Monday, the first day of the team’s nine-week, voluntary offseason workout program, Seattle officially announced it had signed veteran cornerback Brandon Browner. That was to the one-year contract the Seahawks had announced Sunday for their Super Bowl 48 starter in the 2013 season.
The signing of the 31-year-old Browner came 17 days after the Seahawks signed 34-year-old Chris Clemons to another inexpensive deal for one year. Clemons was a starting defensive end on that Super Bowl-champion team Browner was on for Seattle three seasons ago.
What these short, cheap moves say: This what the Seahawks can afford.
Before the Browner deal the Seahawks were estimated to have between $5.6 million-$6 million in space under the 2016 salary cap, according to overthecap.com and calculations for the NFL players’ union.
New Orleans released Browner in March after one season of a three-year, $15 million contract, and the Saints guaranteed him $2.75 million for 2016.
The team still has a few million to spend on its picks in the draft that begins April 28 and on undrafted free-agent signings immediately after it. Plus, Seattle is likely to be shopping in June for more short-term, low-cost veterans other teams release after June 1 for salary-cap relief, particularly offensive linemen.
What these short, cheap moves mean: Likely new roles for them. Roles will be far more limited and situational than they had when each last played for Seattle, as starters on a championship defense.
The Saints brought in Browner last year to play press coverage at cornerback, after his Super Bowl-winning season with New England in 2014. But he set an NFL record with 24 penalties in 2015, many for holding and illegal contact beyond five yards past the line of scrimmage. Coaches in New Orleans spent much of the season defending their captain, then admitted his play was not to standard at times. Browner started every game while his Saints finished next-to-last in pass defense, next-to-last in total defense and 7-9 overall, out of the playoffs.
The Seahawks last month re-signed Jeremy Lane for $23 million over four years. That’s not money to sit on the bench. The team also noted Monday DeShawn Shead, a usual special-teams mainstay who played some at cornerback opposite Richard Sherman last season, signed his tender offer last week. Lane and Shead are in line to perhaps interchange between cornerback and inside, nickel back.
Browner, like Lane and Shead, know Seattle’s defensive system. Specifically, they know the Seahawks’ unique, step-kick technique of jamming receivers off the line. Cary Williams did not last year, and the Seahawks learned their $18 million lesson of trying to bring in a veteran defensive back from the outside and trying to start him last season. Williams started for three months then got cut before the Seahawks’ run to the playoffs reached a sprint.
Same could be true for Clemons.
Michael Bennett will be coming off a Pro Bowl season when he had a career-high 10 sacks in 2015, and he is still ultra-motivated to get a contract from the Seahawks better than the $28.5 million one about which he’s complained. Cliff Avril was in my mind the defense’s MVP in Seattle’s meandering first half of last season, living in opponents’ backfields from the end opposite Bennett but not getting his sack numbers. And the Seahawks are going to increase the pass-rushing role for end Frank Clark, their top draft choice in 2015.
If Clemons can be effective getting into the backfield on certain third downs, that would allow the Seahawks to use move of their most effective pass-rush alignment last season: Bennett and sometimes Clark inside as hybrid tackles overwhelming slower guards and centers with quick strikes past them off the snap.