Month: July 2019

There’s no question the defensive line depth is problematic

A few days ago I wrote a piece calling for modest expectations in 2019.

The Seahawks have lost key, experienced players. They’re continuing to refresh the roster. This was never going to be a one-year fix.

With cap money to spend in 2020 plus a boat-load of draft picks to come — the next off-season really feels like a big opportunity to take the next step.

Hopefully the 2019 campaign will see young players developing into secure starters. If the likes of Tre Flower, Shaquill Griffin, one of the young safety’s and one or two of the receivers can take the next step and become core players — that will be a major positive.

In a Twitter exchange, friend of the blog Adam Nathan suggested Pete Carroll should be named coach of the year if the Seahawks make the playoffs.

It’s an extremely fair suggestion.

Since 2018 they’ve lost key pass rushers, their best receiver and an entire legendary secondary. The Seahawks have no business being in the post-season. It’s to Carroll’s credit that we’re even considering it a possibility. This is a roster in transition. Not a complete overhaul. Yet there’s enough to change to warrant perspective and realism. Simply having a good quarterback isn’t enough alone to guarantee playoff success (ask Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers and others).

Personally I think they have every chance to make the post-season because they’re sufficiently well coached, built, have enough remaining quality and most importantly — a clear vision on what they want to be with the personnel to match their aims on offense and defense.

If they don’t win another 10 games (or more) and reach the playoffs, it probably shouldn’t warrant much more than a shrug. 2020 is the decisive off-season. The opportunity to leap into contention.

There are two areas for pessimism when glancing at the depth chart.

The first is the secondary. There’s extreme competence, leadership and playmaking quality in Bradley McDougald. Apart from him there’s a lot of mystery. Is Shaquill Griffin finally going to develop into a quality starter? Is Tre Flowers the real deal after a solid rookie season? Who can provide a solution next to McDougald at safety? And who replaces Justin Coleman at nickel (and can they handle the gig?).

That said, if there’s one area of the team fans can trust it’s the secondary. Carroll’s track record of developing talent at corner and safety is unmatched. Despite how raw they were in 2018 — the defensive backs never felt like a striking liability.

The bigger issue is going to be the defensive line. Having traded Frank Clark — albeit for a satisfying haul — they lost their one, proven pass rusher.

Jarran Reed will miss the first six games due to suspension and yesterday L.J. Collier suffered a reported high-ankle sprain.

This is the last area the Seahawks could afford to lose bodies.

These issues really highlight how the line has been plundered in recent years. No longer can they rely on an army of pass rushers. There’s no Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, ably supported by one or two of Chris Clemons, Frank Clark or Bruce Irvin.

In 2013 they had a murderers’ row of talent on the D-line. Even in 2017 the Seahawks boasted a collection of star names (punctuated by the trade for Sheldon Richardson).

Now all of the names above have gone. Reed is out. Collier will be absent for some time.

Who’s left?

Ziggy Ansah will hopefully play the Clark role and provide a dynamic edge rush. However, he’s been inconsistent in his career to date, has had injuries and is still recovering from a bad shoulder issue.

Jacob Martin had a decent rookie season but mainly as a complimentary rusher. Is he good enough to do more? He’ll no doubt be given the opportunity given the lack of depth.

Rasheem Green had a rotten rookie season and was ineffective. He’s young and has time on his side. We need to see some signs of improvement though. He has the physical talent. He needs to do more in 2019.

Quinton Jefferson created pressure last season and did a nice job in the rotation. Is he capable of playing more than the 56.31% of snaps he had in 2018 and taking on a more full-time role?

Apart from this quartet we’re talking about a collection of journeymen or run stuffers. It’s not a unit that screams ‘Championship’. And while the Rams D-line has taken some hits over the last couple of off-seasons — their ability to rely on the best defender in the league will always make them a dangerous opponent.

This is a problem for the Seahawks. Losing Reed and Collier for some time isn’t the difference between a good pass rush and a bad one. Seattle is simply lacking overall and couldn’t afford to lose any more depth.

They almost certainly possess the finest group of linebackers in the league. Perhaps that will help alleviate some of the problems? Especially if they can rotate their group and find some creative ways to create pressure. The numbers in the secondary also suggest they might try different ways to challenge teams like the Rams (and New England’s safety-dominant scheme in the Super Bowl could be the blueprint).

It won’t be a surprise though if Seattle’s defence struggles in the passing game early in the season. And it’ll be up to the offense to pick up some of the slack.

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2019 calls for modest and realistic expectations

Pete Carroll is leading his 10th Seahawks training camp

The Seahawks will be competitive this year, just as they were in 2018.

However, there’s a difference between being competitive and a genuine contender. And currently, the Seahawks are probably a year away from being considered a top-level threat in the NFC.

There’s also nothing wrong with that.

This team started a refresh a year ago that was never going to be resolved within 12-18 months. So many big names and key contributors have departed including three star pass rushers, an entire legendary secondary and now the teams’ best receiver.

On top of that the Seahawks have had to cope with cap restrictions and limited draft stock. As a franchise they’ve had a lot on their plate.

To remain competitive and make the playoffs while having to endure all of this is no small achievement. Several other franchises have gone through minor rebuilds and suffered as a consequence. The Baltimore Ravens won 54 regular season games between 2008 and 2012 — culminating in a Super Bowl victory. In the following six seasons they’ve only made the playoffs twice, had a five-win season and two 8-8 seasons. They’re still rebuilding.

It’s extremely difficult to evolve and remain a viable post-season threat. The Seahawks have pulled it off — mainly by returning to their philosophical roots and building around their quarterback (supporting him with a much more experienced offensive line and a productive running game).

There needs to be a sense of realism and perspective going into the upcoming season though.

This is still a team going through a form of transition. Nobody within the franchise will use those words. Their aim, understandably, will be to be as good as they can be this year. Making the playoffs again is very possible.

Indeed a season similar to 2018 — ten wins and a playoff berth — shouldn’t be seen as a failure or treading water. The current roster warrants that level of faith and no more.

The truth is they’re lacking in several areas. They need another off-season to try and complete the refresh before anyone can realistically ‘expect’ the Seahawks to be a genuine Super Bowl contender.

In 2020 they’ll have a slew of draft picks — including five in the first three rounds. They’ll have money to spend — OTC is currently projecting $74m (although this likely doesn’t include Bobby Wagner’s new contract).

There’s a real opportunity next year to have the kind of Championship off-season they had in 2013 that pushed Seattle towards its first Super Bowl. That’s about the time you’d realistically expect things to come together. Another haul of young talent and the potential to add some veteran quality to a blossoming group.

The future is bright — but to appreciate and enjoy that fact it’ll take some honesty about 2019.

The pass rush has serious question marks. Jarran Reed’s suspension doesn’t help. Losing Frank Clark is a big deal even if the compensation was satisfactory. The secondary remains a work in progress and aside from Bradley McDougald — there isn’t really a sure-thing in any of the other four starting positions (including nickel corner).

That’s not to say young players won’t emerge or that Ziggy Ansah won’t be able to pick up some of the slack. Yet the Seahawks were at their most dynamic on defense when they had a pass-rushing trio of Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and one or more of Chris Clemons, Bruce Irvin and Frank Clark. Now they’re left relying on Ansah and a collection of unproven unknowns and emerging prospects.

In the secondary, there’s more hope than expectation that the young group will produce long term solutions.

Doug Baldwin will also be difficult to replace. That’s no knock on Tyler Lockett (who’s outstanding) or the potential of D.K. Metcalf and the rest of the younger wide outs. Yet Seattle has always been such a streaky team on third down in the Russell Wilson era. Losing their clear top receiver for the key downs is undoubtedly a concern.

That’s not to say the sky is falling. Far from it. The Seahawks are an extremely well run and well coached outfit. So much so that a portion of fans have begun to take it for granted in a big way. They have a sensational quarterback and proven quality and leadership in the likes of Wagner, K.J. Wright, Mychal Kendricks and Duane Brown.

A similar season to a year ago is distinctly possible. There’ll probably be some exciting, close wins and some annoying defeats. Sometimes you have to ride things out and play the long game. The Seahawks are still settling into their latest incarnation. The 2020 off-season stands out as a big opportunity to take the next step. Continuing to grow and develop in 2019 — while remaining competitive — is the order of the day.

Any greater expectation might be asking too much.

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Bobby Wagner agrees new contract

No noise. No complaints. Just quality play from one of the rarest and most special athletes in the NFL and now a richly deserved contract extension.

Bobby Wagner is a class-act. In an era where linebacker play doesn’t make the headlines like it used to — he’s both a throwback to a bygone era and one of the definitive modern players in the game. He has the speed, agility and field-smarts to do everything today’s NFL demands. He also has the size, physicality and tone-setting ability we used to see from the classic linebackers of yesteryear.

He’s a Hall-of-Fame caliber talent with years left in the tank. This contract takes him through to age 33 and rewards a player who shows no signs of slowing down.

On every level — performance, influence, athleticism — Wagner deserved this deal.

And just like that — three of Seattle’s contract dilemma’s are solved:

Russell Wilson — signed
Frank Clark — traded for a haul
Bobby Wagner — signed
Jarran Reed — unsigned and suspended

Everything has fallen into place. Reed’s suspension — and Seattle’s subsequent support — also bodes well for the Seahawks in negotiations. We’ll see if something emerges there but of the big four Reed was fourth on the list.

The team deserves immense credit for handling what could’ve been a very tricky year. Getting the Wilson deal done was no mean feat alone. Pulling off a fair trade for Clark and now re-signing Wagner has momentum building. Against the odds this is an off-season with minimal drama (for once) with the team being pro-active and effective.

They won’t get much praise. That’ll be saved for the teams with the multiple first round picks and those who spent big and gambled hard. Yet Seattle’s front office can feel very pleased with their work in 2019 in a testing environment.

The Seahawks are into their second year of a refresh. They’re probably another off-season away from reaching their full potential (it’s something I’ll write about later in pre-season). Yet so far they’ve made the right calls. If people are willing to be realistic about the forthcoming season — and appreciate where they’re at and what further work needs to be done — this franchise will move forward.

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