Seahawks’ turbulent offseason right on schedule

Disappointed in Seattle’s roster turnover this offseason? That’s fair, though 12’s shouldn’t be surprised. The writing was on the wall months ago.

First off, to HawkTalk readers – I apologize for the lack of free agency coverage the past week as it got underway. I just spent a much-needed week of relaxation in sunny Jamaica, which is basically the only time wifey can get away in winter (Canadian teachers/students get spring break in mid-March). I’m back now, ready to roll out frequent posts in the lead-up to the draft.

Let’s get at it, starting with a look at the Seahawks’ offseason roster moves thus far. While the loss of so many key players is naturally discouraging, Seattle is proceeding as expected with a focused vision for the future.

Seahawks free agent tracker & roster changes

Free agent additions: LB/EDGE Barkevious Mingo, TE Ed Dickson, WR Jaron Brown, SS Maurice Alexander

UFA/RFA retained: S Bradley McDougald, DE Dion Jordan, CB Justin Coleman

Cuts, traded & free agent losses: CB Richard Sherman, DE Michael Bennett, CB Jeremy Lane, DT Sheldon Richardson, TE Jimmy Graham, WR Paul Richardson, CB DeShawn Shead, OL Matt Tobin

Unsigned UFA’s: QB Austin Davis, RB Eddie Lacy, RB Mike Davis, RB Thomas Rawls, TE Luke Willson, LG Luke Joeckel, RG Oday Aboushi, DT Garrison Smith, DE Marcus Smith, LB Michael Wilhoite, LB Terence Garvin, LB Dewey McDonald, CB Byron Maxwell, K Blair Walsh

There is a striking gap between the incoming and outgoing lists above. Not only are there many more losses & UFA’s than signed players, but there’s also a lot of high-end talent heading out the door. It especially stings to see long-time Seahawks like Sherman & Bennett (and potentially Earl Thomas?) depart for so little in return. This turbulent offseason is understandably unsettling for fans who have grown accustomed to Seattle’s stacked core. However, the roster transformation should come as no surprise (and certainly not for HawkTalk readers, which we’ll get to in a minute).

The writing was on the wall

1) Aging defensive core: Whether through injury, age or both, Father Time is undefeated in pro football. And the L.O.B. era defense, so brilliant for years, was always going to be hit hard when it came for them. The core defensive stars were all drafted at least 6 years ago, which is a near-eternity in the NFL. It was inevitable that the group would reach the latter stages of their career life cycles together. That process of collective decline arguably began in 2017.

2) Injuries force hand: While they’ve taken turns out of the lineup since the Super Bowl victory, the injury-bug really caught them in its web last season. The losses of Cliff Avril and (particularly) Kam Chancellor to career-threatening neck injuries were devastating. As was Sherman’s Achilles-tear, which led to his recent release. Of course, crushing injuries to Malik McDowell, George Fant and Chris Carson didn’t help matters.

3) Limited money & “win-now” moves: Mounting cap commitments also led Seattle to this point, as it took serious money to keep the core in place as long as possible. GM John Schneider and HC Pete Carroll seemingly foresaw the end of the L.O.B era window. If not quite this soon, then at least in the near future. They sacrificed future draft capital to “go for it” last season, by trading for Sheldon Richardson and Duane Brown.

4) Substandard 2017 performance: Which leads to the next sign of current events: Seattle’s 2017 regression. At his Combine press conference, Schneider expressed his disappointment in the way the season ended: “We went 9-7 and you would have thought that we won two games. It’s a pit that sits in your stomach and really fuels you.” The crescendo of loaded injury reports, uneven performance and season-ending injuries culminated in a 42-7 shellacking by the Rams in week 15. A Rams player said he was “stunned” afterwards at “how easy it was to push them around. It was like playing the Browns.” A Seahawks team that contended for years with youth, speed and physicality was no longer the biggest, strongest or fastest in the NFC West.

5) Mike Silver report: Plugged-in NFL reporter Mike Silver first reported the L.O.B’s impending doom after that miserable performance. It was the most concrete indication of offseason change yet, as he suggested Bennett, Avril, Chancellor, Sherman and Thomas may not play for the Seahawks in 2018. That obviously turned out to be a tremendous piece of journalism.

6) Coaching changes & culture reset: Lastly, the Seahawks overhauled their coaching staff, signalling a culture change. I underestimated how much the desire for a culture reset would trickle down to the L.O.B era defensive core.

I put my GM hat on in January after the end of Seattle’s season, gauging all the above factors and more:

Seahawks 2018 offseason part 2: roster forecast

Offseason outlook part 3: Seahawks 2018 free agents

Seahawks 2018 team needs

Many of HawkTalk’s roster projections from those early articles have since come to fruition. I’m a big believer in using self-assessment to improve future evaluation, so let’s explore them:

Key Seahawks free agents & cap (culture?) casualties

The articles linked above contain each of the following quotes:

Sheldon Richardson – “Is it worth using limited cap space on Richardson when suitable replacements are already under team control? And with more pressing positional needs? And at the expense of a high compensatory draft pick? I think Richardson is likely to sign elsewhere this offseason.

Most of those reasons affect the Seahawks’ reported interest in Ndamukong Suh as well. Seattle has a need for interior pass rushing – not to mention depth – with Richardson and Bennett gone. If not Suh, then there will be cheaper alternatives in free agency (Tom Johnson?) or the draft.

Jimmy Graham – “Graham has never been the best fit in Seattle, and the team will prioritize the run-game this offseason. I doubt he is part of that priority, or part of the Seahawks plans at Tight End… The Seahawks will surely sign a steady veteran, since rookie TE’s generally need time to adjust to the NFL.

Graham out, Dickson in. Seattle will add another TE to compete with Dickson and Nick Vannett, since Tyrone Swoopes is raw and inexperienced. That should come from the draft next month (!!!). I identified a few likely candidates in HawkTalk’s 2018 Combine takeaways.

Paul Richardson – “Seattle may view him as an ascending player, but even his 2017 production doesn’t justify a huge contract. A taller, big-bodied receiver would be a better fit with Baldwin and Lockett as well…  Richardson is yet another key Seahawks free agent I can see playing somewhere else next year… Don’t be surprised if Seattle makes a run at risk/reward free agents like Allen Robinson and Terrelle Pryor. The likelier scenario is a cheaper free agent veteran addition.

Richardson signed with Washington, and the Seahawks signed Brown to compete with Amara Darboh. Seattle also met with Pryor today, who Russell Wilson is reportedly recruiting hard.

Bradley McDougald – “I thought Seattle didn’t miss a beat in coverage with him replacing Chancellor, which is saying something. He’s a far cry from Kam in run defense, though his versatility between safety spots is another plus… Ultimately, I expect Seattle to do everything they can to re-sign McDougald on a short-term deal. And with a well-earned spike in pay.

Re-signing McDougald so affordably was huge, and Seattle also added SS Maurice Alexander yesterday. Bradley’s the favorite to start at one of the Safety spots this year, though which one probably depends on Earl’s status.

Luke Joeckel – “My guess is Joeckel walks this offseason. I think Seattle can find a younger alternative, and perhaps an upgrade, through the draft. 2018’s Offensive Guard class is stacked with talent, particularly at LG.

The Seahawks appear to have little-to-no interest in re-signing Joeckel, while there continues to be every indication of an early Guard selection in the draft. Our Combine takeaways post mentions several top targets.

Byron Maxwell – “This one makes a ton of sense. Maxwell seamlessly returned to the Seahawks when Sherman went down, and played good football. He plays his best in Seattle’s defense, and the team could use a cheap (but reliable) veteran CB.

The Seahawks are in talks to re-sign Maxwell, which will probably happen soon. It sucked to see Sherman and Shead leave, but Seattle could get by at CB next year with Shaquill Griffin, Coleman and Maxwell. Another mid-late round CB pick appears likely in the draft.

I had a good handle on Seattle’s UFA’s, though the same can’t necessarily be said for Sherman, Bennett and Thomas. Despite Silver’s December report, I believed there was a chance all three could be back next season for cap and/or competitive reasons. I failed to consider how much the Seahawks’ culture reset would apply to this group:

Bennett and Sherman were the outspoken and controversial personalities in Seattle’s locker room. And Thomas crossed a line when he was caught on camera asking the Cowboys to “come get (him).” It’s telling that they’re the top veterans who were/are on the chopping block.

While these guys played at a high level on the field, perhaps their voices have made it tougher for Carroll to reach the team. Sherman suggested that Pete’s philosophy is “more built for college” after signing with the 49ers, which makes sense. Veterans may get a little tired of his rah-rah optimism, not to mention their lingering angst from the Super Bowl loss.

I think there’s a real chance Seattle trades Thomas as well to cap off a clean exit for the triumvirate. It would be heartbreaking to lose him most of all, but the reported 1st & 3rd minimum asking price will be tempting.

Carroll and Schneider have a clear vision of what’s next for this great franchise. It honestly hurts to see the end of the L.O.B. era defense, but there’s something to be said for their proactive approach. They created a Super Bowl winning squad from scratch before, and they’ve got more to start fresh with this time around.