NFL training camp is back, and with it comes the healthy preseason optimism. “Maybe this is our team’s year!” folks are exclaiming, even in such strange places as Cleveland and Chicago. And here in Seattle, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks are back, and it has been fun—after a really rough offseason for the NFL—to watch a simulacrum of Seahawks football.
So I want to get out in front of all of this happiness and optimism: I think the Seahawks could be real bad this year, and I know they had a bad offseason. I know I’m not the only person out there who doesn’t like the look of Seattle’s roster, or their coaching hires, or their crackdown on political players. But I still think it’s worth breaking down, as training camp is now well under way, why this season could turn into a real nightmare.
Let’s start with the purge of outspoken defensive superstars. The Seahawks have claimed to be the sort of team that allows players to be themselves, express their individuality, and rock the boat without suffering the sort of consequences that other, more conservative franchises would dole out. Well, maybe not. The perennially outspoken Richard Sherman has gone to the rival San Francisco 49ers. In his case, the team has a decent stable of potential replacements and Sherman was coming back from a severe Achilles tendon injury; letting him go makes a modicum of sense. Except that Sherman is, of course, the sort of player who will dedicate himself to destroying his former team. And the 49ers, of course, play the Seahawks twice a year. Meaning that if Richard Sherman can play at all this year, he is going to ruin our lives.
And Michael Bennett? Well, that situation is even worse. There is no in-house replacement for Bennett. Bennett was not coming off a severe injury. His contract situation was not onerous. The return for him on the open market (a 5th round pick) was relatively paltry. And his play had not significantly declined. There have been whispers that Bennett was too busy reading to pay attention to Pete Carroll’s pearls of wisdom, but it really seems like the team moved on from him because his work as a public activist was viewed as a distraction. Which is just gross and wrong.
So the team has moved on from Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett by choice. They also let Sheldon Richardson walk after trading a second round pick for him a year ago without offering him a multi-year deal. Defensive end Cliff Avril was forced to retire after suffering a stinger in a game last year, and the only reason Kam Chancellor hasn’t done the same is because he needs to remain on the roster to cash another two massive paychecks. Meanwhile, with all these guys leaving, the team has failed to offer a substantial extension to Earl Thomas, one of the two remaining bonafide stars on the defense. Thomas has responded by refusing to report to training camp, leaving the Seahawks down a whopping six Pro Bowl caliber starters from last year’s defense.
After all of those moves, and considering the abominable performance of the team’s offensive line last season, surely the Seahawks leveraged their lone high pick in this year’s draft to secure a defensive star or an offensive lineman? Right? RIGHT?
No. Instead, they drafted Rashad Penny, a running back who was projected to go in the late second round, and who looks unlikely to beat out incumbent running back and last year’s seventh round pick Chris Carson for the bulk of the team’s carries. Even if Penny is a good player, this is a terrible pick based on need and positional value (running backs just aren’t worth that much). Even if Penny is great, this is a terrible pick. Carson is an above-average performer at the position that the team grabbed in the seventh round; the only way it could possibly make sense for the Seahawks to grab a first round running back was if the player was a once-in-a-generation talent (like Saquon Barkley) AND they had a surplus of picks. This isn’t that.
When you look at the replacements for the players who have left, things get real bad, real fast. If Earl Thomas does not play for the Seahawks this year, either Mo Alexander or Tedric Thompson is likely to slot into his position. Shaq Griffin has moved over to Richard Sherman’s old spot, and Byron Maxwell, who has been woefully inconsistent over the past few seasons, is the frontrunner to take over Griffin’s spot. On the defensive line, Avril has been replaced by… well, if Barkevious Mingo ends up playing linebacker and Dion Jordan stays hurt… no one? And Bennett and Richardson have been replaced by two different backups from the Minnesota Vikings (who happen to be the team that signed Richardson on a cheap, prove-it deal).
So… when it comes to the defense? Yikes. But at least Russell Wilson will have a full cadre of weapons to throw to this year? Right? RIGHT???? Well, again, no.
Red zone target Jimmy Graham, whose tenure with the Seahawks was admittedly uneven, is gone. So too is speedy wideout Paul Richardson. Dubstep master Luke Willson? Also gone. Doug Baldwin? Hurt badly enough that he will miss the entire preseason, though he’s expected to be back before the season starts. Tyler Lockett is still here, looking to bounce back from a down year. Behind them are two mid-round picks who have yet to produce (Amara Darboh and Nick Vannett), an aged Brandon Marshall, two new blocking tight ends (veteran Ed Dickson and rookie Will Dissly), and Jaron Brown. That’s, uh, again, not great.
But at least the coaching has improved? I mean, nightmarish offensive line coach Tom Cable is gone and has been replaced by… Mike Solari? While he has a solid track record, his recent work has been subpar. Solari was the architect of the Giants' offensive lines over the past couple years, a unit who seemed to exist only to make Eli Manning make funny faces after getting hit. And above him is new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, a former Jeff Fisher lieutenant (YIKES) who most recently presided over the Colts’ quarterback room, during which time Andrew Luck talked about how he loves taking hits, then got so injured his career has been tragically derailed.
On the other side of the ball, former Seahawks assistant coach Ken Norton Jr. is back to coordinate the defense after a couple years spent in Oakland during which his defense failed to intercept the ball so often he was fired mid-season.
Which is to say… yiiiiiiiikes. Yikes. Yikes!
Could the Seahawks be good this year? Sure. Russell Wilson is still around, and is a top eight quarterback by any measure. Bobby Wagner is still around and is one of the league’s best linebackers. Earl Thomas and Doug Baldwin could well still play a full slate of games for the Seahawks this year. Pete Carroll is still a great defensive coach. The offensive line could gel under new leadership, the young defensive players could all step up, and rookie punter Michael Dickson could live up to my expectations and become the best punter in the history of football (seriously, I’m so stoked for the Michael Dickson era). That’s all in play, and if it all happens, the Seahawks will make the playoffs.
But more likely than not, things will go wrong for this team, and they’ll be too shallow to overcome the adversity that strikes them. How bad will things get? Unclear. I’d peg the team at 7-9. The NFC West is really good, but Russell Wilson is still the division’s best quarterback, so that’s where I land. That said, some folks are starting to project a real disaster of a year for the Seahawks. And that’s as possible as the team surging and making the playoffs. For the first time since Pete Carroll’s first season in Seattle (which ended with a playoff win, never forget), the roster talent just lacks the upside necessary to be a real contender.
Boy, do I want to be proven wrong. More than anything do I want the Seahawks to do the damn thing and somehow make the playoffs after losing a half-dozen Pro Bowlers on defense, wasting their lone high draft pick, and bringing in Brian Fucking Schottenheimer to revive the offense. I just don’t see it happening.