A year ago, the Seahawks were a mess at wide receiver. Paul Richardson was recovering from a torn ACL, Jermaine Kearse had played horribly in the two biggest games of the year, and Doug Baldwin had temporarily changed his name to Dookie.
The Seahawks knew they had to get better at receiver, so they made two blockbuster trades — acquiring Jimmy Graham and Tyler Lockett.
Those two were just what Russell Wilson needed. Even though the offense struggled early in the season behind a poor offensive line and coaches who did not know how to use Graham (send him vertical!), the unit eventually took off.
Yes, they lost Graham to a torn patellar tendon in Week 12, but the stellar Lockett helped Baldwin and Kearse put together their best seasons.
Graham will spend this offseason recuperating and thus miss out on further developing rapport with Wilson until possibly September, but Richardson is back — already full speed as he works out with Wilson, Lockett and others in California. Kearse is back, too, on a three-year deal. And Baldwin is back for the final year of his old contract, pending a major extension.
Even without Graham, Wilson’s receiving corps can be great this year — with Baldwin, Lockett, Kearse and a healthy Richardson. And how much better yet it will be when Graham returns.
A good chunk of fans and media thought the Seahawks would ditch Graham or make him take a pay cut, but we long ago explained why neither will happen this year. And Pete Carroll made it very clear last week that they are expecting Graham to return and play a big role.
“We’re anticipating that he’ll come back and we hope to have him by the start of the season,” Carroll told NFL Network. “We’ll see how it goes as far as camp and all of that, but he’s an incredible football player and a great team member and we’re thrilled to have him on our club. We were just getting going with Jimmy last year, so we’ll be really excited to get him back in the lineup.”
Some idiots think there is a causal relationship between Graham’s injury and the Seahawks’ offensive awakening in the second half of 2015. Those dolts obviously forget that Graham finished with the second-best season ever by a Seahawks tight end and was having a monster game against Pittsburgh when he got hurt — and that game was the start of the offensive explosion that saw Wilson light it up the rest of the way.
“We improved so much with our throwing game in the second half of the season. Jimmy would have been a great beneficiary of that as well,” Carroll said. “He’s a tremendous aspect of our team. We can’t wait to get him back.”
Then it will come down to whether he is worth keeping. In fact, the futures of Graham and Baldwin are both up in the air at the moment.
Baldwin is entering the final year of the three-year deal he signed in 2014, and it will be curious to see whether the Seahawks can re-sign him again.
After a big 2015 season that saw him record career highs with 78 catches for 1,069 yards and 14 touchdowns, he will be looking for much more than the $4.3 million average in his last deal.
Contract expert Joel Corry thinks Baldwin will want Percy Harvin money: $11 million a year. Of course, that is preposterous. That is elite receiver money.
The most the Seahawks should — and probably would — pay is $7 million or $8 million, which still would put Baldwin in the NFL’s top 20. The team has plenty of bargaining power, with Lockett, Richardson and Kearse under contract for the next 2-3 years.
And, if Graham comes back as good as new, Wilson will have a wealth of weapons — with or without Baldwin.
For now, though, the returns of a steadier Kearse and healthier Richardson to go with the explosive Lockett and more mature Baldwin give the Seahawks a much better receiving group than they had in their two Super Bowl seasons.