With the way Pete Carroll spoke on Monday, changes are coming. These will include short-term personnel moves for the Eagles game but more importantly — we’re likely to see changes in the off-season.
Make no mistake, a mini-reset is coming. Over The Cap is showing the Seahawks to have only $3m in available cap space for 2024, meaning they are $9.5m in the red when it comes to effective cap space. This has changed because OTC has adjusted their projection for the size of the salary cap next year. They now think it’ll be around $242m rather than $255m.
Cuts are inevitable and avoidable. Big ones. It also means some players are going to be leaving and replaced in a more cost-effective manner.
They really did go all-in for this season. That’s something I don’t think is being acknowledged enough within the media and fanbase. This was a very aggressive year for the Seahawks. It speaks to the timeframe they’re working towards (ageing coach who needs to win now) and the way they’ve misjudged where they’re at as a roster (thinking they’re good enough to use a second round pick on a 10-game rental).
The 2024 season is going to require a shift because the performance hasn’t been good enough this year and they have to create money.
This is a key reason why I think they’re going to aggressively pursue a quarterback in the draft. It’s an easy way to save money. Cutting Geno Smith creates cap space and they can replace him with a rookie contract. They’ll use the move to generate excitement and energy that is badly lacking. We better hope it works out, especially if they mortgage the future to trade into the top-five.
Jamal Adams will be gone and could easily be replaced by Coby Bryant or someone else cheap. I wonder if, rather than cut Quandre Diggs, they do something to lower his incredible $21m cap hit. Cutting him is an option though. Either way, big changes are coming and I’m not sure people realise how ruthless they’re going to need to be. The cap situation is quite ugly.
A defense highlighted by Adams, Diggs and Bobby Wagner isn’t going to be on the field in 2024.
A move for a rookie quarterback would likely involve future picks rather than current picks, because they have too many holes to fill on the cheap. They’re currently picking 13th with four games to go. Packaging that selection with two future first rounders could get them into the top-five, where they’d need to be to get one of the best quarterbacks.
There’s a lot to work out here still. Is Quinn Ewers going to declare, for example? Increasingly the buzz is moving away from Drake Maye (who was always a bit overrated) and towards Jayden Daniels — who increasingly feels like he could be QB2. It’s also possible the Seahawks don’t feel obliged to move up, with a Ewers type maybe lasting into range — or they could value a Spencer Rattler or Michael Penix Jr.
Regardless, replacing Wagner is going to be necessary. It’s not that he’s awful these days. He just can’t cover. His movement skills have eroded with age. What he does well (run defense) is not as important as the area where he’s being exploited (coverage).
I highlighted some possible middle/late round coverage linebackers last week — Steele Chambers (Ohio State), Cedric Gray (North Carolina) and Tatum Bethune (Florida State). For me, though, there’s a prize asset I want to focus on.
I’ve moved NC State’s Payton Wilson into the first round range on my horizontal board. I’ve done this with a red ‘injury’ mark because there are issues here. He suffered a torn ACL in high school then had another knee injury as a true freshman in college. He had surgery on both shoulders before his junior season yet still suffered a season-ending shoulder injury when the games began.
He chose not to declare a year ago because the league voiced concerns over his availability:
“I was hearing from other guys that I could go anywhere from the third round to undrafted or that some teams might not even look at me because of my injuries.”
If the NFL wanted to see him stay healthy for back-to-back years, he achieved that. Yet it remains to be seen what the medicals will say come combine time.
It’s a shame because I’m convinced without the injury flags, he’d be a lock to be a top-20 pick.
Wilson is everything the Seahawks need at linebacker.
His coverage skills are exceptional. He had a 90.4 coverage grade per PFF this year, fifth most among qualifying linebackers playing +50% of snaps. He was targeted 37 times, giving up only 64.9% completions — the 11th best mark in college. He had three interceptions at linebacker in 2023 and he has seven for his career at NC State.
In comparison, Wagner’s coverage grade is 59.6 this year and he’s giving up 80.4% completions on 51 targets. It’s not as bad as Jordyn Brooks, though, who’s giving up 85% completions on 60 targets. There might be a scheme issue here on top of performance.
Missed tackles have been too big an issue for Seattle in recent years. Wilson missed only 4.7% of his tackles in 2023, the sixth lowest percentage in college.
He’s more than just a linebacker. His athletic qualities enable him to threaten opponents in many different ways. Wilson recorded 22 pressures in 2023, six sacks, seven QB hits and nine hurries. He had 490 snaps as an orthodox linebacker, 174 as an outside rusher and 44 covering in the slot. Whisper it quietly but he could be a poor man’s Micah Parsons.
What’s his attitude and approach on the field? Crazed. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a better motor. Look at this:
ATTENTION ALL CFB PLAYERS: If you want to get noticed by NFL scouts, play with type of relentless effort shown here by NC State’s Payton Wilson.
All strain. No give up.
This is an ILB hawking down a WR. 👀 pic.twitter.com/UUktM6dL5W
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) September 10, 2023
Wilson flies to the football, never gives up on plays and the incredible thing is he has the athletic profile to constantly get to the ball-carrier. The tape backs up the stats listed above. He can drop superbly and he is so fluent changing direction. His agility is impressive and he has light feet. He clearly has explosive traits to burst upfield and loves contact. He’s slippery to shed blocks and as a finisher, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a linebacker as effective.
If you want someone who can truly elevate the energy, speed and physicality of your defense — leading by example and helping set the tone — while also showing greater ability to cover and make life harder for opponents, this is your guy.
A former standout lacrosse player and state champion wrestler, the 6-4, 235-pound senior is one of the best players in the country. He led the ACC in tackles in 2020, missed most of the 2021 season with a shoulder injury and then bounced back to make 82 tackles last season. Wilson has been clocked in the 40 at 4.49 and ran a 4.21 in the pro agility shuttle this offseason. He bench-pressed 390; vertical-jumped 35 1/2 inches and broad-jumped 9-8 1/2.
Here’s what NC State Head Coach Dave Doeren said about Wilson:
“He’s a stud. All the accolades he’s getting are so deserved. He’s earned them. And, boy, has he suffered to earn them – physically and the emotions of not playing as many times as he’s had to watch. Some players can watch a game and have fun. They’re dancing to music. For him, it’s depressing to watch a game. He wants to be on the field. I’m so happy for him and I’m enjoying watching him too. I’m definitely taking it in, because I know he is a generational player.”
Wilson is without question one of my favourite players in the draft. Without the health concerns, he would be a high first rounder. It’s a shame, actually, that two players I love — Wilson and Michigan guard Zak Zinter — both have injury concerns. I’ll warn you that I’m going to spend a lot of the off-season talking about both and I won’t criticise the Seahawks if they roll the dice on Wilson’s shoulders and Zinter’s broken leg. They are, for many reasons, exactly what they need at their respective positions.
If the injuries really do knock Wilson into the third-round range, I’ll be stunned. If he and Zinter are there in round three for Seattle’s two picks — although it’s early, count me in for that health gamble. Paired with finding a way to come out of round one with a quarterback, that would feel like a job well done.
If you missed my spot on KJR yesterday, check it out here:
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