The Seahawks have spent the last five years building one of the best defenses in the history of the NFL — a unit that has allowed the fewest points in the league for three years running and has been the main reason Seattle has reached back-to-back Super Bowls.
But, as we saw in the Super Bowl, the offense is a two-dimensional cardboard cutout — forced to rely largely on the determination of Marshawn Lynch (aka Beast Mode) and the freelance ability of Russell Wilson (aka DangeRuss).
When Seattle’s best offensive personnel grouping includes undrafted receivers Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Ricardo Lockette and fifth-round tight end Luke Willson — and the coaches think throwing to Lockette on the goal line to win the Super Bowl is the best play — the Hawks have a serious problem.
This offseason, that must change. It’s the perfect time for Pete Carroll, John Schneider, Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable to determine the future of the offense — to improve their receiving corps, find some reliable offensive linemen and otherwise make a concerted effort to fix a unit that has been running on the shoestrings of Lynch and Wilson.
Of course, the first thing they have to do is learn the intentions of Lynch. The 28-year-old is under contract for one more year, but — assuming he still wants to return — he wants to be paid more than his scheduled $7 million (including $2 million in per-game roster bonuses).
Carroll told 710 ESPN last week that the Seahawks have been talking to Lynch’s agent about a new contract “for a long time.” The Hawks reportedly are willing to pay him $10 million in 2015 and upwards of $9 million a year for several more seasons. Schneider confirmed the Hawks have offered him a raise.
But there’s no guarantee Lynch even wants to come back, especially with Bevell calling the plays (which is said to be the source of some contention).
“Whether or not he wants to play next year, I can’t answer that,” Schneider told 710 ESPN on Tuesday. “I don’t know if he knows at this juncture.”
Contrary to what almost every Seahawks fan thinks, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if Lynch left. The Hawks might actually stop relying on him to create offense, give Wilson some more help and create more balance.
The Hawks surely would like to resolve Lynch’s situation by the end of April, if only because it would help them decide whether to draft a running back. Of course, knowing the way Lynch operates, he might just stay silent until training camp and pull a Barry Sanders or hold out.
If he doesn’t like the Seahawks’ offer or remains silent into April, the Hawks might be wise to explore trade possibilities. The Oakland Raiders might be a perfect partner. Jack Del Rio loves to run the ball, and Lynch would get to go back home. If the Hawks could get a second-round pick (and maybe a mid-rounder, too), it would be a good deal — even if many fans and teammates would not like it. (John Clayton told 710 ESPN he didn’t think the Hawks could get more than a fourth-rounder for Lynch in any trade.)
If Lynch leaves (via retirement or trade), Wilson will become the focal point of the offense. We already know the three-year veteran will get a contract extension — expected to be worth at least $20 million a year and guaranteeing him around $60 million.
The Hawks will always run the ball — with or without Lynch — but they have to improve their passing game. The unit has hardly progressed in Wilson’s three years (very little fault of his).
In 2014, the Hawks had their best overall ranking yet — ninth — but that was almost entirely due to the fact that Lynch and Wilson led the league’s No. 1 rushing offense — up from third in 2012 and fourth in 2013.
Meanwhile, the passing game has not improved since Wilson was a rookie, ranking 27th in 2014 after being 27th in 2012 and 26th in 2013.
The NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl highlighted the Hawks’ weakness there. The Hawks did nothing through the air in the first half vs. Green Bay and didn’t get going in the Super Bowl until unheralded Chris Matthews made a 44-yard catch late in the half.
If the Seahawks are ever going to become the dominant team they could be — considering their No. 1 defense and running game — they need to make the passing game productive.
As we detailed in another post, they have to upgrade their receiving corps.
They also need to figure out how to be more consistent up front. Their offensive line — finally healthy in the playoffs — played one of its best games of the season in the Super Bowl. Wilson had great time to throw for most of the game — even if his receivers couldn’t get open.
If only the linemen could play as well all of the time. But they just can’t stay healthy, meaning they rarely play together — meaning there is no point in keeping them together.
In each of the past two seasons, the Hawks have had seven starting combinations up front. Center Max Unger has missed 13 games and left tackle Russell Okung has missed 10. Left guard James Carpenter has never played a full season in his four NFL years; he missed three games last season, and he committed eight penalties in the 13 games he played.
This offseason is a great time for the Hawks to decide how they are going to constitute that group going forward. Carpenter is scheduled to be a free agent, and Okung and right guard J.R. Sweezy are free agents next year. So this is the year to set it up for 2016 and beyond.
The Hawks are not going to pay Carpenter very much ($3 million a year tops) and they might decide Okung is just not reliable enough to earn $8 million a year. Sweezy — the most dependable lineman — could be the only keeper. They probably could extend him at some point this year for $4 million a year.
The Hawks might be wise to use two or three of their projected 11 draft picks on linemen — perhaps starting with Florida State left tackle Cameron Erving.
There is plenty of rumbling that the Seahawks will try to upgrade at tight end via free agency, possibly with Julius Thomas (Denver) but more likely with Jordan Cameron (Cleveland). They reportedly tried to trade for both last year, so they apparently are willing to pay one of them.
The Hawks went through a turnstile at tight end in 2014, losing starter Zach Miller early in the season and then relying largely on inconsistent second-year player Luke Willson, former practice-squad tight end Cooper Helfet and midseason pickup Tony Moeaki. The Hawks also have Anthony McCoy, who missed a second straight year with an injury. They certainly have options, but none of them have proven to be reliable.
Tight end, receiver, offensive line, running back, even quarterback. You name the offensive position, and the Hawks have questions they must answer this offseason.
Ideally, by the end of free agency and the draft, the Hawks will have set up the majority of their offense through 2017 — and then they can hope that planning turns out as well as their defensive planning has.