By Brock Huard
John Schneider and Pete Carroll never rest when the opportunity comes to upgrade their roster, whether it’s with draft picks, rookie tryouts, cap casualties, free-agent signings or trades — like the one they made Monday night that sends a conditional seventh-round pick to the Buccaneers for Kellen Winslow Jr.
Winslow, who turns 29 in July, addresses a serious need for the Seahawks: a proven pass-catching target at tight end.
Turns out the Seahawks nearly addressed that need in the third round of the draft in April before deciding to take quarterback Russell Wilson instead. Yet their search for a complement to Zach Miller never ceased. The Seahawks’ ability to continually monitor the market and keep ample salary cap space enabled them to pull off the Winslow move, which should pay dividends in many ways:
Kellen Winslow Jr. gives the Seahawks the receiving tight end they’ve been looking for since losing John Carlson. (AP)
1. The Zach Miller Effect. Winslow, a classic H-back tight end, will allow Miller to play to his strength on the line of scrimmage. Miller is a “Y” tight end, an in-line blocker whereas Winslow is a receiving tight end capable of feasting on linebackers and strong safeties.
2. Defensive conundrum. Tom Cable has talked about the eight- and even nine-man box counts opposing defenses threw at the Hawks a year ago. Putting two tight ends like Miller and Winslow on the field will force the defense’s hand. Play base defense and Winslow is a mismatch; play nickel defense and expect Beast Mode to run off of Miller and set up the play-action pass.
3. Simplify defenses. There is a reason the Indianapolis Colts took two tight ends in the early rounds of their draft: a two-tight-end scheme can simplify an opposing defense for a young signal-caller. Two-tight-end packages can be diverse within their run game, provide ample play-action pass opportunities and even add to pass protection, all the while typically slowing down the amount of options a defense can throw at it. Both Matt Flynn and Wilson are inexperienced, and like Andrew Luck in Indy, the opportunity to simplify an opponent’s plan can help a young signal-caller get comfortable.
4. Help the supporting cast. The addition of a pass-catching threat at tight end should benefit a Seahawks wide receiver core that still has plenty to prove. The run game should be aided by getting that extra safety out of the box. The play-action game should grow in its diversity with an H-back that has the speed and elusiveness of Winslow to stretch the field. The addition of Winslow also puts Anthony McCoy and Cameron Morrah in an incredibly competitive battle to make the team, exactly the position you want two young players who have flashed potential but never realized consistent success to be in.
I really like this move, especially in light of giving up a conditional seventh-round pick. The salary is a bit rich at over $3 million a year, but Winslow hasn’t missed a game the last three seasons and in five of his eight years in the league he would have shattered the Seahawks’ single-season record for receptions and yards by a tight end.
My bet is Winslow will be blown away by the first-class nature of the Seahawks organization, and further enamored with the culture that Carroll has built in the locker room. Making home in San Diego, the trip up the West Coast for OTAs and offseason work will be much easier for Winslow than the trek to Tampa Bay with a Buccaneers organization starting over at head coach.
The Seahawks have a top 10 defense, a bona fide run game, and now Miller and Winslow at tight end and H-back. If Sidney Rice can return to health and form alongside a bevy of young wide receiver talent, the script is being written for a Seahawks team that has vastly improved in two seasons. And now if Flynn or Wilson can step into the role of productive quarterback, 10 wins seems more and more likely.