If the NFL is truly a copycat league then the Seattle Seahawks provided two important blue prints which will lead to a dilemma for the Atlanta Falcons as they approach the NFL Draft. Those blueprints are both very big points in the debate as to whether or not the Falcons should pursue Jadeveon Clowney.
Without question Clowney is the best defensive talent in the draft and when the dust settles and the analysts all come to their senses they'll realize that he's the best overall player in this draft by a fair margin. Clowney plans to participate in all the drills at the NFL combine and once he obliterates all the defensive linemen records for agility and speed his draft stock is going to go up.
It is entirely possible that Houston does the sensible thing and selects Clowney to induce nightmares for NFL quarterbacks who have to face Clowney on one side and J.J. Watt on the other. The common belief right now though is that Houston is eyeing a quarterback.
After that things get interesting. The Rams have the second pick and have two very good defensive ends so Clowney isn't a fit there. They could use help on the offensive line after Jake Long tore his ACL at the end of the season and he counts around $10 million against the cap over the next three years so he isn't going anywhere.
To draft a Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson would seem to be a waste of their considerable ability. Being financially locked into Sam Bradford means they're out of the quarterback market so it looks as if skill position is an area the Rams will go and they can trade down and make that happen.
Furthermore, Rams GM Les Snead was Atlanta's director of Pro Personnel before taking the Rams job so he has his connections with the Falcons and could be a willing trade partner. So too could be Jacksonville whose GM, David Caldwell, succeeded Snead as Falcons director of Pro Personnel. These are allies and as Thomas Dimitroff pointed out, having allies is vital in that business.
The pieces are in place for Atlanta to make a trade to get Clowney. There's growing sentiment in the draftnik world that Clowney to Atlanta seems likely one way or another. I'll go on record and say that if Clowney performs at the combine the way he's expected to, he isn't falling to Atlanta at number six. So, Atlanta would have to trade up and get Jadeveon Clowney. But should they?
That's where the two key elements of the Seahawks championship come into the argument. The first point is this: DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS.
It's as old a cliché as there is in football, but dominant defense is going to beat dominant offense. People can fawn over quarterbacks all they want, but the reality is, football boils down to two simple principles: you have to hit the quarterback and you have to protect the quarterback. Atlanta did neither in 2013. They can fix some of their problems on the offensive line through free agency, but adding impact defensive players is costly. Adding Clowney wouldn't be, at least for the first few years of his career.
Seattle was eighth in the NFL sacks, first in takeaways and first in total defense. Atlanta was 29th in sacks, 24th in takeaways and gave up more than 100 more yards per game than Seattle did. Atlanta's rookie cornerbacks played well all things considered and Atlanta is expected to pursue a safety in free agency so the big focus is on the defensive line that struggled after John Abraham's departure. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Clowney would be a significant upgrade over what Atlanta has now and be an instant impact player.
To get Clowney it's going to cost a lot and that's where Seattle's second blueprint comes into play. Seattle won a Super Bowl by drafting and developing young cheap talent.
Here's a list of the cap numbers of some key contributors for the Seahawks this season:
Jermaine Kearse (TD catch in the Super Bowl): $480,000
Russell Wilson: $681,085
Malcolm Smith (Super Bowl MVP): $566,475
Richard Sherman: $600,606
Byron Maxwell (forced fumble in Super Bowl): $583,363
Doug Baldwin: $560,834
Bobby Wagner: $979,045
Walter Thurmond: $607,640
Golden Tate: $880,000
Bruce Irvin: $1,931,546
Tony McDaniel: $605,000
Earl Thomas: $2,898,215
Kam Chancellor: $3,878,404
That's an amazing list of guys who either carried that team to the Super Bowl or played key parts in a Super Bowl win including the entire Legion of Boom secondary and eight of Seattle's eleven defensive starters. That group of 12 players combined for a cap number of $15,252,213. That's just 12.4 percent of the $123 million teams are allowed to give to players under the salary cap.
Seattle has spent money on big players for sure, but a big chunk of their nucleus is making nothing which is how they won a title, and also probably why they aren't the next great NFL dynasty when Wilson, Thomas, Sherman and the rest of the stars want to get paid.
To get Clowney it would be shocking if Atlanta wouldn't have to give up at least its second or third round pick this year (and who knows what other ransom a team would want). Based on last year's draft the three players picked sixth, 37th and 68th (Atlanta's first, second and third round picks this year) equal a cap number of $6.3 million.
If you can get two starters and a rotational guy with your top three picks that's depth Atlanta didn't have last year. It's evident that Atlanta lacks depth at a lot of positions and in violent, injury prone nature of the NFL you're only as good as your backup at any position.
I'd expect a lot of teams to try and copy the Seahawks formula. Whether Atlanta tries to adopt some principles remains to be seen. So how bout it Falcons fans? Which of the two Seattle blueprints would you like to see Atlanta emulate? Trade up for Clowney and try to build a young, dynamic defense or would you rather see them hold on to picks and attempt to load the roster with more quality young, cheap talent?