One of the more interesting moves of the offseason has seen the Seahawks return to some familiar faces, in signing Chris Clemons and now Brandon Browner to 1-year prove-it deals. As this post posits, perhaps this is a reaction to a perceived void in veteran leadership on this team. You could argue that this team has a lot of leaders already, in Wilson, Graham, Baldwin, and Kearse on offense; and Earl, Sherm, Wagner, Wright, Bennett and Avril on defense. Nevertheless, I would say – to borrow from Jim Mora Jr. a little bit – that the team doesn’t necessarily have very many dirtbags on the team. Enforcers who bring one primary trait to the table: pain. Clemons, by all accounts, is a nasty customer, whose focus on taking out the quarterback is legendary on this team. And, of course, we all know how lethal Brandon Browner can be. I would also note that with Kris Richard as a first-time defensive coordinator, and a young one at that, it’s nice to have an abundance of veterans on this defense to show the younger players how it’s supposed to be done.
In the ol’ Gods & Clods way of team-building, you’ve got a lot of expensive players, and a lot of very VERY cheap players (usually rookies/guys on rookie deals). When you can bring in players on cheap, 1-year deals, who know the system and are able to bring something of a teaching element to Training Camp (even if it’s simply leading by example), I believe there’s really no downside to these types of moves. There’s no guarantee either Clemons or Browner make the team in 2016, but if they push younger guys to be great in the pre-season, they will have been well worth the modest cost of their signing bonuses.
With both of these guys, you’re looking at 50/50 deals as far as whether they make the team or not. I think with Clemons, it’ll be a matter of him proving he’s still got it. You don’t bring in a guy like Clemons to be a starter; you bring him in to add a little extra to your pass rush in obvious passing situations (to help lessen the blow of losing a guy like Irvin). If he comes in during Training Camp and pre-season and he looks a step slower than everyone, then hey, at least he’ll impart some lessons to the younger guys, and it doesn’t cost you much to cut him.
With Browner, I’ll give the same odds of him making the team, even though his position has much more competition. Browner’s reputation has taken quite a hit the last couple years. He was a big part of costing the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, but at the same time, he was super prone to penalties and was cut by the Patriots after the season ended. Then, he cashed in with New Orleans, but his defensive coordinator was a boob and didn’t use him properly, so he continued making many boneheaded penalties and getting beat frequently. The Seahawks know what Browner brings to the table, limitations and all. In this system, Browner made a name for himself, and was able to cash in on that. Returning to this system, we should see something of a bounce-back year out of him (assuming he makes the team, of course).
I’m not as negative as a lot of Seahawks fans are with this move, mostly because I agree the guy wasn’t in the right scheme last year. If you bring in a veteran on a free agent deal, you sure as shit better adapt your defense to him and not the other way around. With a rookie, you can mold him; with a veteran, you’re not teaching an old dog new tricks (unless he’s a superstar like Revis, but even then, he struggled a bit in Tampa when they had him play more zone coverage than his customary lockdown man coverage).
I’m also tempering my expectations a little bit. Browner’s best years with the Seahawks were in 2011 and 2012 (mostly 2011, if we’re being honest; his Pro Bowl season). He wasn’t exactly all that dominant in 2013, when he played only 8 games, and wasn’t even around during the stretch run or the playoff run; that’s where Byron Maxwell stepped into the starter’s role and ran with it. Even Browner at his best has his limitations. He’s not as great against smaller, shifty receivers. Against a guy like Kearse – who he was able to shut down in the Super Bowl – Browner is all kinds of effective. In that sense, you wonder if he’s a guy who will see a lot of time in certain games, against certain teams, and then next to nothing against others.
What we should all be looking forward to is the fact that – barring injury – Browner isn’t coming in to be a starter. Jeremy Lane is the one who got the big contract, and he’s going to see the majority of the snaps on the field after Sherm, Earl, and Kam. Browner is here for depth – so the team is able to push Lane inside on nickel situations – and he’s here to push Tharold Simon, who is solid when healthy, but who’s never healthy for a full season. In that sense, as a depth piece, he further cements the secondary as the best unit on the team, and nearly brings us back to the greatness that was the secondary of 2013.
We’ll see how it all shakes out in the pre-season, but my initial impressions are nothing but favorable.