Crushed Optimists

We are twin brothers who grew up in Central Washington. This blog is devoted to the life of Seattle sports fans, as well as various other topics that we will espouse for your enjoyment. We could be called another OFFICIAL SEATTLE SEAHAWKS site, but we'll take our uneducated crack at the Mariners, Sonics, and Huskies as well. A Seattle Sports Blog? Must be the land... of crushed optimism!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Cr(ushed)Fire: Should the Seahawks sign Shaun Alexander?

The Super Bowl is over (we lost, by the way).

The combine is.... THE COMBINE!!! Alright, stop it, people, stop the insanity. It's not the end of the world that Vince Young (allegedly) scored into the "dunce" category of the Wonderlick, or that one quarterback can squat more than another quarterback.

The free agent market is dim, to say the least.

That leaves Gavin and I the task of debating whether or not the Seahawks should bring back one Shaun Alexander, he of the MVP, record-setting performance of a year ago.

Many people will wonder why this is a debate, and that is an excellent question. But the truth of the matter is that there are two sides to this issue. There is a reason why Shaun isn't signed yet. And that is the area into which we will delve. Gavin and I will treat this the same way we treated some of the Hawks postseason games, and anyone out there is welcome to join the debate. Just as always, we will add your comment to the overall discussion thread.

Colin: OK, Gavin, let's get this show on the road. I'm going to start out by saying that at the beginning of last season, I was part of the "Kick Shaun Out" club. I was sick and tired of his no show's in previous postseason games, sick of his atrocious pass-blocking, and sick of his seeming inability to gain the crucial yard.

Well, last season proved me wrong in all respects. Shaun was incredible at gaining the crucial yard, improved to adequate in pass-blocking, and showed up for the postseason games after getting his bell rung by Levar Arrington. He was a complete back; as complete a back as you can hope to find in the NFL. He is, by all accounts, a good (if not great) teammate, and an excellent mouthpiece of the team in the media and the community. He has done everything asked of him, even patching up the rough spots of the relationship with Holmgren. He is a true weapon, and the Hawks will suffer without him.

But..... $80 mill? Long-term contract to a running back who is on the wrong side of 28? Gavin, enlighten us as to the reasons why running backs are rarely given long-term deals at this point of their career (hint: Priest Holmes).

Gavin: This is just a difficult decision. On the one hand you have a good guy who set an NFL record. On the other hand, you have an older guy. Let's take a quick look at some recent history.


These five backs represent a broad spectrum of running styles, offensive line strengths, and "punishment". We see a fairly significant drop off by age 31 across the board (outside of last year's freakish performance by Curtis Martin). Even Martin ran into injury problems and hit the wall this year. Shaun will be 29 next year. This means we can only reasonably expect two more good years at this stage of his career, possibly three (in line with Martin) before the wear and tear catches up to him. This is the "Bret Boone" stat line with running backs, an enormous drop off in productivity. The Hawks won't know which year he will go bad, but he will. Knowing this, does it make sense to pay him the type of money he is looking for?

Colin: First, is it a good thing when a movie advertises as, "By the same team that brought you "Hoodwinked"?" Does anyone even know that movie (Hoodwink) existed? And your main vocal talent is Jimmy Fallon, who can't get any real work outside of dancing with Parker Posey in a Pepsi commercial. All this to say.... when I have kids, I am not going to these movies.

Anyhoo.... I think that most people get the fact that running backs age extremely quickly. Gavin illustrated that well, and there are plenty more examples where those come from. The flip side, of course, is that running backs have an extremely small learning curve, allowing studs like Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown to succeed early on.

However, I tend to agree with the argument that Shaun has two, probably three great years left before he begins the fast and inevitable slide towards decay. Thus, I understand Shaun's desire to get the big contract. This is his final chance for big money, because, after now.... no way.

Before I can answer your question, Gavin, we should look at what the possible alternatives are for the Hawks.

Option #1: Resign Maurice Morris
Option #2: Sign another free agent (Edge, Jamal Lewis, etc.)
Option #3: Draft running back

Gavin, how about you start with #1 (and add some more if you can think of any...)

Gavin: Resign Maurice Morris as a starter? The problem is that we really don't know what to expect out of Morris. He's not a great kick returner, not a great third down back and not a great pass receiver. In fact, there's not much to like about Morris above what we got in Alexander. Would Maurice Morris become a 1000 yard rusher? Absolutely. A trained chimp could gain 1000 yards behind our line. That's the beauty of our situation. It's whether or not Maurice could gain 1500 yards that's in question. My thought? If we're getting rid of a 28 year old why would we sign a back who turns 27 in December to replace him? That doesn't seem to make much sense. If we are going to go with a different back for the "age" reason, Morris just doesn't make the cut.

And your numbers are fine, don't worry about it.

I personally think it's funny that the team that brought you "Hoodwinked" can come out with another movie one month after "Hoodwinked" and refer to the stupid thing. Any movie "starring" Whoopie Goldberg as one butt-ugly cow is not one I will enjoy. There are times when I pine for the Disney of the not too distant past, not this "churn out the camp" crap.

Colin: I guess that brings me to Option #2: Sign a free agent to replace Shaun. Again, let's look at the prime downside of Shaun (age) and how that compares with the (presumably) available talent on the market.

Shaun - 28; Edge - 27; Jamal Lewis - 26; Ahman Green - 29; Jerami Johnson - 25; DeShaun Foster - (transition) 26; Michael Bennett - 27; Chester Taylor - 26

As for character, you have Jamal Lewis put in jail last year. As for playoff performances, no one has choked in recent years like Edge and the Colts in the postseason. As for fumbles, look no further than Ahman Green. As for disappearing talent and potential, look no further than Michael Bennett. As for overhyped players, look no further than DeShaun Foster. Throw in one intriguing prospect (Johnson, from the Bengals) and a player that the Ravens will undoubtedly resign (Taylor) and the cupboard is extremely bare in the free-agent market.

That leaves the draft...... Gavin?

Gavin: If we decide not to keep Shaun, the draft is definitely the way to go. Again, whatever back comes in will be running behind the best offensive line in football, so they will perform, regardless of the pressure. Who would be available?
Obviously Reggie Bush is out of the picture. The next backs are:
Deangelo Williams, Laurence Maroney, LenDale White, Joseph Addai, and Maurice Drew. Even a Jerome Harrison (WSU product) is available in a very deep running back class. There are options here. We all know how much I love LenDale White, but unfortunately he did way too well in the National Championship game and so too many teams now know he is the bomb, including the Arizona Cardinals, who apparently are targeting him to run behind their abomination of an offensive line. Go White.
In two mock drafts on ESPN, Williams, Maroney and White are all drafted prior to our late pick. It is apparent we won't get a blue-chip prospect. Still, I would be pretty darn okay with someone like Maurice Drew, who exhibited power and blocking ability during UCLA's season. I guess the question becomes... is a running back out of the top five worth losing Shaun Alexander? What about cost? What else could we then do with that money?

Colin: Is a running back out of the top five WORTH losing Shaun Alexander? Is spending $80 mill WORTH keeping Shaun Alexander? Now we're getting to the real nitty gritty.....

Basically, what I see this coming down to either paying Shaun the big ones, taking the time to bring Shaun down to a more reasonable request, or letting Shaun go and grabbing a running back in round #1 of the draft.

So.... should we pay Shaun $80 mill to be our running back? In a single word.... no. No because, as the fount of wisdom named Denny Green stated today, it is foolish to tie up too much money with one player, ESPECIALLY with the murky recent CBA talks. A football team, unlike, say, an NBA team, relies too much on breadth and depth, especially in the salary cap era. The Hawks know, all too well, that you need a FEW quality players at every position. You need the Marquand Manuel's (I know, he isn't an Pro Bowler, but he was decent) to back up the Ken Hamlin's. You need the ability to sign Hutch to a long-term deal, to keep high-impact young players like Marcus Trufant, Michael Boulware, and Ken Hamlin. You need the ability to make the impact pick-up every year, such as Grant Wistrom, Jamie Sharper, or Bryce Fisher. A contract such as Shaun's make such things much, much more difficult.

Argument #2: Look at the running backs of recent Super Bowl winners. You have Willie Parker last year (no Pro Bowler, that one, though he made us look foolish once), Corey Dillon (right before a massive decline), Kevin Faulk (or whoever else Belichick threw out there), Michael Pittman (right?), etc., etc., etc.

Argument #3: Look at the best team rushing attacks of last year. Denver and Atlanta. Again, these are not $80 mill backs out there.

Does Shaun deserve some big money? Absolutely, same as Walter and Hasselbeck. He might even DESERVE to be the highest paid running back ever. But the Hawks can not afford to pay him that type of money.

Extra: From ProFootballTalk.com

SHAUN MIGHT GET SHORTCHANGED

Early talk at the combine was that running back Shaun Alexander, the 2005 NFL MVP, wants a contract with $22 million in guaranteed money and a total value of $80 million.

It's far more than Alexander legitimately should command on the open market. We're now hearing that the actual number that he will receive is dropping, not rising, as teams spend more time making plans for 2006.

The perception in some circles is that Alexander has the propensity to be a turd (the actual word we've heard is far less charitable than "turd" -- but the actual word does have four letters, the second of which is "u"). And the fear is that he was on his best possible behavior in 2005 and that once he cashes in he'll resort to being a chump.

It wouldn't be unprecedented. Plenty of guys during the free agency era play and behave well the year before hitting the market, but then go south once the check for the bonus money has cleared.

Another guy who some league insiders think might fall into this pattern in 2006 is defensive tackle Gerard Warren, a career underachiever who suddenly woke up in his contract season.

As to Alexander, we'd heard multiple times that the team was leery about signing him to a new deal during the 2005 season due to concerns that, once he got paid, he might no longer be as effective. It sounds like other teams might be starting to develop similar concerns.

POSTED 10:32 a.m. EST, February 26, 2006

Thoughts, Gavin? Anyone?

Gavin: Before I respond, we have some comments to check out!

I agree with MarinerGeek that Shaun appears to be unique from a wear-and-tear perspective. He doesn't get hurt, plays every game, and has for many years. Of course, Jamie Sharper didn't get hurt either until last year. With age comes the likelihood of year-ending injuries. In fact, in my table above, Curtis Martin was the only running back to not suffer an injury in year 31. That is nuts.

That's why MarinerGeek and Eric agree with our general premise, that Shaun doesn't appear to be worth more than three, maybe four years (if the money works out well). Eric has some darn good ideas about spreading the wealth around, with some large signing bonuses (ala Steve McNair) that we don't have to pay if he sucks by then. Finally, I completely agree with Eric. Running backs aren't quarterbacks. We can't drag some yahoo into our system to be Matt Hasselbeck the same way anyone can run for 1000 yards. Thanks for the inputs, guys!

Now back to the thread... Colin lays it all out well.

Option 1: Pay him oodles of cash. We know what happens when you dump too much money into one player... you surround him with crap. Good football teams are just that... teams. Without a good offensive line, Shaun is nothing. Without good wide receivers to force the safeties to play coverage, Shaun is nothing. Without a good quarterback to audible at the line of scrimmage, Shaun is nothing.

Option 2: Pay premier free agent oodles of cash. Why on earth would we do this? What conceivable back would be worth that?

Option 3: Pay mid-level free agent. This would be the Warrick Dunn class of free agent. I would be fine with this. They would be cheaper and more reasonable. We could then draft a back at our leisure to develop behind. This would be the Ricky Watters/Shaun Alexander scenario.

Option 4: Draft a kid and pay all our free agents to stay. I sure like this one a lot. Give Hutch a long term deal. Make sure you have money set aside for Tatupu, Hill, Trufant, Boulware, etc. There are good running backs in this class. We can and should draft one. Now, the argument against that is we do need another defensive end... probably more at this point. I suppose that's why there's free agency. We can't do both.

Here's what it comes down to for me. Either we sign a d-end in free agency and draft a running back or vice versa. Shaun Alexander is not worth the type of money he is asking for, and I sure don't want a pissed off running back tanking our season. We have seen what bad locker rooms are... and they are bad. If he's fine with three-four years at top dollar, then yes, pay the man. If not, good luck finding another team willing to spend it.

posted by colin_hesse @ 11:32 AM  2 comments

2 Comments:

At 3:59 PM, Anonymous MarinerGeek said...

When you talk about the age of football players, I think the primary consideration is wear and tear, not necessarily the player's real age. If it wasn't for the wear factor, there would be no reason you couldn't expect a running back to remain effective into their mid thirties like many baseball players do.

In that regard, I think Shaun is a bit of a unique player. He's got an uncanny ability to avoid contact and if he's able to continue to avoid contact I think he's as safe a risk as you can find.

On the other hand, we saw in the playoffs how volitle he is when someone does get a good lick on him, so you can't say he's immune either.

All that said, I just can't see giving Shaun any more than a three year deal. If he can get someone else to give him a big payday, more power to him.

 
At 4:22 PM, Anonymous eric said...

I think Shaun is a great back, easily one of the top 10 in football. But the fact is that the difference between the 10th best back and the 30th best back isn't that great.

Sorry Shaun, guys with your skill set simply aren't that hard to find. A solid RB who can get 1500 yards behind ourt line is probably available off the waiver wire any given year. Last year Thomas Jones did a fine job filling in for Chicago. Denver finds them every year.

I think the 3 years of continued productivity is a reasonable assumption, Signing bonuses can be divided over 4 years, so worst case you could be looking at dead money fopr 1 year if he falls apart.

I recognize value in continuity and rewarding guys for their past production, so I sign resign him as long as the guaranteed money isn't too bad, say a 12 mil signing bonus and 3 mil a year, that way he counts 6 mil a year for the years he plays, plus worst case an extra 3 mil for the 4th year. That gets him 21 mil in the most likely scenario (15 guaranteed if I understand contracts correctly, the signing bonus and the 1st year).

To make it look like he is highest paid back in football they can throw in an 8 mil roster bonus for year 4 and escalate the deal to 8 mil a year for years 4, 5 and 6 or something, but everyone will of course know he will never see a penny of that money.

I know compared to the deals Jones and Matt got and Hutch will soon get(crossing fingers) that this lookes cheap, but like I said above its all about position scarcity, if Shaun wanted QB money he should have been a QB:-)

 

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