Red Bryant does a lot of great things on the football field, unfortunately the rest of the league doesn't pay very well for those things usually.
Going into this offseason the Seahawks had four free agents of note: Marshawn Lynch, Red Bryant, David Hawthorne and John Carlson. Lynch signed yesterday, and the Seahawks opted against franchising Red Bryant or any of their other free agents, and quite frankly, it was the right decision.
Bryant is the only player who really even deserved consideration. Hawthorne is a decent middle linebacker. However, the position has become so replaceable that the Seahawks had no reason to pay top dollar for Hawthorne, who spent most of this last season injury prone, and may not be a perfect fit for the Seahawks defense. The team’s last two middle linebackers—Hawthorne and Lofa Tatupu—have both been acquired by means that don’t include first round picks. Tatupu was a second round pick, and Hawthorne was undrafted. Almost immediately after the Seahawks extended Tatupu in 2008 he became something of an injury risk, all of which culminated in his release last offseason.
Carlson seems to have a lot of talent and was very effective under the previous coaching staffs. He never found a productive role in 2010 under Carroll, and missed the entire 2011 season due to injury, but figured to play a reduced role considering the team had signed Zach Miller to a long term deal in the offseason.
So what it really came down to was whether or not Bryant was worth $10.6 million for 2012. Bryant’s statistics don’t truly tell the story of his impact on the defense. He’s one of the keys to the Seahawks run defense which led them to a fairly successful run in 2011. That said, his market value is probably considerably lower than his actual value. I predicted in January that Bryant would get $20 million over four years.
Bryant isn’t a guy who has universal appeal across the league like Mario Williams, who has enough scheme versatility to play in pretty much any defensive scheme. Bryant is a five-technique defensive end who is playing perhaps the only five-technique in a 4-3 in the NFL. The NFL seems to be converting to 3-4s more and more often, but the end position in a 3-4 is perhaps the least glamorous of any down lineman position. Bryant’s job is to eat up blockers and create push, allowing linebackers and interior linemen to fill gaps and penetrate into the backfield.
In 2007, Ty Warren was considered an elite five-technique end, and was given a five-year, $36 million deal. He was a member of an elite trio of defensive linemen alongside Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork, and a front three that had allowed the Patriots to interchange linebackers and members of their secondary.
So Ty Warren, perhaps the best player at the position in the past half-decade, was only worth just over $7 million annually.
While Bryant may seem irreplaceable to some fans, it may be just because we’ve seen 4-3 defenses in Seattle for so long, and such a defense almost never includes a five-technique end. There are several such ends available in free agency, and while they may not be as good as Bryant, chances are they’ll make up for their lesser talent by being significantly cheaper.
These are some of the free agents I think could replace Bryant if he chooses to leave in free agency:
Adam Carriker, Washington Redskins
Kendall Langford, Miami Dolphins
Jonathan Fanene, Cincinnati Bengals
Desmond Bryant, Oakland Raiders
Cory Redding, Baltimore Ravens
Chances are all of those aforementioned linemen will sign for less than Bryant, and chances are they’d be able to produce some reasonable facsimile of what Bryant did last year. Bryant isn’t an every-down lineman anyways, and even though he’s able to move inside on pass downs it’d be hard to justify paying $10.6 million to a rotational lineman. Unless the Seahawks are making a full 3-4 conversion, they shouldn’t pay Bryant anything more than what they’ll pay Brandon Mebane over the next four seasons, as Mebane is likely a better talent, and has essentially universal scheme fit in all 4-3 defenses.