I won’t be writing posts about every Seahawks player who signs with another team, but I feel exceptions should be made for a former first round pick (15th overall) who has been a regular contributor all four years and a starter for the last three (give or take).
This is just a simple case of Can’t Keep Everybody, plain and simple. The Seahawks have so much money tied to players already on contract, with huge chunks going to our star players. I mean, look at these cap hits for 2016:
- Russell Wilson – over $18 million
- Richard Sherman – over $14 million
- Earl Thomas – nearly $10 million
- Jimmy Graham – $9 million
- Michael Bennett – $7 million (for now)
And so on and so forth. When you add to that the fact that so many other teams have so much money to throw around, it’s plain to see that the Seahawks are going to be losing some guys. Bruce Irvin is one of those unfortunate casualties.
I’m pretty high on Irvin; I have been for a long time. He was noted as one of the best pure pass rushers coming out of the 2012 draft, and I believe that to be a fitting description. He came out of the box with 8 sacks as a rookie, but he was a little undersized to play defensive end (see: the loss to the Falcons in the playoffs in 2012, after we lost Chris Clemons to injury). His 2013 season was one of transition as the team moved him to linebacker, but he re-hit his stride in 2014 and 2015 as a linebacker with heavy pass rushing responsibilities. He’s athletic as all get-out, which is why the transition was such a success, and I feel like he’s got a long and fruitful career ahead of him. Even if he ends up losing a step in his advancing years and/or puts on a little more weight, you can just put him back on the line as a defensive end, and he should be able to continue being awesome.
Now, you may be thinking, “Well, if he was so great, why didn’t the Seahawks find a way to keep him?” And that’s valid. The whole Can’t Keep Everybody thing is true, but if he was REALLY a priority for the Seahawks, they would’ve shuffled some other players out, shuffled some money around, and figured out a way to keep him here. That’s just a fact. If nothing else, they could have used their 5th Year Option on him before last season and at least guaranteed that he’d be here in 2016, allowing us an extra year to get a long-term deal done.
With Bruce Irvin, I’ll never use the word “bust” to describe him, because he was a talented and vital cog in our defense. But, I think the team and the fans had different expectations for a guy drafted in the middle of the first round. A guy being touted as the best pass rusher in the draft (or, at least one of the best 2 or 3 when he came out). For starters, while the Seahawks were the ones touting him that high, the rest of the football universe saw Bruce Irvin as a reach. Many had a 2nd round grade on him, but I don’t know if that was more for character concerns than actual talent levels. Either way, as it started to come out that teams like the Jets and various others were thinking about either moving up to grab him, or take him if he fell to their spots in the first round, the sentiment on that draft choice started to slowly change. And, when you factor in his 8 sacks as a rookie, it might have been reasonable to think we had a phenom on our hands.
Part of what I’m going to call his regression had to do with the Seahawks being stacked across the board in 2013. They didn’t really have the time or the opportunity to bring him along slowly. The Seahawks brought in Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril to join Chris Clemons as the team’s primary pass rushing defensive ends. With Irvin’s limitations in the run game exposed as a rookie, the team obviously wasn’t going to give up on him, so they did what they thought was best for the team, and that was converting him to strong-side linebacker. That obviously cut into his opportunities to get after the quarterback, and his sack totals suffered accordingly. Not that he didn’t contribute in other ways, but when you draft a guy 15th overall as a defensive end/pass rusher, you expect more than the 6 sacks per year that he averaged over the last two years of his deal.
As I’ve said repeatedly, I think his best years are still ahead of him. I think good pass rushing defensive ends age like a fine wine as they gain more experience and learn different techniques to use against offensive linemen. And, quite frankly, I think if Irvin had been given a chance to work out his craft exclusively as a defensive end, we would’ve seen better numbers out of him. But, if that would’ve cost us someone like Avril or Bennett, or if it would’ve cost us our Super Bowl championship in 2013, obviously I’m going to agree with what the Seahawks decided to do.
By all accounts, the Oakland Raiders – with Ken Norton Jr. as their defensive coordinator – have brought him in on a huge deal (makes sense, since they had a ton of money to spend). I think he’s going to be a good player for them for a good many years. They may ultimately wind up winning the free agency period of this offseason with the moves they’re making.
As for the Seahawks, in keeping with the Can’t Keep Everybody philosophy, I’ll add one more: you Can’t Pay All Your Linebackers. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are counting over $12 million against our cap this year combined. Throwing a third big money linebacker into that stew would too closely resemble the travesty that were the later Tim Ruskell years, when he gave big money deals to Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill, and Julian Peterson. It’s just unnecessary! The Seahawks could re-sign Mike Morgan, pay him next to nothing, and put him right into the starting lineup without missing much of a beat. We’ve still got KPL, who’s got the speed to play weakside linebacker, which could push K.J. Wright to the strong side. And, we’ve got any number of draft picks to play around with. You’re telling me we can’t find the next K.J. Wright in the 4th or 5th round this year? Please!
Losing Bruce Irvin is the end of a fun era. The sky was the limit as far as his potential was concerned, and it’s always fun to dream. While he may not have lived up to our original expectations, I’m more impressed with the way he adapted and made the most out of a difficult situation. He very easily could have taken that position-switch as a demotion and sulked about it forever. He very easily could have simply never adjusted or been able to learn the position of linebacker, making him an athlete without a home. But, he put in the work, he learned the position, and he played well enough to garner significant interest from across the league, parlaying that into a big money deal. Best of all? He’s in the AFC, and for the most part out of our hair. The last thing I want to see is Bruce Irvin making us pay for not keeping him.
Still, though, it’s bittersweet. That 2012 draft class will go down in history as the best ever for the Seahawks, despite what Bleacher Report thought at the time. Bruce Irvin, first round, defensive end turned starting linebacker. Bobby Wagner, second round, starting middle linebacker, All Pro. Russell Wilson, third round, starting quarterback, Pro Bowler. Robert Turbin, fourth round, backup running back. Jaye Howard, fourth round, defensive tackle & productive starter for the Chiefs. Jeremy Lane, sixth round, backup/nickel cornerback (potential starter starting this year). J.R. Sweezy, seventh round, starting right guard all four years.
I want to come back, after all their new contracts get finalized, and see just how much money this class is going to be making on their second deals. Aside from Turbin – who was truly a solid backup, but ultimately is nobody’s starter – we’re talking about six guys who should all make significant money! In one draft class! That’s fucking incredible!
And, unfortunately, a lot of those guys will be making that money for other teams. End of an era indeed.