If what happens in free agency helps teams determine what to do in the NFL draft, so it is that what happens at the NFL combine helps determine what happens in free agency.
Recall that one of the biggest moves of the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era — a trade in March 2013 for receiver Percy Harvin — was made in part because the Seahawks had assessed the draft landscape that year and decided the first-round pick they’d have to give up to get the mercurial receiver from Minnesota wasn’t going to be worth what it might usually be given the available talent.
That Harvin proved a disaster other than one shining moment in New Jersey makes it a trade Seattle wouldn’t do again, and as time has gone on, the legacy of the 2013 draft is a little better than it looked initially. The top of that class has turned out historically bad — only six of the top 10 players in that draft are even still playing and only three have made a Pro Bowl — but as seasons have passed, some players later in the first round and in later rounds have emerged.
The broader point is that the intel the team had gathered at the combine helped influence their decisions before the draft even arrived.
Which brings us to this year’s ongoing NFL combine, which concluded Sunday.
And one of the overriding assessments of experts once it was over was that several groups of offensive players may be more talent-rich than usual.
One area that wasn’t all that good was the tight-end group. But the receiver class may be historically great, while the general perception is that the draft is also unusually good at offensive tackle, pretty good on the line overall and solid at running back.
Here are a few examples of what was said by those watching closely in Indy:
“This OT draft is stacked,” tweeted draft expert Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network.
“Freakiest group of height/weight/length/speed OLinemen I’ve ever seen. Not close,” tweeted Lance Zierlein of The NFL Network.
The “freakiest” has been Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, who at 6-5, 320 ran a 4.85 40, the fastest of the offensive linemen. More than a few mock drafts have had Seattle taking Wirfs, but he may be out of range of the Seahawks’ first pick at No. 27 now.
“So many good running backs. So many good receivers,” wrote Brett Kollmann of The Film Room, who added that the offensive-line group might be the best since 2008, calling it “an insane class.”
Such assessments only further reinforce some of the views going into the combine expressed by the likes of ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Jeremiah that the receiver class this year could be among the best ever. Kiper famously said two weeks ago there could be 25 receivers taken in the first three or four rounds and 13 in the first two.
But the tight-end class?
“Disappointing numbers for pretty much every tight end” but Albert Okwuegbunam of Missouri, wrote Scott Barrett of Pro Football Focus.
All of which sounds like music to the Seahawks’ ears and something that may further explain how we have seen Seattle approach its offseason to date.
Seattle’s only big move so far has been to sign veteran tight end Greg Olsen to a one-year deal worth up to $7 million with $5.5 million guaranteed. As ESPN and others reported this week, the other $1.5 million is in roster bonuses, which explains why his cap number is $6.906 million.
That’s a significant sum for a tight end who will be 35 next month and has had some notable injuries the past few years. It’s the seventh-highest cap hit for any Seahawk in 2020 and fourth highest on offense behind Russell Wilson ($31 million), Duane Brown ($12.5 million) and Tyler Lockett ($12.25 million).
But the Seahawks needed another tight end and another proven threat for Wilson, and if there weren’t going to be many available options in the draft, then free agency was the way to go.
The signing of Olsen leaves Seattle with $44.6 million in cap space, according to OvertheCap.com, with the ability to create maybe $8 million to $10 million more with a few other roster moves. (The cap may also go up a bit depending on what happens with the proposed new collective-bargaining agreement. But that obviously would go up equally for everyone.)
And we know where the Seahawks need to spend a lot of that money, on re-signing the likes of defensive linemen Jadeveon Clowney and Jarran Reed or finding their replacements.
Sure, Seattle can and will draft defense, too. And in another thing that may help Seattle, what may be the best defensive group is cornerbacks, where Seattle may be in the market to draft someone as immediate competition at the nickelback spot. However, only seven of the 35 listed cornerbacks had an arm length of 32 inches or greater, which has long been something of a cutoff point for Seattle.
But in general, the combine seemed to confirm that this is a draft class better and deeper on offense than defense.
And given the needs on the defensive front — the Seahawks need to vastly improve a pass rush that had just 28 sacks last year even if Clowney and Reed return — free agency, and not needing to rely on immediate help from rookies, seems the more logical way to go.
Which is why a strong offensive draft class — where Seattle has needs but not as urgent — works out well.
If it wants, Seattle can spend its free-agent money on defense (or the bulk of it, anyway) safe with the knowledge that it can probably find plenty of good potential candidates for its offensive needs — a third receiver, depth at running back with Rashaad Penny uncertain to be available for the start of the season, a young tackle if one or both of Germain Ifedi (likely gone) or George Fant leave via free agency — through the draft.
Seattle currently has picks 27, 59 and 64 in the first two rounds and is likely to get awarded a third-round pick as compensation for losing Earl Thomas that would be right around 100 or so (comp picks have yet to be announced), a pick that will essentially replace the third-rounder it dealt to Houston as part of the Clowney deal.
The Seahawks, of course, have a tendency to zig when everyone thinks they will zag, so maybe they’ll do the opposite of everything written above.
But something of a template for Seattle’s offseason strategy may be coming into clearer focus with the combine over.