Month: July 2017

Malik McDowell hurt in vehicular accident, not at camp

If you were hoping the first day of training camp would pass by with relative insignificance, think again.

Malik McDowell hurt himself in a reported ATV accident two weeks ago. The suitably vague statement issued by the team adds a layer of intrigue and concern. What exactly happened here? Why are there no details about the severity or location of the injury? Why is there language like ‘we consider this a long term relationship’ included?

Pete Carroll couldn’t answer whether he’ll play this season. This report adds a little more detail:

A concussion and ‘facial injuries’ doesn’t seem to be anything too out of the ordinary and yet the talk has been suitably vague so far to hint at a very serious problem.

McDowell tweeted this a fortnight ago, presumably after the accident:

If McDowell can’t play in 2017 it’ll be a blow for the injury-hit Seahawks. They had more players on injured reserve than any other team last year and they start camp with this setback. They haven’t had a dynamic interior rusher for quite some time. That might be the case again this year.

That said, Seattle’s 2017 season was never going to be defined by a rookie. This is about a healthy Russell Wilson, a re-established running game, improvements on the O-line and finding a competent starter across from Richard Sherman.

It also hasn’t been confirmed that he will definitely miss the season. The vagueness surrounding the issue merely indicates that is a likely scenario. He hasn’t been placed on injured reserve yet, only the reserve/did not report list. That might be a good thing. We’ll see.

The news today is a disappointment but hardly cause for any hysteria.

UPDATE — this is from McDowell’s twitter account:

On the plus side Carroll was very positive about a new contract for Kam Chancellor, saying there were only a few things to conclude before a deal would be finalised. If Seahawks fans need a lift after the McDowell news, this should provide it. As we touched on in the week, Chancellor is Seattle’s answer to Ray Lewis. A contract extension would be welcomed by fans and teammates alike.

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Pre-training camp Seahawks mailbag

We got through some of these questions on the podcast (see above) but not all of them, so I wanted to do a mailbag piece covering the lot.

There were so many things going on last year that I’m inclined to praise Carroll. In week one Ndamukong Suh trod on Russell Wilson’s ankle and from that moment it was one thing after another. The injuries at running back, Tyler Lockett being banged up and then breaking his leg, Earl Thomas breaking his leg, Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett missing time, Richard Sherman having a couple of meltdowns. The Seahawks had more people on injured reserve in 2016 than any other team. Despite this, they were a win against Arizona in week 16 away from a playoff bye, they won the NFC West and a wildcard game. Many other teams would’ve folded.

Wade Phillips will probably do a great job in LA because he has a proven track record. Assuming Aaron Donald doesn’t hold out for the year, his presence alone will make the Rams a tough opponent.

It’s hard to know what the 49ers will provide on defense. They look like a team that is at least a couple of years from being competent. They have high first round picks on the D-line but DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead haven’t shown to be impact linemen that take over a game and Solomon Thomas hasn’t played a snap in the league. There’s also a big question mark over how the Niners will utilise all three in a 4-3 under.

The Cardinals will surely feel the loss of Calais Campbell to the Jags. There’s a reason he’s earning $15m a year. He doesn’t have a peer. There isn’t another 6-8, 300lbs monster in the NFL.

That said, they do still have some talented defensive linemen and edge rushers. The creative blitz packages they use have given Seattle constant problems for years. As Bruce Arians so eloquently put it during the week 16 game last year, ‘we’ve dominated their offensive line for three years’. Sadly, he isn’t wrong.

All three teams have good players. Two will be well coached and the third is a mystery. On paper though, the Seahawks have enough talent on offense to offer a counter-punch. And despite some of the struggles against the Rams and Cardinals in recent years, they’ve also had some emphatic, comfortable victories.

As for Chris Carson, he’s one of the more interesting names to watch in training camp. He stood out at Oklahoma State last year. He was challenged to run with more authority and toughness and he answered the call. He fits Seattle’s size/physical profile to a tee. The running back battle in camp is going to be highly competitive. It’ll be so good in fact, hopefully they’ll be able to leave Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise on the sidelines for the majority of the pre-season snaps.

Carson the running back is a ‘sleeper’ to monitor, so is guard Justin Roos. Mike Davis is another to watch among the running backs.

As for the former picks returning to glory — the three on the roster that qualify are Luke Joeckel, Dion Jordan and Marcus Smith. Joeckel has the best chance — he’s a presumed starter at left guard or left tackle and he’s a former #2 overall pick. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility he develops into at least a serviceable starter.

Jordan needs to get healthy and take motivation from what is possibly his last chance to have a NFL career. They scraped a season out of Big Mike Williams in 2010 so maybe they can get into Jordan. Smith has to get stronger and refine his technique. It’s hard to do in one training camp — he might get a chance to compete at the SAM spot and he’ll need to show some special teams value.

I just want to hear the coaches talk positively about him. The big concern (and the reason he dropped in the draft) was due to attitude and effort concerns. If he has a rocky start to camp does he fight back? Can he get out there and show he’s ready to be an impact pro? He has the physical talent. Hearing the coaches speak well of his attitude will be reassuring.

Roos certainly appears ready to compete with the rest of the linemen. We know that’s a wide open race, it might not be a quick process to find the five starting O-liners.

Swoopes is intriguing as a converted quarterback/gimmick player at Texas. He has the size and athleticism. He’s worth a look. Yet with Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson and Nick Vannett seemingly assured of roster spots, he’ll have to stand out fairly substantially to warrant being stashed on the 53-man roster.

There are some nice battles across the board. Who wins the backup QB job? What happens at running back and receiver? Who wins the job across from Richard Sherman? Who’s the starting SAM and which linebackers make the cut? It should be a fun camp — but I suspect my personal favourite battle to follow is going to be at running back.

Morgan has been a great servant for this team and a Pete Carroll favourite but clearly they felt it was time to move on. It’s telling that nobody else has moved to sign him. He might still return if some of the guys they’ve brought in don’t shine.

The kicker situation is a curious one. When Blair Walsh signed I think most people assumed he would be part of a competition in pre-season. Instead as time has gone on, he now looks like the undisputed starter. He still needs to win the job. If he misses kicks in the pre-season games they’ll cut him and sign someone else. But he’s essentially only competing with himself right now.

I think the slot situation could end up being Jeremy Lane’s role again but with more variation. They might use that extra DB to get Bradley McDougald or Delano Hill on the field. They seem really high on McDougald so depending on the opponent, he could end up taking snaps away as a ‘Buffalo’. It’s hard to predict right now. Lane could start outside and kick inside. Shaquill Griffin, DeAndre Elliott, Pierre Desire or Neiko Thorpe might win a job at corner or in the slot. Mike Tyson might get into the mix. It’ll be fun to watch.

Michael Wilhoite maybe has an advantage given his snaps in San Francisco but Terence Garvin and D.J. Alexander are good special teamers and that is likely to be a big factor in the final decision. Arthur Brown was a big time college recruit but his NFL career never took off in Baltimore. I think it’s likely Cassius Marsh will be on the roster in 2017. It won’t be a major shock if someone like Kache Palacio wins a job.

1. Paul Richardson
2. Germain Ifedi
3. Pierre Desir

Richardson ended the 2016 season healthy and making big plays. With Tyler Lockett possibly facing an easing-in period following his broken leg, there could be an opportunity for Richardson to continue his good form. He’s also in a contract year.

Ifedi had moments of real quality as a rookie but also many moments where you didn’t want to look. That said, he might be more at home at right tackle where his athleticism and length can be put to good use.

I went with Desir here purely as a wild-card and to make the answer a bit more interesting. There are a handful of cornerbacks all vying for a start and really any could win the job across from Sherman. Desir, however, has an interesting backstory. He joined the Seahawks practise squad last November. During the season he was offered the chance to sign with the Detroit Lions as part of their 53-man roster. He turned it down, preferring to learn Seattle’s technique and take his chance at winning a job this year with the Seahawks.

That willingness to take a chance on himself could pay off. He’s essentially been waiting since November for this opportunity, with a lot more time spent trying to master Seattle’s technique than the rookies drafted in late April. We’ll see if that gives him an edge.

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Seahawks sign Marcus Smith, trade KPL for D.J. Alexander

Here’s what I wrote about Smith just before the 2014 draft:

The other two options and wildcards for #32 are Marcus Smith and Demarcus Lawrence. Smith might be the more intriguing option — he ran a 4.6 at the combine with a 1.57 ten yard split. He’s a former quarterback and needs time — his arms lack muscle definition and he can get stronger. Yet the potential is there.

The nagging doubt I’d carry would be the unpredictable nature of edge rushers transferring to the next level. For all the scaremongering about taking receivers early — pass rushers are the ones to worry about. Look how many surprising busts there have been over the years. The speed isn’t quite as effective at the next level and you have to be able to battle — hand use, strength, counter moves and speed-to-power are crucial. Smith’s a nice athlete, but he’s not a rare player. As good as he looked in college, he’d be a risky pick at #32.

That second paragraph ultimately sums up his time in Philadelphia. He was the #26 pick, taken because of his athletic potential. He ran a 1.5 split at 251lbs and had 34 inch arms. He was worth a flier in the first or second round. He’s not the same kind of athlete as Bruce Irvin or Vic Beasley but he’s that type of modern day EDGE/LEO/SAM.

When he got to the NFL and he couldn’t rely purely on speed, he was found wanting. That said, he’s a nice reclamation project. Much in the way Dion Jordan and Luke Joeckel are. It’s possible he’ll never develop and will always be more athlete than pass rusher. It’s still worth a look to find out.

It wasn’t the only move today…

This came out of nowhere, although Kevin Pierre-Louis’ career in Seattle has been underwhelming despite his obvious physical talent.

Alexander is a former fifth round pick from Oregon State (2015). He was a special teams Pro-Bowler last season.

He ran a 4.56 at his pro-day and a 1.56 split. He also jumped a 34.5 inch vertical and a 10-3 broad. His 4.24 short shuttle would’ve been fifth fastest among linebackers at this years combine. We highlighted before the draft the apparent importance of the short shuttle in Seattle’s linebacker assessments.

He’s their type of LB — excellent short shuttle, special teams demon.

Here’s some tape from his Oregon State days…

Finally, according to NFL Insider Guy Fieri (ahem), full back Marcel Reece will be reporting for training camp in Seattle. He ended last season strongly and this can only be considered good news.

If you missed yesterday’s piece on Seattle going into training camp, click here.

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Some random thoughts going into training camp & Patreon

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Are you having a good summer?

Before I get into this piece, a small announcement. I’ve started a Patreon account. During the 2017 draft coverage a few people requested a ‘donate’ button on the site. I’m not going to hide any content behind a paywall, I’m not going to do anything differently. Every podcast, every article, every thought will be free and available on the blog. This exists purely for the people who wish to contribute. If you’re interested, click the orange tab at the top of the article or the top of the sidebar.

Now let’s get into the 2017 season.

Tomorrow Kenneth and I will be recording a new podcast. I’m preparing an article looking at some draft prospects that caught my eye during a recent tape review.

Today I want to run through some random thoughts…

1. Wilson’s health & running game the key — not the O-line

A lot of people are going to be talking about the O-line in camp. Fans, the media. It’ll probably get discussed ad nauseam and described as the key to Seattle’s season.

Admittedly the offensive line has to get better. Many will argue it couldn’t get much worse. Yet it’s arguably even more important that Seattle gets a healthy Russell Wilson and re-establishes it’s physical running game.

Wilson’s ability to extend plays, make gains with his legs, master the read-option and scramble out of danger is a highly critical part of Seattle’s offense. Pete Carroll once declared he wanted to be the ‘best scrambling team in the league’. The offense is set up to play to Wilson’s strengths. When he’s nursing ankle and knee injuries (neither of which were the fault of the O-line a year ago) it impacts the running game, the O-line and the DNA of the offense.

And then there’s Marshawn Lynch. You don’t need me to detail how he set the tone for the entire team (both sides of the ball). The term ‘generational talent’ is overused. It fits the bill for Lynch.

The combination of physically dominating ground game and mobile/elusive/miraculous quarterback allowed the Seahawks to thrive and win games in 2013 even with Paul McQuistan and Michael Bowie starting at tackle.

Russell Okung missed eight regular season games during the Super Bowl run, with McQuistan forced to fill in at left tackle. Breno Giacomini missed seven games with seventh round rookie Bowie starting at right tackle.

Max Unger also missed three games in 2013.

Aside from a typically brutal experience in St. Louis on Monday Night Football (a game Seattle still won), the O-line injuries didn’t derail Seattle’s Championship season even though they easily could have. That was largely due to the quality of the running game and the skill-set of the quarterback.

So while it’s important the likes of George Fant and Germaine Ifedi take a step forward, that Justin Britt continues to excel and newcomers like Luke Joeckel, Ethan Pocic and Oday Aboushi have an impact — the overall fate of the offense likely rests with the QB and running backs.

Wilson being his mobile best and Eddie Lacy and/or Thomas Rawls being physical and tough to bring down likely equals a return to form on offense in 2017.

2. All signs point to waiting it out with Justin Britt

Jacksonville center Brandon Linder agreed a $51.7m contract extension with the Jaguars this week, worth over $10m a year on average.

Any hopes of an imminent agreement with Just Britt suddenly seem highly unrealistic.

Even before Linder’s deal it might’ve been a stretch.

The O-line market exploded in free agency and teams are throwing money at second and third tier talent, not just the big names. Britt emerged as one of the best young center’s in the league in 2016. Aged 26, he’s hitting the prime of his career.

Britt surely has to test the market in a years time. There’s never been a more financially rewarding time to be a good, healthy, durable offensive linemen.

Alternatively the Seahawks need to see if he can build on a strong first year at center before they consider making him potentially a top-five earner on the roster.

If Britt was to sign a deal equal to Linder’s ($10.34m APY) he’d be the fifth best paid Seahawk on the roster behind only Russell Wilson ($21.9m), Richard Sherman ($14m), Doug Baldwin ($11.5m) and Bobby Wagner ($10.75m). While the likes of Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Jimmy Graham might expect to earn more than $10.34m a year if and when they sign contract extensions, this would still be a bold move by Seattle based on a solitary season at center.

The drafting of Ethan Pocic felt like a hedge at the time and that seems even more likely now. The coaches have done a good job talking up his flexibility and credentials to compete at guard and tackle — but Pocic was a center at LSU and could easily slot into that position from 2018 if needed.

Britt might be so good at center in 2017 that they ultimately decide to pay the going rate. It’s nice to have a sensible backup plan though — something they clearly didn’t have when they traded Max Unger to New Orleans and ended up starting the season with Drew Nowak at the heart of the O-line.

Many fans will cringe at the thought of letting the only solid O-line performer from 2016 walk as a free agent. There are things to consider though:

— Is the drop-off in performance between Britt and Pocic at center going to be that significant?

— The difference in average salary could be $10.5m vs $1.1m, allowing them to potentially use the money to keep Kam Chancellor and Jimmy Graham or one of their ‘prove-it’ players in 2017 (Eddie Lacy, Luke Joeckel, Bradley McDougald).

— Will it be harder to replace Chancellor or Graham compared to swapping Pocic in for Britt?

— Letting Britt walk to get a +$10m a year deal likely nets you a third round comp pick for a player who cost you a late second round pick in 2014.

Whatever ultimately happens, it feels like a situation that possibly won’t come to a conclusion until the early days of free agency. It makes sense for Britt to test the market. The Seahawks can then make an educated decision on their next move — knowing if they have to move on, they’re sufficiently insured with Pocic on the roster.

3. It feels like a different situation with Frank Clark

The D-line market is also booming at the moment. Calais Campbell agreed a contract in Jacksonville worth $15m a year. Olivier Vernon gets $17m a year with the Giants. This week Everson Griffen signed a four-year contract with the Vikings worth $14.5m a year. And it’s a move that will hopefully inspire the Seahawks.

Griffen had two years left on his contract in Minnesota. The Vikings, likely seeing the way the market was going, got him to agree an extension that will look like a bargain by 2019 (when his original deal was set to expire).

Seattle’s best way to keep Frank Clark long term, if his career trajectory continues, is probably to try and get him to agree a contract at the end of the 2017 season (the first time he’ll be eligible to talk about an extension per the CBA).

His cap hit in 2018 is only $1.187m. It’d be a shame to lose that great value, especially when there are other players to consider (Chancellor, Graham). Yet Clark’s price will only keep rising if he continues to perform. Minnesota took a hit now with Griffen to see value down the line. The Seahawks might have to do the same with Clark.

Remember, he had 10 sacks in 2016 despite working in a rotation. As his role expands and if he stays healthy and productive — he will look very attractive to teams with an ever increasing pot of money to spend.

If he reaches free agency his price could be in the Vernon bracket. There might be a way to reward him a year early, take a hit in 2018 and still find value over the long term of the contract.

Of course, he still needs to go out and perform in 2017. He clearly has the talent, however, to work his way into at least the price range of Everson Griffen.

4. It’d be cool if the Seahawks could extend Chancellor’s contract ASAP

Kam Chancellor is the heart and soul of this team. Seattle’s answer to Ray Lewis. Even when Lewis began to age and his play regressed, his value to the Ravens was palpable. Chancellor has the same kind of aura.

A breaking news story that Chancellor has signed an extension would be celebrated by fans and team mates alike. A chance to establish early momentum and avoid any distractions.

It’s likely a complex situation though.

Reshad Jones is a month older than Chancellor and signed a new contract in Miami worth $12m a year with $35m in guarantees over five years.

Chancellor isn’t just a better player than Jones, he’s a greater locker room presence. He’s well within his rights to ask for a similar deal, if not a better deal.

Equally the Seahawks have to plan with their heads and not their hearts. Chancellor missed nine games in 2015 and 2016. He’ll be 30 next year. It’s a given they’d like to reward Kam but does it make financial sense to do a long term deal?

The franchise tag for a safety in 2017 was $10.896m. Assuming it stays at around that level, you could pay Chancellor $8m in 2017 and approximately $11m in 2018. By 2019 Chancellor would be 31 and Seattle could franchise him again or look to do an extension from a superior bargaining position with an older player.

It could also be a risky strategy if they were perceived to be playing moneyball with such an important figure in the locker room — a player who’s already held out once and might be obliged to do so again if he’s forced to play on the franchise tag.

Tagging Chancellor would also remove an option to keep Jimmy Graham for another year on a similar cap hit ($10m) to his current contract.

It’s a perfect illustration of the dilemma teams face at times. On the one hand you want to reward a highly respected, highly talented player. Precedent has been set with another similarly aged player. And yet from a business perspective, it makes more sense to manage the situation year-to-year.

Nevertheless, a Kam Chancellor contract announcement over the next few weeks would be the best possible start to the 2017 season.

5. Hope for an easier path to the playoffs

The Patriots have benefitted for years playing in a weak, mostly uncompetitive AFC East. If you can rely on 5-6 wins in your division, you’re half way to getting a #1 or #2 seed in the playoffs.

Here’s Seattle’s record in the NFC West over the last five years:

2012 — 4-2
2013 — 4-2
2014 — 5-1
2015 — 3-3
2016 — 3-2-1

Total — 19-10-1

A strong showing in 2014 pretty much secured the #1 seed, making up for losses against San Diego, Dallas and Kansas City. Last year the divisional record directly cost Seattle a bye in the playoffs.

The Seahawks are too good to be going 6-5-1 over the last two years even in a competitive NFC West. If the standard of the division was to drop, however, it’d make things easier.

It really is this simple. When the Seahawks only have to win two home games to make a Super Bowl — they have a great chance of making it happen against any opponent. See: 2005, 2013, 2014.

With San Francisco going through a major rebuild, the Rams trying to establish a new identity with a rookie Head Coach and the Cardinals ageing, minus Calais Campbell and seemingly focusing on one final tilt (at least in the eyes of Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald it seems) — this could be the year where the quality does drop after years of intense competition. Wether this occurs or not, the Seahawks have to go better than 3-2-1 or 3-3.

6. Who are the most interesting additions?

Going into camp, for me it’s Eddie Lacy and Malik McDowell.

Lacy appears to be benefitting from his fresh start and a re-commitment to a better diet. And while his size has become something of a running joke among pundits and fans — it’s easy to forget just how good he can be when healthy and in shape:

He’s not Marshawn. Nobody is. Yet he might be the nearest thing they were ever going to get for the type of back they needed to acquire. Big, tough to bring down, capable of getting the tough yards.

If the Panthers or Giants were fielding a healthy looking Lacy in week one, you’d be envious. If there were a few smirks when he joined the Seahawks as an unheralded free agent — he could end up being one of the steals of the off-season and a possible ‘comeback player of the year’ candidate. Especially for a team determined to run the ball.

Lacy also takes some of the pressure off Thomas Rawls — a fine player in his own right who might be at his best working in a one-two punch rather than needing to carry the load on his own.

McDowell meanwhile gives the Seahawks something they’ve lacked for a while — a dynamic interior rusher. With size, length, strength and the ability to make plays as an inside/out rusher — he’s the weapon they didn’t have in previous years. Hopefully they find a way to maximise his talent as a rookie without the need for a Frank Clark ‘learning year’ — and hopefully he can answer the call.

Carroll and Schneider casually name-dropped Calais Campbell when they reviewed the McDowell pick during the draft. You don’t do that on a whim. He has a long way to go to find that level of play (and Campbell took a few years to become a dominant force) but if he has even a solid rookie season — it could take the D-line and pass rush to a new level.

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