Since training camp last summer, Russell Wilson has said these Seahawks remind him of the 2012 team he led as a rookie, which exceeded some people’s expectations by reaching the second round of the playoffs and then came back to win the Super Bowl in 2013.
While this crew also surprised a lot of people, it didn’t do quite as well as the 2012 squad, failing to win a playoff game. But, even after the 24-22 loss in Dallas, Wilson thought the comparison valid. “If precedence has any truth to it,” he said, “hopefully we can find a way to do something good like that.”
Some think this team is ready to contend in 2019.
“We have everything we need,” Doug Baldwin said. “You have all the pieces. You have all the right mindsets, personalities, everything. It’s just we’re a young team. With the time comes progression, comes growth, comes learning. This team will be better.”
But John Schneider and Pete Carroll definitely have some key decisions to make this offseason on current players and a few positions where they need to upgrade. Their biggest moves figure to come on defense and along the offensive line, with a trio of big extensions also possible.
Carroll told 710 ESPN, “We have a very disciplined, mapped-out plan.”
Seattle is projected to have about $48 million in cap space for free agents and extensions. They figure to make some cap cuts to add to that figure, too.
Here’s what they need to do:
With a career-high 14 sacks, Frank Clark earned a big pay day. The Seahawks have no other edge pass rushers, so it’s hard to see them not paying him.
His market value figures to be somewhere between $14 million and $17 million (the latter was the amount of the defensive end franchise tag in 2018). The Seahawks have never paid more than $10 million a year for an end, so this could mark an extreme departure for them.
Carroll told 710 ESPN that they have been talking to Clark’s agents “in earnest” for a while. If they can’t come to an agreement before March 5, they might end up using the franchise tag for the first time since 2010; the tag window begins Feb. 19.
Of course, $17 million is a lot to devote to one player, and Schneider surely will prefer to get a long-term deal done before March 5 — assuming he plans to pay Clark.
Beef up D-line
Clark and Jarran Reed need some help.
They combined for 24.5 sacks and 51 QB hits, but the rest of the defense totaled just 16.5 sacks (Seattle ranked 11th). Quinton Jefferson and rookie Jacob Martin were the best of the rest, with three sacks each and 23 combined QB hits — but they are really just backups.
Dion Jordan and third-rounder Rasheem Green were huge disappointments, combining for 2.5 sacks and seven hits. Jordan played in 30 percent of the snaps; Green was inactive in seven games and played in just 20 percent of the snaps.
The Hawks have to add a better outside rusher to help Clark. The draft seems loaded with defensive linemen, with a dozen guys expected to go in the first round. One mock has the Hawks taking Florida State edge rusher Brian Burns.
They also could look at veterans, but they seem unlikely to spend much if they re-sign Clark.
The run defense needs to improve, too. The unit was a major disappointment, giving up at least 145 rushing yards in eight games, including the playoff loss to Dallas.
Poona Ford stepped up late in the season, but Schneider needs to find another Brandon Mebane or Tony McDaniel to pair with Reed — who should end up with an extension worth $10 million to $12 million.
Tackle the linebackers
Linebacker is in complete flux, with K.J. Wright a pending free agent, All-Pro Bobby Wagner due for an extension and Mychal Kendricks facing possible prison time.
Even before Wright missed most of the season with a knee problem, Schneider didn’t show any interest in re-signing him. Wright, 29, said he still has not heard whether the team wants him back.
“It’s whatever they want to do. If they want to make it happen, they can,” Wright said. “It just feels like I’m going to hit the market.”
Wright had his best game in Dallas and seemed to show his knee is back to full strength. But will it last? Wright seems to think so. “I want to end my career as a Seahawk,” he said. “I think it would be in their best interests if I’m here.”
Carroll said Monday, “We’d love to have K.J. back with us.”
A fair deal would be something like $8 million for two years, with active bonuses of $250,000 per game in 2019 that could add another $4 million. Wright should be fine with that — although it might be more than Seattle will end up offering.
Wagner really wants Wright to return. “I hope it’s not my last game with K.J.,” Wagner said. “I hope the team does the right thing and brings him back. He’s been a staple of this defense. … He’s been very, very consistent and did it right. He didn’t hold out. … So in my world you’ve got to reward that. But it’s business at the end of the day.”
Wagner will have his own business to conduct as well. He is the No. 2-paid inside linebacker in the NFL, behind Luke Kuechly, and he still merits $10 million a year. Give him a three-year, $30 million deal and see whether he can finish it strong. If Schneider doesn’t want to pay him, though, he has to trade him — like he should have done with Richard Sherman (in 2017 offseason) and Earl Thomas.
“Would I like to be taken care of before the season? That’d be great,” Wagner said. “If I don’t (get re-signed), then that wouldn’t be the end of the world. I understand this is a business, and I’m prepared for anything that happens. If they sign me before then, cool. If they don’t, cool, too. I want to be here. This is where I want to be for my career. This is an amazing city, amazing fans, an amazing organization and so I would love to be here. We’ll make sure business takes care of itself.”
As for Kendricks, you can bet the Seahawks will be watching his Jan. 24 sentencing for insider trading. If he gets just a few months and might be back for 2019, the Hawks probably will re-sign him. They could re-sign him either way and toll his contract via reserve list until he is out of prison.
If Wright and Kendricks are not on the team, Schneider really needs to draft an impact linebacker — try to find his Leighton Vander Esch or Darius Leonard.
Call the guards
The Hawks put together a good line in 2018, made better by solid coaching from Mike Solari, and they ran better than all but two offenses in team history. But they fizzled against Dallas partly because their guards were not healthy.
They were good when J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker or Jordan Simmons were at near full strength. But none of them was available for every game. And Ethan Pocic struggled replacing Sweezy; it’s telling that the coaches preferred a guy playing on one foot to using Pocic in Dallas.
The team probably would like to keep both Fluker and Sweezy for cheap (i.e., no more than $2 million a year). And Seattle has some leverage with Simmons, who filled in well for Fluker and is still tied to the team as an ERFA. Basically, the Hawks could get away with bringing back just one of Fluker or Sweezy, but it would be great if they could keep both.
It’s a big love fest between coach and players.
Carroll: “We’d love to keep those guys with us.”
Sweezy: “I would love to be a Seahawk until the end of it.”
Fluker: “I would love to be a Seahawk for life.”
“But,” as Fluker added, “I know it’s a business.”
After spending his eighth season fending off one injury after another, Baldwin’s future is certainly a question.
Will he want to keep playing? Will Schneider want to keep paying him $10 million? Who might replace him in 2019 or 2020?
David Moore had a good stretch in October and November, but he faded in the final month — he didn’t even get a target in Dallas. He’s not ready to start or even contribute regularly, so Schneider would need to add a veteran if Baldwin retires or is let go because he won’t take a pay cut.
Assuming Baldwin is healthy, Seattle probably should just keep him at his scheduled salary for 2019 — the team can afford two $10 million receivers for one year anyway. But Schneider needs to plan ahead and find a guy who could be the No. 2 behind Tyler Lockett in 2020 and beyond.
Jaron Brown doesn’t seem likely to return for $2.75 million, so add that to the cap coffers.
The Seahawks will officially move on from both of their Legion of Boom safeties this offseason.
They have shown they have no interest in re-signing Thomas, who finished his Seattle career in ignominious fashion. And they likely will officially part ways with Kam Chancellor, which would save them $2.8 million against the cap (they still owe him $5.2 million guaranteed). However, Carroll said he would like Chancellor to remain “close to the program.”
The Hawks already have moved on from Thomas and Chancellor on the field, with Bradley McDougald, Tedric Thompson and Delano Hill stepping in. McDougald had an excellent season, even as he was hobbled by knee tendinitis.
Carroll had good things to say about Thompson and Hill, who were drafted in 2017 to eventually replace Thomas and Chancellor. Thompson started 10 games and finished fifth on the team with 57 tackles. Hill started twice at safety, though he played in 32 percent of the defensive snaps. But is Carroll really sold on those guys?
With McDougald’s knee a potential issue and the young safeties still not totally proven, Carroll and Schneider really need to try to add a veteran.
The right tackle
Germain Ifedi entered camp last summer on the hot seat (at least with a lot of fans), but Solari’s coaching got him on the right track. The Seahawks will have a decision to make on his fifth-year option by May 2, but it seems pretty obvious — as it was with Bruce Irvin — that they will not want to pay him around $9 million in 2020.
They also have George Fant and Jamarco Jones, which gives them some possible options at right tackle after 2019. Fant is an RFA, and it will be interesting to see whether Schneider decides to tender the “sixth man” at the second-round level. The GM has to make that call by March 13, when free agency begins.
There is plenty of debate among fans whether the Hawks should pay Wilson again. Those who are against it either don’t think the Hawks use him right or don’t want to pay him because they prefer to spend that money on other positions and think it is easy to find a cheap, young QB. Those in favor of paying him would say he is a top-five QB who has twice led Seattle to the Super Bowl — and those don’t grow on trees.
Carroll made it clear to 710 ESPN that he is in the latter group, and he said the team will be talking to Wilson’s agent about a new deal this offseason.
A deal could be very simple or incredibly complex, depending on how Schneider and agent Mark Rodgers approach it. We recently pointed out that the inconsistent Wilson doesn’t really merit being paid like the NFL’s top player, but the market will dictate his price and Seattle will either extend him this year or franchise him in 2020.
“I see myself being in Seattle,” Wilson said. “I love Seattle. … I think good things will happen.”
The Seahawks obviously need to go kicker hunting again. Keeping a 40-year-old kicker was never a very bright idea.
The top UFAs not already mentioned are Justin Coleman, Mike Davis, Brett Hundley and Neiko Thorpe. In 2018, the Hawks paid Coleman $2.9 million, Thorpe $1.95 million, Davis $1.35 million and Hundley $705,000. They surely won’t want to go any higher than that for any of those guys in 2019 — and they might not want to pay Coleman that much again. Knowing he is stuck behind Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny, Davis probably will want to shop around for better playing time with another team.
Other notable RFAs: Quinton Jefferson, Joey Hunt, J.D. McKissic, Tre Madden, Branden Jackson. Seattle might tender Jefferson at the original-round (fifth for him) amount of about $2 million, but it seems unnecessary. The others are all definitely minimum-salary guys — no tenders needed.