OFFSEASON REVIEW: Seattle Seahawks

By Scott Geelan

As one season ends and another one begins, 32 NFL franchises put 2020 firmly in the rear view mirror and gear up for another tilt at the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The hard work starts here, and for many has already begun; general managers and head coaches are finalising their staff and looking ahead to turning their rosters into potential challengers.

In this series we identify the key components that go into building a winning team, and what each franchise needs to do to be in the mix come the playoffs next January. We continue our team by team offseason review with a look at the Seattle Seahawks:

2020 Recap

Seattle Seahawks
Credit: Jason Vinlove (USA Today Sports)

As is often the way, NFL teams go the way of their quarterback. In Seattle, the season began with the “Let Russ Cook” campaign finally seeing its pleas manifest on the field, as Wilson passed his way into the MVP discussions. It ended with rumours, driven by the Wilson camp, that the quarterback wouldn’t not want a trade… 

Even so, relative to the rest of the league, the Seahawks’ season was hardly an unmitigated disaster. They topped a competitive division with a 12-4 record and for the first part of the season at least, looked to have unlocked a formula that was well-suited to the modern NFL. 

However, successive defeats against the Rams and Bills, with Wilson throwing 4 interceptions to 2 touchdowns proved the fallibility of the Seahawks’ offensive plan & their quarterback against higher calibre defenses. Ultimately, the Seahawks and Wilson would once again meet their match against the Rams, with Wilson’s 11/27, 174 yard, 2 touchdown, 1 interception performance in the Wildcard round perfectly incapsulating his latter season struggles. 

Neither the Seahawks nor their quarterback see themselves as a one-and-done calibre side with offensive issues starting at the quarterback position. As such, through their own prism, the Seahawks had an unsuccessful season, before even considering the fact they now find themselves increasingly at odds with their franchise quarterback. The long-term effects of this conflict may shape the future of the franchise and resolving it will be crucial to the team’s short-term success.

Staff Changes

Brian Schottenheimer, to date, is the primary victim of the Seahawks’ offensive implosion. After three years as the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator, with the last being the most statistically successful and winningest, he paid the price for their late-season slump. In his place, the Seahawks continued the NFL trend of appointing Kyle Shanahan / Sean McVay acolytes by adding Shane Waldron.

The further additions of former Seahawk player DeShawn Shead and long-time Carroll associate Carl Smith, are indicative of Carroll’s desire to re-establish his control over the program and to re-invigorate the ‘Seahawks Way’.

State Of The Roster

Seattle Seahawks
Credit: Rod Mar (Seattle Seahawks)

Clearly, Russell Wilson is a superstar. Unfortunately, amongst the superstar quarterbacks, it is arguable he has the most glaring flaws. One of the greatest ever off-schedule quarterbacks, Wilson has repeatedly showed his ability to transform disastrous situations into positive plays. However he has shown an inability to convert lay-ups into easy-wins at a far higher rate than any of his peers. His style and vast salary have knock-on effects for the rest of the team, and there may be some concerns Wilson himself is (wilfully?) ignorant of that.

Those effects are felt most heavily on the offensive line. The Seahawks offensive line has been much-maligned for some time, but there can be little doubt that their pass-blocking “struggles” are in no small-part due to their quarterback’s preference for holding the ball and playing off-schedule. Even so, the line needs improvement and the fit of holdovers with new OC Waldron’s outside-zone blocking scheme is mixed.

The Seahawks are blessed with two of the most explosive receivers in the NFL, in D.K. Metcalf & Tyler Lockett. Their traits complement Wilson’s superb deep ball well, but they are poorly supported elsewhere on offense.

On defense, the Seahawks appear set to build around a very talented core of Poona Ford, Bobby Wagner, Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs. There are also some intriguing younger players who may be primed for a larger role, notably D.J. Reed, Jordyn Brooks, Marquise Blair & L.J. Collier. Wagner and Adams are undoubtedly still elite talents, with both offering superb underneath coverage attributes and a blitzing presence. The extent to which the defense is constructed to allow them to play to those strengths is up for dispute, with the absence of quality cornerbacks particularly glaring.

Salary Cap & Cut Candidates

Seattle Seahawks
Credit: Seattle Seahawks

Based on a $185m salary cap, the Seahawks currently have around $11m in cap space, which is just below league average this season, but does not provide much wiggle room practically. 

However, with Jamal Adams due an extension and likely to be a Seahawk for the long-term, the Seahawks could structure his new contract in a way that increases their cap room, whilst pushing what will likely be a substantial amount of cap pain into future seasons. Equally, with Duane Brown continuing to perform at high levels, the Seahawks may want to offer the veteran left tackle a short extension that kicks much of his 2021 cap hit into 2022.

In addition, Carlos Dunlap appears to be an obvious candidate to be cut or to restructure his contract. The 32 year-old pass rusher is set to count over $14m against the cap (16th amongst all EDGEs) following a season in which he recorded 5.5 sacks. Jarran Reed is another member of the defensive line who may be a cut or restructure candidate. Otherwise the team is short of obvious cuts that would produce tangible financial benefits.

Free Agents

Credit: USA Today Sports

Despite the aforementioned talent still in Washington, Seahawks’ defense Iooks set to lose some of its most important pieces. The team’s most notable free agent is veteran linebacker K.J. Wright. Wright played at an extremely high level in 2020, and will likely be one of the most sought after linebackers on the free agent market, despite his advancing years.

Furthermore, both starting cornerbacks, Shaquille Griffin & Quinton Dunbar are scheduled to be free agents, alongside rotational defensive linemen Bruce Irvin, Benson Mayowa, Damontre Moore and Jonathan Bullard.  There is a distinct possibility the Seahawks will attempt to bring some of these defensive contributors back, with Dunbar and Mayowa appearing to be particularly attractive from a quality and potential value perspective.

Although none of the team’s offensive stars are projected to be free agents, the likes of Ethan Pocic, Chris Carson, Carlos Hyde, Jacob Hollister and David Moore were all at minimum useful contributors who will need replacing.

Team Needs

Seattle Seahawks
Credit: Jake Roth (USA Today Sports)

EDGE and cornerback are the Seahawks’ most obvious needs, with the latter perhaps more important given the capabilities of Wagner & Adams as blitzers and underneath coverage defenders. To some extent, they can cover up the absence of a high-quality EDGE, but they can do less to mask the lack of quality at cornerback & to use Adams as a split safety is to waste much of what makes him great (although whatever he does may not make him worth what they will pay). Although D.J. Reed has shown in a small sample that he may be a capable option at cornerback, opposite him things are far less clear.

Furthermore, the Seahawks need to retool their offense as a whole, with wide receiver, tight-end and offensive line all areas where upgrades and/or bodies will be required.  Fortunately for them, with much of the league as a whole in a similar cap squeeze, the free agent market will likely be suppressed. They should be able to attract some capable players with the incentive of a season in one of the most widely utilised schemes in the NFL, possibly with one of the league’s best quarterbacks, to pad their value ahead of 2022 free agency.

The biggest need is to come to a resolution on Wilson. His style requires a team go all-in, but Seattle’s idea of all-in to Wilson looks like it could be increasingly at odds with the quarterback’s own assessment. Even if Wilson does show some much-needed improvement on-schedule, it should not necessarily be accompanied by the passing volume we saw in the early part of this season – something Wilson seemingly craves. Could the Seahawks secure a haul of draft picks, a road to one of the four top QBs in this class and massive financial flexibility in exchange for Wilson? It will be interesting to follow.

Scott Geelan

NFC West analyst