(Updated 1/21) The Seahawks had been on an uphill climb for over a month, as injuries whittled their roster, so it was no surprise they finally succumbed, losing 28-23 in Green Bay to extend their losing streaks to nine games in Green Bay and on the road in the divisional round.
They certainly had their chance to win — especially if they had taken the first half more seriously. But, it probably was about as far as they could expect to get in a year in which they led the NFL in games lost to injury, at various points losing their starting tight end and center and their top three running backs while using six offensive line combinations and never really playing with a full deck on defense.
The Ziggy Ansah gamble did not pay off; he never regained his former star form. Jarran Reed missed the first six games and rarely came close to playing like he did in 2018. Run stuffer Al Woods was suspended for the final few games, and Seattle’s interior had trouble stopping the run. Mychal Kendricks was lost to a knee injury in Week 17. Jadeveon Clowney was their best front-seven player, but he was not 100 percent after suffering a core injury in Week 10. And the secondary sifted through a variety of combinations, before and after Quandre Diggs was acquired.
The good news: Despite all of the troubles, the Hawks went 11-5 and advanced to the divisional playoffs for the seventh time in Pete Carroll’s 10 seasons. And they have a lot of key returning pieces: an MVP-esque quarterback, solid skill players (though the running backs are injured), veteran linebackers and a secondary that was much better once Diggs arrived.
Carroll and Russell Wilson repeated what they said last year at this time: It feels like 2012 and just the beginning for this group. Bobby Wagner said it, too. They’ll probably keep saying it until they get back to the Super Bowl.
In 2013, the Hawks added two key pieces — Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett — to help them get to consecutive Super Bowls. They tried to do it in 2019, with Ansah and Clowney, but it didn’t work out. So Schneider will have to try again.
“I think John and Pete will do a great job of getting some great acquisitions and getting some great players,” Wilson told Q13 FOX. “We’re going to need them, to add to what we already have. That’s going to be key. Guys like Clowney and Diggs have been special all year. You see the caliber of players they are. If we can elevate in that sense … The NFC West is a very good division, so we need to match that every day, every time on every player we get.”
Here’s a look at offseason priorities, in order:
A year ago, the Hawks were in the same position — with just one notable outside pass rusher — and we said their top priority should be to keep Frank Clark. As it turned out, Schneider traded him — the first time the Seattle GM had dealt a star for prime value (a first and second). (And it worked out for Clark, who is now in the Super Bowl with the Chiefs.)
To replace Clark, Schneider took a gamble on Ansah and then traded for Clowney. The former did not work out (Ansah was inactive for his final game with the Seahawks), but Clowney did — and Seattle, flush with cap space, needs to strongly consider paying him the going rate of $20 million.
Schneider reportedly promised not to use the franchise tag on Clowney again, so he has to sign him before free agency begins March 18 or likely lose him.
Clowney didn’t tip his thoughts about staying in Seattle, but he did say he wanted to sign with a contender.
Wagner said Clowney is “definitely somebody who deserves everything coming his way. It would be amazing (to have him back). You have a playmaker, a great teammate , a great person. To have that dominant, good person in your room, on your team, is something we definitely love.
“But business is business.”
Vet the pass rushers
One of the main failings of the 2019 Seahawks was the inability to rush the passer — their 28 sacks were the fewest in Carroll’s 10 seasons. Ansah and Clowney did not turn into their new Avril/ Bennett combo, as they hoped. And none of their recent draft picks were anything more than rotational players.
As L.J. Collier proved again, unless you are drafting in the top half of the first round, you are not likely to get a rookie pass rusher who will contribute early. Seattle needs veterans.
In free agency, there are several pass rushers who will get paid at the high end: Shaquil Barrett, Dante Fowler, Arik Armstead, Yannick Ngakoue. But a few probably could be had for cheaper: Robert Quinn, Shaq Lawson, Emmanuel Ogbah.
The Hawks should have tried to trade for Quinn in 2019, but Dallas got him for a song, and the 30-year-old had 11.5 sacks while getting $8 million. If the Hawks can get him for that, they should do a short-term deal.
Lawson (6.5 sacks and 18 hits) probably wouldn’t command top dollar either. Ogbah had 5.5 sacks in 10 games for Kansas City before an injury ended his season; he might be had for a decent price as well.
Everson Griffen (8 sacks and 24 QB hits) might become a free agent, too — whether he opts out of Minnesota or is cut. The Vikings need cap space and the 32-year-old would give them back $13 million. A $13.5 million salary is affordable for Seattle, and Carroll knows Griffen, who played or him at USC (they both left for the NFL in 2010).
However he does it, Schneider needs two good veteran pass rushers. And no more major injury gambles like Ansah.
Jarran Reed is going to be an interesting free agent. His value was sky high last year at this time, after he notched 10.5 sacks. But then he was suspended for the first six games of this season, and he finished with just two sacks in 10 games and didn’t have nearly the impact he had in 2018.
“He never really got started rushing the passer like he was flying last year,” Carroll said. “He wasn’t able to be as productive, numbers-wise. He had 10.5 sacks last year; we couldn’t get him going this year. Because he’s an inside guy and plays like he plays, he needs the support around him to open up the rush lanes and things like that. We weren’t able to help him enough.”
The Hawks might be willing to pay him $8 million a year, and Reed might have to take a one-year deal (maybe for around $12 million) with some team to rebuild his value. It’s 50-50 whether he is back with the Hawks.
Reed knows he might not be back, tweeting (edited), “Didn’t go as planned, but what a ride with the fellas; these past four years have been great for me to grow and learn. Nobody knows their future. We can only live one day at a time, be grateful and control what we can control. On to Year 5.”
Even if Reed stays, the Hawks have to add a couple new defensive tackles — a run stopper to replace Al Woods and another (perhaps through the draft). Poona Ford is the only starter they have right now, and he is purely a rotational guy.
In 2019, the Hawks started three left tackles, three left guards, two centers and two right guards — seven lineups, including the playoffs. In Green Bay, they were on to their fourth left guard as rookie Phil Haynes replaced injured Jamarco Jones.
They need to re-sign George Fant (if he doesn’t get a big offer from another team) and draft a right tackle to replace Germain Ifedi, who likely is headed elsewhere because the Hawks won’t pay him what another team probably will. Duane Brown is still signed for a couple more years and is coming back for more, but who knows how much longer the 34-year-old, who recently had knee surgery, wants to play?
Fant said he will pursue a starting left tackle spot. So, if some team is willing to pay him at least what Seattle is, sounds like he would leave.
“I’m a left tackle in this league,” he told reporters Monday. “I feel like I’m a starter in this league. I got to showcase that in a couple games.”
The Hawks also need to draft a center. Justin Britt, sidelined since late October with an ACL, should be back by training camp for the final year of his deal. Joey Hunt (an RFA) was underwhelming as his replacement (injured or not), and the Hawks need to find a new young center. They also could try to add a young veteran such as Connor McGovern (Denver) or Graham Glasgow (Detroit).
Let Lynch retire
Everyone wants to know whether Marshawn Lynch might return, but there’s no reason for that. He was a feel-good story of the moment; let’s leave it at that.
Carroll made it sound like it was indeed a one-time reunion: “We’re really grateful for him coming back and giving us everything he had. It was fun to watch him again, watch him run over people and extend to the goal line. It was special.”
Lynch is 33, and Carson is Seattle’s lead back. Even if Rashaad Penny remains out into the season, as it sounds like he might, would Lynch want to play second fiddle to Carson? The Hawks also have Travis Homer, who proved to be a very capable fill-in (and should have seen more time in Green Bay).
Seattle does need to add a couple more backs while Carson and Penny rehab, but maybe bring back Alex Collins and draft a guy in the middle rounds from what appears to be a fairly deep class.
Seattle is projected to have eight picks, including two in the second and fourth rounds. The top pick (No. 27 overall) should be used on an O-lineman, if possible; they need a tackle and center, and the bottom of the first round is usually a good place to get those.
Whether they re-sign Reed or not, an interior rusher such as Oklahoma’s Neville Gallimore would be a good addition in the second round.
The Seahawks probably should look high in the draft (Day 2) for a cornerback who can compete with Tre Flowers and/or possibly replace Shaquill Griffin in 2021, if the Hawks don’t extend him.
With Dissly’s inability to stay healthy over his first two years, the Hawks should put tight end on their draft list as well.
It’s a strong draft for receivers, so the Hawks could look to add a guy who could become their No. 3 by 2021.
Deal or no deal?
The only guys who might merit extensions ahead of their final seasons are Griffin and Carson.
Carson is rehabbing a hip injury though, so the bosses might want to see how he comes back from that — and whether he can actually put together a full season. If the team is inclined to pay him, there’s no reason to go higher than $5 million a year.
Griffin took a big step forward in his third season, named a Pro Bowl alternate and replacing Marshon Lattimore. Schneider could see whether he wants to extend for a reasonable price. The top 20 corners are all over $10 million, with Miami’s Xavien Howard and Washington’s Josh Norman leading the way at $15 million. Griffin probably would target $12 million, which might be more than Seattle wants to pay.
The Hawks have 19 projected UFAs. Beyond guys mentioned above, they might be open to cheap deals with Mychal Kendricks (if he’s available), Mike Iupati, Quinton Jefferson (who broke his foot in Green Bay), Akeem King, Neiko Thorpe and Geno Smith.
Their top RFAs are Jacob Hollister, David Moore, Hunt and Branden Jackson. Hollister should get the second-round tender (around $3.3 million), but the rest should be minimum-salary guys (although the Hawks might choose to give Moore and Hunt the original-round tenders of about $2 million).
The Seahawks surely will cut injury-prone Ed Dickson, which will add $3.25 million to the 2020 cap.