Richard Seymour: A Valuable Free Agent Addition in Today’s NFL

Richard Seymour should have the pick of many teams after June 1st.

It is often noted that today’s NFL is a passing league. With eight of the top 10 seasons for individual passing yards coming in the last five years, it’s impossible to argue against that claim. However, even though it is a passing league and offenses need to have a good quarterback to win games, balance on both sides of the ball is as important as ever.

When you look at the final four teams who competed for this year’s Super Bowl, each were able to run and pass the ball with different approaches. The New England Patriots unbalanced defenses with their plethora of weapons, the Baltimore Ravens have a pair of excellent running-backs and a strong offensive line, the San Francisco 49ers had the best offensive line in the league and a stable of runners in various forms and the Atlanta Falcons used their passing threat to set up the running game.

Yet, ultimately the two teams who made the Super Bowl are considered defense-first units. Led by Justin Smith and Haloti Ngata, the Ravens and 49ers ranked 12th and second in the league in points allowed during the regular season respectively. Smith and Ngata are singled out for very important reasons. Ngata wasn’t fully healthy during the regular season, which was a big reason that the Ravens fell to 12th overall in points allowed per game, while Smith wasn’t healthy in the post-season, when the 49ers’ defensive output dropped notably compared to when he was 100 percent.

In a passing league, there is always going to be defense, and while the natural response would be to think that every team needs a dominant secondary to counter a good passing offense, it’s the defensive line that really dictates how well a defense will play.

Unless you have elite defensive backs and linebackers, versatility on the defensive line is an absolute must if a defense is to counter a strong offense. Because offense is so much a numbers game and space is so important, offenses will often look to exploit the areas of weakness that are created by a defense committing to one aspect of play.

If an offense establishes the run, then the defense will be forced to bring players closers to the line of scrimmage. As the Washington Redskins showed off repeatedly last year, at that point the offense will stretch the field with a vertical passing game. If an offense establishes the pass, then the defense will look to drop more players into coverage or send more exotic blitzes at the quarterback. As the Atlanta Falcons proved, a smart quarterback will be able to check down to running-plays that can then rack up easy yardage.

In today’s league, you need defensive linemen who are big enough to occupy double teams in the running-game, while still being able to be effective as part of a four-man pass-rush. Finding the defensive tackles to do that can be difficult, but there is still one player proven in that role who is a free-agent late into the off-season.

Former New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders’ defensive tackle Richard Seymour is going to be 34 during this coming season and missed eight games last year because of a hamstring injury. Those are the inevitable negatives with a free agent addition at this time of the year, but those are simply ways of negotiating a more cap-friendly contract.

Seymour still has plenty to offer. Although the hamstring injury is an issue, it was the first time that he had missed more than three games in a season since 2007. Over his 12-year-career, Seymour has never had any real issues with durability. It is unlikely that that individual injury is a sign of his decline setting in.

Although he only played 361 snaps last year, rushing the passer on 213 of those, he still managed three sacks and was consistently stout against double-teams in the running-game. Those numbers look all the better when you put them in context. Outside of maybe Lamar Houston, Seymour would be the primary focus for offensive lines when on the field, while the team’s secondary was so bad that it didn’t even look like a legitimate NFL unit.

Crucially, Seymour has proven himself capable of playing in multiple fronts also. In New England, he was a 3-4 defensive lineman who could flip between nose tackle and defensive end if need be. In Oakland, he has played almost exclusively as a defensive tackle in a four-man front. With most teams looking to run more varied fronts today, Seymour’s versatility offers the defense more opportunities to change formations, while his ability allows them to avoid overcommitting to any particular aspect of the offense.

When you take a player of his caliber and remove him from a horrible situation with a terrible team, a revitalising effect can often occur. However, even if it doesn’t happen to him individually, the benefit of playing on a unit with better players should work in Seymour’s favor and he should be able to take advantage of any offenses that ever overlook him as a key difference-maker.

For a competitive team such as the Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers or the New Orleans Saints, adding a Richard Seymour could have a major impact on their defensive displays. Nickel defensive-linemen are as valuable as any other defensive position in today’s NFL. The only real question about Seymour is why he is still unsigned. He does have a fiery character, but was never considered a disruptive force in a locker-room.

In fact, he was considered a leader for the Raiders in recent years.

It could be as simple as Seymour waiting for certain teams to create more cap room with releases that were designated for June 1st. Having been so reluctant to initially join the Raiders when the Patriots traded him, it’s safe to say that Seymour is likely looking for a team who can offer him a playoff-berth. His true value will only be found by a team in the playoffs who will best make use of his skill-set.

You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf

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