The Seattle Seahawks proved that defense wins championships. Last season’s number one defense had 32 interceptions, 48 sacks, and only allowed an average of 14.4 points per game. The Seahawks lost two of their cornerbacks in the middle of the season, yet they made their way to the Super Bowl where the defense acted as a barricade to one of the league’s best offenses. Thanks to a late-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft, the Seahawks did not miss a beat on the field.
At 6-foot-1 and weighing 207 pounds, Byron Maxwell made his mark on the Legion of Boom. Before last season he did not play much. He was next in line after Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond on the depth chart. Both were free agents this offseason and went to the New England Patriots and New York Giants respectively. When Browner and Thurmond got suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy last season, Seattle handed the reins to Maxwell to play opposite Richard Sherman.
Maxwell played in 17 games, but in the 12 games he started, he had four interceptions and 28 tackles.
Maxwell’s first game as a starter was during a week 13 matchup against the New Orleans Saints where he had one assisted tackle. There was a particular play during the game that showed Maxwell could react to receivers’ routes quickly.
Robert Meachem, a Saints wide receiver, ran toward the sideline then shifted to run downfield. Because Maxwell was moving laterally while keeping his eyes on Meachem, he had no problem turning his hips to keep close to the receiver. Seattle’s strong safety Kam Chancellor was nearby making the receiver back off and Maxwell was able to knock the ball down in the end zone.
Maxwell’s first interception as a starter came from San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The ball was underthrown by Kaepernick and Maxwell took advantage.
One of Maxwell’s best games as a starter came against the New York Giants. The Seahawks shut out the Giants 23-0 and Maxwell had two of the team’s five interceptions. One of the interceptions occurred when New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw a pass meant for Hakeem Nicks. As the ball came toward them, Maxwell anticipated the pass and jumped the route to cut in front of Nicks for an interception.
Maxwell continued to show his capability on the field. When Thurmond returned after his four-week suspension, coaches kept Maxwell a starter alongside Sherman. Playing opposite of Sherman took a toll on Maxwell’s numbers. Maxwell’s success rate as a starter was 57.9 percent, a horrid number compared to other cornerbacks in the league. A player’s success rate is determined by dividing the total number of successful coverage plays by the total number of attempts in qualifying plays. Qualifying plays include every play that a cornerback has a receiver in coverage. Consider Maxwell’s numbers are what they are because the ball is being thrown in his direction 89.6 percent of the time, according to Football Outsiders. Quarterbacks avoid throwing in Sherman’s direction due to the shutdown cornerback’s league leading interceptions (8) and his big play ability.
In a depth chart mockup on Pro Football Focus, Phillip Adams and Eric Pinkins are listed as the backups at the right cornerback position. Last year, Adams started 16 games and had 30 tackles and zero interceptions with the Oakland Raiders. Remember, Maxwell had 28 tackles, four interceptions and started in less games than Adams, yet slightly better results. Pinkins is a rookie making it nearly impossible to evaluate how well he will do on the field at the professional level.
For these reasons, I believe the Seahawks should sign Maxwell to a contract extension. The team has $7.1 million in cap room, as of the NFL Player’s League Cap Report which is updated four times a day. Maxwell’s current contract is a four year, $2.2 million with $113,452 guaranteed. The Seahawks could potentially sign Maxwell to a three year contract worth $15 million with $5 million guaranteed.
I think Pinkins will become a starter in Seattle at some point, but he needs to learn from Maxwell and Sherman for a few seasons. With the short life span of NFL cornerbacks, you cannot have too many on any given roster. A contract extension for Maxwell will allow Pinkins more time to learn the position. Adams is also a good player for Pinkins to learn from, but he is the same age as Maxwell and both could have the same longevity in the NFL.