The Seahawks have surprised everyone, leading the NFC West at Week 7 with a 4-3 record built on two straight good-looking wins.
Now everyone wants to take a pause to congratulate Pete Carroll and John Schneider. There are still 10 games left, but no one predicted the Hawks would be leading the division at this point (the closest we came was a 3-4 projection) with a quarterback who is playing better than the erstwhile star he replaced and a young defense that has seemed to find its way after a rough start.
Carroll is enjoying this rebirth, both of his roster and himself and Schneider, who could be seen in the SoFi Stadium suites Sunday excitedly watching his new young team beat the Chargers 37-23.
Most who hated the Russell Wilson trade have been forced to face reality: Wilson is the same diminishing player he had become in Seattle, and that is not Carroll’s fault.
Schneider made a spectacular trade to move him where he wanted to go and then gave Carroll a great rookie class that has helped the surprise player of the NFL, Geno Smith, lead Seattle into contention.
As Carroll said after the 37-23 win over the Chargers, “I’m fired up about us. … Seven weeks in, that’s where we are (first place). Who woulda thunk it?”
The next day, he said on his radio show: “This is an unusual opportunity with such visible changes that took place and the chances that were taken to make this change happen. I think both John and I were invigorated by the challenge of that. We thought we knew what we were doing or we wouldn’t have done it. … And so to see it start to be recognized, I like that.”
Carroll, 71, made it clear he had heard all of the complaints about him: He is too old, he is “stuck in the mud; running the football is archaic.”
He is happy to surprise everyone with this unexpected resurgence: “I love to prove it to them that we do understand what we’re doing and we haven’t lost our edge.”
A lot of Wilson fans are starting to understand that the quarterback’s limitations were not a product of Carroll’s “archaic” philosophy of balance. All of the “Let Russ Cook” crowd saw in 2020 what happened when Wilson was given free rein: He let his ego drive the offense into the ground.
The same thing is happening in Denver, where Wilson got off to a terrible start before a hamstring injury sidelined him.
Meanwhile, Shane Waldron has been able to open the entire playbook with Smith in ways that Waldron, Darrell Bevell and Brian Schottenheimer never could with Wilson.
Smith is definitely not the expert deep ball thrower that Wilson was for his decade in Seattle. But Smith has command of the offense and vision of the whole field – and he is making smart, quick decisions most of the time.
This season was expected to be like 2011, when the Seahawks built a strong defense with new, young players but still needed to find a QB. Well, the Hawks already have a QB – Smith has been the surprise of the league. And now the young, fresh defense is coming together – and this suddenly looks a lot more like 2012.
A 6-4 finish is well within Seattle’s grasp. That would give the Hawks a 10-7 record, which should be plenty to make the playoffs in a season that has been a parity party across the league so far.
Carroll said he sees “opportunity. This is a great chance for somebody to elevate. It’s so evened out. So many losses so early for so many teams. We’re 4-3 (but) in first place. The opportunity to make a run is here.”
He also made it clear he expects his team to get better and better as the season progresses.
“The best is yet to come,” he said. “We ain’t even close to where we’re going to go.”
Extend Geno? Not now
As Smith’s excellent play has stretched across two months, people have been talking about extending him. Some want to do it right now. What’s the rush?
Just let it play out. If he continues to perform this well all the way through, as we all now expect after seven games, then it will be time to look at that.
The Hawks will have options – and they will have cap space. Smith certainly would not get top-10 QB money – which starts at $40 million a year. But if he sustains this level of play, the Hawks will have to consider whether to pay him $25 million to $30 million. That’s a range that includes Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Matt Ryan and Ryan Tannehill.
Smith is 32, so it would be a short deal — maybe 2-3 years. Seattle also could franchise him at $31.5 million and draft a QB with the Denver pick (currently No. 6).
That’s all for later. Let’s enjoy the season journey for now.
Other notes & observations
It was great news that DK Metcalf was not lost for the season, but he does have a patellar tendon injury that seemingly could keep him out for a game or more. Carroll said Metcalf wants to try to play this week, but the coach added, “I don’t know if that’s even possible. … I’m going to leave it wide open.” … Marquise Goodwin (two TDs) stepped up big time in L.A. With him, Tyler Lockett and three good tight ends, plus of course rising superstar Ken Walker III, the Hawks have enough weapons to move the ball in diverse ways.
Kenneth Walker III showed a little bit of everything in L.A. He had some nice holes in the first half, yet he was not used enough. Then running lanes were tough to find in the second half, so he made his own with his fancy footwork, jump cuts and power. His 74-yard TD run was a combination. He got good blocks from Will Dissly and Colby Parkinson, and he turned on the jets around the corner and down the right sideline. His 168 yards and two scores made him the first Seahawks rookie with 150 yards and two rushing TDs since Curt Warner in 1983. That’s some good company.
Waldron has had some embarrassing moments this season, like his four-RB failure against the 49ers (DeeJay Dallas threw an end zone interception) and using Dee Eskridge as a runner vs. the Chargers (he fumbled in the backfield). But Waldron has used his tight ends really well and come up with other concepts that Smith has orchestrated well. There is more to come from this offense.
Everyone loved Carroll’s subtle calming gesture directed at Smith after the refs had irked the Hawks with a bad call against Austin Blythe on third down. Smith took his coach’s advice and then channeled it into a third-down missile to Tyler Lockett to convert.
Ryan Neal stood out as Seattle’s best defender with his interception and four passes defensed, but Quandre Diggs (who had some bad moments in the first month) seemed to have his best game of the season (despite only one tackle). Coby Bryant also should have had his first pick. He caught the ball in the end zone, but it was nullified by an offsides penalty. Things are coming together for that secondary.
Cap talk: The Hawks have plenty of space in 2023. Poona Ford is the only other notable UFA, and Neal will be a high-tendered RFA. But that is it for expensive free agents. And they can free up $15.5 million by moving on from Gabe Jackson and Shelby Harris. They did a basic restructure on Harris’ salary in June, moving $3.27 million to next year. He’s a good rotational player, but maybe not worth $9 million in 2023.
Carroll explained how the Hawks ended up with so many stellar rookies (six making immediate impact): “We finally had draft picks. When you’re drafting 25 (and lower), that pick usually we move. When you draft high and you have a lot of picks, you have better shots at it. So John just took full advantage of the opportunity.” And then Carroll gleefully added, “The best is yet to come. Next year’s draft is two 1s and two 2s and two 5s — and away we go. The benefits (of the Wilson trade) are going to keep coming.”