Seattle Sports Hell Goes On A 5-Week, Cross-Country Road Trip

I haven’t done one of these in a while, but I also haven’t cared as much about being away from the blog for one of my various vacations. Shit, I haven’t cared as much about being RIGHT HERE and not updating my blog with a new post for days upon days on end.

But, this one’s a little different. For starters, I’m leaving for FIVE weeks. What’s that all about? Is this some sort of mid-life crisis? Am I having a mental breakdown? While we certainly can’t rule that out, it’s actually pretty simple. Here are the nuts & bolts:

  • My company offers to anyone who’s been working there for a decade one 6-week (unpaid) sabbatical
  • I’ve been working there for about 11 years now
  • As I’ve been saving up a ton of money living at home, hoarding my earnings for a down payment on a new house, I can afford going six weeks without pay

Why a road trip, though? Why not a cruise? Or go backpacking around Europe? Or just sit at home and do absolutely nothing?

Believe me, those are all excellent options! If you know me, you know there’s nothing I love doing more than nothing! But, since an opportunity like this (probably) only comes around once a decade or so, I feel like I have to take advantage and do SOMETHING, as against my nature as it is to do so.

This sabbatical had been on my radar for the last year or so, but I hadn’t given it much thought. Then, last August, I had a little mini-road trip to Missoula, MT, to see a Pearl Jam show. I’ve been on a few road trips in my life and I’ve always had a great time. Once I drove all night to San Francisco by myself, just to visit Amoeba Records for the first time. A friend and I took a 3-week west coast road trip (down through Cali to L.A., then over to Vegas, the Grand Canyon, the Arches National Park, Salt Lake City, back up through (and over) to Portland, then home again) back in 2006. Honestly, I thought my road tripping days were behind me. I fully expected gas to be $20 a gallon by now and we’d all get around on rocket packs. But, gas is fairly reasonable, and I’ve got a new Prius that gets me over 56 miles per gallon. With that drive through the mountains to Montana being one of the most beautiful experiences of my life, the idea for this trip was born.

Since, I’d already done the road trip to California multiple times, there was no point in doing that again. My drive to Missoula was the furthest east I’d ever driven myself, so that was the obvious direction to go. And while there are plenty of landmarks and tourist traps I’ve always wanted to see, I needed something else to build this trip around. With August being prime baseball season (and with me having a goal to get an ice cream mini helmet from all 30 teams’ ballparks in my lifetime), I took it as an interesting challenge to see as many different stadia as I could on my trip. It won’t be all 30, obviously, but since the only road games I’ve ever been to have been Yankee Stadium in The Bronx and Minute Maid Park in Houston, this will be a good start (for what it’s worth, I never got a mini ice cream helmet from the Yankees, and I lost my Astros one, so I’m gonna have to do those two all over again at some point).

Here is the list of home teams I’m going to see on my Road Trip (all times local):

  • Minnesota Twins, 8/2 at 7pm
  • Chicago Cubs, 8/4 at 1pm
  • Detroit Tigers, 8/6 at 1pm & 7pm
  • Toronto Blue Jays, 8/8 at 7pm
  • New York Mets, 8/10 at 7pm
  • New York Yankees (maybe), 8/12 at 1pm and/or 7pm
  • Philadelphia Phillies, 8/14 at 7pm
  • Cincinnati Reds, 8/16 at 7pm
  • St. Louis Cardinals, 8/23 at 7pm
  • Kansas City Royals, 8/26 at 7pm
  • Colorado Rockies, 8/29 at 6:40pm

In addition to that, my other sports-related destinations include going to Green Bay for an afternoon, dropping by the Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago for a few hours, stopping by the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, visiting the MLB Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, running up the Rocky stairs in Philly, going to the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, and stopping off somewhere that has wifi on Friday, August 30th so I can draft for my fantasy football team.

It’s not all sports all the time though. Here are some other cool stops on my trip:

  • Deadwood
  • Sturgis
  • Mt. Rushmore
  • Wall Drug Store
  • Falls Park in Sioux Falls
  • Mall of America
  • Paisley Park (Prince’s House)
  • CN Tower
  • Scarborough Bluffs
  • Niagara Falls
  • Coney Island
  • Jersey Shore
  • Atlantic City
  • Liberty Bell
  • Gettysburg
  • Andy Warhol Museum
  • American Sign Museum
  • Louisville Sluggers Tour
  • Jim Beam Distillery
  • Grand Ole Opry
  • Graceland
  • Gateway Arch
  • Anheuser-Busch Tour
  • Big Texan Steak Ranch
  • Palu Duro Canyon
  • Route 66/Cadillac Ranch
  • Denver Mint
  • Cannon Beach

It’s going to be exhausting, yet exhilarating. I leave on Monday, July 29th (as early in the morning as humanly possible), and I should return (if all goes according to plan) on Labor Day, September 2nd. That’ll give me one full week back home to recharge and do all the nothing I was born to do.

In the meantime, the blog will be going dark. There’s just no way I’m going to have time to keep up with the day-to-day minutiae of Seattle sports. I’ll try to make a list of things I want to write about when I get back, but no promises. Unfortunately, it’s during the entirety of the NFL pre-season, which I love to obsess about! But, I’ll be back for the regular season, so I’ll make sure to get a season preview post done during my week off.

While I’m gone, you can always buy my book! In Kindle and Paperback forms.

You can follow me on Instagram, where I figure to be posting regular updates of my trip.

I’m always on Twitter and I’m sure I’ll have occasional thoughts while I’m gone.

I also ain’t too proud to beg.

Finally, here are some articles I’ve read recently that you might find interesting:

Also, I’m partial to a couple of series on the AV Club. Every two weeks, The Popcorn Champs chronicles the highest-grossing movie of each year from the 60’s through today. Prior to that, the same writer did Age Of Heroes, about each year’s most important superhero movie. Prior to THAT, he did A History Of Violence, about each year’s most important action movies.

Finally, if you don’t like reading, go to Funny Or Die’s YouTube page, and watch everything having to do with “A Very Special Episode” and “Zack Morris Is Trash” and “Under A Rock With Tig Notaro”.

That’s it. See you in September! Not unless I see you first!

Earl Mitchell Is Supposed To Take Some Of The Sting Away From Jarran Reed’s Suspension

I don’t really know who or what an Earl Mitchell is, but now he’s ours and you can’t have him?

6’3, 310 pounds, he’ll be 32 years old in September. If he’s been unsigned on the free agent market for this long, he must be amazing. With a career 6.5 sacks spread across three teams who never wanted him for a second contract, I’m expecting Pro Bowl output right out of the box.

I think I read somewhere that he abused the Seahawks’ O-line in recent years, but if that were reason enough to sign someone, then literally every defensive lineman in the league would fit the mold. I find it extremely disconcerting that the Packers had just waived someone who everyone agreed is a tremendous D-Tackle the same day of this signing, and we apparently had zero interest. If money is an issue, I would again point to all the money we’re saving by not paying Frank Clark (on top of the money we’ll save thanks to this Jarran Reed suspension hypothetically lowering his value). I also read somewhere that he was one of the lowest-rated defensive tackles/linemen in the league last year, by Pro Football Focus or some damn thing, which feels about right. The Seahawks always have to be the smartest guys in the room.

Suffice it to say … I don’t have a lot to say. I’m just waiting around for the Bobby Wagner extension to finally be announced so I can hoot and holler and whatnot.

The Most Important Seahawks Player After Russell Wilson: Ziggy Ansah

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This probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, considering I’ve got three other defensive linemen on this list, and I’ve been harping on it all offseason. But, yeah, pass rush. Duh.

I won’t belabor this one too much, because we all know the score. Ziggy Ansah, when healthy, is one of the best pass rushing defensive ends in the league. In odd-numbered years dating back to 2015, he’s had double-digit sacks (reason for hope, 2019!); in even-numbered years, he’s been injured and his production has fallen off a cliff.

The other reasons for hope are that he’s on a 1-year prove-it deal, he’s only 30 years old (still in the prime of his career, one would assume), and he’s super-motivated to put monster numbers up to get a mega contract in 2020. The reasons for pessimism include the fact that last year’s injury was pretty severe, and he’s still not yet cleared for practicing. We might not know if he’ll be ready for the regular season until right before the regular season starts. At that point, how much can you trust a guy who had no training camp to speak of, to just jump right in and be his usual elite self?

I’m pretty down on the group of pass rushers we’ve got on this team, and have been saying time and time again that it might come, but it’s going to be from someone unexpected (even moreso with the news of Jarran Reed’s 6-game suspension). I HATE that type of uncertainty, particularly from a spot on the team that’s so important. I don’t think I would’ve changed anything about what the Seahawks did this offseason from a Frank Clark perspective, or a draft perspective, but I do sort of wish they’d made more of an effort to get at least one more veteran free agent in here with a track record of success. Cassius Marsh and whatever other yokels we’ve got in there now just won’t cut it when it comes to soothing my fears.

Bottom line, if Ansah comes in and plays at a high level this season, the sky’s the limit for this team defensively. He solves a lot of problems. He allows the linebackers to focus on what they do best (instead of trying to make up for a lacking pass rush) and he shortens the time cornerbacks have to stay glued to their guys in the secondary. He creates turnovers with his forced fumbles, his sacks (particularly on third down, which usually forces teams to punt), and in getting opposing quarterbacks to rush their throws or mis-read their progressions.

But, if he struggles, or he flat out doesn’t play – while the contract isn’t a killer – it would be devastating for this defense. Worst case scenario for this team is if Ansah is on the field, but playing through injuries and not getting anything done against the quarterback. That would mean not only is he a non-factor, but he’s also clogging up a roster spot for a younger guy. If he’s hurt and off the field, at least that gives our younger guys some valuable experience on the edge. If this season is going to hinge on Ansah, and it’s not going to be a Super Bowl season either way, then the best thing for the Seahawks would be to coach up the future of this team for a hopeful run in 2020 and beyond.

My biggest wish for the Seahawks in 2019 is for the stars to be healthy and have the metaphorical stars align. I’d love nothing more than for the Best Case Scenario to take place in all of these key areas on the Seahawks’ roster, to see if 2018 was an aberration, or if it was a stepping stone to bigger and better success. In my opinion, that starts at the top with Russell Wilson, but right behind him it largely hinges on Ansah. Where he goes, so goes this defense. The more help Wilson can get from this defense, the better this team will finish as a result.

Jarran Reed Did Something Stupid, Got Suspended

I don’t know, man. Apparently Jarran Reed was involved in some incident in 2017(?), police were notified, and he ultimately wasn’t charged with anything nor did he get into any real trouble that I can discern, yet here we are in 2019 and boom, he’s popped for 6 games. I could understand if it was some drug thing, or if he was caught on tape making threatening-sounding comments, but this feels like a SEVERE over-reaction to a non-issue.

And you can call me insensitive all you want, but let’s see some charges, huh? Let’s see – if nothing doing from a prosecutorial perspective – at least a civil suit. SOMETHING. Video, audio, pictures, give me SOMETHING to hang my hat on where I can say, “Okay, Jarran Reed clearly did something and should probably be punished in some capacity.”

Even if it’s nothing from the alleged victim, how about A LITTLE transparency from the NFL’s investigation. Just a whiff. Tom Brady probably didn’t do anything that warranted his suspension (or at least the extent of his punishment), but at least we could point to some deflated footballs and say, “Yeah, that’s a sneaky organization, something was probably going on.”

I’ll be the first to admit that I have little-to-no knowledge of the latest Tyreek Hill case (other than the fact that my fantasy football team benefits from his being active from Game One, so this must be the karma gods punishing me for my insolence), but he generally seems like a bad dude and almost certainly did something he shouldn’t have. I’ve seen the NFL suspend guys for A LOT less, let’s put it that way (Jarran Reed, for instance), and yet he’s off playing football and our boy will miss a month and a half.

Hill’s legal team must’ve been worth every damn penny!

This is obviously a catastrophe for the Seahawks. Jarran Reed is our best interior lineman, our best interior pass rusher, and maybe even our best OVERALL pass rusher! The team was already in pretty dire straits in that regard – particularly early in the season, when we don’t know if Ziggy Ansah will start off on the PUP list or not heading into the regular season – so compounding it with the loss of Reed is absolutely the worst possible way to start our 2019 season.

Also, like, what the fuck took so long? Why do these fucking investigations and appeals take fucking forever? I mean, fuck, if we’d lost Reed for 6 games last year, no one would’ve given two shits!

On the plus side, maybe it won’t cost so much to extend him beyond this season? Either that, or he puts up 10+ sacks in 10 games and he becomes impossible to re-sign.

I hate sports. Sports are fucking dumb. Why do we put ourselves through this?

The 2nd Most Important Seahawks Player After Russell Wilson: Tyler Lockett

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As I noted in the last post in this series, any of these top three guys could make a good case to be #1, so here’s my case for Tyler Lockett.

Simply put: there’s no Doug Baldwin anymore!

It’s going to be fascinating to see how Lockett responds, and how defenses respond to him being the clear #1 wide receiver on this team. There’s never a better indicator of who’s a true superstar vs. who’s just a good complementary player than when another superstar is out of the picture. If you think about it like a fantasy football owner, everyone has to be licking their chops at the idea of having Tyler Lockett. He was always a passable backup receiver for most fantasy teams – not really someone you wanted to start on a regular basis, but someone who would usually get you steady points, and once in a while bust out for a big day – but now he’s the top dog in this offense. While it’s not an ideal offense, from a fantasy football perspective, you like the idea of having a #1 receiver on almost any team.

Make no mistake, Lockett will get the lion’s share of the targets (assuming he’s healthy). Can he make the most of them, with the added pressure of being the team’s top threat (and having to go against opposing teams’ top defender)?

Last year, Russell Wilson had a perfect passer rating when throwing to Lockett. That’s reason enough right there to give Seahawks fans confidence. Sure, he’s undersized, but he’s fast and he’s got elite ball skills. I don’t know if he’ll out-leap too many guys, but he uses his body so well in leveraging defenders away from the pass that he can play through contact and make big plays on the regular.

The flipside, of course, is that was in the shadow of Doug Baldwin. Doug was such a force that teams had to go above and beyond to respect his talents, which meant Lockett was free on the outside to run wild. Now, teams will be gameplanning specifically on how to slow him down. The greatest defensive minds in the league will be working to solve this riddle. Tape will be watched, numbers will be crunched, and it’s up to Lockett to overcome all that.

I’ve definitely seen more than my fair share of fantasy football seasons go down the tubes banking on guys who were elevated to #1 receiver status, only to fall flat on their faces. If I had to bet on it, I’d probably bet on Lockett being okay (even though the smart money is probably to bet against him). I don’t know if he’s a true #1 in this league, but if he is we’ll find out this year. He’s squarely in the prime of his career, he’s coming off of a season where he was fully healthy throughout, so let’s go!

You don’t need to be a huge stud like Julio Jones to be a #1 in this league. Antonio Brown doesn’t have incredible size, but he makes it work. I tend to think of Lockett in a similar vein. If he proves me right, then I think this offense will be okay. But, if he struggles, you seriously have to question where this offense is going to get its receiver production from.

A Pro Bowl-calibre season out of Lockett keeps the Seahawks in the running for Super Bowl contention (assuming everything else also goes right). A downer of a season out of Lockett might put even just making the playoffs in jeopardy.

The 3rd Most Important Seahawks Player After Russell Wilson: Bradley McDougald

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We’re getting down to the wire here! There are pretty easy arguments to make that any of the top three guys could be #1 on this list. Here’s my case for Bradley McDougald.

The Seahawks started off pretty hot from a defensive backfield perspective in 2018, which of course coincided with the team having a healthy Earl Thomas to go along with a healthy McDougald. But, then Earl was lost for the year (and his Seahawks career), and while McDougald played in all the games, he was clearly banged up towards the end of the season. He had 2 INTs and 5 passes defensed in the first month of the season, then only 1 INT and 4 PDs the rest of the way.

After that Arizona game, so much more went on McDougald’s shoulders, and while he was certainly up to the task, the drop-off from Earl to T2 or Hill ended up being a lot. The pass defense severely went in the tank (doesn’t help that we played the Rams twice without Earl), and while McDougald was the best of a bad position group, he wasn’t enough to lift everyone else up.

Well, for 2019, the Seahawks will have Earl Thomas for zero games. Thompson and Hill both return, and both will fight for one of the starting safety spots, but neither inspire much (if any) confidence. Beyond them, Ugo Amadi and Marquise Blair were selected in this year’s draft, but Amadi figures to get more playing time in the nickel spot, while Blair (who was already an injury worry due to his slight frame and hard-hitting style) is starting Training Camp on the PUP list. That doesn’t mean he can’t come off of it at any time before the regular season, but it would be foolish to expect him to be healthy for all 16 games.

So, once again, McDougald is going to be The Man in the secondary. The Seahawks need him to not just play in all the games, but they need him at the top of his game. When he’s going good, it almost makes you forget that the L.O.B. is no more. But, when he’s not right, you don’t really notice him at all (and that’s not a good thing, because that means he’s not really making any impact plays).

For a while now, the Seahawks’ defense has had a turnover problem. Specifically: generating interceptions. Before, when the L.O.B. was ruling the NFL, that was because teams were afraid of throwing deep on us; they settled for the dink & dunk because those are safer passes. Now that the L.O.B. Seahawks’ secondary is mediocre, teams are hitting on deep passes a lot more because our guys just aren’t good enough to make plays on those balls in the air. The defense in general makes its hay in forcing fumbles, but that’s a tough one to hang your hat on, because fumble luck is so screwy.

While it’s still vitally important for our starting cornerbacks to make a leap in their development, this pass defense is going to hinge on the play of its safeties (particularly when you factor in the uncertainty around the pass rush). Breaking up passes and generating turnovers will be the mark of how well the safeties perform, at least in my mind. Considering there’s just as much uncertainty around the rest of the secondary as a whole, having a healthy and productive McDougald will make all the difference in the world.

If he goes down, it could get ugly.

The 4th Most Important Seahawks Player After Russell Wilson: Duane Brown

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I’m on record as being pretty high on the Seahawks’ offensive line this year. I like what they brought to the table in 2018, and I think overall we’re significantly deeper heading into 2019. We’ve got Justin Britt in his prime, with Hunt and Pocic able to back him up if need be. We’ve got a couple strong veteran guards in Iupati and Fluker to really stabilize things up the middle, with really strong depth in guys like Pocic, Simmons, Roos, and Haynes (the rookie). We’ve got Ifedi on the right side, who took a huge leap in his development in Year 3, and who’s also heading into a contract season (where he figures to get PAID as he becomes a free agent next year). And, even there, the Seahawks have pretty solid depth in George Fant (who will continue to develop his tight end skills, as he also plays a lot in our 6-linemen heavy sets) and Jamarco Jones.

The only place where I’d worry about our depth is where we’re inarguably the strongest with our starter, and that’s left tackle. Duane Brown is the best lineman on this team, period. He was brought here specifically to shore up this entire unit, as we floundered with rookies and young guys for a spell, and we not only paid a pretty penny in draft picks to get him here, but in cash money to keep him here. He’s also going to be 34 years old when the regular season starts, so the clock is ticking. While he’s still playing at a high level now, he’s one major injury away from seeing his career go down the toilet. Then, where will we be?

The Seahawks should be grooming his eventual replacement, so this year will be pretty huge. Jamarco Jones certainly has the body type and the skills (in college) to be a starter in this league. But, can he stay healthy (he missed his entire rookie season last year before it even got started)? And, is he athletic enough to stop some of the best pass rushers in the league on that left side? I’d love for him to have another full year to learn under Duane Brown before we even have to THINK about throwing him into the fire. That means we need to keep Brown’s knees healthy.

If Brown is in there, I honestly don’t care a whole lot about how the rest of the O-Line holds up, because I think he covers up a lot of the crap around him and makes everyone better. Having a year and a half playing with Wilson has helped Brown learn his tendencies, which in turn has helped in our overall pass protection. And, of course, this team is all about running the ball, so having Brown in there to lock down that left side is vitally important. Tack on the fact that Iupati almost certainly won’t be healthy for the full season, which means left guard could be a turnstile. Having Brown there to help out whoever has to fill in beats the shit out of having whoever his back up will be.

As the offense will need to carry more of the load for a depleted defense, this unit will only go as far as the O-line allows it. We saw that in 2017 when even the great Russell Wilson couldn’t overcome what was the absolute worst offensive line in the league. Duane Brown’s presence is vital to making this offense go, which is vital to taking this team back to the playoffs.

The 5th Most Important Seahawks Player After Russell Wilson: Bobby Wagner

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So, you’re trying to tell me there are four more important players to the Seahawks’ chances of success in 2019 than our defensive captain and All Pro middle linebacker? The glue that keeps the defense together, who busts his ass day-in and day-out to ensure we’re always in the game and that we win more than we lose?

Look, that’s what I’m telling you. And I’ve got my reasons!

First and foremost, I know I’ve said this a lot over the years, mostly because the Seahawks have been super stacked over the years at linebacker, but this might be THE MOST stacked I’ve ever seen this team at one position. I pray to our lord and savior Jesus Christ every single day that we get to see this team with its full complement of linebackers healthy and in tip-top shape, because I’m excited to see what they can all do together.

But, since I never get what I really want, I’m fully expecting one or more injuries to derail this dream, just as so many have been dashed before in my sports fandom. Thankfully, the Seahawks are better able to weather a linebacker injury storm than at any time in this franchise’s history.

The starting three figure to be Bobby in the middle, K.J. Wright in his usual weakside linebacker spot, and Mychal Kendricks on the strong side. If Bobby were to go down, then Kendricks could slide over to the middle and we wouldn’t drop off nearly as much as we have at other spots. I would argue the dropoff from Wagner to Kendricks is less than the dropoff from Earl Thomas to Bradley McDougald! It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if we didn’t miss a beat!

Besides that, our depth at linebacker is insane. The word on Cody Barton is that he could be someone really special. Which is where things get a little tricky for me. As we all know, Bobby’s on the final year of his deal, and the team is trying to get a long-term extension done. As we’ve found out in recent years, the team has grown ever more reluctant to give non-quarterbacks a third contract. I’m a little more flexible, in that I’m okay with the right deal at the right price, but as Wagner is the best middle linebacker in the game (who is representing himself for some reason), I don’t think that’s something that’s on the table.

Nevertheless, it shouldn’t be too difficult to add two more guaranteed years on top of this one and get it over with. But, I can also see why people might not be as excited about paying both a quarterback and a linebacker at the top of their respective markets. Linebacker always seems to be a position you can get good value from young guys, and it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if Barton was able to start from day one, and be a quality player in the middle for years to come.

Blasphemy, I know. The truth of the matter is, for 2019, this team is CLEARLY better with a healthy and happy Wagner in the middle. And, indeed, with all the struggles I anticipate in both the pass rush and our secondary, it’s those linebackers (Wagner in particular) who are going to keep things afloat. When you factor in how well he’s able to blitz and put the occasional pressure on opposing QBs, that’s just something I don’t want to miss. Better safe than sorry, let’s get this thing done, huh?

Is Ron Francis A Good GM?

I don’t know much about hockey, but I’m willing to learn. So, I’ll try to trickle in some posts related to the new Seattle team (still without a name). As such, here’s a little blurb about the Seattle Hockey Guys hiring Ron Francis to be their first general manager.

He’s an NHL Hall of Famer and sounds like one of the greatest of all time. That’s awesome. But, does being an elite player qualify you for the GM job?

He was the GM at Carolina from 2014-2018. At that time, they were coming off of five straight seasons outside of the playoffs, finishing 13th in the conference the year before he started. In his four seasons, the Hurricanes never made the playoffs, with mediocre finishes each year. He was fired in 2018, immediately before they finished 7th in the conference and making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals (getting swept by the Bruins) this past season.

So, obviously I have a lot of questions. First and foremost, how easy is it for teams to turn things around from being dreadful to decent? It sure seems like this most recent Hurricanes team was built by and large by Francis (at least the top three position players by points were holdovers). But, the goaltending looks like it was a total revamp, with a couple of journeymen veterans coming in and playing the lion’s share of the games. Which leads me to the question: how important is goaltending to winning? Like, if you divided up the pie, is it 50/50? Is it more than half? Is goaltending everything?

What I don’t really know, but hope to find out thanks to the hard work of others, is how well did he draft? Does he have a solid plan for team building? Did he set up the Hurricanes to be successful for years to come? Or, did a mediocre team come together thanks to improved goaltending? I mean, I’d be happy to look into it, but I’m getting ready to go on a 5-week road trip at the end of the month, so I don’t have a lot of free time to dig into it.

I guess my biggest question is: how much of it is a total crapshoot? In baseball, it feels like the biggest crapshoot of all the major professional sports. Basketball feels like it’s pretty predictable for the most part (who’s going to be good coming out of the draft, vs. who’s just going to be a role player). The NFL is somewhere in the middle. So, where is the NHL?

We’ll find out, soon enough.

The 6th Most Important Seahawks Player After Russell Wilson: Jarran Reed

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He’s our unquestioned best defensive tackle on the roster. He’s just realizing his potential as an all-purpose force in the middle, both stopping the run and rushing the passer. Indeed, he’s almost certainly the best interior pass rush threat we have on this team. He’s coming off of a 10.5-sack season. His name is Jarran Reed.

In his career to date, Reed has exceeded my expectations. Taken in the second round out of Alabama in 2016, I seem to remember him being touted as one of the (if not THE) best nose tackles in that draft. There were rumblings of potential to be mined in the realm of pass rush, but really if he’d just turned into a run-stuffer that we could plug into the middle of our line from Day 1, that was probably the extent of my expectations. Maybe he averages 1.0 sacks per year, but nothing crazy; he’s just there to take up blockers and create openings for our more athletic ends around him.

And, through his first two seasons, he more or less met expectations. He played in 15 games each year, generating 1.5 sacks apiece. I would argue that any lagging in our run defense was more due to the players around him not quite being as good as they’d been before he got here (and, of course, injuries eating into our depth).

Then, in 2018, Reed exploded with the aforementioned 10.5 sacks. Coming from a nose tackle, that’s something that’ll make you sit up and take notice! He played in all 16 games, and generated at least 0.5 sacks in 8 of them (he had 2 sacks each in 3 games).

You could argue that’s a little flukey, and I guess we’ll see. I understand the reasoning (and I certainly understand why people would have reservations about extending him now, when he’s at the height of his value): he wasn’t the same player he was his first two years in the league. So, who is the real Jarran Reed?

My fear is that Reed comes back with another 10+ sack season which will make him impossible to extend. At that point, we’ll only have the Franchise Tag to threaten him with, and as we saw from Frank Clark, that’s not the deterrent it once was. Players are smarter today (for the most part; I’ve got my eyes on you, Malik McDowell), they understand the risk in playing this game, and their windows being ridiculously short. As long as you don’t live your life in fear (and put money into a sweet insurance policy), playing up to and through the Tag can reap you insane financial rewards.

Of course, my fear is the same fear most bad GMs have. It’s why they throw tons of cash on middle-of-the-road players at the height of their value, chasing the dragon that can’t possibly be caught. 2018 might be the very best year of Reed’s career (like 2004 was for Adrian Beltre … right before the Mariners signed him to a huge contract and never saw him come close to approaching those offensive numbers ever again in Seattle). But, on the flipside, we all lauded the Seahawks’ front office for extending Tyler Lockett when they did. When he had more injury concerns at the time and never really played near the top of the market at his position. Who’s to say Reed couldn’t even IMPROVE on what he did in 2018? If he did, extending him now would be real next-level GM’ing.

I’m like most of you, I just want Reed to be around for the next few years under a reasonable contract. I’m not looking to low-ball him, but I also don’t really want the Seahawks to be suckers. If the team is willing to buy out the final year of his rookie deal, they should get somewhat of a discount. Also, if we do let him play out his contract, and let’s say there’s some regression that comes with it (I’m in the camp that doubts he’s a double-digit-per-year sack guy, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t valuable); even if he finishes 2019 with somewhere around 5-6 sacks, that’s still pretty good for an interior lineman (I mean, shit, we still talk about Clinton McDonald’s 5.5 sacks in 2013 like he was fucking Reggie White in his prime). And he’s ALWAYS going to have that 10.5-sack season to fall back on in negotiations (this time, with the entire league, barring a Franchise Tag). Some team, if it isn’t the Seahawks, will look at those 10.5 sacks and see the potential for a repeat.

Bottom line is he’ll get his money. The Franchise Tag value for a defensive tackle in 2019 is a little over $15 million. That’ll almost certainly go up in 2020, maybe the $16-17 million range. So, even if, as I said, he gets 5-6 sacks, he’s probably going to be worth Tagging, which means it’s only a matter of time before he’s getting a contract at or very close to the top of the market (obviously not Aaron Donald money, but in that next tier down). So, just get it done now. Because I ultimately don’t see the Seahawks being in a position to draft anyone who’s any better (and whoever that replacement might be figures to be considerably worse).

As for the 2019 season, Reed is obviously important for the pass rush factor. We have no idea where it’s going to be coming from, but of anyone currently on the roster, he’s the safest bet. We don’t know about the rookie from this year, or the rookies from last year, or the free agents we brought in; but we know what we’ve got in Reed. Probably. 5-6 sacks would be fine. 10 or more would be better. The better he does, the better this line will look, and the better this defense will perform as a whole. If he truly busts out as one of the best D-Tackles in the game, this team could be really special. If he regresses (as he probably will), then obviously there’s a trickle-down effect that hurts everyone else and the team as a whole.