In the wake of a surprising (to most) playoff appearance, there is a lot of optimism about the immediate future of the Seahawks. Many seem to think it’s automatic that the team will take the next step and contend next season.
But John Schneider and Pete Carroll have a lot of work to do to convert those positive vibes into a team that can yield positive results in the playoffs. As Carroll said, “It’s nothing unless we do something with it.”
There are two main things to do: Secure the quarterback position and remake the defensive front seven.
Carroll said the Seahawks are already preparing to re-sign Geno Smith, who said he wants to finish his career in Seattle.
“We’ve got our guy and we need to hopefully work things out so he’s with us,” Carroll told reporters in his season wrap Monday. “There’s business to be done there, of course, but there’s no lid on what we can do. The sky’s the limit. … He’s a big part of why we’re looking to the future so promisingly.”
Some may think the Hawks still should consider using that pick on a QB of the future, but Carroll’s future is year to year right now and Smith can be the QB who (along with a much-improved defense) takes him to retirement on a high note.
Schneider surely will be tempted by the draft’s top QBs, but he also knows those guys are very hit and miss (six hits, six busts among 19 Top 10 picks since 2013) and the Hawks need a star defensive lineman even worse.
“If we didn’t have a quarterback that functioned really well, we might be a little different (in draft priorities),” Carroll said, before adding the requisite QB caveat. “But the quarterbacks in this draft are extraordinary players and you don’t get opportunities like this and so we have to be – we are – really tuned in to all of those options.”
Carroll wants a star D-lineman
Carroll seems fixated, rightfully, on finding a star to lead his D-line.
On Seattle Sports Radio, he pointed out the disparity in defensive line play between the 49ers and Seahawks. “There’s a distance there. It’s really because of what they’ve got up front. Their front seven is really, really equipped.”
He lamented that the Hawks don’t have anyone like the 49ers’ Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead or the Rams’ Aaron Donald. “They demand so much focus in the game plan and the approach because they’re going to do something to you if you don’t.”
Then the key phrase: “That’s a big difference (from) what we have.”
“You need to have those guys that can really do stuff to cause the problem – run and pass – every snap. … Where you see the teams that really have big-time potential defensively, they’ve got a couple guys, or at least one guy, that you really have to contend with.”
He later told reporters, “We are going to have to become more dynamic up front.”
All of that points to a major difference maker being added. The Hawks do not spend big in free agency, so the top of the draft is the place to expect that – the top prospects being Will Anderson Jr., Jalen Carter and Myles Murphy.
Fixing the 3-4 scheme
Carter (6-3, 310) and Murphy (6-5, 275) have the size to play end in Seattle’s 3-4, which is here to stay, Carroll said.
He said it will be a priority to fix the horrific run defense.
“It’s been more of a process than (expected),” he said of the change from a 4-3 base. “We transitioned in a way that was not as good as we needed to. … We just needed to make more progress.”
Carroll admitted the run defense suffered because they focused too much on trying to defend the pass.
“We worked on more coverage stuff this year,” Carroll said. “We really expanded on what we were doing coverage wise, and it helped us. It allowed us to have a good pass rush this year over the course of the season because we covered guys really well. … We just didn’t tie it together to the run game like we needed to.
“That’s where the focus will go. We’re going to commit a little bit differently than we did this year to make sure we solidify that.”
Carroll pinned a lot of the defensive problems on youthful mistakes and inexperience, and he expects Seattle’s stellar 2022 draft class and other young players who return to be even better in 2023.
“We’ve had so much growth,” he said. “As we come back for this next season, all of these young guys are going to see the world totally differently than they see it right now.”
The players agree with Carroll’s overall optimism.
Smith: “What I see for this team is a team with a bright future. A lot of young guys on this team got a lot of experience, first playoff games, my first playoff start. So, we’ve got a long ways to go. I’m excited about the future. I know we can be a lot better. It’s just going to take a lot of commitment, so I’m in it for the long haul. I’m ready to go.”
DK Metcalf: “This year was a good steppingstone for the future for us, because we weren’t supposed to make the playoffs, we weren’t supposed to win more than two, three, four games, and we did that with this team. So all we’ve got to do … is just build during the offseason, just continue to grow, because we’re going to be something to look out for next season.”
Ryan Neal: “This group is going to be a group to be looking out for next season, and everybody knows that. I’m just excited to see what we put together next year. … (If) we add a couple more pieces, get back together and get healthy, this team is something to be scared of. So very, very, very bright future for this organization for sure.”
Quandre Diggs: “We beat the odds; we did things that people didn’t think we were going to do. So, for us, we want to focus on taking the next step. We all know what it is. We know the draft picks, we know the cap space and things like that, so we want to continue build this team, embrace the guys who come in in the offseason, and I think it could be really special around here if we do it the right way.”
Shaking up the defense
Seattle’s secondary is in good shape, with Diggs, Neal, Tariq Woolen, Coby Bryant, Mike Jackson, Tre Brown and Jamal Adams returning.
But the front seven has few keepers: Uchenna Nwosu, Boye Mafe, Jordyn Brooks (ACL). None of the D-linemen are worth paying. L.J. Collier won’t be back, Poona Ford does not fit the 3-4, Shelby Harris is not worth $9 million, Quinton Jefferson does not merit $4 million, Al Woods is fading at 36, and Bryan Mone is dealing with a bad knee injury. They could move on from all of those guys and completely remake their three-man front.
Even though he can add over $20 million in extra cap space, Schneider is not likely to go big in free agency – he never does. So you probably can rule out NT Dalvin Tomlinson (6-3, 325), who had a nice contract year with the Vikings. And 3-4 end types Daron Payne (Washington) and Javon Hargrave (Philly) won’t be in Schneider’s budget even if they make it to free agency.
The Seahawks will have the fifth and 20th picks in the first round, plus two in the second round (No. 37 and 52 overall) and a third-rounder (No. 83). Maybe the Hawks end up with Carter, Texas Tech DE Tyree Wilson, C John Michael Schmitz and NT Siaki Ika. Or maybe it’s Murphy and Clemson teammate Trenton Simpson (a thumper LB) in the first round, plus Schmitz and Texas LB DeMarvion Overshown in the second.
However they do it, the Hawks should end up with three front-seven players and an offensive lineman in their first four picks. That would allow them to upgrade over some of the guys they have.
Carroll and Schneider know they have a great chance to quickly get their roster into a position where it is competitive with the 49ers.
“Last year’s draft being so effective for us, the hopes are really high that we can tag on to that one and keep building,’’ he said. “I’m pretty fired up about it. I know John is, too. This is kind of a dream opportunity here, and he’s pumped about it. It’s an enormous opportunity for us.”