Making Heads Or Tails Of The Latest Seahawks Media Blitz

General Manager John Schneider has been in the news a lot lately, doing interviews and whatnot. Over the years, it’s hard not to have your ears perk up whenever this happens. It’s obviously not a super-busy time in the football year; once the hullabaloo around the draft is over, things are pretty dead until ramping back up again in August. So, what’s with all the chatter?

The sports media landscape is a lot different nowadays. Players and teams are much more savvy with what they let get out into the world (for the most part). If there’s a news item about a player, it’s generally some bit of information that’s been leaked to a trusted reporter – who is always loathe to reveal his “sources” because he wants to maintain that connect for future stories – for a very specific reason. Depending on the tenor of the story, you can tell if it was the player’s camp or a team camp that leaked it. This is usually done in conjunction with negotiations – the team doesn’t want to pay as much, the player wants to squeeze every last dollar out of his value – so little items are thrown out into the world. It’s the cosmic ballet that is professional sports and … it’s really just a distraction, but ultimately not very important.

It’s all about image. No one wants to be the bad guy in this song and dance. It’s all just business; nothing personal!

You can’t help but start to take notice, though, when instead of leaking messages as an anonymous source, the team sends a prominent representative out into the world to show their hand. Teams don’t have to do any more media appearances than is otherwise necessary to drum up interest in fans and sell season tickets. So, that’s why you tend to see the coach and/or GM in the good times: during/immediately after the draft, and upon signing a quality free agent. These are advertisements – infomercials, if you will – for the Seattle Seahawks Football Club: Catch The Excitement! As draft hysteria has drifted back out to sea, however, we’re still seeing John Schneider pop up to talk about the Seahawks’ offseason plan. With good reason, of course.

There are two universal truths we’ve been harping on since the 2019 season ended: the Seahawks’ pass rush stinks, and Jadeveon Clowney is a free agent. After making a number of moves – signing Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa, re-signing Jarran Reed, drafting Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson – the consensus is: the Seahawks’ pass rush still stinks. Again, I can’t stress this enough: it stunk as bad as could possibly be in 2019 and that was WITH Clowney, one of the most effective defensive linemen in the league (when healthy). As it turns out, that health factor is a lot bigger than we anticipated, as Clowney remains unsigned well into the month of May, with no end in sight.

What has caught a lot of eyes is the fact that the Seahawks – according to Over The Cap – have a little over $16 million in salary cap space at the moment. Of course, it should be noted that this figure doesn’t factor in the rookie salaries we’ll have to pay for our draft picks. Then, you have to set aside some money for minimum-salary guys the team brings in when our regulars get hurt and have to go on Injured Reserve. Also, the Seahawks put a lot of incentives into their deals with players that don’t necessarily show up in cap totals until those players hit those incentives. All these hidden figures ultimately detract from that $16 million. Smart fans know this, but most fans aren’t as into the weeds on these things; so they see a player like Clowney – easily the best-available free agent still on the market – and they see their Seahawks with a need at the very position he fills, and they’re wondering, “What gives?”

I mean, if nothing else, you have to figure that’s what Clowney’s agent is saying in negotiations with the Seahawks!

Beat writers and bloggers can bring up these hidden salary cap expenses until they’re blue in the face, but most fans are only going to sit up and take notice when the team tells them something directly. Enter: John Schneider.

There’s been a definite theme in his recent interviews that Schneider has been trying to get across: the importance of in-season moves.

The Seahawks are no stranger to making roster moves all throughout the year. Why, in 2019 alone, we made a deal for Quandre Diggs in the middle of the season that vastly improved our secondary; on top of taking a flier on Josh Gordon, who had at least one big catch in every game he appeared in. Then, with our rash of running back injuries late in the year, we famously brought back Marshawn Lynch to score us a few TDs in December and January! If I wanted to put in the work, I’m sure I could go back and list a bunch of other in-season moves the Seahawks have made through the years, but just trust me when I tell you that this isn’t a new concept for this organization.

And yet, this is the first time I ever remember the team harping on this fact in interviews. It’s obviously for a reason!

The way I see it, this has everything to do with Clowney, and it can be only one of two things. Either the team truly has moved on from Clowney, and the Seahawks are trying to get fans on board with this decision; or the team actually IS willing to bring Clowney back, but they’re going to remain firm in their lowball offer to him, and he either needs to get on board with it or find employment elsewhere.

This has to be hard for fans AND Clowney to reconcile, because as has been noted repeatedly, the Seahawks have a number of moves they can make to free up some extra money. They can cut certain veterans to free up salary cap space; but, this weakens our depth and probably robs Peter to pay Paul. Sure, our defensive line will be stronger with Clowney, but if that means cutting Bradley McDougald, that likely weakens our secondary and could be a wash in the grand scheme of 2020 things. They can also convert base salaries for guys like Russell Wilson or Bobby Wagner – guys you know aren’t going anywhere – into signing bonuses, to further spread out those figures across the remaining lives of their respective contracts; but, that kicks the can down the road and puts your team’s financial flexibility in jeopardy in a few years. Under normal circumstances, you could argue that’s a no-brainer – especially with Russell Wilson, who isn’t going ANYWHERE, hopefully ever – but with this whole COVID-19 pandemic (and the likelihood of games being played without money from ticket sales/concessions coming in for part or all of 2020), the effects on future salary caps could be dire. The NFL salary cap has gone up by around 10% or so every season since the last CBA went into effect in 2010, but there’s a very legitimate chance that it stays flat or even goes DOWN in the next year or two. Considering Wilson – as is – takes up a considerable percentage of the team’s cap number, boosting that by converting his base into bonus just seems like flirting with disaster.

The thing is, I do believe the Seahawks are being truthful when they talk about the importance of in-season moves. There are always guys being waived, or otherwise floated in trade offers, and it’s nice to have that flexibility to bring on talented players (or at least prevent those talented players from going to your playoff rivals). I also believe that the Seahawks can’t put all their eggs in the Clowney basket. However small it may feel, there’s a non-zero chance that the Seahawks’ pass rush actually manages to IMPROVE (somehow) without him here. It’s going to take a big leap of faith; guys who have never performed at this level are going to have to step up and take some of the load off of mediocre-looking veterans. It’s not IMPOSSIBLE … but, you know, I’ll believe it when I see it, I guess.

The bottom line is: probably don’t count on Clowney being back. Nevertheless, I’d love to see the Seahawks bring SOMEONE in, that’s an actual name who we can count on to give this pass rush a little more zazz.

The Seahawks Drafted Seven Other Guys Besides Jordyn Brooks

Did you read my uninformed take on the Seahawks’ first round draft pick last week? Well, stick around for my uninformed takes on the rest of these guys I’ve never heard of!

Here’s the full list:

  • First Round – Jordyn Brooks (LB)
  • Second Round – Darrell Taylor (DE)
  • Third Round – Damien Lewis (G)
  • Fourth Round – Colby Parkinson (TE)
  • Fourth Round – DeeJay Dallas (RB)
  • Fifth Round – Alton Robinson (DE)
  • Sixth Round – Freddie Swain (WR)
  • Seventh Round – Stephen Sullivan (TE)

The Seahawks had a lot of holes to fill on an underperforming defense, so OF COURSE they spent 5 of their 8 draft picks (including trading away a pick in 2021 just to jump back into the seventh round this year) on the offense! And yet, honestly? I don’t think I can fault their logic here.

The last couple of Seahawks drafts felt like we were bolstering our depth. They made 20 picks in 2018 & 2019, at a period in this franchise’s history where depth was at its thinnest. Properly replenished, it’s now time to start taking some chances on drafting starters and stars again. And, I get the feeling here – more than I have in recent seasons – that the Seahawks are going to give these guys every opportunity to win jobs very soon.

Brooks, we’ve discussed. No one believes he’s muscling Bobby Wagner out of his job anytime soon, but clearly K.J. Wright is on notice. No one would be shocked if he gets cut before the season, but regardless 2020 is a mortal lock to be Wright’s last year in a Seahawks uniform.

I’m going to lump Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson together here, because they’re essentially the same guy from a body-type point of view (6’4, 267; 6’3, 264 respectively) and both figure to vie for the LEO defensive end spot. I mean, yeah, IDEALLY both of these guys are future Hall of Famers; but realistically, the Seahawks are hoping for one of these guys to pan out as a respectable starter for the next however many years. Taken in context with who the Seahawks have on the roster right now, their direct competition appears to be Benson Mayowa (the entrenched starter at the moment) and Bruce Irvin (who will play SAM linebacker and shift to defensive end on passing downs), neither of whom are longterm options for this team. So, there’s your 2020 rotation for the LEO end spot; both of these rookies will get a chance to compete and it’s just a matter of staying healthy and learning the defense.

Damien Lewis might have the clearest path to starting for this team (especially with the moves the Seahawks made last night, which I’ll get to later in the week). He’s a right guard, so right away there’s no confusion about where he’s going to stick. He’s not a guard/center, or a right tackle that projects as a guard; he’s just a fucking GUARD! Isn’t that wonderful? To boot, he was the second guard taken in the entire draft! That (and the fact that Tom Cable is nowhere near this decision) should tell you everything you need to know: Lewis is almost certainly ready to start from Day 1. He played for National Champion LSU, on the college world’s greatest offensive line, and has played a signifiant number of games from junior college through his two years with the Tigers, so this isn’t some project who needs seasoning to learn the game. He’s a powerful run blocker – obviously a trait the Seahawks appreciate more than most NFL teams – and his pass protection numbers aren’t bad at all. At this point, it would be an upset (and deeply upsetting) if he didn’t start as a rookie.

I’m not going to lump the two listed tight ends for reasons I’ll talk about later, so for now let’s discuss the unfortunately-named Colby Parkinson. He’s a 6’7, 251-pound pass-catching tight end out of Stanford. This is an interesting pick for a variety of reasons. The Seahawks are clearly a power-rushing offense that likes to take deep shots down field. The tight ends who work best in this offense are the heavy, run-blocking bulldozers who are able to take advantage over slower linebackers in the passing game. Yet, the Seahawks seem to have a perpetual hard-on for these elite pass-catchers in the Jimmy Graham mold, of which Parkinson would seem to emulate.

Here’s the deal: how great would it be to have the next Gronk, or George Kittle, or Travis Kelce? Who WOULDN’T want a big, tall guy who plays like a receiver, but can also blow you up like an offensive lineman? Who WOULDN’T want the type of offensive mismatch who is too fast to be covered by a mortal linebacker, but is also too big and overpowering for any cornerback or safety you try to throw his way? But, these guys are rarer than a unicorn steak on top of a bed of four-leaf clovers with a side-order of dodo egg stew! More often than not, you pick a guy with an obvious flaw and hope they’re able to develop it sooner rather than later. So, which is a better starting-off point to come from when trying to reverse-engineer one of these studs? The quality blocking tight end with stone hands, or the pass-catching phenom who blocks like a matador’s cape?

Fun fact: a matador’s cape is called a muleta! Seattle Sports Hell: come for the half-assed sports commentary, stay for the half-assed dictionary lesson!

I’m kind of on the side of thinking that it’s better to have the guy who knows how to block well and have him develop the ability to catch, because blocking seems like more of a “want-to” attitude, and if you have a good-enough quarterback, he should be able to throw catchable balls to a tall guy in traffic. But, clearly the Seahawks are hoping this way works as well. We’ll see. I’ll say this much: drafting a guy and teaching him how to block is WAY more preferable to trading for a guy (Jimmy Graham) after he’s an established offensive star in the league and just hoping he’ll stop crumpling into a paper ball at the first sight of contact.

I can’t say my hopes are super high on Parkinson, but at the same time – getting back to my original point, what feels like thousands of words ago – look at his competition. Greg Olsen, Luke Willson, and Jacob Hollister are all on 1-year deals; while Olsen isn’t going anywhere, nothing is guaranteed to the other two. All Parkinson has to do is beat a couple of dime-a-dozen guys and he’s locked in behind Olsen and Dissly (when he’s healthy). If he manages that simple feat, he’ll figure pretty prominently in any red zone situation. AND, if he does develop into even a passable blocker, he could be a fantasy god for years to come!

Boy, do I love a guy who spells out his name DeeJay! DeeJay Dallas is such a perfect running back name, I can’t even stand it. Also, if you think I’m not calling him DeeJ, you’re crazy!

So, DeeJ is kind of on the bigger, slower side, but that slow stuff is more about how he tests; his game speed appears to be fine. He’s a converted wide receiver, which makes him an ideal candidate to play on third downs, and he also apparently has kick returning experience. So, this jack of all trades looks like a lock to make the team, with a high probability of seeing significant playing time behind Chris Carson. Is he a future starter for this team? I guess we’ll find out, but he’s got a lot going for him to get his foot in the door, which is all you can ask for. Plus, considering the Seahawks’ poor track record of drafting guys in the fourth round, I don’t mind them going with a running back so early. Unless he’s simply incapable of finding a hole to run through, this feels like a can’t-miss, with some obvious high upside because it’s the running back position: as long as the O-Line is doing its job, anyone should be good here!

Finally, let’s lump in the last two guys: receiver Freddie Swain and tight end/receiver Stephen Sullivan. Sullivan is 6’5 and was a tight end in college, but the Seahawks are listing him as a receiver, which is all you need to know: slow, tall receiver. After all that talk about Parkinson, you’d think I’d be alarmed about Sullivan’s blocking skills, or lack thereof. But, the Seahawks ask a lot out of their receivers in blocking, so if he can’t at least manhandle some cornerbacks, I don’t think there’s much hope for him to stick here. The good news is: he’s a seventh round pick. You’d think we could stash him on the practice squad and let him do nothing but learn for a year. This guy is the epitome of a capital-p Project; best case scenario is – in a year or two – he’s starting opposite D.K. Metcalf in a potent offense full of huge pass-catchers during many multiple MVP seasons by Russell Wilson.

The real interesting guy is Freddie Swain, who is a prototypical slot receiver. Unless the Seahawks go out and sign another free agent, it’s pretty safe to say the top four receivers are Lockett, Metcalf, Dorsett, and David Moore. John Ursua looks to have a leg up as another slot guy for this team, but there’s a pretty clear path for Swain to be a fifth or sixth receiver on this team (especially if he can add anything on special teams). There’s also a chance for Malik Turner to rejoin the team, who will be nice as competition fodder. Bottom line is – between Swain and Ursua – we should be pretty set at slot receiver (especially when you figure Lockett is more than comfortable there as well).

My initial impression is: I like Lewis an awful lot to start right away. But, I think there’s more higher-upside guys in this draft class than in any year since maybe 2012! Now, obviously, the guys still have to pan out – which is FAR from a guarantee – but if we manage to hit on even half of these guys (particularly one of the defensive ends), the Seahawks should be in good shape for a while.