Salute Magazine’s Exit Interview series examines the status of each NFL team heading into the offseason, along with their free agents, team needs and more. Click here for the rest of the exit interviews. Up next: the Seattle Seahawks.
Some teams would be content with a 9-7 season, even if they miss the playoffs. Not the Seattle Seahawks. They took it as a sign of the end times and decided to clean house to an extent.
While Pete Carroll will stay as head coach, the team fired both of their coordinators. Getting rid of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell made sense, considering the stink of Super Bowl XLIX. However, defensive coordinator Kris Richard didn’t do anything wrong; the unit was still one of the better ones in the league.
Plus, it’s arguable that the Seahawks downgraded with their replacements. Brian Schottenheimer was mediocre at best in his previous stints as OC, while Ken Norton Jr. was fired midseason by the Oakland Raiders. Yes, he was a linebackers coach in Seattle before his tenure as DC with Oakland, but it’s still a puzzling move.
Maybe general manager John Schneider senses another down season in 2018. The Seahawks don’t have much cap space, they have no draft picks in round 2 or 3, and they could end up losing a number of talented players in free agency. By the end of April, this could look like a very different team than what it was this season.
There will be positives no matter what. Russell Wilson is still the quarterback. They have a great group of players at linebacker and cornerback. Some younger players could receive more playing time next year. Carroll, despite the struggles in 2017, remains a reliable head coach.
But it will take some creative work in the offseason from Schneider to keep this team relevant, especially with how talented the rest of the NFC West has become. Best case scenario, the Seahawks return to the playoffs and challenge for the conference championship. Worst case scenario, they do worse and turn to a full rebuild. Wait and see…
Current number of draft picks: 8 (#18 in the first round)
Cap space: $13 million
Notable free agents
Jimmy Graham, TE: Graham hasn’t quite hit the elite production he had with the New Orleans Saints, but he started to inch back toward it this season. He was a force in the red zone, grabbing 10 receiving touchdowns, which was tied for second in the league and the best among tight ends.
However, after a four-year stretch in New Orleans where he averaged just under 89 receptions a season, Graham has only 57 in his three years with Seattle. Part of that is due to his lessened targets, but is he worth top tight end money? Maybe, but the Seahawks don’t have that kind of money right now.
Eddie Lacy, RB: It’s easy to diss Lacy for his downfall, but it’s also easy to feel bad for him. He’s struggled with his weight, and as a result, took an incentive-based deal for this season, including bonuses for hitting certain weight-in numbers. It didn’t help his numbers. In fact, he had his worst season by far.
Starting just three games and playing in only nine, Lacy had just 179 rushing yards and had a big fat zero for touchdowns. Even with the mess the Seahawks backfield is in, he’s not worth bringing back at his current price.
Sheldon Richardson, DT: Richardson looked like he was headed down a bad path with the New York Jets. Off-the-field incidents and locker room issues forced him onto the trading block, and the Seahawks eventually gave up Jermaine Kearse and a second-round pick for him before the season began. Was he worth it?
Eh, yes and no. While Richardson only had 1 sack, he did have 44 total tackles and earned an 83.8 grade from Pro Football Focus, helped by his 28 QB hurries. The ability is clearly still there for him, but he needs to be in the right place, both physically and mentally.
Luke Joeckel, G: Joeckel was a #2 overall draft pick at tackle in 2013. It’s safe to say that he’s a bust. In his first three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, he had an average grade of 51.4. The team shifted him to left guard in 2016, but he only played four games.
Somehow, that was enough for the Seahawks to pay him $8 million for one season. Joeckel turned in his worst season as a pro, getting a 44.5 from PFF while allowing 5 sacks and 28 total QB pressures. He also missed five games. The Seahawks can do better.
Paul Richardson, WR: After three years of limited snaps, Richardson was finally allowed to start in 2017, and he did pretty well, catching 44 passes for 703 yards and 6 touchdowns, all career highs. There’s room for him to continue to grow.
T/G: The Seahawks haven’t had a good offensive line in years, and it needs to stop sooner or later. For now, they’re set at left tackle and center with Duane Brown and Justin Britt, respectively. The other three positions all desperately need upgrades. In addition to Joeckel, right guard Oday Aboushi and utility backup Matt Tobin are going to free agency.
One solution could be drafting a tackle in the first round, shifting Germain Ifedi from right tackle to right guard, and praying that Ethan Pocic, a rookie in 2017, improves next season. Or they could just take the best offensive lineman available to them instead. They have to do something though.
TE: Both Graham and Luke Willson are free agents, and it’s unlikely that the Seahawks will be able to keep them together. They’ll have to get creative in re-signing one and finding a replacement for the other.
DE: While Dion Jordan is the only defensive end who’s a free agent, there’s a lot of uncertainty with the other guys at the position. Cliff Avril is dealing with a serious neck injury that could end his career. Michael Bennett is unsatisfied with his contract and could be a cap casualty. That would leave just Frank Clark, which would definitely be a hit to the pass rush.
LB: The Seahawks are clearly set at two of their linebacker spots with Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, but the third starter, Michael Wilhoite, is a free agent. This isn’t a high-priority spot though since the defense rarely went with three LB’s on the field at once.
S: Like defensive end, the safety situation is muddled for the Seahawks all of a sudden. Top backup Bradley McDougald is a free agent and could easily start elsewhere. Kam Chancellor suffered a neck injury late in the season that could prevent him from playing right away in 2018. Earl Thomas is lowkey trying to get to the Dallas Cowboys. That’s three reliable safeties who could all leave Seattle this offseason.
RB: Injuries wrecked the running back situation for the Seahawks this year. Five different players got at least 100 snaps. Lacy is the only one who’s an unrestricted free agent, but there are plenty of questions for the rest of the guys. Still, they may have to stick with this group considering the cap situation.
DT: Richardson’s potential departure would result in the young trio of Nazair Jones, Jarran Reed and Malik McDowell at defensive tackle. While the former two flashed in 2017, the latter didn’t play at all due to injury. Again, the lack of cap space will likely mean that the Seahawks will go with these three in 2018.
QB: Austin Davis will be going to free agency, leaving no one behind Wilson as a backup. Last year’s #2 QB, Trevone Boykin, spent all season on the practice squad and signed a future/reserve deal, but he’s had issues off the field. Considering the injury problems that have hit the rest of the team, the Seahawks need to hedge their bets in case Wilson gets nailed as well.
K: Who thought it was a good idea to bring in Blair Walsh again? The former Minnesota Vikings kicker missed eight field goals in 2017, and he’ll be hitting free agency. The team signed Jason Myers to a future/reserve deal, but is he the answer?
Best player/building block
Bobby Wagner, MLB: It isn’t hyperbole to say that Wagner is the top pure linebacker in the NFL. His tackle total alone indicates how monstrous he is. He had 133 total tackles, 7th in the league. But he made an impact in coverage as well, picking up 6 pass breakups. PFF had him as the best linebacker in football with a grade of 96.7. With questions across the rest of the roster, at least Wagner is a pillar of stability.
Doug Baldwin, WR: Why isn’t Baldwin considered one of the best receivers in football? Look at his numbers. 75 catches for 991 yards and 8 touchdowns. Not as good as his previous two seasons, but still an amazing three-year total taking the rest of the league. PFF gave a grade of 88.2, the sixth best for any wideout. As things fell apart around Wilson, Baldwin was there to bail his QB out.
NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers