Doug Farrar: Are they better off keeping the money (though I doubt very much that they'd have paid out the entire sum)? This year, perhaps not. Over time, no doubt. As San Diego fans well know, the stock for guards spilt in 2007 much like it did for cornerbacks in 2005. Dielman was but one of the beneficiaries. I'm still not sure exactly why he took a flight up to Seattle – perhaps he just wanted to see what Paul Allen's plane would be like – but he was wise to re-commit to the Chargers, their excellent line, and a spot next to outstanding young LT Marcus McNeill.
Sims, who was drafted in the fourth round out of Ohio State last year, surprised from the preseason on and really made a move in the last few games of the regular season when the Seahawks finally put him in at starting left guard. He was very solid against two strong front sevens in the playoffs (Dallas and Chicago), and all preseason reports this year point to a very bright future. Ironically, Sims and Dielman are both listed at 6'4", 310 pounds.
Sims is a workout fanatic with an aggressive attitude, and he should benefit from playing next to a healthy Walter Jones this year. Nobody thought that Dielman would be an elite guard when he was an undrafted defensive tackle, so I see no reason that Sims can't find that same status over time. The Seahawks have Sims signed through 2009, and his base salary in that season (if he doesn't get an extension before then) will be $530,000. Dielman's base will be $5,500,000. Not a bad deal…
ML: Last year, the Chargers led the league in sacks, while the Seahawks finished No. 6. With the addition of Patrick Kerney and the development of Darryl Tapp, can Seattle make the leap to No. 1 in 2007? Is there any way Julian Peterson can top his fantastic numbers from a year ago?
DF: The sack numbers were a bit of a mirage – nine of those sacks came in one game against the Oakland Raiders and their Chef-Boy-ar-Dee offensive line. Seattle's defense wasn't quite as adept with quarterback pressure as the numbers might seem to indicate, either – it was a feast-or-famine proposition. Kerney's a great addition from a pressure perspective – he's a forward-moving sack artist who will have freedom to make plays in this defense. Tapp will be solid in rotation as well, and I think he can learn a lot from the veteran Kerney.
Regarding Peterson, the defense is in better hands when he's showing off his great versatility than it is when he's simply blowing off the line as a rush end. Seattle has a little-known linebacker by the name of Leroy Hill who is great at rushing the passer and stopping the run, but he's far less adept in coverage. This year, I think we'll see both men playing to their strengths a bit more than last year. When the Seahawks first got Peterson, they treated him a lot like you would a very expensive grand piano – it's a wonderful addition to the house, but it takes a while to figure out where to put it.
ML: The Seattle offense fell from No. 2 in 2005 to No. 19 in 2006. Other than staying healthy, what can the Seahawks do to get back to that elite level? How much of this falls on wide receivers Deion Branch and Nate Burleson breaking out in their second seasons in the system?
DF: Well, Branch is on the hook more than Burleson, because the Seahawks gave up their 2007 first-round pick for Branch, and paid him #1 receiver money. With the trade of Darrell Jackson to the 49ers, Branch will be expected to perform like an elite receiver from day one. He was acquired from New England last September, so him somewhat disappointing season could be mitigated by the fact that he hadn't had time to build a rhythm with Matt Hasselbeck. This year, there are no excuses.
Burleson struggled with injuries last year and dropped a lot of passes early on, but I was very impressed by his ability to accept his "demotion" to special teams. He gave it his best, and his 90-yard punt return score against the Rams in November probably saved the team's season.
Of course, there was also the matter of his 96-yard kickoff return TD against the Chargers last year that was negated by a completely bogus holding penalty on tight end Bennie Joppru, but we won't mention that.
Beyond that, I think Seattle's offense desperately needs more short passing options to the running backs. Whether it's Shaun Alexander, Maurice Morris or tight end-to-fullback convert Leonard Weaver, someone needs to give the Seahawks those little drive extenders which will also give Hasselbeck an escape hatch when the line collapses. Seattle was pathetic with the screen pass last year, and that needs to change. This is no surprise to you – LaDanian Tomlinson is as good a receiving back as the league has ever seen, and you know what that option does for any quarterback – especially a young quarterback like Philip Rivers.
ML: How have the new safeties -- Deon Grant and Brian Russell - been fitting in so far this offseason, both on the field and in the locker room? How much of an impact will these veterans have on the backend of the defense?
DF: Well, the idea is that the experience attained by Grant and Russell will allow new secondary coach Jim Mora to call some interesting coverages. Last year, the Seahawks' secondary was very athletic, but it had to be because the defensive backs were trying to recover from so many mistakes. Now, Grant and Russell will join their veteran savvy with the speed and youth of cornerbacks Marcus Trufant and Kelly Jennings.
Trufant had a pretty bad 2006, but the team is moving him back to left cornerback after two years on the right side, where he seemed far less comfortable. You my remember Jennings from his coverage of Vincent Jackson – Jennings was a rookie last year and he's still learning, but he's got great short-area speed, good overall quickness, and he's a very hard worker. If Grant and Russell can stay healthy, I'd expect a good upswing from a secondary that really disappointed last year. The kids at cornerback need a lot more coaching than they've received.
ML: It appears that all of the Seahawks' divisional foes are on the rise. After seeing what the San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals did this offseason, which team gained the most ground? Which of them poses the biggest threat? Should Seattle still be considered the favorite in the NFC West?
DF: I think the division is still Seattle's to lose, but the 49ers have climbed out of the basement and made their team impossible to ignore with an aggressive free-agency draw and a very solid draft. The Cardinals seem to me to be the same year away that the 49ers were in 2006, but the act of firing Dennis Green is probably worth two wins all by itself.
I'm predicting a pretty serious slide for the Rams – they wasted career years from their quarterback and running back, great fortune with injuries on offense, and a very high success rate on third downs with a really abysmal defense. The defensive front seven could improve a bit this year, but the secondary is atrocious. I also see a slight regression on offense, and you always have to wonder if Scott Linehan's coaching issues in the red zone will resurface.
The Seahawks just barely won a horrible division last year, but they get a relative pass from me because their injury situation was so pronounced. I think they're a stronger nine- or ten-win team in a somewhat improved division. Not the dominant 13-3 team we saw in 2005, but better than last year.