The offseason is officially in full swing for the Seahawks, who bowed out of postseason play with a 28-23 loss to the Packers in the NFC Divisional Round two weeks ago.
Earning a playoff appearance for the seventh time in eight years, Seattle nearly captured its first NFC West title since 2016 and won 11 regular season games for the fourth time under coach Pete Carroll. The team also won a road playoff game for the first time since January 2016, defeating a wounded Philadelphia squad 17-9 in the wild card round.
With quarterback Russell Wilson still in the midst of his prime, however, the pressure is on Carroll and the Seahawks to get back to the Super Bowl next season. To make it happen, several positional groups will need to be improved through free agency and the draft to position the team to win the division and earn home field advantage in the playoffs.
Which positions are in the greatest need of an upgrade? Starting with the pass rush, Seattle’s front office must prioritize bolstering these five units heading into a new season.
Anyone with even a casual understanding of the game of football knows the Seahawks struggled mightily pursuing opposing quarterbacks throughout the 2019 season. Even after acquiring Jadeveon Clowney and signing Ziggy Ansah during the offseason, Seattle finished tied for the second-fewest sacks in the NFL, ranked 30th in sack percentage per drop back, and ranked 28th overall in quarterback hits. Rasheem Green led the team with 4.0 sacks, while Clowney and Ansah combined to generate just 5.5 sacks between the two of them and defensive tackle Jarran Reed couldn’t replicate his 2018 production with just 2.0 sacks. Additionally, first-round pick L.J. Collier was a complete non-factor, producing three tackles in 11 games and failing to generate a single pressure.
As free agency approaches, the Seahawks need to decide if they want to invest a long-term deal in Clowney, who will push for more than $20 million per year. If he leaves, Seattle should have enough cap flexibility to pursue another big name such as Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones or Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. There will be some cheaper alternatives available such as Robert Quinn as well and the draft remains an option, though this year’s class of edge rushers isn’t near as talented as a year ago. Yetur Gross-Matos from Penn State could be a potential first-round option if Seattle chooses to go that route. The decisions they make could be telling in regard to what the team thinks of Green and Collier's future prospects.
Equally as important as improving their own pass rush, the Seahawks must continue to search for ways to do a better job protecting Russell Wilson from opposing pass rushers. As has been well-documented, not all of the sacks Wilson takes can be attributed to the front line, as his mobility and penchant for extending plays leads to pressures. Still, despite having four returning starters from 2018, Seattle’s line ranked 28th in the ESPN Pass Block Win Rate metric, which indicates how frequently linemen hold their blocks for 2.5 seconds or longer. That’s simply not good enough and though Carroll wants continuity up front, the organization needs to exhaust all options seeking improvements in the trenches.
Most specifically, the Seahawks must figure out what direction they want to go at right tackle. Four-year starter Germain Ifedi will become an unrestricted free agent after the team chose not to pick up his fifth-year option, while key reserve George Fant has indicated he’s looking for a chance to start and will also be hitting the market in March. There’s a chance both players could fetch big contracts from line-needy teams and the Seahawks may not be inclined to enter a bidding war for either tackle. Titans tackle Jack Conklin could also draw interest, but he’ll cost a pretty penny to sign. Seattle has scouts keeping a close eye on this week’s Senior Bowl with several quality tackles participating and it’s very likely the team will add at least one player at the position during the draft, especially considering left tackle Duane Brown will turn 35 in August.
After a disappointing season, there’s a good chance Reed won’t be re-signed before March 18 and it will be interesting to see how teams value him on the open market. Even after a down season, he has been Seattle’s best defensive tackle for several seasons and losing him would create a major void up front. But he’s not the only quality interior defensive lineman who may not be back next year, as Quinton Jefferson and Al Woods are also heading towards free agency. Reed and Jefferson each offer value as pass rushers, while the 340-pound space-eating Woods performed well as a rotational reserve and once he received a four-game suspension, Seattle’s run defense suffered significantly.
For the season, Seattle finished 26th overall in DVOA for run defense, indicating Carroll’s emphasis on stopping the run last offseason didn’t necessarily pan out. Considering the overall struggles their defense battled rushing the passer and stopping the run, the Seahawks could use some new blood in the defensive interior and this year’s free agent crop is saturated with proven, talented defensive tackles, including Michael Brockers, Timmy Jernigan, and Danny Shelton. Re-signing Reed, Jefferson, and/or Woods may be a priority, but if they lose two or more of those players, the Seahawks will have other options to choose from and while the draft is top heavy at the position, there are a few prospects such as Javon Kinlaw of South Carolina who would be excellent first-round selections.
At the start of the 2019 season, Will Dissly was playing as well as any tight end in football, as he caught four touchdowns in Seattle’s first five games and looked to be a top candidate for NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Then, he ruptured his Achilles tendon in Week 6, leading to another lengthy rehab and creating questions about his viability as a long-term starter. Without him and Ed Dickson, who missed the whole season with knee issues, the Seahawks were forced to promote Jacob Hollister from the practice squad, veteran Luke Willson took on a larger role in his second stint with the team, and Fant also had extensive reps as a sixth lineman.
Hollister will be a restricted free agent and after catching 41 passes for 389 yards in 11 games, the Seahawks may need to use a second-round tender on him to prevent another team from signing him to an offer sheet. OverTheCap.com estimates such a tender will be valued at $3.278 million, which is pricey for a player who isn’t expected to be a starter next season. Dickson is a strong cap casualty candidate before June 1 and will likely be cut. With Dissly working back from a severe injury for a second straight year and Willson turning 30 this month, it’s not surprise the team has been rumored to have interest in Falcons tight end Austin Hooper, who will be an unrestricted free agent and caught 146 receptions during the past two seasons. Even if he proves to be too expensive for Seattle’s taste, expect the team to be aggressive looking for help at the position when free agency opens.
Compared to the other positions on this list, the Seahawks should be in pretty good hands atop the depth chart with Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf providing a dangerous one-two punch. Lockett eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career in 2019, while Metcalf exceeded all expectations with 900 receiving yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie. But behind them, Seattle has more question marks than answers. David Moore didn’t ascend in his third season as the organization hoped and he will be a restricted free agent, while Jaron Brown will be an unrestricted free agent after a quiet second season with the team. Third-year receiver Malik Turner has shown glimpses of play making ability, but he also had several huge drops late in the season and doesn’t have the ceiling to be a third receiver. Josh Gordon is serving an indefinite suspension and even if he’s reinstated, he’s not under contract.
Looking towards next year, Carroll has already indicated John Ursua, who finished with just one reception as a rookie, will take on a larger role in his second season with the Seahawks and he’s expected to be in competition for snaps in the slot. But Wilson could use another dynamic threat on the outside and this is the perfect year to have such a need, as the 2020 draft class is loaded with talent at receiver. While picking at No. 27 overall will likely prevent them from landing top-tier prospects such as Tee Higgins and CeeDee Lamb, first-round caliber receivers may be available on day two, creating a prime opportunity for Schneider to work his magic and upgrade Wilson’s weaponry.
Honorable Mention: Cornerback, Running Back
Though Tre Flowers struggled down the stretch and was torched in the playoffs, he played well for most of his sophomore year and the Seahawks believe he could make a similar jump to teammate Shaquill Griffin in his third NFL season. Still, adding competition to push him would be logical and it wouldn't be surprising to see Seattle use a mid-round pick on another big-bodied, athletic cornerback to develop. Nickel cornerback also remains a potential area of need, though Ugo Amadi should have the first crack at the job in 2020.
If Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny return to 100 percent from injury, the Seahawks should be in fantastic shape at running back. But due to the fact Penny's recovery from a torn ACL could linger into training camp and Carson will be entering his final year under contract, Schneider should look to add another back as insurance. This year's draft class has great depth at the position and snagging one would be beneficial for now and the future.