Roster analysis: Hawks are already better

Jimmy Graham scores against the SeahawksTwo weeks into the new NFL year, the Seahawks are already a better team — despite losing four starters and nine players overall from their 2014 roster.

Re-signing Marshawn Lynch and adding one of the league’s best tight ends will make any team’s offseason.

Sure, the Hawks lost cornerback Byron Maxwell, center Max Unger, guard James Carpenter, tight end Zach Miller and five others via free agency, trade or cut. But they replaced Maxwell with Cary Williams and Will Blackmon and satisfied their tight end/receiver need with their stunning trade for Jimmy Graham.

They’re still looking for help along the lines but otherwise appear to be moving on to the big extensions for Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner — as well as the draft, where they will get even better via 11 picks.

As expected, the Hawks have not lost nearly as much as they did in 2014, when they lost 10 key players, including seven who had been starters at some point.

In 2014, they lost (via free agency or cuts) Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, Breno Giacomini, Clinton McDonald, Brandon Browner, Walter Thurmond, Chris Maragos and Paul McQuistan.

Bryant, Clemons, Browner and McQuistan already had been displaced by Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Byron Maxwell and Alvin Bailey. And the Hawks replaced the others with Paul Richardson, Kevin Norwood, Justin Britt, Kevin Williams and Marcus Burley.

This year, they have replaced Miller with Graham, Maxwell and the injured Jeremy Lane with Williams and Blackmon. For now, they have potential replacements for Unger & Carpenter in Patrick Lewis and Bailey, and they will add more linemen.

Let’s take a look at the roster by position, as it stands two weeks into the league year:

QUARTERBACK
Depth chart: Russell Wilson, B.J. Daniels, R.J. Archer
Free agent: Tarvaris Jackson

Wilson, who has one year left on his rookie contract, will finally be the highest-paid quarterback on the team in 2015. He is expected to receive a lucrative long-term contract, likely averaging at least $20 million a year and guaranteeing at least $60 million.

Jackson visited Miami; but the Dolphins re-signed Matt Moore, so Jackson seems likely to return for a third year as Wilson’s backup.

Carroll has talked up Daniels as a possible return man, which would give him a shot to make the roster.

RUNNING BACK
Depth chart: Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin, Christine Michael, Derrick Coleman, Dimitrius Bronson
Free agent: Will Tukuafu

The Seahawks re-signed Lynch for $31 million over three years and will pay him $12 million in 2015. That took care of the most pressing roster question.

There’s no guarantee he will play beyond this year — it will be the Brett Favre Watch all over again next year — but the Hawks have him for three years if he wants to keep playing past age 29.

Backup Robert Turbin is signed through next season, and little-used Christine Michael has a couple of years left to try to make that second-round pick the team spent on him look wise.

Tukuafu was a midseason pickup and is not a priority to bring back.

WIDE RECEIVER
Depth chart: Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson, Kevin Norwood, Kevin Lockette, Chris Matthews, Kevin Smith, David Gilreath, Doug McNeill
Departed: Bryan Walters

As expected, the Hawks tendered Kearse at the second-round level, worth $2.36 million. Kearse is certainly not starter-caliber, but he and Baldwin were the best the Hawks had in 2014. A long-term deal seems unlikely, though, as the Hawks surely are planning to be better at the position by next year.

No surprise the Hawks did not tender Walters, who was a restricted free agent. He signed with Gus Bradley in Jacksonville.

The Hawks were looking to upgrade their receiving corps, and Graham essentially satisfied that need. They were in the bidding for Andre Johnson, the longtime Texans star, but he signed with the Colts after the Hawks traded for Graham.

The Hawks might not have Richardson (ACL) to start the season, which means Norwood and perhaps Matthews will have the opportunity to oust Kearse and Lockette. The Hawks also seem likely to add to this position through the draft again.

TIGHT END
Depth chart: Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson, Anthony McCoy, Cooper Helfet, RaShaun Allen
Departed: Zach Miller, Tony Moeaki

This inconsistent unit went from average to awesome in one day, with the Seahawks acquiring Graham, one of the NFL’s top tight ends.

They let Miller go, which saved $2.4 million against the cap. It wouldn’t be a shock if he re-signed for cheap later in the offseason. He reportedly was still having problems with an injured ankle, which might have required another surgery.

Seattle reportedly tried to trade for Julius Thomas (Denver) and Jordan Cameron (Cleveland) last season and reportedly tried to recruit Thomas the weekend before free agency opened; but, when they learned he was going to sign with Jacksonville, the Hawks started talking to the Saints about Graham.

It was a huge move to help out Wilson, who needs a big target. Graham said he expects to free up Lynch for easier running as well by pulling the safety out of the box.

John Schneider thinks the Hawks now boast one of the best tight end corps in the league. Hard to argue.

OFFENSIVE LINE
Depth chart: LT Russell Okung, LG Alvin Bailey, C Patrick Lewis, RG J.R. Sweezy, RT Justin Britt, OT Garry Gilliam, C Jared Wheeler, OG Keavon Milton, OG C.J. Davis, OG Drew Nowak, OL Nate Isles
Free agents: Lemuel Jeanpierre, Steve Schilling
Departed: Max Unger, James Carpenter

The trade of Unger was a stunner, but the Hawks came out way ahead in the deal — considering Unger has missed 13 games the past two years and isn’t getting any younger.

The Hawks will miss Unger’s leadership and his ability on the field when healthy, but Lewis improved a lot last season and the Hawks like him.

The Hawks won’t miss Carpenter, who never played a full season during his four-year career. He missed three games last season, and the Hawks ran the ball better with Bailey at left guard (678 yards in those games). Plus, in the 13 games Carpenter played, he committed eight penalties.

The Hawks are still hunting for a veteran center to challenge Lewis, and they could end up bringing back Jeanpierre or Schilling. They also figure to draft a couple of linemen to improve the overall talent of the unit.

With Okung and Sweezy both free agents after next season, the Hawks need to determine whether they are going to try to re-sign them or else find potential replacements for 2016.

DEFENSIVE LINE
Depth chart: Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel, Ahtyba Rubin, Jordan Hill, Cassius Marsh, Greg Scruggs, David King, D’Anthony Smith, Jimmy Staten, Ryan Robinson, Justin Renfrow, Julius Warmsley, Will Pericak
Free agents: Kevin Williams, Demarcus Dobbs, Landon Cohen
Departed: O’Brien Schofield, Jesse Williams

The Seahawks have been on the lookout for veteran defensive linemen for over two weeks, reportedly talking with at least 10 players.

They finally signed one last week when they added Rubin on a one-year deal. But they’re still looking, with C.J. Wilson reportedly coming to visit next.

This all seems to point to Mebane leaving, absent a reduction of his $5.5 million salary. Rubin — a 328-pound run stopper — would step into the nose tackle spot.

Even if Mebane — the longest-tenured Seahawk at eight seasons — is released, the Hawks figure to return a solid top five and add to the group via the draft.

They also still could bring back Kevin Williams later this offseason. They didn’t sign him last year until June, so there is no rush.

A dubious report indicated Bennett would like to join Dan Quinn in Atlanta; but, even if that’s true, the Hawks are not likely to acquiesce to such a request.

LINEBACKER
Depth chart: Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Bruce Irvin, Mike Morgan, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Brock Coyle, Mike Taylor, Mike Zimmer, Mister Alexander
Free agent: Heath Farwell
Departed: Malcolm Smith

It’s no surprise Smith followed Ken Norton to Oakland, but it was nice Morgan decided to stay. That keeps the Hawks’ depth at the position intact — it’s basically the same unit they had in 2014.

The Seahawks definitely have some decisions to make at this position over the next year, so it is good they were able to re-sign Wright before the end of the season.

The next priority will be to re-sign Wagner. He figures to get a deal paying him around $9 million a year. The Hawks can afford it, but they might not get to it until after the draft.

Looking ahead, the Seahawks have until May 3 (right after the draft) to exercise the fifth-year option on Irvin, which is expected to be around $7 million. Obviously the Hawks will not do it — just as they did not pick up James Carpenter’s option last year. (They won’t have to worry about fifth-year option decisions the next three years because they did not have first-round picks in 2013 or 2014 and won’t have one this year either.)

The Hawks are likely to let Irvin go after next season (another comp pick?), particularly if they find a LEO in this draft. Pierre-Louis should be ready to step in as a starter at linebacker alongside Wright and Wagner in 2016.

LEGION OF BOOM
Depth chart: Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Cary Williams, Will Blackmon, Tharold Simon, Jeremy Lane, Marcus Burley, DeShawn Shead, Steven Terrell, Eric Pinkins, Dion Bailey
Departed: Byron Maxwell, Jeron Johnson

The Eagles’ Chip Kelly foolishly gave Maxwell $10 million a year, and Schneider has to be thanking Kelly for gift-wrapping a third-round pick in 2016.

Losing Maxwell is not a big deal. The Hawks made him what he is, and they will make create another (maybe Simon). In the meantime, because injuries have thinned the ranks at corner, the Hawks felt obliged to pay Williams $6 million a year to step into Maxwell’s spot.

Blackmon is a nice insurance policy, too, because he knows the defense — he would have made the team in 2013 if the Hawks hadn’t had so many talented corners.

Despite the two additions, the Hawks are very likely to draft a corner this year.

At safety, the Hawks have a bunch of young guys (Pinkston, Terrell, Shead, Bailey) and might add another in the draft.

The main issue for this unit is health. They were decimated in the playoffs and Super Bowl. Lane (wrist and ACL), Thomas (shoulder) and Simon (shoulder) all have had surgeries, while Chancellor (knee, hip, ankles) and Sherman (elbow) are expected to heal without going under the knife.

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