The Seahawks went 10-6 last season and made the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years with Russell Wilson under center. And now that Wilson is under contract for four more years (and with $107 million guaranteed), this team is poised to do more than qualify for the postseason but become regulars in the Super Bowl.
This certainly seemed like Seattle’s destiny as recently as 2014, but an ill-timed play call and the subsequent dissolution of the Legion of Boom saw other NFC teams represent the conference in the sport’s biggest game. The Seahawks have had a good offseason but with a few key moves could catapult themselves from playoff team to likely Super Bowl representative.
- Sign an edge rusher
A week before the draft the Seahawks traded Frank Clark and his 13 sacks in ’18 to the Chiefs for Kansas City’s 2019 first-rounder and its 2020 second-rounder. And while the team drafted TCU’s L.J. Collier in Round 1, he’s not a like-for-like replacement for Clark. Collier, who did had 11.5 sacks as a senior, isn’t a pure pass rusher. In fact, his heavy hands make him much better at setting the edge and he’s already drawing comparisons to Michael Bennett.
In fact, coach Pete Carroll says Collier will play in Bennett’s role at defensive end in the base defense and move inside on passing downs.
“I think that’s a great comparison (to Bennett) because he can play outside and he can play in,” Collier said during the team’s rookie minicamp, via the Seattle Times’ Bob Condotta. “He’s a tough, hard-nosed guy. He loves to hit people. I like his style of play and his flexibility of going in and out. Obviously I can do that, too. That’s where I see the comparison.”
Carroll added: “He has a style of his play that I was attracted to right off the bat. He plays with really good leverage and really long arms and he uses his hands really well. And you could see it in the walk through even, just in his position and he has a sense for that. That’s a special characteristic that he already has. So technique-wise, he’s been coached very well also, and there’s stuff that we can do with him. I think he’s going to be a really exciting guy for us to fit into the scheme.”
Put another way, Collier isn’t Clark.
And while he has the ability to rush the passer, the Seahawks could target a situational player, several of whom remain available free agents. At the top of the list: Ziggy Ansah, who spent his first six NFL seasons with the Lions where he registered 48 sacks, including 12 in 2017 and 14.5 in 2015. Ansah has battled injuries — he played in just seven games last season and managed four sacks — but he’s a terror when he’s healthy. And in Seattle he could be used in passing situations to limit his wear-and-tear and maximize his effectiveness, all while having Collier wreaking havoc from the interior. Ansah probably won’t come cheap but his price will continue to fall as we move away from the draft and training camp approaches. Added bonus: Seattle has $11.5 million in available cap space (10th best in the league), according to Spotrac.
- Find a reliable intermediate target
Based on a couple days of rookie minicamp the Seahawks are extremely pleased with their decision to trade up into Round 2 and grab wide receiver D.K. Metcalf, who was the No. 1 wideout on our board and a first-round talent who fell all the way to 64 because of concerns about his durability and route-running ability. Metcalf assuaged many of those concerns at minicamp though he was running routes in shorts and a t-shirt — and against air — but if nothing else it was a good start. Carroll couldn’t hide his excitement.
“I mean, he’s big and he’s fast,” the coach told USAToday.com’s Doug Farrar after the first day of rookie minicamp. “He’s got really good feet, you know, and his catching range was exhibited today. And you know, we’ve got to figure it out, figure out where it is, maybe even more unique than we thought coming in. So, we just develop it as we go. But big and really fast and the catching range was really obvious today.”
More good news: Seattle’s offense is built around the run, and that starts with Wilson, Chris Carson and last year’s first-rounder, Rashaad Penny. And that sets up the play-action passing game which, again, starts with Wilson. Tyler Lockett was one of the league’s best deep threats a season ago and now he’ll be joined by Metcalf, who ran a 4.33 40 at the combine and at 6-4 is six inches taller than Lockett.
But there’s also the short and intermediate passing game where Doug Baldwin has long been Wilson’s security blanket. Except that Baldwin, who is 30, could be facing retirement because of the accumulation of surgeries resulting from various football injuries. The Seahawks drafted slot receiver Gary Jennings in the fourth round but he didn’t take part in minicamp because of a hamstring injury. Even still, he’s a rookie who struggled with dropped passes while at West Virginia. It’s unfair to expect him to seamlessly fill in for Baldwin.
Which is why Seattle could sign a veteran possession receiver to patrol those short and intermediate areas. Pierre Garcon is 33 years old and he’s played in just eight games the last two seasons. But in 16 appearances in 2016 he had 79 catches for 1,041 yards. And Michael Crabtree, 31, had 54 receptions for 607 yards in the Ravens’ run-heavy offense last season.
- Add depth at right tackle
Germain Ifedi is who he is. And that is a replacement level right tackle. The Seahawks and Wilson have shown that an offense can survive with something less than a Pro Bowl cast of blockers. The unit was 12th in run blocking a season ago, via Football Outsiders’ metrics, but they fell to 30th in pass protection. And with the addition of Metcalf and Jennings, it stands to reason that Seattle could take more shots downfield. This also means keeping Wilson upright. The team added guard Mike Iupati and re-signed guard D.J. Fluker, and they’ll join left tackle Duane Brown, center Justin Britt and the aforementioned right tackle, Ifedi, the team’s 2016 first-rounder.
Ifedi’s 2018 Pro Football Focus grade — 55.6 — ranked 71st among all tackles. The good news: He improved from his first two seasons. The bad news: Those improvements have been incremental; he graded out at 52.0 in ’16 and 51.7 in ’17. This explains in part why the Seahawks declined to exercise Ifedi’s fifth-year option, which would have paid him $10.35 million in 2020.
“Well, there’s there’s a lot of factors,” Carroll told reporters on Friday. “You know, we’re in the midst of trying to continue to fit the roster together and all of that, and the big demands, sometimes we can jump on it, sometimes we can’t. We love Germain. He’s grown with us. He’s become a solid football player and done a great job, starting a ton of games for us and hanging in there and being tough about it, and we’d love to have him. This is not an indication of anything, but we like the guy and we hope he’ll be with us for a long time.”
The Seahawks drafted offensive guard Phil Haynes in the fourth round but depth remains an issue behind Ifedi. It’s why the team should think about signing Donald Penn. Yes, he’s 36 and missed 12 games last season, but he was a reliable cog in the Raiders’ O-lines that ranked seventh in pass protection and 11th in run blocking in 2017, a was even more dominant during the team’s 12-win 2016 campaign (No. 1 in pass protection, 11th in run blocking).
The Seahawks are better now than they were in the playoff loss to the Cowboys. The question is: Are they good enough, as currently constituted, to match up against the NFC’s top outfits. Addressing the needs mentioned above won’t magically put them in the Super Bowl but it will give them much-needed depth at key positions and could possibly take them from fringe Super Bowl contender to one legit threat to win the conference.