NFL Nation: Earl Thomas

ShermanMark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsRichard Sherman says the Seahawks won't let their Super Bowl win affect their work ethic.
RENTON, Wash. -- Earl Thomas loves it now when people call him champ. He also must feel pretty good about a new contract worth $40 million.

Defensive end Michael Bennett has a new deal worth five times what his old contract was worth, and wide receiver Doug Baldwin has 13 million reasons (in dollars) to be content.

Quarterback Russell Wilson soon could become the highest paid player in NFL history.

Even for the lesser known players on the Seattle Seahawks roster, life has changed. The best table at the finest restaurants in town is a guarantee. Hotels offer upgrades to the best suite in the house.

There are new commercial endorsements and requests for public appearances. People who didn’t know their names a year ago now know their life stories and see them as heroes and community leaders.

Then there is the team's supercelebrity, cornerback Richard Sherman. Since winning the Super Bowl, Sherman was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Time magazine, joined Wilson at the White House Correspondent Dinner, was asked to speak at Harvard, will be in a Campbell Soup commercial with his mom and will grace the cover of this season’s "Madden 15" NFL video game.

Oh, and he also has a new contract worth $56 million, after making $600,000 last season.

"It’s been unbelievable and a year to remember," Sherman said this week. "Winning the Super Bowl and all the accolades that came with it are wonderful. You get some perks. You go places where you don’t even expect people to know who you are, but they do.

"It feels good and shows you accomplished something and made an impact. You can never quantify what that means. You take it for what it is and enjoy the moment."

[+] EnlargeDoug Baldwin
AP Photo/Paul JasienskiWide receiver Doug Baldwin is among the Seahawks who received new contracts this offseason.
It has been quite a ride, and it can change a man once he reaches the pinnacle of his profession, receiving attention and riches beyond what he could imagine.

Such an enormous change on the ladder of success leaves one key question: Once you become a star, can you remain true to who you are?

The answer to that will go a long way toward determining whether the Seahawks continue to play the game at a championship level.

Will all the acclaim from winning the Super Bowl make it difficult to stay humble and hungry?

"No, because that never was the end goal," Sherman said. "We have a bunch of guys who want to be in the [Pro Football] Hall of Fame and do more things than just win one Super Bowl.

"I think it’s more about love for the game that allows us not to get complacent. We have Pro Bowl players out here acting like they’re fighting or a job. That’s who we’re always going to be."

The coaches say they haven’t seen a single indication that these players have changed their attitude from a year ago.

"When you see how hard our guys are working, you wouldn't know they just won the Super Bowl," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "The same work ethic is there."

Coach Pete Carroll said Sherman is a prime example because he hasn’t missed a single day of offseason workouts or voluntary practice sessions.

"I’m a ballplayer," Sherman said. "What else am I gonna do? When you’re a ballplayer in your heart, this is what you sleep, breathe and eat. I couldn’t imagine myself being anywhere else."

It’s about remembering where you came from. Sherman and Baldwin were among the overlooked and under-appreciated guys ... until now, of course. Angry Doug, as he is known to his teammates, said he has the same passion to prove himself. Sherman said he is still the kid who made good coming out of a rough Los Angeles neighborhood in Compton.

"I’m still the raggedy dog," Sherman said. "That never goes away. You can’t change how you were raised. You can teach and old dog new tricks, but you can’t change where he’s from."

Baldwin said it’s all about looking beyond where they are now.

"I think the guys we have on this team, all of them, want to leave a legacy that’s bigger than just winning a Super Bowl," Baldwin said when he signed his new contract. "Obviously everyone around us, the fans, the community, the city of Seattle, has shown that they’re extremely excited about us. But we’re just so anxious to get back to work."

In Monday’s practice, Thomas pulled aside a rookie and chastised him because Thomas felt he wasn’t playing at the proper tempo on every play. Then he patted him on the helmet and said, "Show me what you’ve got."

Thomas said one thing is never mentioned: winning the Super Bowl.

"It doesn’t matter now," he said. "It’s all about what’s next."

Carroll has been down this road before, although somewhat of a lesser scale, when his USC team won a national championship. He believes it’s his job to make sure the team’s attitude is in the right place.

"I take total responsibility for it," Carroll said. "We hope that the lessons we’ve been teaching all along will fit the situation that we’re faced with right now. We’re trying to monitor it really carefully. It’s an incredible challenge, but I love the challenge we have."

Carroll has a list of things he needs to see.

"For us as coaches, it’s about taking in all the information," he said. "How are the guys handling it? What’s their language like? Where’s their focus and are they tuned in? Making sure they’re not somewhere else and thinking about something else.

"If we start doing that, we won’t have a chance to be the type of team we’re capable of being. It takes discipline. I’m watching and listening for that discipline.”

Over the course of two seasons, the Seahawks went from commoners to royalty. Rich and famous has its advantages. It also has its disadvantages if one isn’t careful.

"Like they say, you never stay the same," Sherman said. "Either you’re getting better or you’re getting worse."

Baldwin said there is a reason beyond athletic skill why the Seahawks became champions. It’s the same reason why they will not allow their success to go to their heads.

"We want to show that we belong, that it wasn’t a fluke," he said. "We want to show we can go out and do it again. And we will do it again."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Jerry Gray spent the 2010 season as the defensive backs coach for a Seattle Seahawks team that made the playoffs with a dubious honor, becoming the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs with a losing record after winning the NFC West at 7-9.

One of Gray's tasks that season was to develop the two safeties the Seahawks had taken in that year's draft -- Earl Thomas, whom the team drafted in the first round, and Kam Chancellor, the Seahawks' fifth-round pick. Four years later, the Seahawks are the world champions, thanks in no small part to Thomas and Chancellor, who might form the best safety duo in the NFL.

[+] EnlargeHarrison Smith
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsThe Vikings are counting on Harrison Smith to be an integral part of their new defense.
And Gray is now in Minnesota, working with a player who could put his name in the same sentence as the Seahawks' duo by the end of this season.

"I think you'll see him as one of the top safeties in the league," Gray said. "Him and Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, they were all drafted around the same time, and now they're going to be in there about the same time. That's a sentence you want to be in, if you're Harrison."

If a turf toe injury slowed Harrison Smith's progress toward becoming one of the game's best safeties last season, his role in the Vikings' new defense could accelerate it this year. The Vikings have big plans for Smith in Mike Zimmer's new scheme, which should give the 25-year-old a more active role than he had in the Vikings' old Cover-2 defense.

"We're going to get him more involved," Gray said. "He'll be blitzing some. He'll be covering some. He'll be in the middle of the field. The thing that we're trying to do right now is, figure out what he's best at, and then put him in that position. Can he be one of the better safeties in the league, doing what we're teaching him here?"

As many Vikings players are doing during the team's voluntary minicamp this week, Smith is trying to digest a new scheme as quickly as he can. That process has been helped, Smith said, by doing film work with a focus on correcting small technique issues, which Zimmer has been drilling in the Vikings' first practices as a team.

"On film sometimes you can see my toe coming up, which means I'm on my heel," Smith said. "So that just means I need to put more weight on my toes. Small things like that that will give you a fraction of a second out of your break and maybe get an interception instead of a [pass defended] or make a play I wouldn't have made."

Smith has the speed and instincts to cover receivers, which could be a bigger part of his role than it ever was in a Cover-2 defense. If he's able to play man coverage on an inside receiver, the Vikings can spend more time in their base defense and keep an extra linebacker on the field for run situations, instead of shifting to their nickel package and giving up some size in the middle of the field.

"Now, people say, 'What am I going to do? I can't run it, because they've got their big guys in. I can't throw it, because their safety can cover my No. 2,'" Gray said. "That's really what Seattle does a lot. They keep their base out there, Earl Thomas goes down to cover No. 2, and then they put Kam in the middle. You don't want to run against Kam, you can't throw it against Earl, and now you make the best of both worlds. Hopefully we can get our guys to understand that concept."

The Vikings still need to see how well Smith can handle a broader role, but he's already shown flashes of becoming a star in his first two years in the league, returning two of his three interceptions for touchdowns as a rookie and picking off a pair of passes in just eight games last season.

Now, if a new scheme turns him loose, Smith could find himself on a short list of the league's elite.

"He's not afraid to go up in run support. He understands what leverage is. He understands all those things," Gray said. "With the second day [of minicamp], he's trying to figure out, 'Where do I fit in? What do I do here?' When you get past responsibility, and let talent take over, I think he'll be one of the best."
Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas was running a little late for a news conference in his honor Tuesday, so he might have gone a tad over the speed limit on the way there.

A police officer pulled him over just up the street from the Seahawks' facility. The officer took one look at the driver and let him go with a warning, immediately becoming the most popular policeman with all the 12s.

After all, it was Thomas' big day, the official announcement of the contract extension to make him the first $10 million-a-year NFL safety. The exact numbers are a four-year, $40 million deal with $27.75 million guaranteed and a $9.25 million signing bonus.

"This is a family to me," Thomas said. “I love everybody in this organization. It's not about me. It’s about the people that helped me along the way, too. This is where I grew up [as a football player]. I’m excited to keep this going.”

So are the Seahawks. General manager John Schneider called it a “historic day.”

Coach Pete Carroll said of Thomas’ extension: “It's a very proud moment for us.”

Cornerback Richard Sherman, who also is negotiating a contract extension that could be completed soon, sent out this tweet and Instagram photo.

 

Asked about Sherman's contract, Thomas said he's not worried. “Sherm's got it under control.”

Thomas's extension will piggyback on the final year of his current contract, which pays him $4.6 million in 2014. So the extension keeps him in Seattle through the 2018 season when he’ll be 29.

Thomas said the contract negotiations started out of the blue. He wanted to have it done before training camp.

He said it was important to him to become the highest paid safety, not for the money, but to show his separation as a competitor.

When the news conference ended, Thomas asked all the Seattle defensive coaches to join him on stage because he wanted them to be a part of it.

That says a lot about why the Seahawks were willing to make Thomas’s salary reflect the fact he is the best safety in football.

And being a Seattle hero and good guy might also help you get by with a warning -- this time around -- when you're caught speeding.

If reports Tuesday are accurate, cornerback Richard Sherman is about to become a very wealthy man.

Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports first reported the Seahawks are close to reaching a contract extension with Sherman that likely will pay him more than $13 million a year.

Technically, that would make Sherman the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL at the moment. Darrelle Revis, Sherman’s rival, signed a two-year deal with New England worth $32 million overall, but it pays him $12 million this season.

Revis was released by Tampa Bay earlier this year. He had a $16-million-a-year deal with the Bucs.

Sherman is the best corner in the game, so it’s no surprise he will be paid in a fashion to reflect it. However, it will be a bit of a surprise if this deal gets done ahead of a contract extension for Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas.

It was thought the Seahawks would work an extension with Thomas first, then move to Sherman. Or they might wait to use a franchise tag on Sherman at the end of the 2014 season.

But reports Tuesday claim Seattle could reach an extension with Sherman before the NFL draft, which starts May 8.

Thomas, in the final year of a deal that pays him $5.5 million this season, is looking for a deal that will make him the first $10 million-a-year safety. Sherman is in the last year of his original rookie contract and is scheduled to make $1.5 million this year.

The best-case scenario for the Seahawks is to have both Sherman and Thomas signed to extensions before training camp starts this summer.

The Seahawks have been conservative in the free-agent market this spring. Along with releasing a few veteran players, to free up salary-cap space, Seattle knew it needed to look to the future on top players it wanted to re-sign.

Another one of those is quarterback Russell Wilson, who has a bargain-basement base salary this season of $662,000. Wilson can re-negotiate his deal at the end of this season, and could command over $20 million a year.

So Sherman could be the first of the trio to hit the contract jackpot, if today’s reports are accurate, but it’s wise to be cautiously optimistic.

The Seahawks haven't commented on this, and they probably won't. That’s the right policy when negotiating with star players and their agents on deals worth so much money.

Things can change, but all indications are the Seahawks are doing everything they can to show Sherman how much he means to them and how they want him to be here for many years to come.

Chat recap: A look at safety play

April, 10, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- We had another lively Dallas Cowboys chat on Wednesday with a wide range of topics.

We touched on the Cowboys possibly trading down in the first round if a player like Aaron Donald was not available, the non-issue (to me anyway) of Tony Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray in Jerry Jones’ suite at the NCAA title game, if the scheme change was just an excuse for some of the poor defensive play in 2013 and, as always, drafting a quartrerback.

If you want to read the whole chat, click here.

If you have more questions, send me one on Twitter (@toddarcher) and use the #cowboysmail hashtag. The mailbag posts will go up Friday and Saturday.

But Geno in Plano asked a question I’d like to expand upon.

Church
Thomas
Geno: the Cowboys seem to undervalue the safety positions- always seem to back fill or try a stop-gap; any chance of signing a more proven commodity this year pre- or post- draft?

Todd Archer: I don't think so, Geno. There's not a real proven guy worth it right now. Look at Marinelli's safeties in Chicago. They were solid players but hardly stars. Maybe they look in the draft, but I really think they try to see what they have in J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath and Matt Johnson.

To expand, I have received a ton of questions about the safety spot this offseason because there is no doubt the play was poor in 2013 next to Barry Church. The Cowboys have not expressed interest in any veteran safeties that I have been able to determine, so it looks clear they will go with Wilcox, Heath and Johnson, as I stated in the answer. Personally, I’d take a look at Steve Gregory, but they are not about to take me up on that suggestion.

Jimmie Ward is among the pre-draft visitors, so they could look at him as well.

But the notion is that the Cowboys have to have an Earl Thomas to succeed in today’s NFL. Sure, but how many teams have an Earl Thomas? Five years ago everybody was saying the Cowboys needed to get a safety like Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed. Sure, but how many of those guys are rolling around?

They are rare players. I think the Cowboys would have selected Kenny Vaccaro last year if he wasn’t scooped up by the New Orleans Saints before Dallas picked in the first round. He was gone, so they traded down.

In his three years with the Chicago Bears, [Rod] Marinelli’s safeties were Danieal Manning and Chris Harris in 2010, with Chris Conte and Major Wright handling the duties in 2011-12. The Bears let Manning walk as a free agent when the Houston Texans offered him a big deal. Conte and Wright were third-round picks in the 2011 and 2010 drafts, respectively.

Wilcox was a third-round pick last year by the Cowboys.

Since 2000, the winning Super Bowl teams have had five All-Pro safeties: Rodney Harris (New England), Polamalu (twice), Darren Sharper (New Orleans) and Thomas.

You can get by with functional safeties. Marinelli did it in Chicago. He will try to do it here as well.

The question should be do the Cowboys have a functional safety next to Church, not whether they can get a Thomas.
The only player evaluations that matter, as far as the Eagles are concerned, are the ones done by general manager Howie Roseman and his staff.

The media-produced rankings of potential NFL free agents may not tell us much about what the Eagles are thinking. But the wide range of evaluations can provide insight into how wildly divergent different teams' opinions can be.

Let's take a look at the safety position, which figures to be an area the Eagles try to address. Buffalo's Jairus Byrd is generally considered the best safety available, but there are dissenting opinions.

Over at NFL.com, Byrd is listed as the No. 1 free agent available regardless of position. He is the only player tagged as a “difference-maker.” On ESPN Insider, former NFL executive Bill Polian and his team have Byrd as the fourth-ranked safety. Antoine Bethea of the Colts, the only safety with an A grade, is rated the best safety on the market.

Polian has Miami's Chris Clemons as his second-ranked safety, with Cleveland's T.J. Ward third. NFL.com calls Clemons “a league-average starter,” which would still make him an upgrade for the Eagles.

Over at Pro Football Focus, Byrd is rated the top safety and No. 2 free agent overall, behind only Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett. PFF rates Ward as the second best safety (No. 8 overall), while Clemons is No. 30 overall. Bethea, the top safety and a Grade-A player for Polian, is No. 61 overall on PFF's list and No. 51 on the NFL.com list.

PFF places Byrd in the same category as Seattle safety Earl Thomas. Considering the Seahawks just won the Super Bowl with Thomas as a key defensive player, it is likely many teams will make a run at Byrd in hopes of recreating that success.

Ultimately, Roseman and his personnel staff have graded players based on their game tape and how they project players in the Eagles' scheme. Cleveland's Ward is considered a better run defender, more of a strong safety type. Byrd is better at playing deep and at coverage, which was a huge problem area for the Eagles. Their pass defense was dead last in the NFL.

Malcolm Jenkins of the Saints, a converted cornerback, might be a better fit than Ward, from the Eagles' perspective. And that's the bottom line here: The Eagles' perspective is the only one that will matter to them, and they haven't published their opinions on the Internet.

Experts' take: Free agency

February, 21, 2014
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The Redskins haven't done a lot of shopping the past two years, but with at least $30 million in cap space there's a good chance they'll do some next month. A really good chance. This isn't an in-depth look at free agency but rather a general question on free agency from our two experts -- former NFL executive, player and scout Louis Riddick (now an ESPN NFL Insider) and former NFL and college scout Matt Williamson (now ESPN's NFL scout). Yes, this is the final installment, but there will be some leftover items from my conversations with the experts.

Are there any free agents you like -- or would stay away from?

Matt Williamson: I like Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward. I think Washington's going to spend. It feels like Dan Snyder has had his purse strings clamped down and I bet he overspends. I would not overspend on Eric Decker. While [Jay Gruden] was in Cincinnati, he had A.J. Green, but they were continually trying to find that No. 2 receiver, like [Mohamed] Sanu and [Marvin] Jones and Jones grabbed it. That's the position they want to feature more. I think Decker is an OK No. 2, but I would not give a ton of money to him no matter what. I don't trust Hakeem Nicks. I kind of like Jeremy Maclin. He could be a bargain. Golden Tate would be a nice addition, but like most guys coming off a Super Bowl win, someone will spend too much on him. But he'd be a good player to add. Kenny Britt? No.

[+] EnlargeGreg Hardy
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneGreg Hardy could be the one true difference-maker in this year's free-agency class.
People don't talk enough about Alterraun Verner. He's come into his own; he's really feisty, really quick. There are a ton of big name corners out there and he might be the best of the group. T.J. Ward is much better than people realize; he's more of an in-the-box safety. One guy who would be a decent pickup is [safety] Antoine Bethea. He would be an upgrade and I don't think you'll have to give him a ton of money. He's solid. [Carolina's] Mike Mitchell had a decent year. Byrd is what you want. He's an Earl Thomas type and he reads the quarterback quickly. He doesn't waste any steps. He'd be a home run for them but I bet he stays.

Louis Riddick: There's only one free agent that in the first 24 hours I'd be trying to get on my team provided everything else checked out and that's Greg Hardy. His skill set and makeup and his competitiveness could potentially transcend scheme. He's a wrecker inside and out; he can play tackle and end. He's the only guy in this class I'd be trying to sign right out of the gate. He's a 4-3 end, but you can run a 3-4 configuration with 4-3 personnel. Ideally you'd like to copy what they have him do in Carolina.

All the rest of the guys I'd be leery of and very careful of. There's a perception that free agency is an immediate fix despite so many free-agent transactions that have blown up on people over the past 10 years. I've been a part of a bunch of them. Players at this point in their career have formed their thoughts and habits and priorities, both as players and people and I don't know if a personnel department takes the time to really think about how to incorporate free agents into their program and how much time needs to be spent on it, just as how they discuss it for college players. They get them into their program and get them to buy into their program and adopt your program as your own. Free agents are more stubborn. They feel they've done it all and have all the answers and, especially if they're high priced you'll meet resistance. They'll tell you how to do it instead of them listening how you want it done. The best is if you have a prior relationship with a player, either as an administrator or a coach or the scheme is similar to one he's run before or has ties to the area where your team is and really wants to be there and would have a great off-field situation so he'd be happy and can be more productive. All those things need to be considered. I don't know if it's considered enough. That's why there's only one guy who I think would cause me to worry a lot less than the others and that's Hardy.

In case you missed it
Monday's take: Brian Orakpo
Tuesday's take: Jim Haslett
Wednesday's take:Robert Griffin III
Thursday's take: Kirk Cousins

Franchise/transition tags: Seahawks

February, 17, 2014
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The Seattle Seahawks have three top-priority free agents they want to keep: defensive end Michael Bennett, receiver Golden Tate and kicker Steven Hauschka.

But considering where the team is headed with it salary-cap issues one year from now, it appears unlikely Seattle would use a franchise tag on any of them.

There are three possible franchise designations -- exclusive tender, non-exclusive tender and transition player. All three are explained here.

The Seahawks know a day of reckoning is coming after next season when the contracts are up for cornerback Richard Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas, and quarterback Russell Wilson is eligible to renegotiate his original contract.

That’s going to cost $35 million to $40 million to keep all three of them. A franchise designation could make sense next year for Sherman or Thomas.

But for now, the cost is just too steep for Bennett or Tate. Bennett would receive a raise of almost $8 million, going from $4.8 million to $12.6 million. Tate’s salary would be an astronomical increase from $880,000 against the salary cap to $11.6 million.

That’s just too steep a price to pay for a team that has to plan ahead for the enormous salary issues coming soon.

However, a franchise tag for Hauschka isn’t completely out of the question. It would cost the Seahawks a comparatively low $3 million, moving Hauschka from $620,000 to $3.6 million.

It may seem a little far-fetched to use the franchise tag on a kicker, but the Seahawks have done it before. General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll opted to use it on kicker Olindo Mare in 2010, but they haven’t used it since.

Hauschka was one of the best kickers in the league last season, missing only two attempts, and one of those was blocked. He also improved his distance on kickoffs with touchbacks on 52 percent on those kicks.

Nevertheless, it’s more likely the Seahawks will try to sign Hauschka to a multiyear deal than use the franchise tag.

A Seattle blueprint worth following

February, 10, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the week-plus following the Seattle Seahawks' victory in the Super Bowl, there has been much discussion about a paradigm shift. The idea is that building a dominant defense to pair with a power running game and doing it mostly through the draft is the way to go rather than continuing to add weapons to build a dynamic aerial attack in the so-called "passing league."

Probably too much has been made of that considering that following Seattle's blueprint to perfection is a lot easier said than done. Draft and develop is the right idea but it's far more difficult in execution than elocution.

[+] EnlargeEarl Thomas
Steven Bisig/USA TODAY SportsThe Rams have a chance to draft someone like safety Earl Thomas with their two first-round picks this year.
In many ways, the Rams have followed a similar path to Seattle in their rebuilding, investing heavily in the defensive line and the defense as a whole. The NFC West division is built on a foundation of defense and the Rams have put resources into keeping up with Seattle, Arizona and San Francisco in that regard.

That isn't to say the Rams are trying to duplicate exactly what Seattle has done. Not that it's the wrong path to follow but with two picks in the top half of the 2014 NFL draft, there's one blueprint absolutely worth following for the Rams: doing everything possible to come up with a facsimile of Seattle's 2010 first-round haul.

For all the talk of what a find quarterback Russell Wilson was or what a steal the trade for Marshawn Lynch became, Seattle's path to the championship was largely set in motion by a pair of home run selections in the first round of the 2010 draft.

That year, the Seahawks had pick Nos. 6 and 14 and had needs at offensive tackle and free safety, among other spots. They had the additional pick from a trade the season before in which they fleeced Denver out of a future first-round pick in exchange for a second-round choice which became cornerback Alphonso Smith.

Seattle had a pair of fastballs right down the middle and hit them both of the park, selecting tackle Russell Okung at No. 6 and safety Earl Thomas at No. 14.

Okung has battled injuries but when healthy is one of the elite tackles in the game. He went to the Pro Bowl in 2012.

Thomas is the heart and soul of the "Legion of Boom" and has established himself as one of the game's elite players regardless of position. He has earned three Pro Bowl trips and been named first-team All Pro three consecutive years.

Coincidentally, of the Rams' needs heading into this year's draft, a big, physical offensive tackle and a rangy free safety rank pretty high in the pecking order. Although the sample size is too small to make sweeping declarations, the Rams did well with two first-round picks last year when they grabbed receiver Tavon Austin and linebacker Alec Ogletree.

General manager Les Snead is well aware of just how much having two first-round picks can alter a team's future.

"I even have a little chart hanging on my grease board that basically has every team that had 2 picks in the first round in the history of the draft and who they drafted," Snead said. "So basically what you're telling me is we've got to pick Hall of Fame players. We'd better prepare as thoroughly as possible."

Seattle landing Okung and Thomas is just one example of a franchise-altering first round. Perhaps the most famous two-pack of picks in league history is the 1996 NFL draft when Baltimore used the fourth pick on tackle Jonathan Ogden and the 26th selection on linebacker Ray Lewis. Ogden is already in the Hall of Fame and Lewis will join him soon after he becomes eligible.

Of course, Rams fans with a good memory might still have nightmares about that same draft. Armed with picks 6 and 18, the Rams took running back Lawrence Phillips and receiver Eddie Kennison. Those two whiffs certainly did nothing to help the Rams get back to respectability, especially considering they could have potentially had Eddie George and Marvin Harrison instead.

At first glance, this year's tackle class appears to have some elite talent with players like Auburn's Greg Robinson and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews. It remains to be seen whether any of the top safeties would merit a pick in the range of the Rams' 13th pick or if the Rams would even select one in the first round. Other positions will obviously be under consideration as well.

Expecting to land a pair of Hall of Famers like Ogden and Lewis is probably asking too much. But there's no doubt the Rams could do a lot worse than adding a duo like Okung and Thomas to fill positions of need.
Robert Mathis, Richard Sherman and NaVorro BowmanAP Photo, USA TODAY SportsIndianapolis' Robert Mathis, Seattle's Richard Sherman and San Francisco's NaVorro Bowman have all put up numbers that could result in defensive player of the year honors.
Denver's Peyton Manning broke passing records with his arm. Kanas City's Jamaal Charles was a treat to watch running the ball and catching it out of the backfield. Detroit's Megatron (Calvin Johnson) was simply incredible with his freakishly athletic skills at wide receiver.

But there were some players on the other side of the ball who deserve to be honored for their play this season.

The problem is deciding who deserves it more than the other players.

The NFL's Defensive Player of the Year will be named this weekend.

ESPN.com Colts reporter Mike Wells and 49ers reporter Bill Williamson discuss the top candidates for the award.

Wells: Bill, it appears that defensive player of the year is a wide-open race this season. There are a number of different players who deserve to win it. Robert Mathis in Indianapolis, Carolina's Luke Kuechly, St. Louis' Robert Quinn, Seattle's Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, San Francisco's NaVorro Bowman, who you cover on a regular basis. Who do you think deserves the award?

SportsNation

Who deserves to win NFL defensive player of the year honors?

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    7%
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Discuss (Total votes: 5,271)

Williamson: Yes, Mike, there are some very solid candidates. But I have to go with the player I saw dominate for 19 weeks. Bowman is simply unbelievable. He stood out in every game. He set the tone for one of the NFL's finest defenses with his dominant play from a 3-4 inside linebacker position. Bowman had 143 tackles, five sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions, one he returned 89 yards for a touchdown to seal the 49ers' playoff-clinching win. Bowman excelled against both the run and the pass. He's a football player's player. Sadly, his season ended in the fourth quarter of the 49ers' loss at Seattle in the NFC title game when he suffered a torn ACL. In typical Bowman fashion, he was hurt by stripping the ball at the goal line. Mike, a player you cover, Mathis, is considered the favorite to win the DPOY. Do you think he deserves it?

Wells: I'm sure some people will call you and I homers, but I've got to give the edge to Mathis because he was a one-man wrecking crew on defense. It was personal and team oriented for Mathis. He wanted to prove the he could still be a force without playing alongside of Dwight Freeney. Mathis had no problem talking about how that added fuel to his already flaming fire. He backed it up by leading the league in sacks with 19.5. He ended up accounting for 46.4 percent of the Colts' sacks this season because they only had 42 as a team. Mathis used his infamous chop down on the quarterback's passing arm to force a league-leading eight fumbles. Those eight forced fumbles led to 35 points for Indianapolis. The Colts struggled at times defensively during the season. They would have been really bad if they didn't have Mathis on the roster. You covered games involving Seattle's Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman three times, including the NFC Championship Game. Is there a legitimate argument for either one of them to be DPOY?

Williamson: Oh, certainly on both Seattle players. Again, lots of great candidates here. Sherman and Thomas are among the best defensive players in the league and they are a big reason why the Seahawks are preparing to play in the Super Bowl. Thomas is a tone-setter at the back end of a special defense. Sherman is probably the best cornerback in the NFL and one of the best players in the game regardless of position. The 49ers tested him with the game on the line in the NFC title game and they lost because of it. There are really no wrong answers here. I can't knock Mathis or any of the other candidates. But I just think Bowman deserves to win the award because of his overall impact on the game. There's really no way for offenses to avoid him. Mike, do you think Mathis is a complete player or is he a top candidate solely on his pass-rush prowess?

Wells: This is where the argument doesn't favor Mathis. He rarely dropped back into coverage because he's a pass-rushing linebacker. I'm not saying he isn't capable of being in pass coverage, but I haven't seen him do it enough because coach Chuck Pagano's 3-4 defense is all about getting after the quarterback with Mathis. His ability to pressure the quarterback trickles down to players like linebacker Jerrell Freeman and the entire secondary. It allows them to gamble on the ball more defensively. Some may consider Mathis a one-dimensional defensive player, but he does that one thing well. Seattle's Russell Wilson and Manning, the two starting quarterbacks in this weekend's Super Bowl, can validate that because Mathis sacked both of them during the regular season.

Is Bowman's ability to defend pass coverage the main reason you give him the edge over Mathis?

Williamson: No, it's just his overall game. Again, he impacts it in every way. Look at his stat line: There's nothing he didn't do. He was making plays on first, second and third down. And, yes, he was just as apt to make a play 15 yards downfield as he was at the line of scrimmage. In fact, on his interception return for a touchdown, he was supposed to blitz but he read the play and darted back into coverage. He had 118 solo tackles, the second most in the NFL this season. Again, there are no wrong answers here, but for me Bowman is the best answer.

Manning's Omaha? Seahawks don't care

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
12:10
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RENTON, Wash. -- Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning can bark out "Omaha" or any other middle America city he wants to use in his signal calling.

The Seattle Seahawks don't care. They won't be listening in Super Bowl XLVIII.

The Seattle defense knows Manning says a lot of things while he's making his play-calling decisions before each snap, but the Seahawks won't try to translate it like some on-the-field United Nations interpreter.

"You can't be a genie and think what he's thinking," Seattle free safety Earl Thomas said. "Obviously, you don't know what's coming. That's why you just have to be ready for anything. You just have to think principled ball. Why are you out there? It's best to just line up and do what you do."

What they do, in becoming the No. 1 defense in the NFL, is play aggressively and be physical at the point of attack with press coverage. The Seahawks aren't going to change things to try to second-guess Manning's constant audibles.

"Certainly for us, we have a real style about how we play," Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. "We have to focus on our style and our football. We know that part of those checks [Manning's signals] are dummy calls at the line of scrimmage.

"So for us, it's more about how we play than the checks and the information that they're doing on the other side."

Seattle strong safety Kam Chancellor said it comes down to the communications between the guys on defense more than deciphering Manning's codes.

"It's not worth it trying to figure out what he's saying," Chancellor said. "Just play your defense, play your coverage, know what you have to do on your side of the ball and just be sound at it."

And, for the record, what's does Chancellor think "Omaha" means?

"I have no clue," he said.
The quote that catches the eye, naturally, is about Sean Taylor. That's the emotional one, the one that reminds anyone of his lasting impact, more than six years after his death. Safeties grew up idolizing him, both from his days at the University of Miami, and his too-short tenure with the Washington Redskins.

Taylor's memory will be at the Super Bowl with Seattle's Kam Chancellor. He's a Virginia native who played for Virginia Tech. (He was in college at the time of Taylor's death; in case you missed it, there was news regarding his killer Thursday.)

Here's what Chancellor told the Seattle Times earlier this month about Taylor:

[+] EnlargeKam Chancellor
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsSeattle's Kam Chancellor patterned his game after that of former Redskins safety Sean Taylor, who was killed in 2007.
“Before every game I always watch his highlights, just the way that he approaches the game. The physicality that he brings to the game. He's a big safety, he can run, cover, unfortunately we don't have him now may he rest in peace, but that's a guy that I always try to simulate my game after, and I also watch Earl Thomas. Believe it or not that's a guy beside me that goes hard all of the time, so little things from his game that I try to put into my game are making me a better player.”

Chancellor has patterned his game after Taylor's for a long time. Like Taylor, Chancellor is a big safety. When Taylor was in the secondary group, he looked like a linebacker at 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds. He was an intimidating force in the secondary, though he was best as a playmaking free safety. Chancellor is a strong safety capable of damage in the box. At 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds, his size and instincts allow him to be highly effective in this area.

“He was a big safety, the prototype guy for the position,” Chancellor once told the Roanoke Times about Taylor. “I'm a big safety, too, and I've just always wanted to be just like him. I don't necessarily say I can be Sean Taylor before it's over, but I think I can be just as good.”

“When I first took the job, I hadn't seen anybody that big, that fast, that athletic since Sean Taylor,” Seahawks defensive assistant Marquand Manuel, a former NFL free safety, told Seahawks.com.

Amazing to think that Chancellor was a fifth-round pick. Again: draft and develop. Chancellor has a skill that Seattle has allowed him to unleash. And often times that skill results in violent collisions against players such as San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis.

Obviously the Redskins could use such an enforcer in the back end. But there's another quote from Chancellor that caught my eye. This, too, is something the Redskins need. And it's something they haven't had enough of because of injuries and bad personnel decisions.

Here's Chancellor's quote on the Seattle secondary:

“I think it started clicking a lot more this year. I think it was starting to happen towards the end of last year, but this year sometimes man it's like we don't even say anything, but the movements are just right. It's like you can feel one another out there on the field, or out here at practice, especially with me and Earl with the way that we funnel the ball to each other. We always talk about that. We always talk about both of us running to the ball. If you miss it, I'm going to make it. If I miss it you're going to make it. That's just the mentality we have.”

It's not one Washington has had in recent years. It's a subtle, but huge difference. If a corner knows how a safety likes to play a certain look, he can adjust his coverage accordingly. If the free safety knows what to expect from the strong safety, he can compensate. It's not always about scheme. Could Phillip Thomas develop into such a player? No idea; we barely saw him last summer. Could Bacarri Rambo? I'd be shocked if that happens based on what we saw this season, especially late in the year.

This isn't about finding the next Sean Taylor. He wasn't hard to identify when he first came out; anyone could see his talent. Chancellor is not Sean Taylor, and was not expected to be coming out of college considering where he was drafted. But he developed into a Pro Bowl player. But Seattle also had a clear vision in what it wanted from its defensive backs: big, physical corners and punishing safeties. Earl Thomas is more a ball-hawking safety, but he's the best at his position right now.

The Seahawks have a secondary that everyone would want now. They also have a defensive front that complements this group. The Redskins had it in 2007 with Taylor, corners Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot and rookie strong safety LaRon Landry. They need to find a way to get that back. It's great that they have money to spend, but there are other ways to accomplish this goal. And doing so would help the Redskins not only return to respectability but, perhaps, finally stick around.
RENTON, Wash. -- While the Seahawks prepare for the biggest moment of their career, one man who helped them get there is outside looking in.

Cornerback Brandon Browner is serving a one-year suspension, reportedly for marijuana use, a suspension that started, officially, last month. Browner is planning legal action against the NFL to fight his suspension.

But for now, the Super Bowl is something Browner will have to watch on TV. In some ways, Browner is the forgotten man, but not with teammate Earl Thomas.

"I check on him all the time," Thomas said Thursday. "He’s still my brother. He has shed blood like everybody else on this team. You never forget the guys you sweat with and had so many good times with. You love him like a brother.

"Of course he wants to be a part of this, but we don’t throw that in his face. He knows this team is special. We’re playing for him now. We all talk about how much we miss him. We wish he was here."

The next big thing: Seahawks

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
12:00
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RENTON, Wash. -- Obviously, the next big thing for the Seahawks is the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos. Nothing else matters at the moment.

However, when the big game is over, the Seahawks have difficult contract decisions to make because they know a day of reckoning is coming when they will need to pay some star players big bucks in the near future.

It won't be this year, but soon for cornerback Richard Sherman and quarterback Russell Wilson. Sherman has one year left on a deal that counts only $690,000 against the salary cap next season. He will soon command a salary of well over $10 million a year.

Wilson will make only $662,000, next season, but after that, some big-time renegotiating is going to happen. And the day will come when the Seahawks will have to pay Wilson at least $20 million more per year than he's making now.

All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas also has only a year left on a deal that pays him $3.7 million in 2014.

So some maneuvering will be in order soon, and some players currently on the roster will have to move on because of salary-cap limits.

The immediate concerns are wide receiver. Golden Tate is a free agent who made only $880,000 this season. Doug Baldwin is a restricted free agent with a salary that counts only $560,000 against the cap. Can Seattle keep both of them and pay Percy Harvin's six-year, $67 million deal?

Maybe, but certainly not if receiver Sidney Rice stays. He has two years left on five-year, $41 million contract. It's unlikely he will return.

No doubt the Seahawks wish they had signed defensive lineman Michael Bennett to more than a one-year deal at $4.8 million. He won't be easy to keep after the sensational year he's had.

Seattle also must make a decision on starting right tackle Breno Giacomini, a free agent who counted $4.7 million against the cap this season.

Seahawks wanted Manning all along

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
8:00
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RENTON, Wash. -- The Seahawks didn’t take any time last week thinking about whom they might play in the Super Bowl. Taking on the rival 49ers was a big enough task. Super Bowl questions would have to wait.

Manning
But now that it’s here, the Seahawks players say this is what they wanted all along, a showdown with possibly the best quarterback ever to play the game in Denver's Peyton Manning.

“We wouldn’t have it any other way," Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said. “They’re an unbelievable, record-setting offense with a Hall of Fame quarterback. That’s as good as it gets. And that’s as tough a game as you can get in the Super Bowl.

“The No. 1 defense [Seattle] against the No. 1 offense [Denver]. It doesn’t happen like this too often where both No. 1 seeds make it. It’s a testament to the hard work on both teams. I’m sure it’s going to be a fantastic game."

It may be the first snowy game in a Super Bowl. Temperatures in MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2 could be in the teens, and snow always is a possibility that time of year in New Jersey.

“We’re ready for it,” Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. “Whatever happens, we don’t care about the weather. We just want to go out there and win the game."

And winning against one of the all-time greats would add to the moment for many of the Seahawks.

“Going heads-up with Peyton Manning is special," Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith said. “Just knowing all the things he’s done for football, it’s really an exciting opportunity.”

Free safety Earl Thomas can't wait to test his skills against Manning.

“As a competitor, you always want to play the best,” Thomas said. “We know what’s at stake. We know a chance like this is rare.”

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