John Schneider made his first appearance on 710 Seattle Sports last Thursday, kicking off a weekly spot that’ll continue until the draft.
Schneider isn’t going to give away secrets when he goes on the radio. However, I’m fascinated why — after 13 years — he suddenly wants to do this now. Is he simply doing a solid for Dave Wyman, a friend and one of the hosts? Is it indicative of an ongoing transfer of power — which will eventually culminate in Schneider being the key man within the franchise as Pete Carroll nears the end?
I think a bit of light-hearted speculation is an enjoyable topic during the off-season and I can’t have been the only one reading too much into what Schneider said. He wasted no time name-dropping scouting missions to watch Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen. Was it a coincidence? Or was he gently reminding everyone that he liked both players and that perhaps any future QB decision deserves a little faith and trust?
One of the key lines I found interesting was the way he described how he discusses the off-season with Carroll. He praised the Head Coach’s ability to take on information and the differing possibilities that come with a free agency and draft period.
It made me think about the amount of planning that goes on for an off-season. For those of us without first-hand NFL front office experience, it’s easy to come up with a ‘Plan A’ and talk about the benefits of said plan. I’ve never properly considered the sliding doors effect that goes on when certain dominos fall.
The way Schneider talked he essentially portrayed a situation where he would tell Carroll a series of opportunities and how they will pivot if those opportunities do or don’t come off. Basically it sounds like there is never really a ‘Plan A’ but just one bigger vision where you have to be ready to react to circumstances that go for or against you.
It’s a continuous puzzle piece, where you have to fit a lot of things together to build a roster. When you think of it like that — you realise how difficult it is to connect everything.
I think this is one of the reasons why we’re seeing teams cheat by using void years, taking on massive cap debt and pushing problems into tomorrow. It makes the puzzle easier to complete today and you can let the next person worry about the future.
I wanted to break down some of the scenarios that could impact the Seahawks’ thinking. There will be more, of course. These do feel like the obvious questions and challenges they’ll face though, as they prepare for a pivotal off-season.
1. Does John Schneider love one of these quarterbacks?
There’s nowhere else to start. This is the defining question of the whole off-season. For all the talk of Geno Smith’s future and the defensive line — this is where everything begins.
This is a GM who was reportedly prepared to draft Patrick Mahomes in 2017 when they had Russell Wilson. This is a GM who reportedly was willing to trade Wilson for the opportunity to draft Josh Allen. Neither player was the first QB taken in their respective classes. If they’d actually gone through with either move, it would’ve been stunning and unprecedented at the time.
You better believe, therefore, that he’ll be willing to use the #5 pick on a quarterback — irrespective of any other off-season decision — if he sees a player he rates as highly as Mahomes and Allen.
Remember — Mahomes and Allen were viewed as flawed players coming into the league. Lest we forget that Daniel Jeremiah didn’t even include Mahomes on his updated top-50 board less than a month before the 2017 draft, while Lance Zierlein graded Mahomes and Allen lower than he did Drew Lock.
If Schneider loves a quarterback or multiple quarterbacks, he will probably take one at #5. When you look at players like Will Levis, Anthony Richardson and C.J. Stroud, it’s hard not to think they are exactly the types of quarterback Schneider covets. I wouldn’t rule out interest in Bryce Young, either.
2. Geno Smith’s future
Smith’s future will matter for a number of reasons. It’ll dictate how much you have to spend in free agency. If you don’t re-sign him, you’ll need a quarterback on the roster before the draft who you are comfortable with adding to the competition to start.
With only $19.1m to spend in effective cap space, this is a huge call.
If you don’t re-sign Smith, does a quarterback at #5 become inevitable? Do you even have to consider being aggressive and trading up if there’s one player you feel is especially capable of starting for you quickly?
Does the cap saving also give you a greater opportunity to be more aggressive in free agency on the defensive line? For example, if your intention is to sign Smith to say a three-year deal with a lower year-one cap hit — can you do something similar for a defensive lineman if Smith goes elsewhere? You just transfer that initial cap hit to a DaRon Payne or Javon Hargrave and backload in the same way.
Signing Smith to an extension obviously buys you the opportunity to go D-line first, if that is the preferred route. It would also take the pressure off needing to start a rookie quarterback. We’ve talked a lot about the ideal situation being an Alex Smith/Patrick Mahomes torch-passing scenario.
Of course, Smith isn’t the only bridge option. There are cheaper alternatives available who could do the job but they might not be able to perform to Smith’s level.
Keeping Geno would also be the perfect smokescreen if your intention is to draft a specific quarterback, whether that’s at #5 or later on.
I’ll assume Schneider already knows if there’s a quarterback he ‘has to have’ in this class. With that established, addressing Smith’s future is the second most important factor because it influences everything else you can do or need to do.
I still think the best thing to do is let him establish his market at the combine when the entire league and every agent congregates on Indianapolis. Then you make a call on the price. Thankfully, that increasingly appears to have been Seattle’s plan all along.
3. Is Jalen Carter a Seahawk?
For me this is the third most important question entering the off-season. Schneider spoke on Thursday about the work they do on individuals, then the meetings they have as a staff before determining whether a player has the right character to be graded as a potential Seahawk.
In a separate interview at the end of Seattle’s season, he noted how much emphasis they placed on character in the 2022 draft.
In terms of pure talent, Carter is one of the best defensive linemen to enter the league in the last few years. He is exactly the type of player the Seahawks have needed for a long time. He is someone who can wreck the interior, impact games and be a difference maker. If he isn’t the best player in the draft he’s second only to Bijan Robinson.
As noted last week, however, the concerns over his character are real and should be taken seriously:
While it’s not the case that Carter is a bad person or anything like that — there are legitimate concerns in the league about his maturity, attitude, reliability and punctuality. Unquestionably he’s a very talented player but I would recommend people don’t dismiss what is being said by Todd McShay and Lance Zierlein.
This not only increases the chances of Carter lasting to #5 — it means the Seahawks would have a big call to make if one of the most talented defensive linemen to enter the league in recent years is available, yet they — like others — have serious concerns about whether he has the attitude and application to make the most of his god-given physical gifts.
Determining whether you would be prepared to take Carter at #5 is a big call. If you decide that he’s not a character fit for your locker room, then it impacts how you approach the #5 pick in a significant way.
Will Anderson will likely be very much considered a ‘Seahawk’ because there are no questions about him. It’s also been reported by Jeff Howe in the Athletic that generally speaking, the league sees a ‘top-three’ at quarterback (Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud & Will Levis).
If the three quarterbacks and Anderson end up making up the top-four — you have a big decision to make. Are you OK taking Carter? Do you take Anthony Richardson to draft and develop? Do you trade down with a team wanting the opportunity to select Richardson or Carter? Do you have another player you’re willing to take at #5?
It will certainly make life a lot easier for all concerned if Carter can convince teams he will apply himself like a professional and be a more mature person when drafted. That way the Seahawks can either draft him, filling a huge need, or someone else will draft him in the top-four, sending Anderson or a top-three QB to Seattle.
This isn’t the only consideration though. If you’re not prepared to take Carter at #5, then you need a plan to improve your interior defensive line. Is it possible to do that at #20, #38 or #53 at a sufficient level? Can you add a key free agent (especially if you’ve re-signed Geno Smith)? If DaRon Payne is tagged by Washington, can you trade for him? Can you afford him?
Carter influences so much of your draft and free agency thinking.
4. If you take a quarterback at #5 how do you fix your defense?
Given Seattle’s glaring defensive issues — if Schneider is insistent that he’s found the next great quarterback and can get him at #5, he’ll need to produce a plan to help the defense in other ways.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the Seahawks view Will Anderson as a big target at #5 (if he lasts) and would then look to pivot to Will McDonald if he’s gone.
I’ve said it a few times since the Senior Bowl but McDonald is the prototype pass rusher for the Carroll Seahawks. The length, the explosive traits, the balance and bend. He’s what they go for.
Their main round one defensive focus could easily be based around the two players named Will — Anderson at #5 or McDonald at #20.
I fear McDonald will rise up boards after the combine when he puts on a show for the ages. At the very least, he might end up being just out of range — as Brian Burns was in 2019. That would be gut-wrenching because increasingly I think he could be an excellent option for Seattle at #20 — whether they go quarterback at #5 or not.
Any plan will obviously have to go beyond one player. McDonald just feels very ‘Seahawks’ though and could be the primary alternative to Anderson with the other pick in round one.
There are other questions to consider here.
Is the arm length for Calijah Kancey a deal-breaker or not? Obviously Kancey isn’t Aaron Donald — but they share a very similar physical profile. Donald led Brandon Staley’s league-leading defense in LA. Is it totally out of the question that Kancey could similarly play beyond his size? I like him a lot but it’s hard to create expectations on anything like a Donald-level. Still, he’s another player Seattle will surely do a lot of work on. They do talk a lot about length on the D-line though and Kancey is expected to measure with short arms.
Can Adetomiwa Adebawore or Keion White produce enough impact as rotational players for the defensive front?
Are the second-tier defensive tackles good enough to really excel? Is there anything special about Keeanu Benton, Cameron Young, Zacch Pickens, Moro Ojomo, Siaka Ika and Byron Young (Alabama)? How is Mazi Smith’s arm length and do you factor that in if he tests as well as any defensive tackle not named Jordan Davis?
How do you combine a draft pick (or picks) with free agency?
I’d like to see a splash — and think one is warranted. One of the key benefits of trading Russell Wilson should’ve been the flexibility to go and land a key free agent or two this year. This will be almost impossible if they give Geno Smith a big contract, even with a lower year-one cap hit.
Thus, we can all appreciate that the best we can probably hope for is another Uchenna Nwosu level signing. Who fits that bill? Two names that spring to mind are Derrick Nnadi and Zach Allen. Neither will tilt the balance but they can produce. It does just feel like the Seahawks need more up front, however.
That’s why it feels to a lot of people that it could end up being — re-sign Geno Smith, go defense at #5 (and maybe #20 or #38). Or — go quarterback at #5, get someone who knows your scheme and can start quickly (eg, Will Levis) and then add some veteran D-liners. To be fair, you can build cases for both plans. I think one has greater potential for short-term growing pains and long-term success (quarterback at #5) but the other likely makes you more of a shorter-term threat with questions about the future at quarterback (and whether you will be good enough to actually be anything more than playoff also-rans). The Seahawks might need to pick their poison.
5. If you don’t go quarterback at #5, how do you add to the position?
The obvious answer is Hendon Hooker. I think there are enough doubts about his deep accuracy, age, injury situation and helpful Tennessee scheme to wonder whether the Seahawks (and other teams) will be that interested in him. I have reservations. Yet he also has a high degree of physical upside, maturity, college production and traits (huge hands) that teams like the Seahawks pay attention to.
I can well imagine a scenario where the Seahawks are inclined to go quarterback at #5 unless Will Anderson lasts. Feel free to add Jalen Carter’s name too, provided they get the necessary character reassurance (and trust me, they will seek it).
If they take that mindset, they might pivot to taking Hooker to make sure they add a signal caller later on.
This situation meshes better if the Seahawks retain Geno Smith. Hooker almost certainly won’t be ready to compete to start in 2023 and will need to continue rehabbing his knee, before learning a new system and getting back to 100%. He’s a redshirt draft pick and if you need to open up a competition at quarterback, he probably wouldn’t be part of it this year.
If Smith comes back he would be the unchallenged starter to begin the season and it would give you a chance to just sit Hooker, let him learn and recover and be part of the competition in 2024.
It’s not a stretch to imagine:
1. The Seahawks sign Geno Smith to a new contract
2. They take a defender at #5
3. They plan to draft Hooker on day two
It wouldn’t be a major surprise if the Seahawks used the 53rd pick on Hooker — the exact same pick the Eagles used on Jalen Hurts.
You would still get three years of quality cap control out of Hooker. If he was PUP’d for 2023 you could also get an extra season of manageable RFA protection, just as the Seahawks are going to receive with Darrell Taylor.
This isn’t necessarily what I would do because I much prefer the four quarterbacks at the top of the board. I also think there are enough good defensive players at #20 and #38 to feel like you can take one of those QB’s at #5. That said, it’s possible the following occurs in a pattern leading the Seahawks to Hooker:
1. The market comes to Seattle with Geno Smith
2. The D-line market goes against Seattle in free agency
3. They discover it’s likely that three QB’s come off the board in the top-four
4. They decide to take one of the top-two defenders at #5
5. They target Hooker in order to make an investment at QB
This approach would probably mean the Seahawks taking further ‘shots’ at the quarterback position in future years in a similar range. That’s something, for example, the Packers have done and that’s Schneider’s background.
Again though, it comes down to the first question. Does Schneider see a quarterback at #5 he has to have?
Overrated talking points
What will they do at center?
I think this has become a bit of an obsession among Seahawks fans. There aren’t actually that many quality centers in the NFL and the way people go on about Creed Humphrey you’d think only the Seahawks passed on him. He lasted to the 63rd pick.
Do the Seahawks need to be better at center? Yes. Have other teams ‘plugged guys in’ using this scheme? Yes.
Do they need to force things with a high draft pick? No, absolutely not.
I don’t think this is a particularly exciting center class and with Sedrick Van Pran returning to Georgia, they’d be best served looking for a solid veteran. John Michael Schmitz has become a trendy round one projection for Seattle but as I noted here, I think that would be a big reach.
I continue to think Garrett Bradbury would be the ideal solution based on profile. To me he’s another ‘Uchenna Nwosu’ level free agent in terms of price and potential.
Can you get a center later on? Yes — and I think the man I interviewed yesterday, Penn State’s Juice Scruggs — could be an option there.
What do they do at right guard?
If there was an opportunity to draft a top-level guard I’d be all for it but I don’t see any in this class, contrary to what’s being suggested in the media. The Seahawks can find scheme fits later on and should be able to follow what worked for the Rams — shifting college tackles inside to execute the system.
Let’s not forget — LA’s offensive line led the league in a number of categories for a few years before injuries decimated their unit in 2022.
If they see an opportunity they can’t miss — then fine. I think it’s at least possible they could view someone like Dawand Jones as the clear BPA at #20. That could lead to a shift inside for Abraham Lucas. However, Lucas is one of the big success stories from 2022 and they’ve already moved enough linemen around.
I would guess this is a situation that could be resolved by re-signing Phil Haynes (EDIT — the Seahawks just announced they have re-signed Haynes to a new one-year deal) and then drafting someone. Matthew Bergeron, Jordan McFadden and Tyler Steen could be solid guard converts. Nick Broeker, Nick Saldiveri and McClendon Curtis could also produce value. I also think teams might view Joe Tippman as a guard and he is going to be one of the best testers at the combine — at any position.
Get another cornerback!
We’ve seen too many mocks projecting the Seahawks take a cornerback early. This will likely be dealt with in the usual way — draft and develop in the middle or later rounds. It’s a deep group at corner so there’s little need to draft a player early. It’s likely Michael Jackson will be back anyway.
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