The (low-cost, low-risk) reunion continues on the Seahawks’ defense.
Monday, the first day of the team’s nine-week, voluntary offseason workout program, Seattle officially announced it had signed veteran cornerback Brandon Browner. That was to the one-year contract the Seahawks had announced Sunday for their Super Bowl 48 starter in the 2013 season.
The signing of the 31-year-old Browner came 17 days after the Seahawks signed 34-year-old Chris Clemons to another inexpensive deal for one year. Clemons was a starting defensive end on that Super Bowl-champion team Browner was on for Seattle three seasons ago.
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What these short, cheap moves say: This what the Seahawks can afford.
Before the Browner deal the Seahawks were estimated to have between $5.6 million-$6 million in space under the 2016 salary cap, according to overthecap.com and calculations for the NFL players’ union.
New Orleans released Browner in March after one season of a three-year, $15 million contract, and the Saints guaranteed him $2.75 million for 2016. New Orleans designated Browner as a post-June 1 cut for salary-cap savings this year.
All that means is Seattle is likely to be paying him about or perhaps a little north of $885,000, the minimum for a veteran with Browner’s seven accrued seasons. That fits the Seahawks’ snug cap.
The team still has a few million to spend on its picks in the draft that begins April 28 and on undrafted free-agent signings immediately after it. Plus, Seattle is likely to be shopping in June for more short-term, low-cost veterans other teams release after June 1 for salary-cap relief, particularly offensive linemen.
Oh, and there is the matter of extending the contract of record-setting, No. 1 wide receiver Doug Baldwin. He is entering the final season of his deal in 2016.
What these short, cheap moves mean: Likely new roles for them. Roles will be far more limited and situational than they had when each last played for Seattle, as starters on a championship defense.
The Saints brought in Browner last year to play press coverage at cornerback, after his Super Bowl-winning season with New England in 2014. But he set an NFL record with 24 penalties in 2015, many for holding and illegal contact beyond five yards past the line of scrimmage. He became a target for irate Saints fans. Coaches in New Orleans spent much of the season defending their captain, then admitted his play was not to standard at times. Browner started every game while his Saints finished next-to-last in pass defense, next-to-last in total defense and 7-9 overall, out of the playoffs.
Soon after, Browner described a torn medial collateral ligament he said he got in the preseason opener in August. He said he played through that all last season.
The Seahawks last month re-signed Jeremy Lane for $23 million over four years. That’s not money to sit on the bench. The team also noted Monday DeShawn Shead, a usual special-teams mainstay who played some at cornerback opposite Richard Sherman last season, signed his tender offer last week. Lane and Shead are in line to perhaps interchange between cornerback and inside, nickel back.
Browner, like Lane and Shead, know Seattle’s defensive system. Specifically, they know the Seahawks’ unique, step-kick technique of jamming receivers off the line. Cary Williams did not last year, and the Seahawks learned their $18 million lesson of trying to bring in a veteran defensive back from the outside and trying to start him last season. Williams started for three months then got cut before the Seahawks’ run to the playoffs reached a sprint.
Browner could become a physical matchup DB against bigger receivers, inside or outside, a specialist defending specific-sized and skilled opponents, much like a specialized defender in basketball. Arizona’s 6-foot-3, 213-pound Larry Fitzgerald comes out for a key third down in a division game this season? Here comes the 6-4, 221 Browner to bang on him off the line for that play. That kind of situational use.
Same could be true for Clemons. We’ve already discussed here the dip his career took in Jacksonville last year.
Michael Bennett will be coming off a Pro Bowl season when he had a career-high 10 sacks in 2015, and he is still ultra-motivated to get a contract from the Seahawks better than the $28.5 million one about which he’s complained. Cliff Avril was in my mind the defense’s MVP in Seattle’s meandering first half of last season, living in opponents’ backfields from the end opposite Bennett but not getting his sack numbers. And the Seahawks are going to increase the pass-rushing role for end Frank Clark, their top draft choice in 2015.
If Clemons can be effective getting into the backfield on certain third downs, that would allow the Seahawks to use move of their most effective pass-rush alignment last season: Bennett and sometimes Clark inside as hybrid tackles overwhelming slower guards and centers with quick strikes past them off the snap.
These reuniting signings are not guarantees that either will even make the team. Yet they are hugely popular in the Seahawks’ locker room, and that is no small matter on this team that loves its own and the unique, winning environment it creates. Heck, Sherman still had Browner’s framed Seahawks’ 39 jersey hanging in his house in the eastern King County suburbs while Browner was gone playing for the Patriots and Saints the last two years.
Sherman celebrated Browner’s return to Seattle on Sunday via Twitter:
Whatever roles they may end up earning with the 2016 Seahawks, it isn’t exactly accurate to proclaim Seattle’s original “Legion of Boom” from 2013 -- Browner with Sherman and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor -- is back intact. That’s what this Seattle company is doing, though, for sale on cotton:
Not yet, anyway. Browner, and Clemons, will have to prove themselves in limited, situational fits first.
SHEAD, LEWIS SIGN TENDERS
The above release from the Seahawks listed the tender offers signed on Monday. The team also noted Shead signed him tender last week.
It’s not as though Shead, Patrick Lewis, Mohammed Seisay, Cooper Helfet and Steven Terrell had much of a choice. Per the league’s collective bargaining agreement once a restricted or exclusive-rights free agent is tendered a contract by his team he must sign or not play for anyone in that league year. The only way such players could not sign and go elsewhere to play is if the team that owns their rights pulls the tender offer before June 15, by the way (someone asked on Twitter).
Lewis is the most impacting of these most recent to sign tenders. He signed his $1.6 million offer and now has the inside track to be the starting center he was the last half of the 2015 season. Coach Pete Carroll and line coach Tom Cable credited Lewis replacing Drew Nowak at center midway through last season as a primary reason the Seahawks went from allowing 31 sacks in seven games in the wake of Max Unger’s trade to New Orleans to protecting Russell Wilson well enough for him to become the franchise’s first 4,000-yard passer and for Doug Baldwin to set a team record with 14 touchdown catches.