Miami Dolphins; 2, David Garrard, free agent; 3, Jason Campbell, Chicago Bears.

Comment (by Dan Hanzus): Quarterback is the most important position in the game, which explains why you don’t typically see the good ones reach free agency unless it’s under unusual circumstances (see: Manning, Peyton). Moore tops the list because the team that signs him will acquire a proven guy with prime years ahead of him.

Seahawks situation: How good does that selection of Wilson in the third round last year look now? And the Seahawks are dealing from a position of strength at this pivotal position because they also got the best QB available in free agency last year by signing Matt Flynn. As Schneider said at the NFL Scouting Combine, “I feel very blessed that we have two quarterbacks, two starting-caliber guys.”

Running back

Best of the bunch: 1, Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants; 2, Steve Jackson, St. Louis Rams; 3, Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers; 4, Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins.

Comment (Gregg Rosenthal): Now this is why I like ranking these positions by tier. There is very little separating Bradshaw from Bush. I changed my order for those these top four countless times, but Bradshaw remained on top because he combines a complete game with relative youth (he’s 26).

Seahawks situation: Another area of strength after the re-signings of Lynch, who turns 27 next month and is coming off a career-best 1,590-yard season; and Pro Bowl-caliber fullback Michael Robinson; as well as the addition of Robert Turbin in the fourth round of last year’s draft.

Wide receiver

Best of the bunch: 1, Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers; 2, Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs; 3, Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers’ 4, Wes Welker, New England Patriots.

Comment (by Marc Sessler): General managers might disagree with plenty of these selections, and the debate begins here at No. 1. I have Wallace at the top of the heap. His field speed can take the top off a defense. That’s his bread and butter. Wallace needs to be a more complete receiver, but a Vincent Jackson-type deal is a possibility.

Seahawks situation: Rice led the team with 50 receptions in 2012 after his first season with the club was cut short by a shoulder injury and concussions. He also had seven touchdown catches, as did Tate to go with his 38 receptions. Wilson could always use another pair of hands to complement his still-developing, ever-expanding game.

Line

Best of the bunch: 1, LT Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos; 2, LT Branden Albert, Kansas City Chiefs; 3, LT Jake Long, Miami Dolphins; 4, OT Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots; 5, RT Phil Loadholt, Minnesota Vikings; 5, RT Andre Smith, Cincinnati Bengals; 7, OG Louis Vasquez, San Diego Chargers; 8, Andy Levitre, Buffalo Bills; 9, LT Jerom Bushrod, New Orleans Saints; 10, LT Sam Baker, Atlanta Falcons.

Comment (by Chris Wesseling): Clady and Albert both drew the franchise tag after allowing just one sack apiece last season, according to Pro Football Focus. While Long has been bashed for declining play the past two years, it’s important to point out that he was battling injuries to his triceps, knee, back and shoulder. After receiving a glowing endorsement by Dr. James Andrews (recently), it’s not unreasonable to believe Long can reclaim his status as one of the premier blindside protectors with his next team.

Seahawks situation: The Pro Bowl duo of center Max Unger and left tackle Okung, former second- and first-round draft choices, anchors this unit and will for seasons to come. The emergence of Sweezy, a seventh-round draft choice last year and former defensive lineman at North Carolina State, as the starter at right guard for the final two regular-season games and both playoff games was as stunning as it was impressive. Breno Giacomini, who was signed off the Green Bay Packers’ practice squad in 2010, is Cable’s kind of player at right tackle; as is the versatile and valuable Paul McQuistan, who has started 26 games at guard and tackle the past two seasons after being signed to a future contract. Then there are James Carpenter and John Moffitt, the team’s top picks from the 2011 draft. But that doesn’t mean Schneider will stand pat here, either.