With the foundation of the Seahawks franchise in place in players like Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Russell Okung, and Earl Thomas, the ‘Hawks enter the offseason in a very good place. Much like the Giants and Falcons have done in years past in selecting Jason Pierre-Paul and Julio Jones respectively, Seattle can afford to pick the best overall player in the draft without having to worry about filling a gaping hole or desperate need on the team.
That being said, there are certain areas that, if improved this offseason, can transform Seattle from a very good team to a great team.
For instance, imagine the damage Russell Wilson could do with one or two more capable weapons, or the interceptions the ‘Hawks secondary could rack up if paired up with a more consistent pass rush.
With the idea that Seattle was twenty-five seconds away from the NFC Championship this year and their assumed status as Super Bowl contenders in this upcoming year, let’s take a look at areas of potential improvement, in order, that could put the Seahawks over the top this offseason:
As I mentioned in my previous article (dlvr.it/2r44Mx), the Seahawks’ pass rush will have to improve as Russell Wilson makes the offense more potent. As opposing teams are forced to keep up with Seattle with the pass, the pressure applied by the Seahawk defense up front will become more crucial to their success. This area of Seattle’s defense was exposed throughout the season against teams like Arizona, Miami, Detroit, and finally Atlanta, the latter in the playoffs where it mattered most. Additionally, the ACL injury to Chris Clemons could keep him from playing at the start of next season, and it could even possibly hinder him for the rest of his career. Bruce Irvin, meanwhile, although he has shown obvious potential in his athleticism, has not shown us that he can take on a full-time role yet.
As a fan, the inability to capitalize with the front four was maddening and left me screaming obscenities at the television more often than not. Seriously though, imagine the potential for Seattle’s secondary, already one of the best in the NFL, only having to cover for as long as it takes this hypothetically improved pass rush to get to the quarterback—might we see ten interceptions out of Richard Sherman? Creating a consistent pass rush should be priority number one for Schneider, Carroll, and Co. this offseason, and would make all the difference between a very good defense and an elite defense.
Fact: Russell Wilson is Seattle’s quarterback of the future. Fact: You know how to make the future bright? Make Russell Wilson’s job easier.
The receiving options on the Seahawks were adequate this year. Sidney Rice has great hands, Doug Baldwin is a good route runner, and Golden Tate might have the best athletic upside of all three. But when Sidney Rice leads the receiving corps. with fifty receptions, there is definitely some room for improvement, especially with injuries being significant in the pasts of Rice and Baldwin.
Just imagine the already DangeRuss Russell Wilson with another dynamic weapon or two to throw to. Watching him throw to players like Victor Cruz, Larry Fitzgerald, and Vincent Jackson in the Pro Bowl with such ease and success made me realize how high the ceiling for Wilson really is.
From watching him, it is easy to see that Russell Wilson trusts his receivers to make a play. You’ll often see him throwing the ball deep when he has one-on-one coverage, even when it’s to smaller guys like Baldwin or Tate. Acquiring a taller receiver in the offseason would make it even easier for Wilson to trust his guy to go up and get it, bringing Wilson’s game to a whole other level.
For some strange, strange reason, this past season Pete Carroll had some weird obsession for playing Marcus Trufant in the nickel back position ahead of athletically superior players such as Jeremy Lane and Byron Maxwell. Trufant proceeded to get torched repeatedly in games such as those against Detroit and Miami, and you can probably make the case that if there was half-decent play out of the nickel back position in those two games they wind up as wins instead of losses.
Well, the 32 year-old, incumbent free agent Trufant is likely not to be back next year, which leaves the most glaring hole on the Seahawks roster open for competition. The solution to this problem may already be on the roster, in the aforementioned players Jeremy Lane and Byron Maxwell. However, in this passing league where it’s important to have a skilled defender as your nickel back who is capable of adequately guarding the dreaded two-way go (since slot receivers can break either outside or inside), it would be nice to ensure that at least one of these types of defenders is on the roster.
Teams such as the Ravens, Rams, and Redskins have masked their weaknesses at the nickel back position by putting their best cover-corners (Lardarius Webb, Cortland Finnegan, and DeAngelo Hall respectively) into the nickel back spot whenever they go to sub-packages. However, in Seattle’s case both Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are too big and subsequently don’t have good enough agility to do this effectively. This rules out either one of them moving inside. The fate of the nickel back position will therefore come down to Lane, Maxwell, or someone not currently on the roster.
While nickel back was certainly a weakness in Seattle’s defense, offensive guard was clearly the most inconsistent position on the entire team. 2011 first round pick James Carpenter began the season at left guard, but was placed on injured reserve mid-season for a knee injury. Meanwhile, J.R. Sweezy and John Moffitt continued to rotate for each other at right guard, and Paul McQuistan played the left guard spot in Carpenter’s absence. Carpenter is a question mark for next season as he has now ended the first two years of his career on IR, Sweezy is a liability in pass protection, and Moffitt and McQuistan were decent players at best this past season. It would therefore be nice to bring in some competition to ensure quality play out of the guard position.
Even assuming that Carpenter is healthy next year, the right guard spot needs solidification, as it is one of the most important on the line; since the defense often puts its best pass rusher on the offensive left, the offensive line usually then slides the protection left, leaving the right guard and right tackle in tough one-on-one blocking situations. Improved play out of the guard position in particular would go a long way in providing better protection for Russell Wilson as well as opening up more room for Marshawn Lynch.
With 30-year-old Leroy Hill probably leaving via free agency this offseason, weakside linebacker is a clear hole in this defense next year. Even with Hill playing a significant number of snaps in base defense this year, his career is clearly coming to an end soon, shown by his mere 47 tackles this past year.
Not only would a more athletic linebacker help making tackles down the field, he could also prove valuable up the field in rushing the passer. In pass coverage, Seattle was burned by tight ends like Charles Clay, Delanie Walker, and Aaron Hernandez this past year, and adding another athletic linebacker would certainly help in that area as well.
The Seahawks already have some potential starters in this role on their roster in players like Malcolm Smith and Korey Toomer. Toomer is the more athletic of the two, but Smith has had more playing experience. Either of these players would be adequate in a starters’ role next year, but look for Seattle to add another linebacker during the offseason to increase competition.
Even though it’s nice to think that Marshawn can eat skittles on the sideline forever, the reality is that he can’t. Well, maybe he can, in a literal sense.
Still, when Lynch does end up going down with an injury (and his physical running style means it is “when,” not “if”) do we really trust Robert Turbin to carry the load? Sure, he was pretty good this season, but we haven’t really seen enough of him to be sure he doesn’t have problems with fumbling or injuries, for instance.
The Seahawks are missing a change-of-pace running back who can contribute consistently out of the backfield. Turbin tried to fulfill that role this past year, but had some crucial drops and is more of a bruising, downhill runner than a finesse, pass-catching back. It would therefore be best if the Seahawks could find an adequate pass-catcher who can help take some carries off of Marshawn’s plate as well.
Pass rush is the one element that comes closest to a need for the Seahawks. A drastically improved pass rush will hide a lot of other holes that the defense has at weakside linebacker and nickel back, such as what the phenomenal Giants defensive line did to mask a mediocre rest-of-the-defense in their two Super Bowl runs over the past five years. The other positions in this article would be good to have, but aren’t as crucial, in my opinion, to have on a championship roster.
One note to Seahawks nation on this list of Seattle’s offseason priorities: Isn’t it nice that quarterback isn’t on it?