It has been three years since the Seahawks reached the NFL’s summit and stood at the peak of franchise history. The next year, they were a mere yard from the top, looking like they were going to conquer the mountain for a second straight year and set up a climb toward a dynasty.
But a series of wrong steps has sent them tumbling from the top, the dynasty chance sliding down the other side. In 2016, Pete Carroll lost control of his team and failed to fix its most glaring problem, and now this stands as the most important offseason since he and John Schneider clumsily went quarterback hunting in 2012.
Seattle is in the same spot it has been for the last two offseasons — key players (Earl Thomas, Tyler Lockett, DeShawn Shead) dealing with major injury rehabs and an offensive line that is far from settled.
To avoid continuing the gradual slide back down the mountain, Carroll will have to get some of his difficult stars (Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett) back in line, some of his other stars healthy and the line functional. And Schneider is going to have to put together one of his best offseasons to help the Seahawks get going in the right direction again.
Here’s a look at the 2017 priorities:
IMPROVE THE OFFENSIVE LINE
Carroll made it clear the Hawks are not going to spend big on this position (via free agency or a trade). But they will have to replace J’Marcus Webb (cut in November) and Bradley Sowell, either through the draft or, more preferrably, with other vets.
Key contracts: Justin Britt, a Pro Bowl alternate, figures to receive a contract extension at some point this offseason — probably for around $5 million a year. … Garry Gilliam is restricted, and the Hawks need to decide whether to tender him or let him become a free agent and try to sign him for the minimum. The difference would be around $2 million.
Carroll says: “We’re going to work really hard in the offseason to make sure we make that spot really competitive again. We’re not going to rest on anything or sit back like we think we’ve got it now. We’ll continue to work and there’s opportunities, of course — in the draft and free agency and all of that — that we’re open to. We never turn away from any of those chances. If nothing happened, these guys are coming back and they’ll get after it and … be farther along than they were.”
COVER FOR SHEAD
It sounds like Shead (ACL) is likely to start next season on PUP, meaning he could miss at least half the year. That means the Hawks are in the same spot as 2016, needing to beef up the corner spot. The Hawks overpaid Jeremy Lane last year and he struggled in the first year of his new deal, but there is no way the Hawks will cut him with Shead hurt. They already have taken the first step in addressing the depth problem, bringing back Perrish Cox. The Hawks also have DeAndre Elliott, plus IR returnees Mohammed Seisay and Stanley Jean-Baptiste. They surely will draft one or two corners and hope Lane plays much better in 2017. After the Cary Williams free agency panic move in 2015, it is unlikely they will spend any serious money on a corner (Cox is cheap). Besides, Carroll prefers to coach his corners from scratch.
Key contracts: Shead was very unlucky to suffer such a major injury in the last game of the season, just before he becomes a restricted free agent. The Hawks would be dumb to tender him at this point. Not doing so would save them around $2.8 million for someone else. … Lane’s $4 million salary will be guaranteed the week after the Super Bowl, but there’s no way the Hawks will release him this year. Next year might be a different story, if he doesn’t step up his game.
Carroll says: “We’re going to have to do a really nice job of coaching in case DeShawn doesn’t make it back. … If he’s not available, we’re going to really miss him but we have to go for it with the other guys. Obviously there will be a chance to address that in the draft, too. … Right now we’re excited about some of the guys coming up.”
The Seahawks need to do a few things here: (1) Get Thomas healthy, (2) extend Kam Chancellor and (3) secure backups for the two Pro Bowl players. For the second time in three years, Thomas will spend the offseason recovering from a major injury (broken leg). Steven Terrell was a poor replacement, so the Hawks will need to find someone better in free agency or the draft. The Hawks already fixed Michael Bennett’s deal, so Chancellor obviously is next. Even though Chancellor’s impact games have decreased the past two years, Carroll considers him a major team leader. Chancellor is the one who gets in the face of stars like Bennett and Sherman when they go rogue. On the off chance the Hawks do not extend Chancellor, they will need to draft a replacement.
Key contracts: Chancellor likely will get around $9 million a year on a new three-year deal. … The Hawks also would be wise to try to re-up Kelcie McCray, if they can get him for under $2 million per year.
Carroll says: “We love Kam; he’s a significant part of everything that goes on around here. I was so proud of him … for all the leadership he brought us in such a magnificent way, coming out of (the holdout) last year and to turn things around and really be all in and the epitome of what leadership is all about. We know what’s going on (with his contract) and we’re involved in all that stuff.”
TYING UP TIGHT ENDS
Luke Willson and Brandon Williams are free agents, and Jimmy Graham is entering the final year of his deal. The Seahawks tried to re-sign Willson during the season, Carroll said, but it appears they are not offering much and/or he wants to see what the market offers. The Hawks basically prepared for his departure last year by drafting Nick Vannett, who couldn’t crack the top three then but showed flashes of what he can do. Graham made an amazing comeback from a serious knee injury and probably will be offered a new deal.
Key contracts: Graham is making $10 million in 2017, but he will be 31 and might not be worth that to Seattle on an extension. He also might prefer to go elsewhere in 2018 to catch more passes. Either way, he is not going anywhere in 2017. … The Hawks probably won’t offer Willson more than a couple million a year.
Carroll says: “I think Nick Vannett is going to be a big factor. We had a real nice three-man rotation there that was hard for Nick to break in, but he’s going to be battling and he’ll be way in the competition, even more so. I think he can be a big factor.”
LOAD UP ON LINEBACKERS
The Seahawks were very lucky Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright stayed healthy and had their best seasons. They know they can’t count on that forever, though, and Carroll said linebacker will be a key area of focus in the draft. Mike Morgan is a free agent again, but he is an easy re-sign (or replace).
Key contract: Brock Coyle is a restricted free agent, but the Hawks are unlikely to tender him. If he decides to leave, they will just replace him with a rookie.
Carroll says: “We need some youth at the linebacker spot. Bobby and K.J. played thousands of plays this year between the two of them and were extremely successful. We need to address that. We didn’t get anybody that made a difference in the last couple of years that can really fight to take those guys’ jobs. Think if someone can battle K.J. and Bobby for their starting time. That’s what we need to draft towards.”
BACK TO BACKS
The Seahawks used 11 running backs this season. Every time they let a guy go, another guy got hurt and they had to dig up a new replacement. Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise probably will never play a full season, so the Hawks will have to delve into the draft again to create competition behind them. Alex Collins and Troymaine Pope should figure into that mix again. At fullback, Brandon Cottom could be a big factor in 2017.
Key contract: Marcel Reece was a great pickup in December and would be a great re-sign if the 31-year-old came back for about the minimum. He was on the street for over two months after Oakland cut him, mainly due to his suspension early in the year, so he shouldn’t cost much. It seems likely that the former Husky will decide to stick with the Hawks to pursue a Super Bowl title in his late career.
Carroll says: “I can’t tell you that I’m not concerned about C.J. He had trouble through the offseason, he was unavailable to us throughout and there was a groin and a hammy and a wrist and the scapula thing he had. He has to show (he can stay healthy).”