Sunday, 1 March 2009

Free agency so far and the draft

It's been an eventful free agency period and it could have particular consequence on the top five picks. Yesterday, the St Louis Rams completed a deal with one of the most high profile agents on the market - Jason Brown. Elsewhere, the Kansas City Chiefs pulled off a bumper trade for Mike Vrabel and Matt Cassel. The team picking first overall, Detroit, traded veteran quarter back and previous starter Jon Kitna to the Cowboys in exchange for defensive back Anthony Henry.

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The Rams' $37.5m deal with Brown shows an intent to improve their offensive line. This is crucial in St Louis as their top two commodity's are running back Steven Jackson and quarter back Marc Bulger. The former Ravens linemen will likely play center in St Louis, but it's a good sign for Rams' fans that their front office are targeting an improvement in the trenches. This could be just the start - they are heavily tipped to take Jason Smith (OT, Baylor) or Eugene Monroe (OT, Virginia) with the 2nd overall pick. Whether they cut veteran left tackle Orlando Pace will be the determining factor here, but it's been reported for some time that this is a possibility.

If Pace remains on the roster, there are alternatives. It's not a stretch to suggest the Rams may see Brown as 'enough' of an improvement. By trusting in Pace and tagging Richie Incognito, they may be prepared to look elsewhere. If that is the case, they could look at Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree. That would also depend on the future of a veteran - Torry Holt is another tipped to depart. It would be stretch to expect Holt, Donnie Avery and Crabtree would all feature in 2009.

Perhaps more realistic would be to draft Aaron Curry (LB, Wake Forest). Steve Spagnuolo built an excellent defense in New York and Curry would represent the blue print for a similar rebuild in St Louis. So what indication has free agency given to the Rams line of thinking?

Conclusion: Rams know they need to improve the offensive line
Prediction: They will draft an offensive tackle 2nd overall

The Chiefs pulled off one of the more eye catching trades in recent years, bagging Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel for a 2nd round pick. Cassel was franchised by the Patriots not long ago and stands to earn over $14m this year heading into a potentially cap free season in 2010. A long term deal is paramount and will likely secure Cassel as the team's franchise quarter back. Vrabel adds experience and leadership to the defense but he's not the on field presence he once was. However, Kansas City only registered 10 sacks in 2008 and they need all the help they can get.

So how does this deal affect the draft? A lot of people predicted the Chiefs would target Matt Stafford (Georgia) or Mark Sanchez (USC) with the third overall pick. Scratch that. So what direction do they go now?

I've said for some time now that Aaron Curry could be the pick. Kansas City have invested a lot into their offense. They have a new quarter back, they took a left tackle (Brendan Albert) in the first round last year. Add to that the fact they already have Dwayne Bowe, Tony Gonzalez, Larry Johnson and Jamaal Charles. The defense on the other hand, is in need of some attention. Glenn Dorsey (5th overall from LSU in 2008) stands to be something of an issue in the future with the team switching to a 3-4. He suits a 4-3 defense to a tee, and doesn't come across as an ideal fit at nose tackle or 3-4 end. Simply put - they need a pass rush and they need an identity.

Aaron Curry would be perfect. He can set the tone on defense, he can offer a pass rush and could play ILB. If they really want to improve that defense, what better way than to add the best defensive prospect in the draft?

The alternatives? It would be a reach, but they could look at NT B.J. Raji (Boston College). Scott Pioli helped build New England from the defensive line up. They could also check out the DE/LB hybrids such as Brian Orakpo, Everette Brown and Aaron Maybin - although it seems unrealistic to expect any to be taken 3rd overall. There's no doubting the Chiefs would like to shop the pick and move down, but it will be difficult selecting third overall.

Could they go offense? As mentioned previously, it would be a surprise considering the obvious need to improve the defense and the basis of talent they already have on offense. However, if they really want to make it easy for Matt Cassel, what better way than to give him Gonzalez, Bowe and Michael Crabtree to throw to?

Conclusion: The Chiefs need a defensive focus switching to a 3-4
Prediction: Likely to be Aaron Curry if available

Detroit have been saying for a few weeks now that they expect Daunte Culpepper to start in 2009. But when Jim Schwartz was appointed head coach, he also spoke of finding a long term option at franchise quarter back. Many expected Jon Kitna to be cut so the fact the Lions managed to get some compensation in the form of DB Anthony Henry is credit to them. This creates some space behind Culpepper and all the signs indicate that Matt Stafford will be taken first overall.

Stafford could sit behind Culpepper in order to avoid a 'baptism of fire'. It would be wise, Stafford has all the tools but is unlikely to have the same quickfire success that Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco enjoyed. Unlike the Chiefs, the Lions have not done anything to suggest they will look away from QB in the draft. By actually clearing out some of the dead wood, they appear to be preparing themselves for the future.

Conclusion: Lions could start Culpepper but need a franchise QB
Prediction: Detroit selects Matt Stafford first overall

Of course whoever goes in the first three picks will hugely affect the options available to Seattle. It's early days in free agency and perhaps more indicative of the Seahawks draft will be who they actually sign themselves. However, after the first weekend of signings, we're already starting to see teams shape their rosters going into the 2009 draft.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great Post Rob,

Moch drafts are fun to play with but until the FA period is played out a little, they are just rough estimates. I was pleased to read that TJ Housh was told the outline of the hawks proposal proir to his trip here. He still made the trip and that is a good sign! It is not a slam dunk by any streach, but we may have a chance to land him.

If we do land TJ, would that change your opinion on who we will pick at 4?

Thanks.

Big Joe

Rob Staton said...

Hi Joe,

Personally, I think the team are intent to take the best player on their board at number four - whoever that may be. If they spend big at any position to try and fix a problem it could be indicative, but I'd be cautious to rule anyone out in the draft. Although drafting Houshmandzadeh would suggest the Seahawks will not pursue Michael Crabtree, I think they'd still take him if he was top of their board when they were on the clock.

I'm sure the Seahawks 'got the ball rolling' for TJ. He had his first visit which showed he was actively talking to teams. But I would be surprised if the Seahawks were offering anything like the $10m a year he was reportedly asking for. At this stage I would think that he's trying to find a better deal than the one on the table from Cincinatti. Seattle would be foolish not to consider him at the right price, but shouldn't overpay for another ageing veteran.

Anonymous said...

Rob,

That makes sense. I just like the long term planning of picking up TJ for instant help and Crabtree for long term help at WR. But Matt cant get them the ball if he is on his backside so I just dont know. What I hear you saying is the choice will be a function of the evaluation efforts of the scouts and coaches grading and the 1 thru 3 picks that come off ahead of us. And it does look like that has changed somewhat based on FA moves.

Thanks for the feedback!

Joe

Rob Staton said...

I think a rejuvenated passing attack can help the team's pass protection. In 2007, Matt Hasselbeck was well protected by a line not too dissimilar to the one currently used by the team. He put up career high numbers and went to a pro-bowl. Last year a lot of teams used blitz and run defense freely, almost daring the Hawks to pass because of the sub standard WR's. By adding better players to the position, it not only keeps opposition teams honest - it could directly affect the team in other areas (such as less pressure on the O line and opening up the run attack). It's all about balance, and personally - that was one of the main reasons the Hawks offense was redundant last season.

jjhsix said...

I'm quite concerned that the Chiefs aquiring Cassel indicates they are targetting Crabtree. Pioli had a clip on NFL.com (which for some reason I can't find) and he said that he considers his job as a GM to build a system that his head coach is comfortable with. They now have the QB and one of the WRs (Bowe), so Crabtree would complete the Boldin-Fitzgerald duo in KC.

Chris (Seattle) said...

Rob, woke up this morning to see we signed Colin Cole. I'm not too familiar with him, but he's 6'1", 330lbs, which means he should be difficult to move in the run game. Do you see him pushing for a starting DT spot, or does Red Bryant still have the edge there? I liked Bryant out of college, it was a shame injuries basically derailed his entire season last year. I also read Cole's signing means we won't pursue Chris Canty, but I'm not sure why. I thought Canty was DE we were looking at to add depth in case Kerney went down again we wouldn't be stuck having zero pass rush from our front four. Cole is run stuffing DT, don't see why his signing affects getting another pass rusher on the edge.

Also, I'm praying we get Houshmandzadeh. If it does happen, I'm also praying Crabtree is still there when we pick and we get him too (even if it means cutting and/or not resigning Branch, Engram, or Burelson). You can't have too many great WR's (see Arizona last year, or the Pats with Moss and Welker).

Lastly, curious to know if you've seen any updates on signing Leroy to a long-term deal? I can't find anything on the negotiations (if there are any). I assumed they were going to sign him to free up cap space (similar to what they did with Trufant last year).

Rob Staton said...

Hi Chris,

I expect Cole to start as a run stuffing DT. The Seahawks actively use a rotation policy at the position, so expect to see a lot of Craig Terrill and Red Bryant (health permitting). I wouldn't be surprised if the team still took a defensive linemen in the middle rounds because they do rotate a lot, and it's one position they need a lot of depth.

I agree with you regarding Houshmandzadeh. The team really needs to improve at wide receiver. It's not just about giving Matt Hasselbeck some weapons, it's about regaining a balance and taking pressure off the running game and the offensive line. If the team cannot improve at wide receiver during free agency, and after Houshmandzadeh there aren't many alternatives that would fit, it really puts an increased pressure to add via the draft.

Finally, with regard to Leroy Hill I have been keeping a close eye not only his progress contract wise - but for any news on Leonard Weaver and Ray Willis. We've not heard anything at all about any of the three. I expect the Seahawks will look to tie Hill down to a longer term deal but wouldn't be surprised if he ends up playing on that franchise tag in 2009. Unless the team needs instant cap space, there isn't an immediate pressure to sign him to a long term deal. Weaver and Willis were expected to be hot commodities when free agency began but so far there has been no news of any visits and only rumoured interest.