Offseason Report Card: Seahawks
The only thing harder than winning it all is winning it all again. Especially in the current NFL. No defending Super Bowl champ since the 2005 Patriots has even won a playoff game in the following season (the Cardinals, losers of Super Bowl XLIII, did win a playoff game the following season), and the 2004 Pats are the last team to win more than one big game in a row. That's the longest string of single winners since the Super Bowl was first played at the end of the 1966 season. And now, it's up to Pete Carroll's team to try and break that streak. Carroll won enough important games when he was USC's head coach to know how to repeat, though he realizes that sending the right message at this level can be even more complicated.
"I feel very comfortable with the way that we have to look at this; the language that we’re using and the perspective that we hold is the same in that regard," Carroll said at the team's first full OTA of the new season. "I think it was that same perspective and language that helped us continue to win [at USC]. That’s our whole objective -- to see how good we can get and we’ll see how far that takes us.”
The team will move forward with its two best and most important defenders, having re-signed cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas to lucrative long-term extensions earlier this year. In fact, the Seahawks didn't lose anyone crucial, which is relatively unusual for defending champs. Still, they play in the NFC West, which is by far the most challenging division in the league, and the Rams, Cardinals and 49ers will be right there to take advantage of any slippage.
In other words, maintaining what the Seahawks did last year might not be enough to repeat the ultimate result.
Best acquisition: Paul Richardson, WR
The Seahawks did very little of note in free agency, going with the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" ideal and focusing on retaining their most important players. So, we'll focus a bit more on the draft. In 2013, Seattle gave up a first-round draft pick to the Vikings for receiver Percy Harvin, signed Harvin to a six-year, $67 million contract, only to see him miss all but 68 snaps in the regular- and post-season due to a hip injury. And when he was on the field, it was clear that a large part of the offense was devoted to Harvin's speed and explosiveness. Thus, Seattle's offense was hamstrung most of the year in Harvin's absence. With their second-round pick in 2014 (the Seahawks again traded their first-round pick to the Vikings), Seattle picked Colorado receiver Paul Richardson, a speedster with similar straight-line velocity and escapability. If Harvin does go down again in the new season, the Seahawks will now have a backup who can run the go and the post, and who caught 83 passes for 1,343 yards and 10 touchdowns in a fairly dysfunctional offense at Colorado last season.
Biggest loss: Golden Tate, WR
Tate talked originally about accepting a hometown discount to stay in Seattle, but when the Lions offered him a five-year, $31 million contract with $13.25 million guaranteed, he bolted for the Motor City. Seattle's second-round pick in 2010, Tate took a while to get the hang of the NFL route tree, but he was quite effective for the team over the last two seasons, and he caught a career-high 64 passes for 898 yards in 2013. In addition, his return skills will be missed -- Pete Carroll has talked about everyone from Doug Baldwin to Sherman to Thomas as the Seahawks' primary punt returner.
MORE COVERAGE: Richard Sherman calls out Michael Crabtree -- again
Underrated draft pick: Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama (Fourth round, 123rd overall pick)
Though the Seahawks were obviously successful in a general sense last season, their red-zone offense wasn't something to be proud of -- they finished 21st in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics in red-zone passing, 20th in overall red-zone offense and 22nd in goal-to-go efficiency. One reason for this issue was the lack of a big receiver who could make contested catches in short areas. Norwood caught just 81 passes in four seasons in Alabama's run-heavy offense, but he brought in seven touchdowns in just 38 catches in 2013. For Seattle in 2013, Baldwin, Tate and Zach Miller tied for the team lead with five receiving scores each.
"His contested catch stuff is unbelievable," Seahawks scout Jim Nagy said after Norwood was taken in the fourth round. "If you put together a reel of all the contested catches, it’s pretty remarkable. He’s got a knack for high-pointing the ball ... He’s really good. You go back to his sophomore year when they played in the national championship game against LSU, he was going up over the Honey Badger [Tyrann Mathieu], and making plays. That’s another thing, that’s hard to coach. He just has a knack for timing. It’s like a rebounder in basketball, he does a great job with that."
Looming question for training camp: Can the Seahawks change their offense without losing what makes them great?
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has said that the Seahawks will go with a running back by committee in the new season, ostensibly giving second-year back Christine Michael and third-year back Robert Turbin more chances in real time. No back has carried the ball more than Marshawn Lynch has in the last three seasons, Lynch is 28 years old, and he's got a $9 million cap hit in 2015. Lynch has made noise about wanting more money, which isn't going to happen in Seattle. The threat of Michael and Turbin could be the team's way of giving Lynch a wake-up call, or it could be Bevell accepting a simple reality -- without a more prolific and explosive passing game, Seattle's defense and run game have no margin for error.
Clearly, any difference will come in the form of putting the ball in Russell Wilson's hands more often. Can Wilson tilt the scales in favor of the passing game? He's got the receivers to do it, and there's nowhere to go but up when it comes to passing volume -- no team has thrown the ball less over the last two seasons, and Wilson has just 800 passing attempts in his two NFL years. Guys like Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees are generally good for about that many every season. It's not that the Seahawks are going to totally scrap the run -- any team run by Carroll will at least retain balance -- but if the Seahawks are to repeat, this is where the potential upside can happen.