I think I made a mistake a week ago.
Pete Carroll held his usual end of season press conference. It’s often quite revealing. Carroll provides a steer for the off-season, even if he’s not giving away any state secrets.
Initially it appeared Carroll was being quite vague when asked about off-season priorities:
“We’re pleased with the progress that we’ve made with the guys we have. We don’t think there are big voids or big holes.”
In an interview with 950 KJR after his press conference, Carroll was asked what the needs on the roster are:
“Across the board we need to develop our competitiveness. We need to get the young guys who missed out on this season… to come forth and challenge the spots and make everybody better.”
He goes on to reference the returning players — Will Dissly and Jamarco Jones — plus other younger guys like Rasheem Green. Carroll also talked up Delano Hill’s emergence.
At first this appeared to be a fantastic way of avoiding answering the question. I think there’s more to it now.
It speaks to Seattle’s need for depth, although Carroll believes he has a developing core. It’s also hard to say what areas they’ll be able to address.
Let’s take every point in turn.
1. It speaks to Seattle’s lack of depth
Between 2011 and 2014, a second-string Seahawks team could’ve won games in the regular season. Opponents were destroyed in pre-season. It was the deepest, most competitive roster in the league.
That wasn’t the case in 2018. They lost all four pre-season games. The depth was exposed a little. That happened in the regular season too.
Part of this will be solved by players gaining experience, playing time and information. Part of this will be new additions. It is a big priority this off-season though. They need to be deeper and more competitive across the board.
2. Carroll believes a core is there
We’ll spend an off-season debating and discussing Seattle’s greatest needs. It’s worth remembering they have the following:
— A franchise QB
— A legit starting LT
— Two really good receivers
— The most productive running game in the NFL
— Two defensive linemen combining for 24.5 sacks in 2018
— The NFL’s best linebacker
That’s a lot of pieces there. Enough to be among the contenders. Improving the depth and experience around this core group will enable the Seahawks to take the next step and compete for the NFC West (and at least one home playoff game).
3. It’s hard to say what areas they’ll be able to address
They have a lot of work to do this off-season. It starts with franchising or re-signing Frank Clark. It develops into a decision on players like J.R. Sweezy, D.J. Fluker, K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks. You’ve got a whole bunch of RFA’s and ERFA’s. You need to fill out the roster similar to last year with some calculated moves in free agency. You also need to think about the future — with Jarran Reed, Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson all out of contract after 2019.
When you think about it like that, it’s a stack of issues to address. Few teams have this much work to do. If your intention is to extend Wilson, Wagner and Reed — you need two out of three extended before the season ends. Otherwise, you’re going to lose one. You only get one franchise tag.
It’s unclear how much cap room they’ll have to spend but the chances are it’ll be severely limited after all the new deals are handed out. It’s very possible they won’t have the flexibility — in terms of cap room or draft picks — to make major additions.
Carroll’s understated words on priorities and needs might actually be quite revealing if you interpret them as I’m considering now. I think he expects quite a modest off-season. One that does focus on re-signing and developing the existing group.
So here are a couple of predictions on reflection…
1. Free agency will be like a year ago
For all the speculation about Ndamukong Suh and other possible additions, the Seahawks stayed well clear of any big moves in free agency. They targeted players like Ed Dickson, Barkevious Mingo, Tom Johnson, Shamar Stephen and eventually — D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy.
Their biggest priority was re-signing and keeping Bradley McDougald.
There’s always a chance an opportunity arises. If there’s a 2019 version of the Michael Bennett/Cliff Avril deals from six years ago, the Seahawks may well go after it. If that doesn’t happen, selective and cost-effective additions in the second and third wave of free agency seem more likely. They have to prioritise keeping their own (in 2019 and 2020) and will not be left with millions to spend, even if $60-70m in available cap room seems appealing at the moment. It will evaporate quickly.
Again, adding more competition and depth could be the key.
2. The draft will involve a lot of trading back
This would be different if they had all seven draft picks and some comp picks were due. Instead they have just four picks. That’s what happens when you’re caught between an aggressive ‘got for it’ approach one year (2017) and then face an immediate reset operation (2018) and aren’t able to trade away players before they reach free agency (Earl Thomas).
While a lot of fans will spend an off-season pitching ‘just take a blue chip guy’ at #21, the Seahawks have to weigh up the options.
I’m going to publish a post this week discussing how many ‘legit’ first round grades will be offered in this draft class. I think it could be around 14-18. So at #21, the options might be pretty similar to the options at #35 or later.
Even if a player drops unexpectedly, trading down might still be inevitable. I know a lot of people like to reference Derwin James ‘being one pick away’ a year ago. I’m 100% convinced they would’ve traded down had James lasted to #18. They had a first round pick then nothing until round four. They had minimal stock. It wasn’t unfair for them, in any scenario at #18, to try and create more and fix other needs (namely what they judged to be their top need — fixing the run — and getting a pass rusher).
I’d expect something similar this year too. I suspect they’ll want to have 7-8 selections. That could mean trading down from #21 two or three times (as they’ve done in the past).
I think it’s highly possible we’ll see a repeat of a year ago (and some longer Seahawks draft trends) of identifying ‘their guys’ in the range they know they can get them. They knew in round three in 2018 they could get a pass rusher with a terrific short shuttle and low and behold — Rasheem Green and Sam Hubbard were available in their range. They took Will Dissly in a place where they could guarantee getting him. They traded up for Michael Dickson, secured Tre Flowers in their typical range for a cornerback (fifth round).
Assess the board after the Senior Bowl, combine and pro-days. Find the guys who ‘fit’. Manipulate the board to get as many of those guys as possible.
I could be totally wrong here. They might be more aggressive than ever. We’ll see. They’re always looking for an opportunity. On reflection though, I think there’s more to Carroll’s words than I first thought. The last time he spoke in this way — 2014 — they had a very quiet free agency period highlighted only by re-signing Michael Bennett. They then traded down twice from #32 and #40 before taking their guy (Paul Richardson) at pick #45. They passed on several of the ‘bigger names’ by moving down.
The big difference is, of course, the Seahawks were coming off a Super Bowl. But Carroll’s words — “(We) don’t see anything we need to add… We just have to get better” — are almost identical to what he said last week.
This is my off-season prediction for Seattle:
— A fairly modest and quiet free agency period similar to last year with a focus on keeping the core together.
— A draft that involves a lot of trading down and a focus on acquiring positional preferences in terms of physical profile and character to add further competition and depth to a 10-win roster.
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