RENTON, Wash. - Through the first five weeks of the 2020 season, the Seahawks' offense was firing on all cylinders. Then, coming out of the bye week with a 5-0 record, things began to slowly but surely fall apart.
Slipping further and further into dysfunction, their woes would all come to a head when it mattered most. Putting together just 13 points before the game got out of reach, there would be very few to blame outside of the offense for Seattle's eventual 30-20 wild-card loss to Los Angeles this past January.
Left in their most fractured state, the Seahawks switched play-callers, parting ways with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and wasting little time to scour the NFL and college ranks for his replacement. After a thorough search, they finally found their man: Shane Waldron, the passing game coordinator and former tight ends coach of the Rams team that sent them packing not even a month prior.
The offense Waldron helped craft in Los Angeles heavily featured 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends), with Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett becoming crutches for then-Rams quarterback Jared Goff. Boasting two of the game's most underrated pass-catchers in Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp on the outside, as well as Brandin Cooks for a time, Higbee and Everett saw a lot of green grass as a tandem and dominated the middle of the field.
As it just so happens, winning in the middle of the field was one of Seattle's biggest weaknesses as an offense in 2020. Perhaps it was due in part to a lack of talent. Of course, signing Greg Olsen, who had one foot in retirement, did them no favors. An offseason injury to fourth-round selection Colby Parkinson also didn't help, as well as Will Dissly's recovery from a second-straight season-ending injury and a lack of receiving depth behind the star duo of DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
Plucking Everett away from the Rams in free agency was the first of a pair of moves to directly address this; the other was the second-round selection of Western Michigan receiver D'Wayne Eskridge in the 2021 NFL Draft. This wasn't a quantity-based offseason for the Seahawks' offense, but what they got perfectly fit what they needed to a T.
For them, Everett may be the key to unlocking a new dimension they haven't had in years past.
"Gerald brings some factors that we have not had here before," coach Pete Carroll told reporters on Tuesday. "His route running ability, his speed. You know, if you watch his stuff, his run-after-catch is excellent. He's a very, very aggressive runner with the football, which is really exciting. Catching and running, you know, he can get the ball in his hands and he'll make things happen. And he's been a really active, willing blocker in our scheme as we've seen in the Rams program. He's an incredibly exciting addition."
As a member of the Rams, Everett was utilized all over the field. While his four-year stat line of 1,389 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on 127 receptions isn't jaw-dropping by any stretch, he contributed in a plethora of ways, often in big-time moments. And the Seahawks aren't going to strip him of that versatility in any way, instead seeing Everett not just as a tight end, but as a pure offensive weapon.
"Because of the flexibility, you can line him up out of the backfield, he can be in the slot, he can be outside, all of that stuff," Carroll gushed. "He's got wide receiver ability as a tight end, so that's a real positive for us and I'm really pumped about that."
For the stuff Everett can do in the backfield and in the sweep game, Carroll isn't wrong in his assessment that the South Alabama product brings a unique set of traits never before seen in the Pacific Northwest. While they've had tight ends that have stepped outside of the position's traditions in the past, such as Jacob Hollister and Jimmy Graham, none have offered the full package the Seahawks believe Everett does.
It's certainly a welcome addition for quarterback Russell Wilson, who's arguably played at his best when he's had reliable production out of the tight end position. Both Graham and Zach Miller were key cogs in some of the Seahawks' most efficient seasons offensively, especially out of play-action when Wilson's been the most dangerous.
With Everett, a healthier Dissly and a fully-healed, 6-foot-7 Parkinson in tow, Wilson has a variety of tools at his disposal. And if any clues can be taken from Waldron's time in Los Angeles, it's that all three will see a significant uptick in usage to play to the star quarterback's strengths.
Wilson wasted no time getting in sync with his revitalized tight ends group, inviting them and a few other of the team's skill players down to his offseason home in San Diego for training earlier this spring.
"It was great to get down with Russ," Dissly reflected back on the offseason workouts. "We were able to get Gerald and Colby and some other tight ends down there and get to work. That's just valuable time in this offseason, and it's nice to get that individual attention. I think one thing with this OTAs, there's a lot going on and we're getting a lot of great reps with the team and stuff like that, but it's a great time to get with Russ and connect and see how he sees the routes and see what he wants it to look like and get that timing and that feel and also just spend quality time. You know, this is a team that's built off relationships and there's a big bond that's being built and it's gonna be a big run. It's gonna start with [Wilson] and it's gonna continue with us in the tight end room making plays for him."
Healthy for the first offseason since his rookie year, Dissly is very much as necessary to the success of the Seahawks' tight ends group as Everett or anyone else. Returning from a torn Achilles suffered in the first half of the 2019 season, the University of Washington alum was very much a part of the team's offensive struggles in 2020, attributing some of his down year to the difficult task of finding his coordination again.
He expects things to go differently under Waldron's eye, entering a scheme that will offer plenty of spotlight to him and his fellow tight ends.
"First word would probably be 'smart,'" Dissly replied when asked to describe Waldron's offense. "Everything is fitting really, really well. It's systematic and uptempo. I'm really loving, you know, just being a part of the newness, the new energy and the new concepts and the new relationships that Shane has brought."
Throughout the Wilson era, Seahawks fans have clamored for more utilization of an uptempo offense after seeing the team succeed in many late-game situations that call for a fast-paced attack. In Waldron's scheme, tight ends will be key contributors in these moments as the reliable chain-movers of the offense.
For Dissly and his teammates, it's an exciting challenge to take on as they look to keep opposing defenses on their toes and give them more to think about than just Metcalf and Lockett.
"I think it mitigates what the defenses can do," Dissly said. "You know, everyone in this league is super smart and defenses are getting so creative in the way they rush the passer and create new blitzes. And so what it's gonna do is gonna put them on their heels a little bit and they're not gonna be able to change into dime or nickel [coverages], they're gonna have to match when we go 12 personnel and stay base on the field and have to cover five-wide. So I think with the uptempo, you're gonna see a lot of unique packages that are gonna put defenses in a tough spot."
How much they ultimately use that approach remains to be seen, but they have the pieces to make Dissly's preview a reality. Just looking at Seattle's group of tight ends alone, there's a varying skillset between the trio at the top of the depth chart; Everett offers versatility and speed, Dissly is the muscle and a reliable pass-catcher and Parkinson has elite size and quality hands.
"Those three guys are really, really exciting for us," Carroll stated. "There's flexibility in the guys, they can all run and catch the football. I'm really pumped about that position, and I know Russell's jacked about it. He's got different types of targets and we like to do stuff with guys that they do that's unique to them and that's what we're working out right now with them—we're developing that."