Nov 25, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder (7) is sacked by Chicago Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton (69) during the first quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
In what has somewhat accidentally become a weekly series, I have been examining free agent targets of interest for the Seahawks in positional groupings where I think they may have a need. Today I’m taking a look at defensive tackles, a position where Brandon Mebane remains a solid starter but there is very little on the roster outside of #92. With Alan Branch a free agent, the only other DT’s are Clinton Mcdonald and Jaye Howard. Mcdonald has been merely a rotational player so far and Howard has yet to really see any action as a Seahawk. Of course re-signing Branch remains an option but I think the Seahawks both should and will go in another direction. Branch was very effective as a run stopper in 2011, but wasn’t quite as good in 2012 and offers very little in the way of pass rushing. While the way Seattle’s line is constructed does not maximize the pass rush I think they can ill afford having another starter, other than Red Bryant, who does little in the way of threatening the quarterback. That is especially true given the injury to Chris Clemons. So here I have presented some DT free agent options, with a focus on those that can offer a pass rushing dimension that the interior of Seattle’s defensive line has been missing of late:
Henry Melton: Melton is one of the top free agents available at any position but Seattle has some money to spend and he is a marquee player at a position of need. Over the last two years with the Bears, Melton has 13 sacks, including 6 last year. That total is not astounding but it is very impressive for a DT. The Seahawks haven’t had that kind of interior pass rush since Rocky Bernard was in his prime. Melton is undersized at 6-3 280 and as such there are concerns that he won’t hold out against the run but he did managed 9 tackles for a loss last year, good for 5th in the NFL among defensive tackles. Clearly, Melton is an effective penetrator of the line of scrimmage and although he may have to be removed for truly jumbo goal line sets that is a small price to pay for his abilities to disrupt opposing offenses. Melton turns 27 this year so age is not a major concern. That being said, his price will be high, high enough that his contract will probably end up being an overpay to some degree. Even if that’s so, I wouldn’t mind overpaying for a player this young, with these skills and at a position of need.
Randy Starks: This former Dolphin and one time Pro Bowler will turn 30 this year but seems to have a fair amount left in the tank and some positional flexibility to boot. Even though Starks stands at a sturdy 6-3 312 lbs he still has the quickness to get to the quarterback as demonstrated by his 9 sacks over the last two years (4.5 each year) and career high of 7 sacks in 2009. Beyond sacks alone, Starks had 4 pass deflections (11th in the league among DT’s) and 8 QB hits (14th) showing a consistent ability to be a factor defending against the pass. He has been durable and consistent playing both as a 4-3 DT and a 3-4 DE and would clearly be an upgrade to Seattle’s defensive line. For me the only hang ups are age and expense, which, to be fair, are two pretty big hang ups. It’s always risky signing free agents in their late 20’s/early 30’s but Seattle is a good enough team to consider these type of deals for the first time since 2007. Starks likely will not be a fantastic value on the back side of his free agent deal, but by then Seattle may have gotten what they needed from Starks in the way of playoff success. Although the Seahawks are in a win-now mode there is no need to be reckless, Starks would be an upgrade and a good fit but he isn’t a franchise-changing star and if the market gets too crazy there’s no harm in backing out of the bidding. Still, an interesting name to consider.
Desmond Bryant: Not exactly a household name, this Harvard man is not going unnoticed by NFL talent evaluators. To go along with 3 sacks in 8 starts in 2012 Bryant had 12 QB hits, a total that tied him for 7th best among NFL defensive tackles. Standing at 6-5 290 Bryant has the length to disrupt passing lanes, even if he’s no J.J Swatt. Turning 28 this year, Bryant has 10.5 career sacks but 8 of them have come in the last 2 years when he has had the opportunity to start more (18 starts in that period). The fact he was something of a part-time player on such a poor defense raises some red flags but with well compensated tackles Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour above him it was hard for Bryant to get the playing time he deserved. Bryant is not exceptionally young but he is talented and athletic (4.92 40 yard dash at the Combine). He has flashed enough to potential to be worthy of a starting gig and the Seahawks might have a starting gig open. If the market remains within reason, Bryant might be an interesting high upside option.
Richard Seymour: Speaking of Oakland defensive tackles, another free agent possibility is the prolific and versatile Richard Seymour. There are a lot of numbers you could throw around about the 7 time Pro Bowler Richard Seymour but one stands out. 34. That’s how old Seymour will be in September. While Seattle is in a position to make short-term additions the commitment to Seymour would have to be on a very short term ie. 1 to 2 years, to make any sense. The 6-6 310 DT is at an age where his game and/or health can fall apart at any moment. He was only able to start 8 games last year and while he had 3 sacks in those contests and was on pace for a solid year who know how he’ll rebound from his hamstring injury. I would be conflicted about seeing Seattle sign Seymour because he is so accomplished and may still have something yet to offer, but at the same time it seems equally likely there’s nothing left in the tank. Old players with injury concerns are often treated harshly by the free agent market and there may be some legitimate value shopping to be had here, but the idea of penciling in Seymour as a starter in 2013 would make me nervous considering the kind of aspirations the Seahawks have this year.
Terrance Knighton: This Jaguars defensive tackle, affectionately known as Pot Roast, is coming off a down year where he lost his starting job but may rebound with a change of scenery. He really seemed to be emerging as a sophomore in 2010 when he had 4 sacks and 4 PD’s but was never able to replicate those numbers. Despite being relegated to the status of a rotational tackle and only starting 5 games Knighton managed 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles along with 5 tackles for loss and 5 quarterback hits. The 6-2 295 Knighton is an all-around defensive tackle with a similar skillset to Brandon Mebane when he is playing at his best. Unfortunately the Jaguars were unable to get Knighton’s best all the time. At only 27 Knighton may well have his best days ahead of him and while one would have to be reticent to simply hand him a job given his off year in 2012, he could be a solid starter for somebody. Somebody could even be the Seahawks. That idea makes me a tad nervous but less nervous than signing Seymour. Medium-risk, medium reward type option, not the sexiest but hard to expect that with a name like Pot Roast.
These are only some of the defensive tackle possibilities out there but in my view they are the best ones and the best fits for Seattle. I would be surprised and somewhat disappointed to see a return from Alan Branch because I think that Pete Carroll’s defense needs more interior pressure to take its game to the next level. Whether it is addressed through free agency or the draft, Seattle needs DT’s because they have only 3 on the roster, only one of whom is starter quality. Melton is an obvious favorite of mine here, but if Seattle isn’t willing to spend that kind of money guys like Bryant or Knighton could be intriguing choices.