Doug Farrar: Word is that the Seahawks tried to throw the boilerplate $49 million-ish offensive lineman contract at Dielman, the left guard of 2006's best offensive line in San Diego. He came up to Seattle on Paul Allen's private jet, and flew coach back to the Chargers where he felt more at home. It was a big blow for Seattle, because Dielman would have solidified the left side with authority and allowed the team to move Rob Sims to right guard. Depth would certainly been less of an issue than it is now. However, I believe that Sims has it in him to be a fine left guard. He impressed from the preseason in his rookie year (looking especially good against the Colts in the first preseason win), and he did well in the regular season. With another year of experience, a starter's role, and the opportunity to line up next to a healthy Walter Jones, Sims could provide protection at an impressive level. He's not Steve Hutchinson, but he's good enough and he's proven that already.
BK: Lofa Tatupu has obviously been a pleasant surprise from day one. Is there any room for improvement in his game, or has he maxed out this early in his career after accomplishing so much his first two seasons?
DF: Tatupu had a good second season, though he didn't quite have the obvious impact he did in his rookie year. I cite two reasons for this – first, nobody expects a middle linebacker to take over a defense the way Tatupu did as a rookie, and his ability to maintain that performance might be seen as a decline, simply because we've seen it before and more is expected now. Second, the loss of defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs for eleven games in 2006 hurt Tatupu because as a smallish linebacker, he does need help from the front four when it comes to engaging linemen so that he can blow through holes and make things happen. Tubbs was the lone D-lineman known for run-stopping, and his absence was glaringly obvious when it came to the Seahawks' inability to keep guys like Steven Jackson and (especially) Frank Gore under control. This is why the Seahawks drafted Cal's Brandon Mebane in the third round.
I expect great things from Tatupu in 2007. The most underrated aspect of his game is that he's perhaps the best 4-3 MLB in pass coverage not named Brian Urlacher. This allows Seattle to bring Tampa-2 looks to the table.
BK: Tight end is definitely a position that is in flux for the Seahawks. What can you tell us about the gentlemen currently on the roster? Can they elevate themselves to the level of play that Holmgren expects out of the position?
DF: Well, after Jerramy Stevens pulled the Tank Johnson Memorial "Former Washington Husky getting arrested in Arizona and ruining his career" stunt in March, the Seahawks finally decided that they'd seen enough of their talented but immature and inconsistent former #1 draft pick. After trying to sign former New England tight end Daniel Graham and losing out to Denver (after outbidding the Broncos for defensive end Patrick Kerney), Seattle settled for the 35-year-old Marcus Pollard.
Pollard, a former Colt and Lion, did have a productive 2005, and his 2006 numbers shouldn't be held against him because Mike Martz uses tight ends about as often as Paris Hilton uses good judgment. He could be a decent option as a receiver, though the number of players at his position, at his age, who put up big numbers can be narrowed down to Shannon Sharpe and nobody else. Will Heller is more adept as a blocker, and undrafted free agent Joe Newton from Oregon State might surprise – like your rookie tight end Ben Patrick, he sort of slipped under the radar with the surplus of late-round picks at the position.
BK: After making several splashes in free agency last offseason, things were pretty quiet in the Pacific Northwest this offseason. Did the roster improve enough (or, is it still good enough) to keep the lock on the division?
DF: The roster improved in some ways (I think the front seven will be incredible if Tubbs can stay healthy), but there are still some holes. The real challenges will be along the offensive line, at tight end, and in the secondary. Veteran safeties Brian Russell and Deon Grant, both free agent signings, will patrol the defensive backfield, but I don't know if there will be enough improvement from last year's mistake-prone secondary to help the team with a tougher schedule in 2007.
BK: Is the NFC West still Seattle's division to lose? Who scares you the most and why?
DF: To answer your last question here - Is there still enough quality on this team to take the NFC West again? Sure. It will take San Francisco living up to every bit of the (somewhat justified) preseason hype for the Seahawks to miss out on another division title. And that's not so much a ringing endorsement of the Seahawks as it is an indictment of the division.
If you add the DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, Football Outsiders' system which breaks down every single play and compares a team's performance to the league average) of all four teams in each division together, three divisions had negative DVOA in 2006: The NFC North, South and West. The AFC West ended up with a 0.0% DVOA, which is what happens when you have one great team, two good teams and the Oakland Raiders. The NFC West's DVOA was ten times worse than the NFC North, and three times worse than the NFC South. No team in the NFC West finished with a positive overall DVOA, which is kind of a scary thought. However, the Seahawks had that negative DVOA with 59 starter games lost to injury and their best player (Jones) playing hurt all year. Expect a decent bounceback.
I think the Cardinals are the same year away from potential success that the 49ers were in 2006, and I foresee a fairly heavy decline for the Rams. It's the Seahawks' division to lose once again.
Brad Keller is the Associate Editor of CardinalInsider.com. Feel free to e-mail him here.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET and a staff writer for Football Outsiders. He wrote the NFC West chapters for the Pro Football Prospectus 2007 book, which will be available just about everywhere on July 23. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.