Seahawks Death Week: Looking On The Bright Side

Hey look, I get it, losing sucks.  Teams like the Seahawks have a finite championship window.  On the one hand, that’s a good thing because it means we have a good team.  The Cleveland Browns don’t have a finite championship window because they suck!  On the other hand, that championship window is going to close sooner or later, if it hasn’t already.  For what it’s worth, I think the future still looks pretty promising, but that obviously comes with the fact that they have work to do on the player personnel side.

Before I get into the promising future, let’s take a quick look back.  We’re at the end of the best 5-year run in franchise history!  56-23-1, or a .706 winning percentage.  That easily bests any of the best 5-year runs in the 80’s, as well as that superb 5-year run in the Holmgren years.  This includes the fact that we’ve won at least 10 games AND made the playoffs AND won at least one playoff game every season since 2012.  Only the Patriots have done that, and they enjoy the luxury of having the very worst divisional opponents this side of the AFC South.  On top of that, factor in 3 divisional championships, 2 Super Bowl appearances, and 1 championship, and you could say the Seahawks have been pretty hashtag-blessed in this run.

All the while, the Seahawks have remained one of the youngest teams in the NFL.  Now, more and more, that’s a result of the back-end of our roster being filled with rookies, but the players at the top are still in their primes, which means we’ve got at least 2-3 more years of this championship window left to stress over!

First and foremost, we’ve got a franchise quarterback.  You’re not going anywhere without a franchise quarterback.  Just ask those aforementioned Cleveland Browns, or the Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, New York Jets, and so on and so forth.  Even in those rare instances where a team rides its defense to a title, you’re never going to be able to achieve sustained success with that tactic.  Yeah, Peyton Manning stunk in 2015 and the Broncos won it all, but you saw what happened in 2016.  Due to salary cap constraints, players get poached.  Due to the law of averages, a defense largely healthy one year suffers a bevy of injuries the next.  I mean, go back through time of all the teams with elite defenses and crappy quarterbacks – 2002 Bucs, 2000 Ravens, 1985 Bears – did any of them repeat?  The Bears didn’t make another Super Bowl until the 2006 season; the Bucs haven’t been back period; and the Ravens didn’t win it all again until the 2012 season, at which time their defense was a shell of its former self, and they were able to ride the hot hand of Joe Flacco of all people.  The overwhelming majority of Super Bowl champions – and even Super Bowl participants – had either great quarterbacks, or average quarterbacks having great seasons.

Now, is there cause for concern about Russell Wilson’s 2016 season?  Sure felt like a step back to me, but I don’t know how much you can learn about a season when he’s hobbled and still running for his life because of that O-Line.  I think it all finally caught up to him, resulting in rushed throws, which in turn resulted in a lot of inaccurate throws.  Improved offensive line play will surely result in improved quarterback play.  Or, it’ll spell doom for a promising young player who looked like he was on the fast track to the Hall of Fame.

As I mentioned before, the wide receiver group is as strong as ever.  Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett are great players.  Jermaine Kearse unquestionably had a down year in 2016, but he nevertheless brings a lot to the table with his blocking and his rapport with Wilson and the other receivers.  Paul Richardson came on like gangbusters after Lockett went down.  If we’re able to incorporate him more into this offense, we haven’t had a player with his combination of speed and catch radius EVER in the Pete Carroll era.  The person who comes closest is Sidney Rice in his prime, which I think this team would take in a heartbeat.  When you top it off with Jimmy Graham – who I believe this team not only needs to hang onto in 2017, but should probably look to extend out another 2-3 years to make his cap hits more reasonable – this offense has the weapons in the passing game to succeed.  They won’t need to hit the free agent or trade markets, nor will they need to look in the draft all that high.

Running back might be another story.  When healthy, you’ve got elite talent with Rawls and Prosise, but obviously you can’t count on either of them for a full 16-game season plus playoffs.  Alex Collins really started to play well towards the end of the season, so obviously I think you keep him in the mix.  But, this team will most definitely have to look in the draft for another quality back to throw onto the pile.

In talking about the O-Line, Justin Britt was a pleasant surprise and lone bright spot.  While there is plenty of work to do here, it’s nice to know at least ONE spot out of five is locked in.

Defensively, we’re still stacked up and down the lineup.  Bennett and Avril are still making lives miserable.  Frank Clark – already solid as a rookie – took a big leap forward in his second year, setting himself up for a HUGE third season, and likely a huge payday once next season concludes.  Along the interior, Rubin and Reed and the return of Tony McDaniel helped us maintain our status as one of the best run defenses in the league.  You never mind picking up extra talent in this group – particularly at the back end, to shore up the depth – but D-Line isn’t really the priority it has been the last couple years.

I was most impressed with our linebackers in 2016.  Bobby Wagner had a so-so 2015, and responded with the best season of his career this past year.  He was, in fact, the best linebacker in the entire NFL, which is no small feat.  Led the league in tackles, managed 4.5 sacks for a guy who doesn’t rush the passer a ton, and was just generally always around the football.  K.J. Wright continued being the most underrated defender in football, and the guy most deserving of a Pro Bowl invite who has yet to actually make it who finally got in this year!  This group didn’t see its strongside linebacker out on the field a lot, but when Mike Morgan came back from injury, he was a force, particularly in setting the edge on running plays.  Just, all around, the best linebacking unit in football, period.

The secondary, while it needs some work, has the broad strokes in place.  Richard Sherman didn’t have his best year (and, it sounds like half that year he was dealing with an MCL issue), but when he’s locked in on his side of the field, as you saw in the Detroit playoff game, he’s still a force to be avoided.  On the opposite side, DeShawn Shead got the starting nod and really acquitted himself well.  Unfortunately, they didn’t trust him enough to just leave him over there – as we saw more and more Richard Sherman following the other team’s best receiver – and I think that might’ve had something to do with our defense taking a step back.  At safety, Kam was his usual dominant self when he was on the field, and Earl was Earl (again, when he was on the field).  The fact that both of those guys missed some pretty extensive time this year, and the fact that our defense REALLY suffered accordingly, means this team has work to do in shoring up our depth in the secondary.  Those four guys, plus Jeremy Lane, were supposed to make the secondary this team’s #1 strength.  Instead, they were this team’s second-biggest weakness, when the likes of Kelcie McCray, Steven Terrell, DeAndre Elliott, and Neiko Thorpe were thrust into active duty.  Bolster the unit from the bottom up and we should see a return to former glories for the secondary.

The foundation is solid, is what I’m trying to get at!  Across the board, except for the O-Line.  We’ve just got to figure out a way to get the complementary pieces in place to get us through the hard times.  As luck would have it, 2017 presents a unique opportunity to really pump this team full of talent.  The Salary Cap should be upwards of $170 million.  Our dead money is currently less than $1 million.  Add that to our contracts already on file, we’ve spent approximately $135 million on our 2017 roster.  The best part, though?  Our list of unrestricted free agents is pretty weak.  The most expensive player on that list is Steven Hauschka, and we might end up looking in another direction at kicker anyway, given how poor of a season he had in 2016.  Then, there’s Luke Willson, who figures to test the market and see if he can get himself a starting job somewhere.  If he comes back to Seattle, it’ll likely be on a very reasonable deal.  As for starter types, Mike Morgan and Tony McDaniel could be had on small deals as well.  Beyond those guys, we’re talking about the bottom of the roster:  McCray, Sowell, Thorpe, Marcel Reece, Tukuafu, Jeron Johnson, Brandon Williams, and Damontre Moore.  So, you know, it’s not like there’s some big contract we need to take care of on our own roster.

I’m fuzzy at best as to what the free agent market is going to look like, but that’s a topic for another day.  For now, let’s just bask in the glow that we’ve got a very good football team, with some very smart people running the show, and we’re really not THAT far off from competing for the top seed in the NFC and the Super Bowl.

Adversity Will Either Crush These Seahawks Or Make Them Better Than Ever

The 2013 Seahawks had quite a large number of things going against them.  Playing in the toughest division in the NFL primary among them.  There were also injuries/suspensions:  Unger, Okung, Giacomini, Irvin, Browner, Thurmond, Wagner, Wright, Rice, Harvin, and I’m sure a number of others that I’m forgetting all missed various amounts of time last year, and yet somehow the Seahawks overcame.  It can be argued that a difficult schedule will actually make you a more formidable opponent come playoff time.  The caveat, of course, is that you still have to be good enough to MAKE the playoffs.

I’m in no position to comment on the locker room environment of that 2013 squad; while there are reports that Harvin was a problem last year in addition to being a cancer this year, it seems pretty obvious to me that the locker room environment is probably worse this time around.  Guys getting paid, other guys being jealous of those guys getting paid, disgruntled stars not getting enough touches or making enough plays, it can all come to a head and boil over if the team isn’t winning.  When you factor that in, along with the NFC West being just as tough – if not moreso – than last year, and the injuries that are currently piling up (Okung, Unger, Wagner, Maxwell, Lane, Marsh, Coleman, Miller, Willson, Chancellor, etc.), it can be argued that the adversity the Seahawks are facing now is the greatest it’s ever been.

The expectations for this team were off-the-charts when the season started.  Now, seven weeks in, the Seahawks are 3-3 and in third place in the NFC West.  If the season ended today, the Seahawks would have to leapfrog TWO teams just to crack a Wild Card spot.  It may be time to temper our expectations as our world seemingly crumbles down around us.

But, here’s the truth:  the Seahawks do have a chance to not only get back into the divisional race, but even the race toward the top two seeds (who get a first round BYE).  When you think about the best teams, it boils down to your overall record, your record within your conference, and your record within your own division.  Obviously, losing to the Cowboys and Rams is less than ideal.  To have a realistic shot at winning the division, the Seahawks are probably going to have to win the rest of their divisional games.  Thankfully, they get to play the 49ers and Cardinals twice each, and the Rams at home in Week 17.  The possibilities are limitless, as long as we’re able to take care of business.

As for the rest of the conference, it might be a tougher road.  The victory over Green Bay is perfect.  If they happen to lose their division to the Lions, that gives us a little security, if we manage to have the same record as the Packers at season’s end.  The defeat to Dallas hurts just as bad as the Packers game helps, of course.  At this point, we’re either rooting for the Cowboys to fall apart (like they usually do), or win their division running away (we do, after all, play the Eagles later this year, which could give us a tie-breaker over them if we win).

Want to look at another potential tie-breaker opportunity?  Look no further than this Sunday in Carolina.  Yes, they’re leading their division now, but that’s not guaranteed.  I could see the Saints or even the Falcons go on a second-half run to overtake the Panthers.  If that happens, we’ll want to have this win on Sunday to ensure an edge over another potent NFC club (of course, the Panthers DO have that tie on their record, so it’s probably a moot point, as we likely won’t have the same record as they do at season’s end; nevertheless, beating the Panthers helps our overall conference record, and that’s what’s REALLY important at this point.  That, and not falling too far behind the other teams ahead of us).

No one said repeating as champions would be easy.  Nevertheless, I think this is more difficult than any of us imagined.  We play 10 more games over the next 10 weeks.  We’re on the edge of making a big run, but we’re also on the edge of falling completely apart.  You’d like to think the worst is behind us.  With the tumor removed, maybe we can Fresh Slate this thing and start anew.

You know what will go a long way in determining the Seahawks’ fate?  Altering our expectations and adjusting accordingly.  The 2014 Seahawks aren’t what we thought they’d be.  They’re not the 2013 Seahawks by damn sight.  We’re not going to step onto the field and blow you away like we did in the Super Bowl.  Our defense isn’t going to wear you down and create multiple turnovers per game.  Our crowd isn’t going to affect opposing offenses like it used to.  And, we’re not going to utilize Percy Harvin and his big-play potential like we thought.

It’s a new team, and we all need to realize that.  Not just the fans, but the coaches and the players as well.  The coaches need to realize that the OFFENSE is ahead of the defense, and not the other way around.  It’s going to require more precision in our offensive execution.  It’s also probably going to require a little more hurry-up, and not just when the chips are down and we’re losing by three scores.  The offense is going to need to get out to fast starts, especially on the road.  We’re going to have to help out our defense a little bit.

Obviously, the defense isn’t living up to its reputation.  The sacks aren’t there, the pressure isn’t there, and that means the turnovers aren’t there.  How do we remedy that?  I think it DOES mean we have to blitz more.  We can’t just stay back, play zone all game, and rely on the talent of our superstars.  They’re not producing like we expect, which means we have to make adjustments.  Manufacture pressure any way possible, even if that means taking guys out of coverage and throwing them headfirst into the quarterback (not literally, of course).  Will that mean possibly allowing extra big plays here and there?  It might.  But, look at what’s happening now, without all the blitzing I’m advocating!  They’re getting those big plays anyway, and they’re KILLING us in the red zone!

Blitzing should help.  Scoring early should help (with the thought being:  you take a big lead, you force the other team to pass more to catch up).  We can’t remain stubborn and do only what worked in 2013.  We have to adapt to what other teams are doing to us.  If our defense is struggling because other teams are playing hurry-up and not allowing us to substitute players, then flip it on them and have OUR offense play hurry-up for the same reasons.  It’s not rocket science, it’s just football.

Yeah, we’re getting the best effort out of everyone we play.  But, that’s no excuse for us not giving OUR best effort.  If we can improve upon that – knowing that we can’t afford to lose too many more games, or else our season will be over before we know it – then we might make it through the fire tougher than ever before.  The kind of adversity that comes from a mediocre start after a Super Bowl-winning season is what determines whether or not you’re truly destined for greatness.  Either the Seahawks start picking each other up and showing the rest of football WHY they’re the defending champions, or they become just another statistic.

Just another Super Bowl participant who fails to make the playoffs the following year.

I don’t want to hear any more excuses.  I don’t want to hear about injuries, I don’t want to hear about the refs, and I don’t want to hear about locker room chemistry.  Are you a championship football team or aren’t you?  That’s what I want to know.  It starts this week.  This game against Carolina is as “must win” as a game in October gets.  Because you know what happens when the Seahawks aren’t good enough to win a game on the road against a mediocre Panthers team?  You give up on the Seahawks being a legitimate threat in 2014 and you seriously start to wonder about their prospects going forward.

I don’t want to think about that right now.  I don’t want to think about all the holes we have on this team and all the potential holes we’ll have after a loss to the Panthers.  I don’t want to think about how Russell Wilson is literally the ONLY good thing about this team in the coming seasons, because for as fabulous as he is, he can’t do it all.

Seattle Sports Hell 2014 NFL Power Rankings – Week 2

I’m still firmly in the camp of the Seahawks being the best team in football until some other team (or teams) jump out and prove themselves superior … but I can’t help having these nagging worries.  Doesn’t it feel like something’s a little off about this year’s team?  I read all these quotes and they’re as encouraging as always:

  • About how our stars are working harder than ever before
  • About how guys are in the best shapes of their lives
  • About how everyone is still hungry and that winning a Super Bowl has only made them hungrier

But, I dunno.  This is more of a gut feeling than anything, but it just feels like we’re going through the motions.  Like, everyone’s on auto-pilot until they decide to turn it on and ramp it up.  Which, in most cases, our auto-pilot is better than most other teams’ 100% effort, but it’s still cause for concern.

I just wonder why it looks so BLAH out there.  Is it Super Bowl Hangover?  Is it because we know we’re so very good, we can’t see anyone else as a threat?  Like that smart kid in school who acts out because he’s not challenged?  Or, have we lost our heart?

Golden Tate, Red Bryant, and Chris Clemons all play for other teams.  They were all either released, or it was made very clear to them that we didn’t want them back or need them back.  Those three guys were also three of the biggest personalities on the team.  Tate had a swagger about him that was the perfect complement to Beastmode’s tenacious desire.  He could dish out the shit-talking and he could back it up.  When the offense or special teams needed a big play, Tate’s sheer force of will would make it happen, no matter what it required.

Red Bryant was the leader on defense.  Not the signal-caller – that job belongs to Wagner – but he was the emotional leader for sure.  I can’t count the number of times I’d see him make a big play and then stomp around like a rabid elephant, barking at everyone around him that they were NOT going to run it in his direction!  Everyone looked up to him and voted him defensive captain.  It can’t be easy to lose that, because there’s a void bigger than his 330-pound frame left in his place.

And, by all accounts, Chris Clemons was the resident hard ass.  He’s all business, and he’s in the business of tearing some new assholes out of opposing quarterbacks.  When you look at these three guys, the word that comes to mind is:  intensity.  They had it, and we’ve lost it.  Sure, Earl Thomas brings the fire.  But, even he seems a bit scaled back this year.  I see it a little more in Bobby Wagner, which is nice, but it would be better to see it out of more guys.  I don’t care what anyone says, we need emotional leaders to step up.  When you tack on the loss of Michael Robinson, Sidney Rice, and so on, this could be a major problem for this team going forward.

The main take-away after two games is:  opposing offenses are going to be in no-huddle mode as much as possible, to prevent us from substituting on defense.  Part of me says, “BRING IT ON, BITCH!”  But, part of me also knows that subbing guys in and out regularly is what kept this team fresh, especially along the defensive line.

Now, obviously, not all teams are going to be able to do this, but the good ones will.  We were successful against Green Bay, but we were a trainwreck against San Diego.  Maybe it WAS just the weather and other circumstances that prevented us from playing our best last week, or maybe that’s just how it’s going to go:  the best teams are going to go no-huddle, and sometimes we’ll win, and sometimes we’ll lose.  The bad thing about that is:  if we want the #1 seed again, we can’t afford to lose too many games.  Three is about the limit.  We’ve already lost one, with Denver coming to town in a few days.  If we start the season 1-2, it’s going to require a ton of effort and a lot of luck to get back to 13-3.

I’m not in “Sky Is Falling” mode just yet.  I won’t even be in “Sky Is Falling” mode if we lose to the Broncos this weekend.  I know that our schedule has an 8-game creamy center of easiness that should have us red hot by the time we play the 49ers and Eagles in late November/early December.  I also know that it’s not how you start, but how you finish.  No one ever won a Super Bowl in September.  I’d MUCH rather we play our best football in December and January instead of right now.

But, while slow starts aren’t necessarily fatal, they can hurt an awful lot.  For my own peace of mind, I’d be delighted to see the Seahawks stick to taking care of business against these pass-first offenses like they’re supposed to.

***

  1. Seattle Seahawks (1-1) – Until further notice, this year will resemble 2013 in a lot of ways:  it’s the Seahawks & Broncos in some order at the top, and then everyone else.  No loss to an old AFC West foe – that we will never face again this year – will change that.
  2. Denver Broncos (2-0) – The proof will be in the pudding this weekend as the Broncos travel to Seattle.  They’re 2-0 at home with a couple comfortable 1-score victories.  Let’s see if they can take their show on the road in their toughest matchup of the year.
  3. Cincinnati Bengals (2-0) – This is as complete a team as it gets, with their feisty defense.  Losing A.J. Green isn’t ideal, so it’ll be interesting to see how they manage until his return.
  4. New Orleans Saints (0-2) – The defense scares me, but it also hasn’t had a chance to get a home game under its belt.  My feeling is that it can’t get much worse, and the offense will start clicking.  Bank on the Saints being one of those rare 0-2 teams to win a division.
  5. New England Patriots (1-1) – Start on the road in 3 of their first 4 and 4 of their first 6 games of the season.  That’s rough.  They’re still good (though, it’s possible Miami is better than we thought).
  6. San Francisco 49ers (1-1) – Hahahaha, I can’t believe I gave up on that Bears game and they ended up coming back to win!  What a gift!  49ers still look pretty strong, considering their injuries.  But, if their offense doesn’t take the next step, this team will be doomed.
  7. San Diego Chargers (1-1) – Well, they blew a late lead on the road against what appears to be a better-than-expected Cardinals team.  Then, they gave the Seahawks the business.  This team’s legit.
  8. Philadelphia Eagles (2-0) – Yes, they’re undefeated, and yes, their offense is explosive.  But, it should probably be concerning that they keep starting games so shabbily.
  9. Green Bay Packers (1-1) – Is it possible the Packers are WORSE than expected?  Well, I didn’t expect them to win their division, so maybe they’re just “as expected” in my book.
  10. Arizona Cardinals (2-0) – If they can continue to play teams tough, even without Carson Palmer, that doesn’t make me feel good.  Their immediate future is a little rocky with games against the 49ers, Broncos, and Eagles coming up in the next few weeks; I don’t think they stay a Top 10 team for long.
  11. Carolina Panthers (2-0) – I must say, this is a pleasant surprise if you don’t hate the Panthers.  I still have my doubts that they’ll be able to continue winning over the long haul, but they’re clearly not the bottom-feeders I thought originally.
  12. Indianapolis Colts (0-2) – You look at Andrew Luck – if you’re an objective football viewer and not necessarily a fan of either the Colts or the Seahawks – and you think:  yeah, I’d rather have him over Russell Wilson.  I guess he passes the eyeball test or whatever.  But, he’s streaky!  He goes through long periods of sucking before turning it on.  Yes, he’s able to generate breathtaking comebacks in those games where they start so poorly, but you have to ask yourself:  is he part of the problem?  Or, conversely, if you swapped quarterbacks, and Luck got to enjoy all the talent around him that the Seahawks have to offer (along with a coaching staff that preaches ball control and plays a different style of offense than the Colts), would he be better than he is right now, on the Colts?  Would Wilson be remarkably worse if he played in Indy and had a crap defense with no running game and a pass-first mentality?  These are the questions.  I don’t necessarily have the answers, though.
  13. Baltimore Ravens (1-1) – I’m still in wait-and-see mode with this team.  They strike me as a team right around .500, but who knows?
  14. Chicago Bears (1-1) – So, they lay an egg at home against the Bills, then they lay another egg on the road in San Francisco before getting hot in the 4th quarter to steal one.  Again, I appreciate the sentiment, but I’m still not buying the Bears as a legitimate playoff team.
  15. Detroit Lions (1-1) – Well, they’ve beat up on a terrible Giants team, then got throttled by a sneaky good Panthers team.  Probably not the start they envisioned, but then again I don’t think the rest of the teams in that division are all that great either.
  16. Atlanta Falcons (1-1) – You put a good defense in front of Matt Ryan and he’s going to struggle.  The good news is, they don’t play what I would consider another “good” defense for another nine weeks.  And, by then, who knows where the Panthers will be?
  17. Miami Dolphins (1-1) – No, I don’t think Buffalo is all that good.  I think the Dolphins kicked one they should’ve won.  Their schedule going forward is pretty cheesy, so they SHOULD still be able to parlay that into a good record.  But, watch out for games like we saw last weekend, because they’ll show up again.
  18. Dallas Cowboys (1-1) – That’s a bad team right there.  But, they’re in a bad division and their offense is kinda okay.  If they manage to stick with the run game, their offense could even be GREAT.  Or, at least good enough to keep them in enough ballgames to be interesting.
  19. Kansas City Chiefs (0-2) – They’re screwed.  They’re even more screwed if Jamaal Charles goes down.
  20. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) – Probably not as bad as that Thursday performance, but still not very good.  Their defensive line is shot, their secondary is less-than-ideal, and their cap situation is a joke.  You’re going to hear the words “Blow Up” when it comes to the Steelers more than a few times this year.  These are the lean times.
  21. Buffalo Bills (2-0) – Well, if any city deserves a pleasant surprise, it’s Buffalo.  I wouldn’t expect it to last though.
  22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-2) – Lost two home games and two conference games (one in the division).  THAT’S what we call a bad start.  Every year, I get sucked into the Bucs and every year they come out of the gate in a fucking coma.  Now, they play three straight on the road, starting with tonight in Atlanta (followed by Pittsburgh and New Orleans).  Can you say 0-5?
  23. Tennessee Titans (1-1) – They won a game 26-10 and lost a game 26-10.  Those are weird scores to have in a football game, let alone in back-to-back games.  That’s all I have to say about the Titans.
  24. New York Jets (1-1) – I’m even more interested in what the Jets have to offer after almost sticking it to the Packers.  They’re not a good team, don’t get me wrong; but can they be decent?
  25. Cleveland Browns (1-1) – I know the Browns can be decent!  Do they weirdly have the Saints’ number, or is it just me?
  26. Washington Redskins (1-1) – I’m definitely more afraid of the Redskins with Cousins than I am with RGIII.  A lot of unhappy fantasy owners this week.
  27. St. Louis Rams (1-1) – You still have to write off the Rams, right?  Yeah, I think so.  I think so …
  28. Houston Texans (2-0) – Yes, they’re undefeated, but they’ve only played the dregs of the league.  Washington and Oakland?  No thank you.
  29. New York Giants (0-2) – This team is amazingly bad and in need of a total overhaul from top to bottom.  They remind me a lot of the 2008/2009 Seahawks.
  30. Minnesota Vikings (1-1) – I don’t know how much you can learn about a team that’s faced one of the worst teams (with a ton of injuries) and one of the best teams.  One thing is for certain:  Matt Cassel needs to be out of football.
  31. Oakland Raiders (0-2) – Derek Carr isn’t quite the world-beater I thought he was going to be.  Then again, they’ve faced two pretty solid defenses with the Texans and Jets.  Doesn’t get much easier with the Patriots and Dolphins coming up.
  32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2) – In a freak occurrence, they took a 17-0 lead against the Eagles.  They have since been outscored 75-10.  Worst team in football, you’ve returned to me!

Looking Ahead To YOUR 2014 Seattle Seahawks

This was me last year.  I predicted the Seahawks would go 13-3, take the #1 seed in the NFC, and beat the Broncos in the Super Bowl.  Last year’s NFL season was so easy to predict, I actually managed to correctly guess 2 of the Seahawks’ 3 losses (Indy & at SF, with my lone boner being the Atlanta game).  Of course, when you’re predicting the fortunes of a team this good, it’s hard to be wrong.  Just pick the Seahawks to win every game and you’re bound to be mostly right!

These Seahawks aren’t too different from the 2013 Seahawks.  Off the top of my head (so, forgive me if I forget a few), here are the players no longer on the roster, who had at least a minor impact on last year’s championship squad:

  • Golden Tate (#1 receiver)
  • Michael Robinson (fullback)
  • Paul McQuistan (guard/tackle)
  • Breno Giacomini (starting right tackle)
  • Kellen Davis (3rd tight end)
  • Sidney Rice (receiver)
  • Michael Bowie (guard/tackle depth)
  • Chris Clemons (starting LEO defensive end)
  • Red Bryant (starting 5-tech defensive end)
  • Brandon Browner (starting cornerback)
  • Walter Thurmond (nickel cornerback)
  • Clinton McDonald (backup defensive tackle)
  • Chris Maragos (backup safety)
  • Heath Farwell (IR) (backup linebacker)

On paper, that looks like a lot.  But, it’s pretty easy to spot which players were REALLY important to our success in 2013, and which players were sort of along for the ride.

Golden Tate is obviously the biggest blow.  He was our top receiver and punt returner.  He’s playing for Detroit now and should put up monster numbers while playing alongside Calvin Johnson.  His loss is mitigated somewhat by having a fully healthy Percy Harvin.  If Harvin can play all or the majority of games in 2014, it’s pretty easy to make the argument that our passing game (and offense as a whole) should actually IMPROVE.  Yes, Tate is a good player, but Harvin is on a completely different level of greatness.

Our offensive line depth took some big hits, and that’s going to be a concern.  No doubt about it.  I’d go out on a limb and say losing Paul McQuistan is addition by subtraction, though.  He’s getting up there in age and probably shouldn’t be an everyday starter going forward.  His best position is guard, but he was also our backup left tackle last year when Okung went down.  As a tackle, McQuistan is THE WORST.  So, not having him around to tempt the coaches into starting him when Okung ultimately gets hurt again is probably for the best.

Michael Bowie was always a depth guy last year, who got some serious playing time with all the injuries we suffered.  He was going to contend for the starting right tackle spot this year – and many had penciled him in as the favorite coming into Training Camp.  But, what no one expected was Bowie coming into camp overweight and/or out of shape, as well as injured.  He was ultimately released and the starting right tackle job has been given to rookie 2nd rounder Justin Britt.  In the long run, going with Britt now hopefully will prove to be the smart choice.  But, in the short term, we’re probably going to feel the sting of losing Giacomini.  I really liked him and thought he was solid when healthy.  But, again, you can’t afford to pay everyone, and you’ve got to get younger whenever possible to keep the roster fresh and vibrant (and to be able to afford expensive extensions to your stars).  I think by season’s end, Britt will have made us all forget about Giacomini’s reign of terror.  But, in the early going, it could be rough.

No one is worried about losing Sidney Rice, because he never really impacted this roster to the extent his contract would have dictated.  Jermaine Kearse is more than capable of picking up the slack.  Michael Robinson was on his last legs, plus fullback isn’t an important position.  Ditto the third tight end spot.  So, that rounds out the losses to our offense.

Defensively, our line took a big hit.  Clemons and Bryant were both starters and were both critical to stopping opposing offenses from running the ball.  McDonald was a pleasant surprise, capable of generating good pressure on the quarterback with our second unit.  Being able to interchange our linemen so frequently ultimately helped keep everyone fresh and healthy when it came time to make our playoff run.

In their place, Michael Bennett was extended; he’ll play a bigger role.  Cliff Avril will move into the starting LEO spot.  Kevin Williams was signed as a free agent.  In his prime, Williams was one of the best defensive tackles in the league.  He’s older now, but with reduced snaps – and playing alongside the elite talent we’ve got – he should prove to at least be as effective as McDonald.

Where we’re really going to be tested is in our depth.  Last year, our second-unit defensive line featured Bennett and Avril (it was truly an embarrassment of riches).  This year, they’re starting, and we’ve got to find replacements.  Cassius Marsh is a promising rookie out of the 4th round who can play on the end and on the inside.  But, he’s been dinged up quite a bit in the pre-season, so durability is in question.  Greg Scruggs is back and healthy this year, but he didn’t show a whole helluva lot in the pre-season.  It looks like he can play both outside & inside as well, but I don’t know if he’s any good at either.  O’Brien Schofield was one of the biggest surprises in camp, as he fought off Benson Mayowa for one of the final roster spots.  Schofield was on the team last year, but didn’t get a whole lot of playing time (and didn’t really deserve a whole lot of playing time, considering the talent around him).  He was signed away by the Giants in the offseason, but they ended up backing out of the deal, worried about possible injuries.  So, the Seahawks swooped in and re-signed him to a small number; he could be the steal of the off-season!  I have to imagine he’s the backup LEO behind Avril at this point, with the potential to join our NASCAR defense and play on the same line as Avril, Bennett, and either Marsh or Williams, with Irvin coming from the linebacker spot.

No, we’re not as deep as we were last year, but it could be close enough if Schofield shows up to play.

We have similar depth issues with our secondary as well.  We ultimately lost Browner and Thurmond for long stretches late in the season last year, but we found that Byron Maxwell was more than up to the task of being the starting cornerback opposite Richard Sherman.  Maxwell is back – on the last year of his deal – so we should be okay there.  But, again, the depth has taken a hit.

With Thurmond gone, Jeremy Lane steps up.  I like Lane and think he has the potential to be as good or better than Thurmond; but, right now Lane is injured, so that’s troubling.  Tharold Simon was a rookie last year and never played thanks to injuries.  He looks to be back and healthy now (though, like Lane, he’s suffering through some nagging something or other at the moment), and he also looks capable of being another in a long line of productive outside cornerbacks.  Where we’re light is in the nickel corner spot, which is why we recently traded for Marcus Burley for a 6th round pick in next year’s draft.  I know pretty much nothing about him, but apparently he had a pretty good camp this year.  And, apparently he’s pretty fast and super athletic.

I’m less inclined to worry about the secondary than the D-Line, because our starters are intact.  And our backup safeties are top-notch, with DeShawn Shead and Jeron Johnson.  Shead, especially, can play both the safety and corner spots, so in a pinch we can totally put Shead in the nickel and be fine.

With our linebackers healthy and peaking at the right time, we should be just fine on defense.  Yes, we lost Farwell – who was our special teams captain – but we picked up Brock Coyle, an undrafted rookie, who could be Farwell 2.0.

***

So, those were the primary changes between 2013 and 2014.  Next, we’ll look at what’s the same.

When I was younger, I would’ve taken the position that:  if you’ve got a championship team, just keep that team together for as long as possible.  Indeed, the 95/96 Supersonics were a championship-calibre team (they just ran into the buzz-saw that was the greatest team of all time, with those Jordan/Pippen/Rodman 72-win Chicago Bulls).  If the 96/97 Sonics wouldn’t have tinkered so much (like signing Jim McIlvaine to a monster contract), they could’ve made serious runs at a title for the next 2-3 years.  Same goes for the 1995 Mariners.  Just keep that team together and make some moderate improvements to the pitching staff.  DON’T trade Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson to the fucking Yankees and hand them a million championships!

But, there’s one main difference between the NBA/MLB and the NFL:  keeping the team intact for too long will ultimately kill your franchise in football.  The shelf life for good-to-great baskeball and baseball players is WAY longer than it is in football.  In the NFL, if you’re approaching 30, you’re approaching retirement.  The ideal scenario in the NFL is to get young, coach those young players into being stars, and then constantly churn about 20% of your roster every year, where you’re shipping off the older players and infusing with young talent through the draft (or among the undrafted).

Could the Seahawks have retained Golden Tate, Chris Clemons, Red Bryant, and Breno Giacomini?  Yeah, I think I can envision a scenario where we make it all work for at least one more year.  But, then we wouldn’t have gotten the team-friendly extensions for Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, and Doug Baldwin.  We wouldn’t be in a position to make Russell Wilson one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league next year.  Getting those guys done early (not counting Bennett, who was an unrestricted free agent at the time) is supremely important (as you can see by the subsequent cornerback deals for Patrick Peterson and the like, which were higher than what we ended up giving Sherman).

Yes, there were some losses to the roster.  There will always be losses to the roster.  Teams have to make important decisions each and every year.  Next year, we’re looking at the possibility of not having Marshawn Lynch, Zach Miller, James Carpenter, K.J. Wright, Malcolm Smith, and Cliff Avril around.  I would anticipate at least a few of those players WILL be here, but that’s life in the NFL.  You never know.

Most importantly to the Seahawks chances in 2014 will be who is still around.  This is still a MONSTER of a lineup:

  • Russell Wilson (QB)
  • Marshawn Lynch (RB)
  • Percy Harvin (WR)
  • Doug Baldwin (WR)
  • Jermaine Kearse (WR)
  • Zach Miller (TE)
  • Luke Willson (TE)
  • Robert Turbin (RB)
  • Christine Michael (RB)

And those are just the skill position players!  Our offensive line is 4/5 intact (and looking MUCH improved at the guard positions, with Carpenter in the “best shape of his life” and with Sweezy having bulked up while still retaining his athleticism).  And, we’ve got a couple rookie receivers who may not make much of an impact this season, but who should prove to be important for many years to come.

Then, on defense, you’re looking at:

  • Michael Bennett (DE/DT)
  • Cliff Avril (DE)
  • Brandon Mebane (NT)
  • Tony McDaniel (DT/DE)
  • Bobby Wagner (MLB)
  • K.J. Wright (OLB)
  • Bruce Irvin (OLB
  • Malcolm Smith (OLB)
  • Richard Sherman (CB)
  • Earl Thomas (FS)
  • Kam Chancellor (SS)
  • Byron Maxwell (CB)

I’d still put that defense up against any other defense in the NFL.  Depth will be an issue, but depth is an issue pretty much everywhere, every year.  This is still a Top 5 defense unless we just get absolutely crushed with injuries.

***

Now, it’s time for my favorite part of any preview post:  predicting the schedule results.

Week 1, vs. Green Bay, 5:30pm (Thursday Game)

I go back and forth on this one.  Like, 85% of me believes this will be a comfortable Seahawks victory.  14% of me believes this will be a nailbiter of a Seahawks victory.  And, that last 1% seems to think that Green Bay can come in here, withstand all the craziness, and pull off a huge upset.

Are you kidding?  A week’s worth of build-up.  The city shutting down large areas of SoDo and Pioneer Square.  A pre-game concert.  THE UNVEILING OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP BANNER!  All of that alone would be enough to have the loudest 12th Man presence in the history of the world, but I expect there to be a hidden edge to this game.  The NFL cursed us with this game being the only home game played at night.  They’d have you believe that’s just the way it shook out, but I’m CONVINCED it’s because we keep crushing our opponents whenever we have a night game at home, and they’re tired of televising blowouts.  With this being our only chance to shine on a national stage (unless we somehow have one of our late-season games flexed), I think the 12th Man is going to take it to another level.  Look for this to be somewhere in the range of 38-17, Seahawks.

Week 2, at San Diego, 1:05pm

The schedule this year will be famous for the difficult first three games and the difficult final five games.  This has “Trap Game” written all over it.  Hangover from our season-opening win, combined with a rematch of the Super Bowl NEXT week back at home.  Considering the Chargers should be plenty good this year, I’m not calling this one a walk-over by any stretch.  In fact, I could see this being pretty high-scoring.  In the end, I think the Seahawks are able to do just enough to pull out a 33-30 victory.

Week 3, vs. Denver, 1:25pm

No chance.  No way, no how we lose this game.  I do think we’re looking at a closer contest, but that’s only because I think the Broncos’ defense has improved enough to warrant it.  Losing Wes Welker to suspension certainly hurts the Broncos.  Indeed, I think they’ll try to lean on their running game like they did in the pre-season.  How our defense responds will be key.  The Seahawks still win, but we’re looking at a 24-20 type game.

Week 4 – BYE

Bullshit.  Complete and utter bullshit.  I would’ve rather had the alternate NFL schedule that put the Seahawks on the road for three straight weeks over having a BYE in September.  For the record, NO team should have a BYE week in September.  They should all be clustered in late October and early November, to make it fair for everyone.  Either that, or break down and give every team two BYE weeks per year, because this shit is ridiculous.

Week 5, at Washington, 5:30pm (Monday Night)

If the NFL didn’t want to televise blowout Seahawks victories, they probably shouldn’t have put this game on the schedule.  Indeed, there appears to be a lot of dogs when it comes to the Monday Night slate this year; don’t know how that worked itself out, but I’d be pissed if I ran ESPN.  The Redskins don’t have a defense that can anywhere REMOTELY hang with our speed.  44-10, Seahawks victory.

Week 6, vs. Dallas, 1:25pm

This game is my wet dream.  A pass-first offense without a bona fide slot receiver and a shaky quarterback who takes too many chances?  If Richard Sherman doesn’t get his hands on at least 8 balls (interceptions, tips, etc.), I’ll be shocked.  35-17 Seahawks (and that’s only because it’s going to be 28-3 at halftime and we end up running out the clock in the second half; we could probably drop 50 on them if we tried for the full game).

Week 7, at St. Louis, 10am

The League did do us one favor with the schedule:  we’ve only got three 10am starts this year.  This is the first one.  No Sam Bradford, no win for the Rams.  Last year, we were lucky to come away from this game with a victory, needing a last-second goalline stop to preserve it.  This year, I’m expecting more of an easier go.  We’re not going to be perfect; they do still have a solid defensive line.  But, 27-13 is in order.

Week 8, at Carolina, 10am

Back to back road games starting at 10am Pacific time.  I’m already on record as saying that I think Carolina is going to struggle mightily this year.  But, this is still a road game on the East Coast, so a victory won’t come easy.  I’m looking at something like 19-9, with a LOT of field goals.  Seahawks improve to 7-0.

Week 9, vs. Oakland, 1:25pm

I like catching Oakland here.  Derek Carr will have had some bumps in the road by now, so his confidence will likely be shaken.  Their veterans on defense will be wearing down and/or injured by this point.  I’m expecting an easy victory, if maybe a sloppy one.  Still, we should take it going way, 27-6.

Week 10, vs. NY Giants, 1:25pm

Give me Eli, give me a nothing defense, and give me no weapons on offense.  Is it possible to shut out a team in back-to-back years?  I think so!  44-0, Seahawks.

Week 11, at Kansas City, 10am

Final morning game.  Kansas City is sure to come back to Earth this year, as their defense is worse and they still did nothing to improve the offense around Jamaal Charles.  Nevertheless, I got a feeling this one will be closer.  I’m looking at a 34-28 victory for the Seahawks.

Week 12, vs. Arizona, 1:05pm

There will be no repeat of last year’s fluke Cardinals victory in Seattle.  The defense is remarkably worse and Carson Palmer is remarkably a year older.  I’m sensing a 33-7 Seahawks victory.

Week 13, at San Francisco, 5:30pm (Thanksgiving)

The Seahawks will be the talk of the nation coming into this game, as their 11-0 record is the best in football.  However, their relatively tame schedule to this point (highlighted by poor seasons out of the teams they’ve played in recent weeks) will give pundits cause for concern:  is this team really as good as their record?

It will be at this point that I will give just about anything to steal a win in Santa Clara.  EVERY YEAR I keep thinking:  this will be the time.  And every year, the 49ers end up finding a way to pull it out.  I can’t remember the last time we won down there, but I’m sure it was the best day of my life.

Unfortunately, this year will be no different (prove me wrong, Seahawks!), as the underwhelming 49ers find a way to pull it out.  I’m thinking 28-24, Seahawks lose to go to 11-1.

Week 14, at Philadelphia, 1:25pm

Many pundits are eyeballing this as a defeat for the Seahawks.  The Eagles were pretty good last year; their offense is and was on point.  Could be looking at another Trap Game, as this one is sandwiched between the two games against the 49ers on our regular season schedule.

I don’t see it, though.  I think the Seahawks’ offense is the story of this game.  I’m looking at something around 44-34, Seahawks win.

Week 15, vs. San Francisco, 1:25pm

And here is the game where we kill the 49ers, like we do every time they come to town.  Nothing fancy, just making Kaepernick our bitch.  31-13, Seahawks.

Week 16, at Arizona, 5:30pm (Sunday Night)

By this point, I’m expecting to see the Cardinals in full give-up mode.  Carson Palmer will be either benched or injured, and their backup will be some lame-ass.  Their defense will still be terrible and the Seahawks will roll, 38-10.

Week 17, vs. St. Louis, 1:25pm

At this point, we’ll be 14-1 and we will have wrapped up home field advantage.  So, it’ll come down to a couple things:  how long will our starters play in this game, and how well will our backups hold the fort?

For the record, I DO think our starters will get at least some play.  My guess is, anywhere from 1 to 2 quarters.  Yes, Seahawks fans will lose their God damn minds (as, again, the Rams have the best defensive line in football, and the last thing we need is for Russell Wilson to take unnecessary hits).  I don’t think we’ll be necessarily all that sharp though.

In the end, the backups come in and they’ll get pushed around a little bit.  The Rams will make a late-game comeback, and the Seahawks will lose.  Something like 24-17.

The Seahawks will be 14-2, and in spite of the final-week defeat, will be on fire as a football team heading into the playoffs.  I think ultimately the schedule will prove to be easier than last year’s, as a lot of the teams we THINK will be good are ultimately not.  I think the 49ers start to decline, even though they’ve got enough talent to still be pretty okay.  In the end, I think the Seahawks are just too good.  They’re too talented, they’re strong at every position group, and they’ll have enough depth to push through and overcome any injuries in their way (except for the quarterback position, of course).

Yes, repeating as world champions is one of the most difficult things to do.  Hell, just winning ONE championship is one of the most difficult things to do!  But, we’re in a once-in-a-lifetime window here where the Seahawks are the best team in football.  Now, it’s time to go out and show the world just how great we truly are.

Seahawks Pound Bears, Are More Than Ready For Regular Season To Start

It was always going to be a matter of time before the offense surpassed the defense in ability.  Attrition and regression were/are bound to happen as contracts skyrocket for our stars.  And besides, the 2013 defense was one of the greatest of all time; doesn’t seem likely that we could keep up that output for very long.

Nevertheless, if you’d asked me even a month ago, I would’ve told you that the defense would still be in near-peak performance and easily outpacing the offense.  While the defense should still be pretty great, I’m ready to go out on a limb right now and say that the offense is going to be the talk of the NFL in 2014.  And what’s better, we won’t have to change our philosophy to do it.

I said it on Twitter earlier today:  this offense will surely be the most efficient in the NFL.  Exactly HOW efficient remains to be seen, but if they play to their abilities, it could mean the best offense in the league.  Russell Wilson’s grasp of the scheme, and of the NFL as a whole, will certainly see this unit reach heights unseen in franchise history.

There are simply too many weapons.  Marshawn Lynch is still one of the best running backs in the NFL.  Robert Turbin is running harder than I’ve ever seen and will surely be a mini-Lynch when all is said and done.  Christine Michael, if used, has the type of speed and power to be right there on that elite level.  In between the tackles, bouncing outside, catching passes, the running backs on this team as a whole are the best in the NFL.

Percy Harvin is the x-factor and the #1 receiver we all thought we were getting when we brought in Sidney Rice.  He may not be one of those 6-foot-plus monsters that the Bears have in Jeffery or Marshall, but he’s every bit one of the top five wide receivers in the NFL.  On top of that, Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin are sure-handed play-makers who are bound to benefit greatly from Harvin’s presence.  This isn’t even taking into account Paul Richardson – who I suspect won’t make a huge impact as a rookie – who could still be used as a deep threat and/or a decoy to open up plays underneath.

Our tight ends just have to be solid.  No one is expecting Jimmy Graham-level performance out of either of them, but they’ll still be quality role players who will also benefit from Harvin and the other receivers creating huge gaps in the zone.

All that stands in our way is the offensive line.  It’s reasonable to expect some trouble, with a rookie in Britt and certain nagging injury woes among the veterans.  But, if we can patch this together without losing too many guys for too long, we should be just fine.

Britt’s maturation process will be key, and from the first three pre-season games, so far so good.  He’ll have growing pains in both pass protection and run blocking, but he should get better as the season goes along.  Besides that, with Wilson’s scrambling ability, it should mitigate his deficiencies.  On top of that, J.R. Sweezy looks like a true beast at right guard.  Within a couple years, we could be looking at a Pro Bowler out of someone people saw as a great liability going into this offseason (remember all those people calling for the Seahawks to invest heavily into the guard position?  They won’t be looking too smart before too long).

More than anything, I’m concerned about Okung, Carpenter, and Unger, and solely for injury reasons.  Both Okung and Unger returned for the Bears game for the first time this pre-season.  I can’t speak to how Unger fared, but Okung definitely looked a step slow.  I hope it’s rust and not something more serious (like:  he’s not fully healthy from offseason surgery).  If these three can play out the full season, you’ll be looking at one of the better O-Lines in the league.  If that happens, HOO BOY.

It’s not shocking that the Bears posed little threat to our gameplan in that all-important third pre-season game.  They don’t have the best defense as it is.  But, considering THIS was the game where everyone goes at it a little bit harder, it was more than a little encouraging to see the Seahawks absolutely control things from all aspects.

Not all the defenses we play will be on the level of the 49ers or Cardinals or Rams.  In those games, I don’t necessarily expect the Seahawks to be putting up 30+ points per game.  But, unlike in seasons past, I don’t necessarily think the Seahawks are automatically going to be kept under 20 either.  You’re going to see touchdown-efficiency go way up – especially in the red zone – and that’s going to make life a nightmare for opposing offenses as they try to throw their way into coming back against us.

Can the 2014 Seahawks be even better than the 2013 Seahawks?  Absolutely.  It’s going to take the defense being on par or only a little bit worse than last year, while the offense takes a huge leap forward.  I fully expect that to happen.  And, with news of the Rams losing Sam Bradford for the season, our path has been made all the easier.

I know it’s only pre-season and all, but I think this Bears game was an accurate bit of foreshadowing for what we’ll see in the regular season.  Sub-par defenses are going to be exploited to the tune of skyrocketing point totals.  And, even the great defenses aren’t going to know what hit them when they go up against us.

You think you know what you’re going to get when you play the Seahawks’ offense.  Russell Wilson scrambling around, a pretty even ratio of run to pass, and just enough plays to get us over the hump.  You expect things to be tight in most games, with the Seahawks able to find a way to get the job done in the fourth quarter.  You THINK that this type of strategy is unsustainable, as teams with great records in one-score games tend to regress back toward .500 in those games.

But, here’s what you don’t expect:  the Seahawks being involved in far FEWER one-score games.  Because they’re going to be running up the score in the first and second quarters to the point that it’ll all be downhill in the second halves of games.

At times in 2013, you could say the Seahawks were just sort of scraping by and getting lucky.  The Panthers game, the Texans game, the first Rams game for SURE.  Yes, the defense was top-notch.  And yes, the 2013 Seahawks were the youngest champions ever.  That team sort of reminds me of the first Cowboys team in the 90s that won the title.  They finally got over the hump in the playoffs and did their business in the Super Bowl.  After that, the Cowboys were an even bigger juggernaut than anyone could have imagined.

THAT’S what I’m seeing out of these 2014 Seahawks.  You’re going to see a lot of cakewalk games that should have been close.  A lot of wins that maybe would’ve been losses in 2012 or 2013.  Indeed, if I’m being honest, this looks to me like a 14-2 or 15-1 team.  Yes, the schedule looks scary now, but we all know the schedule never pans out as it’s set up on paper.  Other teams WILL regress.  But the Seahawks?  They’re a snowball rolling down the mountain, picking up steam.

No, actually, these Seahawks are an avalanche.  An unstoppable sheet of ice and snow, plowing over everything in its path.  And the rest of the NFL?  They’re the poor skiers and snowboarders who are about to be swallowed up whole.

Part 2, Offense – Which Seahawks Players Can Get Even Better?

You can catch Part 1 HERE.  It’s about the defense.  In case you couldn’t tell …

To make a long story short:  I’m taking a look at which Seahawks can stand to up their games.  Here’s a hint:  most of them can, because they’re such a young team.

Offensive Line

Look, what you see out of Okung and Unger is what you’re going to get.  I would venture to say they’re both smack dab in the middle of their primes.  In other words, they’re as good as they’re ever going to be; I wouldn’t expect either to get much better.  The only question about these two – as there is with any player on this team – is:  can they stay healthy?

A big question is James Carpenter.  He’s in the last year of his rookie deal.  As a first rounder, the Seahawks had an opportunity to lock him up for next year – at an inflated salary – but they chose to waive that right.  So, here’s another CONTRACT SEASON ALERT.  Love it when we get these!  Especially when they’ve had somewhat disappointing careers, yet have flashed the occasional brilliance.  In the case of Pancakes Carpenter, his run-blocking ability is unmatched on this roster.  He’s a mountain of a man who will flatten you ten times before he hits the ground!  But, he tends to whiff on pass blocking, and that’s kind of a problem.  Not a HUGE problem, mind you, as Russell Wilson has escapability.  But, it’s still something you’d like to see him fix.  He’s also had his fair share of injuries, which is never good.  Word on the street is, Carpenter is in the “best shape of his life”, so take that with the requisite grain of salt.  The coaches seem to like his potential; well, it’s now his fourth year, so it’s time to either see him reach that potential, or see him walk to another team at season’s end.  We do have plenty of depth behind him, so it’s not like we NEED him to produce.  It would just be nice, because he’s definitely a boost to our rushing attack.

J.R. Sweezy is another guy who the fans seem to have on the hot-seat, while the coaches seem to love his grit and whatnot.  I’ve heard plenty of positive remarks from Tom Cable about Sweezy taking a big step forward this year (his third season), so let’s hope that’s the case.  He’s another guy who tends to whiff on pass protection.  If we can keep our interior line from being a fucking sieve, maybe we can keep Russell Wilson upright for another season.

The biggest battle in Training Camp and the pre-season is at right tackle.  We’ve got one-year veteran Michael Bowie going up against rookie Justin Britt.  I would expect Bowie to improve leaps and bounds over his rookie season, now that he’s had the experience of real game play, topped with the comfort level of this being his second camp in the NFL.  If Britt wins the job, you can chalk that up to him having a higher pedigree.  Either way, I would expect the position of “Right Tackle” to have the potential for improvement over last year’s starter, Breno Giacomini (who was good, to be fair, but far from great).

There’s also a number of younger guys who are battling for those all-important backup spots.  Guards include:  Jared Smith, Greg Van Roten, and Stephen Schilling (among others).  Tackles include:  Caylin Hauptmann, Alvin Bailey, and Garry Gilliam (among others).  All of those listed I’ve seen on various mock-ups of possible 53-man rosters going into the regular season.  All of those listed will be fighting for, like, 3-4 spots, so figure it will be a tough battle.

Wide Receiver & Tight End

Percy Harvin is Percy Harvin.  When healthy, he’s one of the most dynamic players in the NFL.  No reason to expect improved play out of him; but there IS reason to expect improved performance out of our offense with him on the field.

Doug Baldwin & Jermaine Kearse are a couple of holdovers who are still young.  It’s hard for me to expect Baldwin to get any better than he already is, but it looks like he’s entering an era where his role expands beyond simply being the team’s slot receiver.  With Golden Tate’s departure, it looks like Baldwin is the next man up to be the guy on the outside.  His improvement will be dictated on how much better he gets at going after the deep ball in tight coverage.  He’s been pretty good at that thus far, but that’s certainly one aspect that could stand to get better.  Kearse, on the other hand, has a chance to really break out.  He’s steadily improved year by year:  first, as a special teams guy, and last year as sort of a third or fourth receiver option.  After Sidney Rice went down with injury, Kearse saw much more playing time, and continued to get better (culminating with his 4th & 7 TD catch against the 49ers in the NFC Championship game, and his monster touchdown catch & run against the Broncos in the Super Bowl where he broke about a million tackles).  With Rice continuing to come back from his injury, Kearse figures to be the other receiver on the outside, opposite Baldwin.  If he can become a dependable receiver on that side, it would really help open things up for this passing game.

The Seahawks have a couple highly-touted rookies in Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood who figure to make the team if healthy.  Richardson’s small frame scares me, as he strikes me as a guy who is going to be in and out of the doctor’s office quite frequently.  Norwood looks to be a dependable guy as far as catching the ball and being a last-ditch outlet for the quarterback, but it’s hard to expect either of these guys to do all that much as rookies.  It’s just difficult for rookie wide receivers to grasp the NFL game right off the bat.

Ricardo Lockette returns for another chance.  He’s great on special teams, which will help his cause, but he’s been less dynamic on offense as a receiver.  It’ll be interesting to see if he has what it takes to crack the roster in this, his fourth season.  Lots of younger guys behind him who are hungry to catch on with a team.

As for the tight ends, I’d say Zach Miller is probably entering his decline phase.  With his contract set to expire after this season, I’d say that’s not the worst thing in the world.  Expect Luke Willson – last year’s most impactful rookie – to improve leaps and bounds, as he heads into 2015 as the likely #1 tight end on this roster.  Anthony McCoy is returning from a season-ending injury and is as good as he’ll ever be:  a blocking tight end with surprisingly good hands.

Running Back

Marshawn Lynch is nearing the end of his prime.  Running backs tend to fall off a cliff pretty quickly, so let’s hope that doesn’t happen this season.  Robert Turbin is entering his third season as the team’s backup, so he’s young and theoretically has room to grow.  But, I just don’t see it.  I think he’s a career backup, albeit a pretty good one.

The only running back I really expect to see a large amount of improvement in is Christine Michael.  That is, if the team gives him a chance to show what he’s got.  I get the feeling that Michael either isn’t that hard of a worker, or he isn’t really a team player.  What that comes down to, in my mind, is that he doesn’t handle the blitz pickup very well.  His natural talents should supercede all of that, but how do you get him on the field when Beastmode is still the heart & soul of the team, and when Turbin is more willing and able to do the dirty work in pass protection?  I don’t want to diminish the running back’s role in pass protection, but it seems to me Michael brings another dynamic element to this offense (a la Harvin and potentially Richardson) that you shouldn’t simply bury on the inactive list every week (like we did most of last year).  I guess we’ll see.

Quarterback

And it all comes down to this.  Russell Wilson, in his third year in the NFL.  In his first two years, Wilson has broken nearly every record for quarterbacks in their second year (passing yards, touchdowns, passer rating, wins, wins at home, wins in the playoffs), he’s started every game, and he’s brought us a championship.  He’s passed every test, overcome every obstacle, and seemingly gotten better with every game.  He’s the hardest worker on the team, and probably ranks pretty high on the “hardest worker in the NFL” list.

And yet, the same old arguments against him dog his career.  He’s still too short.  He gives up on plays in order to scramble too often.  He has trouble finding the open receiver.  He’s not elite.  He doesn’t rank in the top ten of quarterbacks in the NFL today.

To that, I would say:  what would his game look like if his offensive line wasn’t always injured, forcing him to run for his life more often than not?

I would also say:  what if he played in a division and a conference that didn’t have so many fucking amazing defenses?  It’s pretty easy for someone like Tom Brady to look good when he’s going up against the pigeons of the AFC and AFC East in particular.  Ditto Aaron Rodgers, as he plays the Bears, Lions, and Vikings six times a year.

Can Russell Wilson get better?  Absolutely.  It’s hard to peg a quarterback’s prime until he’s been in the league four or five years.  Considering Wilson’s numbers and all that he’s done to help turn this team into a bona fide wrecking machine, that has to be pretty scary for the rest of the NFL.

In fact, I’ll venture a prediction that Russell Wilson takes the biggest step forward of anyone on this team in 2014.  Look for him to shake off the doubters once again, as he leads this team back to a division title and, ultimately, a repeat championship.  Can this team – with all the pressure, with the talent level of their divisional opponents, with all the media attention and hype, with all the non-stop talking they’ve done – repeat as champions?  Of fucking course they can!  Because, 2014 is the year Russell Wilson vaults himself permanently into the Top 7 or 8 quarterbacks in the game today.

I’d say Top 5, but I’m no dummy.  I know this team is still a run-first enterprise.  But, given the weapons around Wilson in the passing game (in spite of Tate now playing for the Lions), I would expect even better numbers with a similar number of pass attempts.

Get excited, Seahawks fans.  You root on the best team in the NFL and one of the youngest.  They’re already great, and most of them can only get better from here.

Seahawks 2014 Draft Roundup

Well, Mel Kiper gave the Seahawks one of his worst draft grades, so we should probably expect a couple of All Pros and a few more Pro Bowlers in this class.

Here’s the rundown:

  • Paul Richardson, WR (2nd)
  • Justin Britt, OT (2nd)
  • Cassius Marsh, DE (4th)
  • Kevin Norwood, WR (4th)
  • Kevin Pierre-Louis, OLB (4th)
  • Jimmy Staten, DT (5th)
  • Garrett Scott, OT (6th)
  • Eric Pinkins, CB/S (6th)
  • Kiero Small, FB (7th)

At first glance, I like the chances of Richardson, Britt, and Norwood to make an immediate impact.  Marsh is the epitome of a wild card, though I think he’ll get every chance to win a spot in the LEO rotation.  KPL and Pinkins are practically guaranteed to be standout special teamers right away, with outside chances to be impact starters in 2015 and beyond.  I’ve got Staten as the leader in the clubhouse to be the first draft pick cut in training camp.  Scott looks like total practice squad fodder.  And Small could range anywhere from a starting fullback on this team (which, in and of itself doesn’t come with all that many snaps per game) and a key special teamer, all the way down to practice squad (if we can somehow sneak him through, which shouldn’t be too hard considering how fullback is devalued in the league nowadays).

This is a huge draft for the future of the Seattle Seahawks.  We’ve got a ton of guys entering their final year or two with this team.  It sounds funny to say, considering we just won the Super Bowl and were among the youngest teams in the league, but the Seahawks are really in need of an infusion of young talent.

I think it’s safe to say that last year’s class was a little underwhelming.  Luke Willson had the biggest impact of anyone, and he was a backup tight end who didn’t get a ton of snaps.  Our two defensive tackles rode the pine (one because of injury, one because he wasn’t ready/good enough for the rotation).  Our top draft pick hardly played at all considering the logjam at running back.  And, the guys with the most promise were a couple of unheralded offensive linemen who are looking to make a bigger impact in 2014.  But, when you compare the 2013 draft class to the three that came before it, there’s a lot for those guys to live up to.

We need these classes (2013 & 2014) to be future starters in the next year or two.  After a year with the 2013 guys, it’s reasonable to have your doubts.  It’s also a reason to be excited for some of the freakish athletes we picked up over the weekend.

Paul Richardson

LOVE this pick!  He’s a little under-sized, but so is Harvin, and what are the odds that BOTH of them get injured at the same time?

Richardson is a speed freak and a big play waiting to happen.  But, while Harvin is a guy you want to throw short to, in space, giving him room to create; Richardson is the guy we’ve been waiting for to seriously stretch the field.  I want to see him on the field as much as possible right away.

What are teams going to do with both Harvin AND Richardson on the field?  One guy will stretch the field and force defenses to protect the pass over the top, the other guy is going to use that space to his advantage for big plays underneath.  Or, if defenses focus on Harvin (as they rightly should), there’s the opportunity for deep bombs.

Kevin Norwood

Might as well keep it in the WR unit.  While Richardson is the speed demon we’ve been looking for, Norwood is the big body we’ve been looking for.  Unlike other big bodies we’ve tried out (Durham, Mike Williams, Sidney Rice), Norwood doesn’t appear to be an injury waiting to happen, a drop waiting to happen, or a big lumbering slowpoke waiting to happen.

One of Norwood’s gifts is his ability to find the quarterback after a play has broken down.  In case you haven’t been watching, that’s sort of Russell Wilson’s forte.  Norwood will improvise with the best of ’em, and he’ll make those twinkle-toe catches along the sideline.

Norwood’s presence makes Sidney Rice’s chances of winning a spot drastically reduced.  I’m seeing the Seahawks keeping:  Harvin, Baldwin, Kearse, Richardson, and Norwood for sure.  Rice might be able to win a sixth receiver spot, but it’s no sure thing.  It’ll depend on how the roster crunch plays out (doesn’t help him if the Seahawks opt to keep three QBs on the roster, with Wilson, Tarvar, and Pryor).

Justin Britt

One hope of mine was, if the Seahawks drafted a tackle reasonably high (as they did with this pick), it would be a guy who could, theoretically, shift over to left tackle in the event that the Seahawks aren’t able to re-sign Okung at the end of his deal.  Gotta find savings somewhere, and if you can use a guy on his rookie deal who isn’t a huge dropoff from the incumbent, all the better.

But, after listening to Tom Cable talk about the guy, it sounds like there’s zero chance Britt ever gets the nod on the left side.

Britt’s claim to fame is absolutely shutting down Jadeveon Clowney in the latest college season.  Don’t know if that’s one of those games that Clowney “took off”, but it seems to me Clowney playing at 60% is still better than most pass rushers, so I’ll take it.

Britt will come in and compete right away for the starting right tackle spot against Michael Bowie.  Love it.  Either he wins the job and we’ve got arguably an improvement at the position over the last few years, or he pushes Bowie to be even better than we thought.  That’s what you call a win-win.  At the very least, Britt should be great line depth for injuries (and you know there are ALWAYS injuries).

Cassius Marsh

As I said above, this guy is a total wild card.  If I let my imagination run wild, I’d tell you that he has the chance to be a J.J. Watt clone, but I’m not about to go that far.  My opinion all along has been that it’s VERY difficult for pass rushers to make an immediate impact.  Bruce Irvin did pretty well as a rookie, but he’s a beast with his speed rush.  Marsh doesn’t have his speed, but reportedly has some good hands, so he should be able to shed blocks pretty well.

I say if Marsh manages to find a way into the rotation on an occasional basis, improving as the season goes along, it’s a victory.  Failing that, I could see him as a guy who sticks to the 53-man roster, but is rarely active on gameday.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention his hot-headedness.  That scares me a little bit, but if there’s any team that can rein that in and teach him how to use that aggressiveness to his advantage, I feel like it’s this team.  Also, don’t ask me why, but my gut tells me this guy is a candidate for failing the NFL’s drug policy in some way, shape or form.  I have no precedent to cite for this, but it’s just a feeling I have.

Kevin Pierre-Louis

This is EXACTLY what I was talking about when I said I wanted the Seahawks to draft a linebacker in the middle rounds.  He won’t play much on defense in 2014, but given his athleticism, he’s almost a lock to be a huge player on special teams (and probably force Heath Farwell out of Seattle).

And, if he finds a way to pick up the scheme quickly and refine his technique in the pass-coverage game, he should force his way into the starting lineup in 2015 when we have to make a difficult decision between K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith.  People are saying KPL is a natural weak-side linebacker, which is Smith’s natural position, so we may be seeing the final season of Malcolm Smith in a Seahawks uniform.

Eric Pinkins

Meet my absolute favorite draft pick of the 2014 class.  6’2, 230 pounds.  He was a safety in college for San Diego State; when the Seahawks picked him, we immediately thought of Kam Chancellor.  However, in interviews after the draft, it was noted that the team is looking at him to play corner.

So, now we’re thinking:  Brandon Browner.

This guy could be HUGE.  I’m, like, one interception in the preseason away from buying a Pinkins jersey and getting in on the ground floor.  You know the Seahawks are excellent at player development, especially in the secondary.  There’s no reason to think – with Pinkins being the athletic freak of nature that he is – that this coaching staff WON’T turn him into a viable starter.

Why is that big?  Byron Maxwell is entering his final season and is almost guaranteed to be playing for another team in 2015.  If Pinkins turns into a more athletic Brandon Browner, we’ve just fortified the Legion of Boom for years to come, and at a bargain to boot!

Other teams might have taken this guy and stuck him at safety where he’s comfortable.  The Seahawks see this guy and have the talent and know-how to convert him into a starting cornerback opposite Richard Sherman.  I’m tingling.

The Rest

I don’t know anything about Jimmy Staten.  Looks like he could be a 3-Tech tackle in the rotation with Jordan Hill.  Maybe there’s an outside chance this team bulks him up another 30 pounds or so and tries him out at nose tackle, but who knows?

Garrett Scott looks like a project along the offensive line.  I don’t see how this guy DOESN’T make the practice squad.  Considering the talent we’ve got on the O-Line, it’s going to be difficult to get him in on the rotation.  But, he sounds like he’s really athletic and a perfect fit for the zone blocking scheme.  I’ve even heard that he’s going to get some play at left tackle.

Kiero Small is a fullback.  By the sound of things, he could be one to watch, but again, it’s fullback.  When you consider the fact that this team normally keeps five running back/fullback types, let’s count ’em out:

  1. Marshawn Lynch
  2. Robert Turbin
  3. Christine Michael
  4. Derrick Coleman
  5. Spencer Ware
  6. Kiero Small

It looks like it’s going to come down to Small vs. Ware, if he’s going to make the 53-man roster.  Which means it might come down to which of the two are better in special teams.  Ware might have worn out his welcome with that DUI last year, so Small probably has a pretty good shot.  We’ll have to see how he does in camp.

As for the undrafted rookies, the Seahawks have Keith Price.  Zero chance he makes the team.  Probably a pretty good chance he rocks it in the practice squad.  Then again, if you’re keeping three QBs on your 53-man roster, do you really need a QB on the practice squad?

It’s going to be tough for Price.  How often do you ever see four quarterbacks play in the preseason games?  You know how the Seahawks will play Wilson (a series or two in game 1, a quarter or two in game 2, into the third quarter in game 3, a series or two in game 4).  They’ll likely want to give Tarvar his share of reps to keep him warm and get him ready for the season.  And, you’d think they’ll want to watch Terrelle Pryor as much as possible to see if he’s worth keeping on the team.  And, don’t forget B.J. Daniels.

What does that mean?  If Price looks good in camp, MAYBE he gets a series or two in the entirety of the preseason games.  Don’t know if that’s enough to get him an opportunity with another team, but maybe just the fact that the Seahawks wanted him and brought him into camp, that might be enough for another team to pick him up and stash him.  We’ll see.

All in all, as I said before, I’m a big fan of this draft.  The best part?  Our entire coaching staff is intact.  We didn’t lose Cable, we didn’t lose Quinn, we didn’t lose Bevell, and we’ve got everyone else.  Considering how good the Seahawks are, and how coveted those guys would have been had the Seahawks not made the Super Bowl, it’s like we’re playing with house money.  Another year with this full staff intact?  That’s going to be an insane advantage for this draft class to eventually make the jump to full time starters for this team in the years to come.

Ranking The Seahawks’ Needs In The 2014 NFL Draft

You know, at some point, people are going to realize it’s going to require more than two dudes and a pair of handcuffs to escort Jack Bauer into any prison/interrogation room.  I’d bring along about five or six trigger-happy ex-Marines and hope for the best.  GOD I’m glad 24 is back!

The better your team is, the less excitement surrounds that team once it comes time to draft.  For bad teams (like the 2008 & 2009 Seahawks, for instance), the draft means everything.  It’s a chance to dream.  The NFL is the Great Parity Hope!  One amazing draft can flip your franchise from a bottom-feeder to a champion!  Well, maybe not JUST one, but it can certainly send you down the right path.

When you’re great – and especially when you ARE a champion, which is what we’re dealing with here – the draft isn’t so special anymore.  You’re not looking for that sparkplug to jumpstart your franchise; you’re just looking to maintain your level of dominance and hope to pluck some quality, inexpensive starters for down the road when it’s time to reload.  What this draft means for 2014, however, is merely to add to our depth.

The foundation is here, and it’s spectacular.  The bulk of the starters are set, and they’re elite at the most important positions.  That might lead one to believe that the draft doesn’t matter all that much, but don’t fall into that trap.  Bad, useless drafts start to pile up and stink like a mountain of dirty diapers in the sun.  If you take enough dumps on draft day, you can go from among the youngest to among the oldest teams in the league in the blink of an eye.

So, while this draft isn’t necessarily make-or-break for our immediate future, it’s still important in the Big Picture.  And, as you well know, the Seahawks are all about the Big Picture.

There are always needs in any draft, so here I’m going to rank the Seahawks’ needs in order of importance.

#1 – Get More Draft Picks

The Seahawks, right now, have six picks.  They received no compensatory picks, traded away their third-rounder to the Vikings for Percy Harvin, and traded away their seventh-rounder for Terrelle Pryor (the Seahawks received an extra fifth-rounder from Oakland in the Matt Flynn deal).  On top of that, they draft last in rounds 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 (not counting compensatory picks, of course).  Essentially, it’s like the Seahawks have a high 2nd, a high 3rd, two high 5ths, a high 6th and a high 7th.  I’m not necessarily dismissing their chances to find diamonds in the rough – after all, they’ve made careers in their last four drafts by doing just that – but it always helps to have more chances.

You can’t predict draft-day trades (which is why all mock drafts have very little predictive value), but you have to anticipate the Seahawks at least TRYING to be big players in the trade market.  I wouldn’t mind seeing a couple of move-downs (like those 32nd & 64th picks) to net more 4’s, 5’s, and/or 6’s.  If we can bump that number to around eight or nine total draft picks, I’d be more comfortable.

Of course, failing that, the Seahawks should be a major factor in the undrafted free agent market.

#2 – Cornerback

Did I just blow your mind or DID. I. JUST. BLOW. YOUR. MIND?

Yes, yes, yes, there are plenty of other needs on this team.  Offensive line comes immediately to mind.  So does wide receiver, so does the pass rush, so does the interior defensive line.  But, I’m here to tell you that if I had my druthers, I’d like to see the Seahawks go for a cornerback with one of their top two picks.

You like the Legion of Boom?  So do I.  They might be my favorite unit of any sports team I’ve ever rooted for ever.  The safeties are locked up, and a deal with Richard Sherman could be imminent.  So, where do I come off listing cornerback as the #2 draft need?

Well, I’ll tell you:  the talk of this draft is far and away its wide receiver class.  Everyone expects a record number of receivers going in the first round.  Beyond that, there’s the usual inane quarterback chatter, and all of the linemen who will be plucked by the more sensible teams.  With the rising importance of safety, you have to figure there’s at least one or two pretty good ones.  Ditto cornerbacks; I don’t see the Seahawks getting the cream of the crop here.

But, if there’s a prototypical “Seahawks Cornerback” still on the board late in the first or early in the second round (depending on whether or not we’re able to trade back), I could totally see this team going in that direction.  An homage to last year’s drafting of Christine Michael out of nowhere when we still had Marshawn Lynch in his prime and a hungry young runner in Robert Turbin.

Here’s the deal:  Byron Maxwell is only signed through the end of 2014.  I fully expect him to continue starting across from Richard Sherman, and I fully expect him to be as good – if not better – than he was in the last few weeks of 2013.  And, when that happens, I fully expect him to sign a lucrative contract with another team (please not the 49ers).  So, in looking long-term (and really, not THAT long, just one season after this one), the Seahawks are going to need another starter to play across from Sherman.

And, not for nothing, but the depth at nickel & dime cornerback could use a boost as well.  In that area, we’ve got Jeremy Lane and a lot of question marks in 2014.

Don’t sleep on the cornerback position.  Just because we’ll have the best corner and the best safety combo in the league, it’s still a position of need and a pretty big one at that.

#3 – Pass Rushing Defensive End

Also known as the LEO defensive end.  It’s where Chris Clemons called his home the last few years.

The pass rush isn’t in total shambles – thanks to Michael Bennett’s 4-year deal – but it could use an infusion of young talent.  A big question going into the 2015 season will be:  can the Seahawks afford to extend Cliff Avril?  If he has a repeat of his 2013 season – or improves – then I would wager that we can’t afford him.  If he regresses, or gets injured for a big chunk, then I’d have to ask if we even WANT to bring him back, but that’s neither here nor there.

Elite pass rushers are at a premium in the NFL.  Recruiting these guys in free agency requires blowing a big chunk of your salary cap.  It would be nice to have a young, cost-controlled option from the draft.

The only problem with this is:  it’s hard to find a pass rushing end who is capable of starting right away.  The best guys are usually picked high in the first round.  I’m not saying it’s impossible for the Seahawks to find a worthy guy at this position, given their crappy draft picks at the bottoms of nearly every round; but I am saying it might take more time for that guy to develop.

Unlike offensive linemen, running backs, and linebackers – who tend to start and succeed right away – defensive ends tend to need a little more seasoning.  If we get lucky, then great, we’ve got a guy who can start at the end opposite Michael Bennett.  If we’re not so lucky, then maybe we just drafted a guy who, in a few years, will develop into Michael Bennett’s replacement.  Either way, it’s something that needs to be addressed this year.

#4 – Defensive Tackle

Because Brandon Mebane won’t be around forever.  And last year’s picks at the position – Jordan Hill & Jesse Williams – didn’t necessarily inspire a whole lot of confidence with their rookie campaigns.

Yes, it’s always possible to find this position on the cheap in free agency, but if you go that route, you’re opening yourself up for a lot of injury risk (if they’re cheap and seeing free agency, they’re either not very good, or they’ve been injured in the recent past).  Brandon Mebane is so important to this line because he’s so durable.  Finding someone like him, who’s just as durable, is a huge need for this D-Line going forward (and would obviously save us a few bucks to boot).

#5 – Linebacker

Like cornerback, linebacker appears to be a position of strength with no holes outside of some back-end depth spots.  But, take a look at where these guys are in their rookie deals:

  • Bobby Wagner is signed thru 2015
  • Malcolm Smith is signed thru 2014
  • K.J. Wright is signed thru 2014
  • Bruce Irvin is signed thru 2015 (but is converted from defensive end and will be entering his second season as a strong-side linebacker)

I feel like we might be able to re-sign Wright to a reasonable deal.  I think Wagner will be the bigger priority, but his cost might be a little prohibitive.  Malcolm Smith is the biggest wild card of the bunch.  If he continues this opportunistic roll he’s been on since the midway point of 2013, he very well could find himself on another team with a big, fat contract.

Either way, I don’t expect the Seahawks will be able to extend all of these guys to long-term deals, so a starting replacement will likely be necessary as soon as 2015.  I don’t think that replacement is currently on the Seahawks’ roster, which means they’re going to want to draft someone.  Maybe in the fifth round or thereabouts.  I wouldn’t expect the Seahawks to go any higher than a fourth rounder, but I’ve been surprised before.

#6 – Wide Receiver

This spot was pretty high on my list before the Seahawks re-signed Sidney Rice.  For the record, I expect Rice to make the team and be among its top four receivers.  So, anyone drafted at this position will have to be a special teams ace or ride the pine until someone above him gets injured.

Like defensive end, I don’t expect this spot to get a whole lotta play in 2014.  Nevertheless, when looking at the future, it would be nice to have someone at a reasonable salary, especially when we’ve got Harvin taking up so much cap room.

Doug Baldwin is with us through at least 2014.  If we can’t work out a long-term deal with him, then we’ll be hurting.  Jermaine Kearse is also with us thru 2014, but he may be a restricted free agent for 2015 (in a sense, getting a similar tender that Baldwin has this year).  I don’t expect Kearse’s value to skyrocket, but you never know.  If there are injuries, and he ends up picking up the slack, catching a bunch of touchdowns and whatnot, he very well could price himself out of this market.

It’s just a nice luxury to have a home-grown receiver on a small deal.  Golden Tate used to be that luxury for the last couple years of his deal before moving on.  Finding that kind of value – even if it takes a year or two for him to grow into the position – is huge in this league.

#7 – Offensive Line

You ask most Seahawks fans who they want to see with our first draft pick, and I bet a big majority says, “An offensive lineman”.  I wouldn’t be among them.

Right now, pre-draft, the Seahawks have six guys with SOME starting experience.  That’s not counting Alvin Bailey, who filled in nicely at times as a rookie last year.  If push comes to shove, I think the O-Line looks like this in week 1:

  • Russell Okung – LT
  • James Carpenter – LG
  • Max Unger – C
  • J.R. Sweezy – RG
  • Michael Bowie – RT

That still leaves this team with enough depth to fill in, as well as another rookie or two to fight for a roster spot.

Frankly, I’m more interested in this Caylin Hauptmann guy who we kept on our roster all year last year than I am in anyone we might draft on the line this weekend.  Either way, I’m not as concerned about the line as most people.  Sure, our guards were sub-par last year, but I don’t think that necessarily means you have to go and get one in the first couple of rounds.  Now, if some great guy falls and we’re looking at a high first round grade on someone who slipped for no apparent reason, then fine.  But, I feel like the best guards are going to be snapped up well before we get to pick 32.

Do what you’ve been doing.  Find that value later in the draft or among the undrafted free agents.  No sense in reaching for someone when you can mold a nobody into a legitimate starter.

For the record, I don’t think J.R. Sweezy is that bad, and I kind of expect him to make a big jump in 2014.

#8 – Tight End

I’m back-tracking like you would not believe on the prospects of ASJ.  Right after the Super Bowl, I had him in my sights as a possible target with pick #32, but not anymore.  Part of it is the foot issue, but part of it is I just don’t know if he’s going to translate into an elite professional.

He’s not particularly fast.  He’s not freakishly athletic.  He was a valued member of the Washington Huskies and, at times, a dominant force in the red zone, but here’s the thing:  he’s not much of a blocker.  If you’re not a very good blocker on the line, then you better be the type of pass-catcher that they’ve got in New Orleans with Jimmy Graham, or in New England with Gronk.  I don’t think he’s that.  I think linebackers in the NFL will be able to keep up with him no problem.  He might be able to use his size to leverage a career in the Tony Gonzalez mold (not the best line blocker, not the speediest guy), but that’s going to require a work ethic I’m not sure ASJ possesses.

Look, I hope I’m wrong about the guy.  I hope wherever he goes, he terrorizes everyone who let him fall in the draft (again, please don’t go to the 49ers).  I just know that I don’t want the Seahawks to pick him (and no small part of that is because I think he needs to get away from his hometown and away from friends & family to just focus on football).

The Seahawks might want to pick SOMEONE at the position.  If, for nothing else, than some Anthony McCoy insurance.  If they do look for this position, I’d like for them to go low in the draft (or, more likely, in the realm of the undrafted).

We’ll need a replacement for Zach Miller eventually.  Luke Willson impressed me as a rookie, but will he be able to carry the load as a blocking tight end in our run schemes?

If it were up to me, the Seahawks would find a long-term stud of a blocking tight end and pair him with Luke Willson going forward.  Willson in small doses, I’m sure, can block on the line just fine.  But, when we need to beef up, then we bring in our bulldozer.

Anyway, that’s pretty much that.  I guess the Seahawks could consider the safety position, but I’m not sure I see much of a point in that (unless Kam Chancellor’s hip injury is worse than we realize, in which case I think I need to start this post over again).  I’ll be very disappointed if they draft another running back or another quarterback.  I mean, seriously, you can only carry so many on one roster!  We’ve already got too many of both as it is!

Seattle Seahawks Extend Earl Thomas

You hear that?  That’s the sound of 31 other teams banging their heads against the wall in frustration over losing out on a chance to sign the best free safety in the game after the 2014 season.  I don’t care WHO these other teams have at that position, deep down in their hearts, every single team would rather have Earl Thomas manning that position.

4 years, $40 million.  The benchmark for all safety contracts in the history of the NFL.  Earl Thomas may or may not be the greatest of all time, but he’s certainly being paid like he is.

A lot of people like to doubt the Seahawks.  Truth be told, we’re unconventional in the way we build our team.  We took a too-short quarterback in the third round and gave him a legitimate shot to win the starting job … and then he went out and won it!  We took a troubled running back off of Buffalo’s hands and watched him blossom into one of the best two or three running backs in the game.  We dedicated our whole offensive scheme around running the ball, controlling the clock, and limiting turnovers in an era that’s evolving rapidly into a pass-first, Arena League-type system.  We built the best defense in the game largely around players most other teams either didn’t want, or undervalued.

Take a look at that last statement again, and think about the players who’ve made the biggest impact in the last few years:

  • Chris Clemons was received in trade for an underwhelming lineman, after the Eagles gave up on him
  • Bobby Wagner was a second round pick from a small school
  • Kam Chancellor & Richard Sherman were both fifth round picks, deemed too big & too slow to play their respective positions
  • K.J. Wright was a fourth rounder; Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith was a seventh rounder
  • The Seahawks were killed for drafting Bruce Irvin in the first round; he went on to lead all rookies in sacks before converting to strong-side linebacker
  • Red Bryant was a defensive tackle converted to 5-technique defensive end

Hell, even Earl Thomas – a first rounder – wasn’t the first safety taken in that draft class!  I don’t think anyone doubted Earl’s abilities to be a potentially elite safety, but the vast majority agreed with the Chiefs in their opinion that Eric Berry was the cream of that draft class at the position.

Oh yes, even the Chiefs would rather have Earl Thomas right about now.

People doubting the Seahawks didn’t just stop with the defense.  We were doubted by the public at large in the Super Bowl; there was NO WAY we’d hold the greatest offense of all time down for very long!  And, then, when we did, the argument shifted to:  there’s NO WAY the Seahawks will be a dynasty.

It’s too difficult!  They’ll lose too many players.  THERE’S NO WAY THE SEAHAWKS WILL BE ABLE TO KEEP ALL THEIR ELITE STARS!

Well, the first domino to fall is Earl Thomas.  Actually, the first domino was Michael Bennett, but from a national perspective, this extension dwarfs Bennett by a large margin.  This offseason saw an increase in the NFL salary cap, which in turn saw a lot of teams go hog-wild with their spending.  As expected, the Seahawks were up against it a little bit, which is why we had to let guys like Clemons & Bryant go (ditto Sidney Rice, who we eventually re-signed to a much friendlier deal).  That opened up miles of cap room we could have used to sign any number of free agents out on the market.  However, we stayed strong and held firm to our convictions; we had a plan:

  • Extend Earl Thomas
  • Extend Richard Sherman
  • Set things up so we’re able to extend Russell Wilson next year
  • Hopefully have enough room to extend one or more of our quality linebackers next year

Now, if we could do all of that AND sign someone like Jared Allen for a song, more power to us.  It didn’t work out that way, and that’s okay.  We’re still set up well to achieve all of our personnel goals.  The Seahawks ARE going to extend Richard Sherman, they ARE going to keep Russell Wilson long term.  And it’s NOT going to cripple us financially.

With future rises in salary cap, it’ll help mitigate some of the additional cost.  In addition, you’re talking about one of the smarter front offices in the league; we’ll find a way to fill out this roster with quality players on the cheap at other positions.  Maybe that means restructuring or cutting ties with Marshawn Lynch after this year.  Maybe that means finding Russell Okung’s replacement sooner rather than later.  Maybe that means replenishing the linebacking corps via the draft every few years.

As it stands, there are no bad deals on this roster right now.  The only thing that comes close is Percy Harvin, but we still have an out with him after another couple seasons.  Cap Hell isn’t in this franchise’s vocabulary.  By this time next year, we’re going to have the highest paid safety, the highest paid cornerback, one of the top five highest paid quarterbacks, and one of the top five highest paid wide receivers … AND WE’RE STILL GOING TO BE ONE OF THE BEST TEAMS IN FOOTBALL!

This isn’t the Dallas Cowboys.  This isn’t the Washington Redskins.  We’re talking about the elite of the elite.  In that realm with the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, and Baltimore Ravens.  Where their down years still find them at .500 and their great years find them as champions.

Russell Wilson is the key to the whole thing, but if he’s #1a, Earl Thomas is #1b.  Earl Thomas makes this defense go.  He’s the leader, the heart, the soul of this team.  He makes everyone around him better, and that’s exactly what you expect out of someone making the most money at his position.  It’s not about the numbers with Earl, it’s about the W.  Don’t count the interceptions, don’t add up the points allowed as a unit; just count up the wins.  THAT’S where you find Earl’s value.  THAT’S what makes him worth every penny.

Oh yeah, and a week from tomorrow, he’ll be turning 25.  Best safety in football AND he’s got another decade-plus to go.  You know you want it …

Filling The Gaps On The Seahawks’ Roster

For starters, this isn’t going to be the most comprehensive thing you’ve ever read in your lives.  I’m not getting into the 90-man roster so much as the 53-ish man roster.

When I list the “2013 Roster”, I’m talking about the 53-man roster we had for the Super Bowl, with a small handful of extras tacked on who made a somewhat big impact in the 2013 season.  That having been said, let’s take a look at where we are and where we were.

I more-or-less already got into this subject a few weeks ago, but I thought I’d make it a little more visual-friendly (for my own sake, if nothing else).  In essence, this is another call to Seahawks fans out there that this offseason hasn’t been as devastating as it seems.

2013 2014
Def Line Michael Bennett Michael Bennett
Cliff Avril Cliff Avril
Brandon Mebane Brandon Mebane
Chris Clemons
Red Bryant (Jesse Williams)
Tony McDaniel Tony McDaniel
Clinton McDonald (Greg Scruggs)
O’Brien Schofield
Jordan Hill Jordan Hill
Benson Mayowa Benson Mayowa

As you can see, there aren’t a crazy amount of holes here.  Red Bryant’s spot will most likely be filled by Michael Bennett, with a little help coming from Jesse Williams (if he’s recovered from his IR stint as a rookie in 2013), Greg Scruggs (who also found himself on the IR, though has bulked up considerably in anticipation of his return to the playing field), or a rookie/someone from off the scrap heap.  I’m not TOO worried about replacing Red Bryant, because I believe Michael Bennett is a capable run defender, and other big bodies aren’t all that difficult to come by.

Also, I would anticipate Jordan Hill to improve and earn MUCH more playing time in 2014.  He saw almost no action as a rookie in 2013, but with these holes in the line (specifically the Clinton McDonald-sized hole in our D-Tackle rotation), I expect Hill to pick up the slack admirably.

The real thing to worry about is finding that third pass rusher.  I’m not so worried about the O’Brien Schofield spot, as that could be literally anybody at this point.  But, who will replace Chris Clemons?  That’s the most important question of the off-season, if you ask me.  We carried Benson Mayowa for the entirety of 2013; you’d have to think he’s learned all he could and is ready to apply that knowledge.  Mayowa had an impressive pre-season last year; let’s hope he carries that over.  If not, I fully expect the Seahawks to hit the draft for a pass rusher, as well as hit HARD the free agent scrap heap as the season approaches and teams have to cut their rosters down to 53.

2013 2014
Linebackers Bobby Wagner Bobby Wagner
K.J. Wright K.J. Wright
Bruce Irvin Bruce Irvin
Malcolm Smith Malcolm Smith
Heath Farwell Heath Farwell
Mike Morgan Mike Morgan

As you can see, we’ve got everybody back from this position group.  That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to keep it EXACTLY the same.  My hunch is:  the top four guys come back, and the team pushes HARD for the final two spots to be rookies, or otherwise cheaper replacements.  Maybe not so much Mike Morgan, but certainly Farwell, whose cap number is around $1.67 Million.  For a guy who only plays special teams (albeit, really fucking well), that’s kind of a high number.  And, aside from that, you gotta figure this team will want to groom at least one future starter at this position, as it won’t be able to pay Wagner, Wright, AND Smith the type of money they’d command on an open market.  I don’t see Farwell or Morgan as a starter type, so their jobs are probably in jeopardy.

2013 2014
Secondary Earl Thomas Earl Thomas
Kam Chancellor Kam Chancellor
Richard Sherman Richard Sherman
Byron Maxwell Byron Maxwell
Brandon Browner (Tharold Simon)
Walter Thurmond (Phillip Adams)
Jeremy Lane Jeremy Lane
Chris Maragos
DeShawn Shead DeShawn Shead
Jeron Johnson Jeron Johnson

As you can see, there aren’t any holes where it counts!  The Legion of Boom (Byron Maxwell Edition) is entirely intact.  We lost Browner, but we lost Browner last year too.  We also lost Thurmond, but you figure that Jeremy Lane (who returns) is still here and did just as well, in my book anyway.  Tharold Simon was a draft pick last year who spent 2013 on the IR.  He COULD be a Browner replacement/depth guy, but that all depends on how seriously he takes his job and how much he’s grown as a player since his lost rookie season.  I’d expect the team to look to the draft for one or two secondary guys.  We lost reserve safety (and special teams whiz) Chris Maragos, but DeShawn Shead and Jeron Johnson both return.  Phillip Adams was also re-signed by the Seahawks this offseason, so at least for 2014 we’ve got another experienced body to play on the inside.

2013 2014
Quarterbacks Russell Wilson Russell Wilson
Tarvaris Jackson Tarvaris Jackson
Terrelle Pryor

As you can see, we’re solid at quarterback.

2013 2014
Kicker Steven Hauschka Steven Hauschka
Punter Jon Ryan Jon Ryan
Long Snapper Clint Gresham Clint Gresham

As you can see, we’re solid at kicker, punter, and long snapper.

2013 2014
Receivers Percy Harvin Percy Harvin
Golden Tate
Doug Baldwin Doug Baldwin
Jermaine Kearse Jermaine Kearse
Sidney Rice Sidney Rice
Ricardo Lockette Ricardo Lockette
Bryan Walters Bryan Walters

As you can see, we’ve got just a Golden Tate-sized hole in our receivers unit.  Of course, one could argue that since Harvin only appeared in three games last year, it’s kinda like we replaced Tate with Harvin going into 2014.  Nevertheless, I fully expect a wide receiver to be drafted (and probably pretty high), and I expect a fierce battle among the undrafted free agents and other younger guys already on this roster.  In short, I expect Lockette and Walters to be replaced by two guys not even on our radar right now.  Also, I don’t expect this team to hold onto seven receivers, so disregard the table in that respect.

2013 2014
Backs Marshawn Lynch Marshawn Lynch
Robert Turbin Robert Turbin
Christine Michael Christine Michael
Michael Robinson
Derrick Coleman Derrick Coleman
Spencer Ware Spencer Ware

As you can see, our running backs are intact.  Michael Robinson is always an option, but probably won’t make the opening day roster unless there are some injuries we’re dealing with.  Expect Lynch, Turbin, Michael, & Coleman to be locks to make the roster.  Ware will probably have to win a job (doesn’t help his cause that he had that DUI last year).  There’s maybe an outside chance that the team trades Turbin for a low-end draft pick, but that’s only if the team is confident in Michael’s ability to block for the quarterback.

2013 2014
Tight Ends Zach Miller Zach Miller
Luke Willson Luke Willson
Kellen Davis (Anthony McCoy)

As you can see, we’re good at tight end.  Anthony McCoy re-signed after being on IR all of last year.  If he’s healthy, he’s a pretty sure bet to be this team’s third tight end and REALLY give us some versatility.  McCoy is probably a better blocking tight end than Willson, and he’ll give us some better hands in the passing game than Kellen Davis.

2013 2014
Off Line Max Unger Max Unger
Russell Okung Russell Okung
J.R. Sweezy J.R. Sweezy
Breno Giacomini
James Carpenter James Carpenter
Paul McQuistan
Lemuel Jeanpierre Lemuel Jeanpierre
Michael Bowie Michael Bowie
Alvin Bailey Alvin Bailey
Caylin Hauptmann Caylin Hauptmann

As you can see, just a tiny bit of work to do along the offensive line.  Max Unger, Russell Okung, and J.R. Sweezy have all locked down their respective spots (Center, Left Tackle, Right Guard).  Left guard is still up for grabs, but James Carpenter probably has the early lead in that battle.  Right tackle will be brand new, and maybe Michael Bowie or Alvin Bailey wins that job.  Maybe one of them wins the left guard job.  Maybe this Caylin Hauptmann guy who was on the roster for most (if not all) of 2013 will shock the world and steal a spot somewhere.  Regardless, I like our line, and I like our depth.  By my count, I’ve got 6-7 guys in that roster who can start for me and not give me any gray hairs

So, when you look at it, there’s not a lot of places where we have to plug guys in.  Depth might be a little bit of an issue, but that’s what’s going to make this training camp and pre-season so interesting.  Who’s going to fill out in the back-end of the secondary and offensive line?  Who’s going to assume that third pass-rusher role?  With new, bigtime deals for Sherman and Thomas (presumably), one would figure that their roles in special teams will go away; who picks up that slack?

I’ve got, in my head, somewhere around 44-46 players listed above who are locks to make this team (and another handful that are on the bubble).  That means there could be upwards of 7-9 guys on the 2014 opening-day 53-man roster that we’ve never heard of!  On a Super Bowl champion, no less!

Again, these are merely depth positions, but who knows?  You could be talking about the next stars on this team starting with 2015 and beyond.

It’s exciting to be a Seahawks fan right now.  It helps that we’re coming off of a championship, but still.