By Brady Henderson
Those paying close attention to the moves made this offseason by the Seahawks and 49ers might have noticed a pattern.
Each team opened the new league year by trading for a high-profile wide receiver, with Percy Harvin coming to Seattle and Anquan Boldin joining San Francisco.
The Seahawks and 49ers both traded away a backup quarterback they considered good enough to start, moves that necessitated a replacement and reflected how highly each team regards its starter.
Reports of the Seahawks' addition of Antoine Winfield came a week and a half after the 49ers added Nnamdi Asomugha, another veteran cornerback with Pro Bowls on his resume.
The similarities in those moves might be purely coincidental, but it's all made good fodder for debate over which NFC West rival has assembled the best roster. If you ask Matt Williamson, a former NFL scout who now works for ESPN's Scouts Inc., the Seahawks have a slight edge.
"I think it's going to be the best rivalry in the league and the most physical game of the year," ESPN's Matt Williamson said of the Seahawks and 49ers. (AP)
Unlike their 49ers counterparts, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider had to overhaul their roster en route assembling a Super Bowl contender. What's sped up the process, as Williamson noted, has been their ability to find cheap talent through the draft. Russell Wilson, for example, is making well under $1 million per season, whereas some teams are paying their franchise quarterbacks more than $15 million a year.
"They're getting great quarterback play, but it's not abusing their salary cap," Williamson said.
The Seahawks and 49ers finished first and second, respectively, in scoring defense last season. Williamson thinks Seattle surpassed San Francisco on defense but said the draft will provide the 49ers with a chance to regain their edge. San Francisco owns three picks in the first two rounds, while Seattle has one.
"I think that the Niners will get better on draft day than the Seahawks do, but it's going to be a great power race just watching these two," he said, "and I think we're splitting hairs to say who the better team is."
A few more of Williamson's thoughts:
The read-option's future. Williamson doesn't think the read-option will be a passing fad like the Wildcat, but he questions how effective it will be now that it will no longer catch defenses by surprise.
"Think back just 365 days ago. The only teams that were running the read-option were Cam Newton and the Panthers and [Tim] Tebow and the Broncos, and at this point [last year] he was a Jet and Peyton Manning was in place. So defensive coordinators weren't preparing for it all offseason," Williamson said. "This year, I'm sure every defensive coordinator is grinding that tape like crazy on how do we stop the read-option, they're calling their buddies in college, 'give us some tips.'"
Williamson doesn't think the read-option can be a staple of a team's offense because of the risk it poses to quarterbacks who are exposed to extra hits. The read-option was much more of a wrinkle than a staple for the Seahawks last season, which is an important distinction to make when discussing its sustainability.
'Not a fan' of Brady Quinn. Williamson thinks backup quarterback is one of the Seahawks' biggest needs. In his mind, that's as much of a testament to the overall strength of the roster as it is an indictment of Brady Quinn, who's currently Seattle's presumed No. 2 quarterback after signing with the team last week. One of Quinn's biggest problems, according to Williamson, is that he's "way too hesitant to pull the trigger."
The good news for the Seahawks, according to Williamson, is that their defense and running game would be good enough to win games without great play from their backup quarterback.
Winfield's skillset. It's safe to say Williamson likes the addition of cornerback Antoine Winfield, who has reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with Seattle. He cited Winfield's physicality and ability to defend against the run as reasons why he's ideally suited to play inside as a slot corner.
"He has good short-area quickness but not elite speed anymore, so you don't want him running down the sidelines with A.J. Green so much as you'd rather him do battle with the Wes Welkers and the slot receivers and blitz ..., have him attack the running game," he said.