The Seahawks came into the offseason with the enviable task of having to turn away talented players to keep even more talented players. This is a hazard of being a great team, and sentimentality is something that can get in the way of a team’s continued success.
We found out today that Red Bryant will be released. He’s reputed as a leader in the locker room, and while acquisitions of Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman may ultimately go down as the moves that were most pivotal to the team’s ascent to, and eventual victory in the Super Bowl, the conversion of Red Bryant from a run-of-the-mill defensive tackle who was struggling to keep a hold on a roster spot, to a dominant, blocker-occupying five-technique defensive end in the Seahawks unconventional defensive line scheme that borrows elements from both the base 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, was perhaps the first stroke of genius the team employed under Pete Carroll and John Schneider.
The catalyst for Bryant’s departure, however, isn’t related to him playing poorly, but rather his cap number having an inverse relationship with the health of the Seahawks salary cap. Bryant’s $8.5 million cap number in 2014 was prohibitive to the team keeping him, and while Bryant will still count $3 million against the teams cap, it appears that the team will have the opportunity to make a run at keeping Michael Bennett as a result of cutting Bryant.
Bennett certainly isn’t equipped to fulfill all of the same five-technique duties that Bryant has in recent years, but he’s able to play on either side of the line, and is pretty good against the run, if not absolutely dominant in the pass rush. Middle of the road five-technique ends can be found for substantially less than Bryant’s previous 2014 cap number, and simply release Bryant doesn’t completely negate all chance of Bryant returning to Seattle with a reduced cap number. Bryant is married to the daughter of former Seahawks great Jacob Green, and may feel some gratitude to a coaching staff and front office that turned him from a guy who may have to retire from football in his early 20s to a very wealthy man.
While Bryant playing 46.1 percent of snaps seems alarmingly low, it’s important to understand the context. Bryant’s snaps-played percentage seems less severe considering the team was led by Michael Bennett’s snaps-played percentage of 57.5 percent. Bryant isn’t a pass-rusher, and the Seahawks played with the lead more this season than in past seasons. Some of that may be credited to Bryant, perhaps, but it also made him less valuable to the team. Also, Bryant functionally plays a 3-4 defensive end. That position has a skill set that isn’t tremendously unique, and there are many options on the free agent market that are less expensive than Bryant.
Internally the Seahawks may look to Jesse Williams, Greg Scruggs, or may look to draft Bryant’s replacement at some point in May. Neither Williams or Scruggs figures to be as dominant against the run as Bryant, though Williams has similar measurables, albeit in a more athletic package.
When Sidney Rice was released, some fans went as far as rejoicing, taking to social media to essentially dance on Rice’s termination papers. Bryant’s release will be more polarizing, because Bryant is both effective and a fan favorite. This won’t be the last beloved player the Seahawks are forced to part ways with, though.