Another season, another laundry list of questions for the Seattle Seahawks.
The team’s offseason was once married to the same Earl Thomas drama that had a stranglehold of their 2018 headlines, after the All-Pro safety ran into the locker room of the Dallas Cowboys in December 2017 to tell head coach Jason Garrett to “come get him.” That sparked a four-alarm blaze that burned for the next 15 months and involved trade requests from the Cowboys that were rebuffed at every turn by the Seahawks, as it slowly became clear it’d be the Kansas City Chiefs landing Thomas in exchange for a second-round pick.
That never happened, because Thomas broke his leg only days ahead of the potential move being made, and he thentoward Pete Carroll as he was being carted off the field as a Seahawk for the final time — a gesture that followed bowing toward the Cowboys’ sideline weeks earlier in snarky fashion for not being willing to give up a reported first-round pick for him.
Scripts for a future installment of “A Football Life: Earl Thomas” aside, the Seahawks moved on and secured a rather strong rookie haul headlined by defensive lineman L.J. Collier, but signed two backup quarterbacks that don’t exactly invoke confidence should Russell Wilson miss any time in the future. Now secured on a four-year, $140 million deal that includes $107 million in guaranteed money, Wilson is the highest-paid QB in NFL history and now has to be Teflon if the Seahawks want to remain a playoff team.
The options behind him are Geno Smith and Paxton Lynch, and while some believe it’s the latter that has the edge for the role of QB2, it’s the former who’ll against the Denver Broncos. Backup quarterback is just one question with no prepackaged answer, but there are many more hovering about the depth chart.
A projection of the team’s final 53-man roster shows promise, though, as they work to climb back to The Promised Land.
Can Lynch upset Smith’s hopes in August? He can, but there’s something Smith is more proficient at, and that the Seahawks count on to keep the chains moving offensively: Mobility.
This isn’t to say Lynch can’t put his 6-foot-7, 244-pound frame into gear, but Smith is more adept at doing so and has more experience doing it at the NFL level. This will be key when playing behind the Seahawks’ offensive line, routinely proven to be one of the more porous in the league. Their hopeful the 2019 O-line framework will improve their chances, but the jury will withhold its verdict on that plan until further notice.
More often than not, it’s Wilson’s legs that save the day for the offense, and whoever is named his backup better be able to do the same. Neither will floor you with their resume, and that should rightfully concern a Seahawks team so reliant upon the QB making plays both on the ground and in the air, especially with Doug Baldwin being forced to retire for medical reasons.
As they search for Baldwin’s replacement, all eyes will be on rookie second-round pick D.K. Metcalf to burst onto the pro scene quickly, and create a strong tandem with the speedy Tyler Lockett, a talent proven to give opposing defensive backs nightmares as a deep threat. The rest will be the Seahawks figuring out which wideouts belong on the roster and where.
Things are just as unsettled on the running back front, if not more so. The club is pleased with Carson having a breakout season in 2018 — delivering 1,314 scrimmage yards and nine touchdowns in his sophomore campaign — which should float higher this coming season. Carroll’s goal is to utilize Carson and the other halfbacks a bit more in the receiving game, and that means any of the others that can demonstrate that skill set will have chance at making the roster.
Travis Homer is starting his rookie season behind the curve as he battles a hamstring injury, and if it lingers it could cost him a spot on the final roster. As it stands, he has a chance at RB4 behind a now-healthy McKissic and Penny, whom the Seahawks like as a possible one-two punch with Carson.
The battle at tight end will include Vannett, and he’ll likely land a spot as he enters the final year of his rookie deal. He’s been more impactful — using the phrase loosely, for now — than Dissly and Hollister, but the latter two are still solid to keep around for depth. In a pinch, expect the Seahawks to also flex Fant from OL to TE in certain sets, making him one of the more interesting players on the roster that brings value to two spots.
There are some veteran free agents the team could poke around at, like Austin Seferian-Jenkins, but it’s doubtful they’d make a move like that prior to seeing their current stable of tight ends in August.
This team chose not to pay Frank Clark.
That’s it. That’s the sentence.
To be fair, there’s more, but that decision was easily one of the biggest made by the organization this year. Losing Clark means they lost a premier pass rusher that delivered 13 sacks in 2018 and 32 total over his last three seasons. In an attempt to fill the void, they signed Ziggy Ansah on a one-year deal worth $9 million and used a 2019 first-round pick L.J. Collier, but there’s a health concern on Collier that stems from a sprain near his ankle. The former TCU standout is progressing well, and although he won’t take the field in the preseason, signs point to a possible availability for Week 1.
Collier isn’t the only young talent the Seahawks are pinning their hopes on, and second-year defensive tackle Poona Ford has really been turning heads in camp this year. He could be poised to break out in 2019, and that would help relieve pressure on both Ansah and Collier — allowing more one-on-one matchups across the board.
Entering his 10th year in the league, Earl Mitchell wouldn’t mind the assist, so that he can focus on trying to stop the run.
They’d love to have Jarran Reed on the field to help the cause at pass rush, and although Reed is primed for a big season after breaking out for 10.5 sacks in 2018,from getting his first crack at it until Oct. 20, when they host the Baltimore Ravens — in the homecoming game for a familiar All-Pro free safety.
It’s basically football science that states a team’s defensive back unit is only as good as its pass rush, so things could get easier for the linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties if the aforementioned linemen can keep the Seahawks’ pass rush from doing a Wile E. Coyote-style cliff dive. Now awarded a three-year, $54 million extension, five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Bobby Wagner will lead a unit that is stocked with talent — albeit inconsistent at times outside of Wagner — that also carries question marks.
Mychal Kendricks is scheduled to appear in court for insider trading in Week 4, which doesn’t exactly invoke confidence about his availability thereafter. He’ll be on the field up to that point if healthy, however, and he displayed strong ability when he joined the team in 2018 after being released by the Cleveland Browns for said charges. His continued presence will be key for depth at the position, as will Shaquem Griffin, but K.J. Wright won’t exactly lay down and give his seat away.
That should make for a great battle going forward, with both securing spots on the 53, as both Cody Barton and Barkevious Mingo add needed talent for both insurance and rotational reasons.
By the way, in case you’ve been living under a rock with no access to cable or streaming services, it’s best you know the Legion of Boom is dead. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but although Wagner is still around, Thomas is with the Baltimore Ravens, Kam Chancellor is retired and Richard Sherman plays for the rival San Francisco 49ers — who he claims has “similarities” to LOB.
Meanwhile, Carroll’s goal in the Pacific Northwest is to try and construct a new version of the famed defensive group.
You won’t see the same level of talent now as was then — at first glance — but Shaquill Griffin is hellbent on making strides to become a shutdown corner. He reeled in two interceptions and 61 total tackles (51 solo) in 2018, and shows an ability to reach his goal if he can do away with some of the youthful errors this coming season. He’s definitely the shining light for the cornerback corps, and others will need to match his impact going forward. Neither Flowers nor Thorpe have proven themselves ballhawks in the NFL, although the former did best Griffin with 67 combined tackles last year.
The problem was, Flowers was also exposed by Emmanuel Sanders for 10 catches on 11 targets and 135 yards in last year’s season opener. He was made inactive for Week 2, but finished the season with 15 starts and slightly improved coverage skills.
The most interesting depth talent here is Ugo Amadi, a 22-year-old fourth-round pick who could wiggle his way onto the roster by virtue of his ability to flex from nickel slot to safety, and on a Seahawks unit that isn’t exactly flush with top-shelf talent.
For the Seahawks, the special teams unit is easily the one with the least amount of flux.
There’s no competition here to speak of, with Jason Myers signing a four-year, $15.45 million contract this offseason after a Pro Bowl season with the New York Jets and an uneven one-year showing by a 40-year-old Sebastian Janikowski in Seattle. Whereas Janikowski struggled to an 81.5 percent accuracy rate, Myers made good on 91.7 percent of his kicks in 2018.
The rest is pretty much par for the course, with Michael Dickson going on his second season with the club as punter and Tyler Ott entering his fourth year in Seattle as long snapper. The exception to said par comes in the return game, because while it’s normally all about the blazing soles of Tyler Lockett — who can also break the game open in a special teams capacity — the Seahawks might look to use McKissic as a spell option to allow more snaps for Lockett on the offensive side of the ball.
Don’t expect an outright removal of return duties from a guy that has 2,900 return yards in his four-year career with the Seahawks, but McKissic racked up 1,473 yards as a returner in his last three seasons at Arkansas State, and that makes him a solid option to conduct a 50/50 split.
Either way, the role of returner is of the few things the Seahawks do not need to figure out as they work to get back to their first Super Bowl appearance since 2014.