The expected became the reality on Friday: The Seahawks cut ties with wide receiver Sidney Rice and defensive end Red Bryant. Because of their large salaries, neither move was surprising.
But the question is, What do the Seahawks do now?
First, a disclaimer. Free agency has yet to officially start, and the NFL draft is still months away. What happens between now and then could completely alter Seattle’s outlook. Remember, it was in mid-March last year that the Seahawks swooped in and signed free-agent pass-rushers Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril in moves that greatly altered their landscape.
In fact, when thinking of how the Seahawks will move forward, particularly in the case of Bryant, I kept coming back to something defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said at one point this season:
“Even in the offseason, I answered to (coach Pete Carroll), ‘How do we play Cliff?’ ‘I don’t know, I’ll figure it out.’ ‘How are we playing Michael?’ ‘Eh, we’ll play him here.’ ‘What about this guy?’ ‘Yeah let’s try him out and see what he can do.’ And then Pete wants to know. It’s not like he just takes our word above everything. Then it’s our job as coaches to say, ‘This is the role, this how we’ll do it, and this is how it will fit.’”
Quinn’s larger point: The Seahawks are flexible enough to adjust to fit what guys’ do well. What they’ve done before might not be what they do moving forward, and they’re willing to experiment instead of locking themselves in to something.
Over this past offseason, with all the additions along the defensive line, Carroll kept saying that he and the staff needed to see how it all fit together, that it would take time. That’s because the Seahawks were trying to see what combinations worked best. What was the best role for Bennett? How could they get the most out of Avril? Where would Clinton McDonald fit in?
The Seahawks could be in a similar situation heading into this offseason with the potential for plenty of change along the defensive line.
Bryant played in all but one game this season. He was, at times, a huge factor in stopping the run. But he was also up-and-down and was owed a large amount of money in 2014. Those two things made him expendable.
It’s worth looking at the one game Bryant missed this season because of an injury to see how Seattle handled it. He didn’t play against Atlanta, and the Seahawks filled his spot with a rotation of Bennett, Avril, Chris Clemons and occasionally rookie defensive tackle Michael Brooks.
In the upcoming season, Carroll and his staff could decide to go with a more traditional look along the line like they did against Atlanta, opting to use a rotation of true defensive ends like Avril, Clemons and Bennett (Bennett is a free agent and Clemons could be another salary cap victim).
But Carroll favors having a run-stuffing defensive end in Bryant’s mold, and it’s likely the Seahawks will search free agency for an affordable replacement.
As Quinn said of Carroll’s defensive philosophy during the season, “When Coach first got here, through his history of coaching, he had played a lot of under defense, which means that there’s a base end that usually goes to the tight end side or plays over the tackle; he’s not a pass rusher. I had some familiarity with that system as well.”
Two guys who didn’t play this year will be interesting to keep an eye on.
Greg Scruggs missed all of this season with an injury, but at 6 foot 3 and 284 pounds he might be a candidate to step in.
Jesse Williams, a fifth-round draft pick last year, is similar in size to Bryant and has experience playing Bryant’s position in college. But he missed the entire season with injuries, which have been a concern (He was considered talented enough to be a second-round pick but injury concerns dropped him to the fifth round). Carroll said in the preseason that the Seahawks wanted to see how Williams held up in Bryant’s role, but he didn’t stay healthy enough for them to really get a look.
As for the loss of Rice, the Seahawks could be in the market for a big-bodied receiver to replace him (Remember, the Seahawks also drafted Chris Harper with the idea that he presented them with a bigger-bodied target before cutting him).
Rice was never able to create separation this season and wasn’t much of a factor until he shut it down midway through the year because of injuries. He struggled to make tough catches in traffic and never looked like the explosive player he was even a short year ago.
Both players helped lay the foundation for what would become a Super Bowl Winning team, but both became just too expensive to keep at their current rates.