Russell Wilson and the Seahawks aim to stay in the thick of the NFC West race
Russell Wilson gave the Seahawks a contract deadline. They responded by giving him the richest contract in NFL history. Now, after a four-year, $140 million deal, it's Wilson's serve.
The Seahawks presumably are paying for a return to the Super Bowl. They've handsomely rewarded their popular quarterback after he enjoyed the finest season of his seven-year career. Wilson was a big reason Seattle went from a team that was seemingly destined for a painful rebuild to the league's most surprising club — 10–6 and a playoff qualifier after a year's absence.
With their newfound momentum, the Seahawks return the league's leading rushing attack. They have middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, considered by some as the best in the game at his position. They should be strong on special teams. They drafted well for need. They even restored a once-pathetic offensive line.
Pete Carroll, after arguably turning in his best coaching job in 2018 and now entering his 10th season in Seattle, is banking on his team taking another step forward.
"If we're able to keep growing and keep going with what we've got, we have a chance to be a really good club," he says. "We can be really formidable."
Carroll has the offense he's always wanted. Run-oriented. Physical. The Seahawks topped the NFL in rushing by a comfortable margin last season, piling up 2,560 yards. The guys who put this potent ground game in motion set the tone for the rest of the roster — it was, "Stop us if you can." Seattle relies on a productive pair of young runners in Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny to make defenses backpedal. Carson is a big, strong back who wills his way to yards much like Marshawn Lynch once did; he rushed for 1,151 in his second pro season, finishing fifth in the league. Penny, a 2018 first-round pick, overcame a slow start to his rookie season to provide breakaway ability. Together, they're a nice counterpunch.
Offensive line coach Mike Solari rebuilt the Seahawks line, and he did an admirable job. This group could be even better this season. Seattle had the services of left tackle Duane Brown for a full season, and he was a reliable presence on the blind side, grading out as a top-five performer at his position. Mistake-prone and maligned right tackle Germain Ifedi played more under control, cutting his league-leading penalties from 16 in 2017 to 10 last season. Right guard D.J. Fluker brought more energy as an inside run blocker and was rewarded with a two-year, $9 million contract. The upgrade comes in Mike Iupati, the newcomer at left guard who brings a good fit if he can stay healthy to the Seattle power scheme; the four-time Pro Bowler played for Solari in San Francisco. The Seahawks also use six linemen more often than any other team, inserting a third tackle in George Fant, who was athletic enough to catch a pass. The downside to these guys is their pass blocking; they gave up 51 sacks.
At wide receiver, speedy Tyler Lockett supplanted Doug Baldwin as Wilson's top target, providing 57 receptions on 70 targets for 965 yards and 10 scores. Baldwin suffered a spate of injuries in his eighth season, and the team released him in early May with a failed physical designation. He announced his retirement a few days later. Baldwin's absence could be felt as much off the field as on it this season.
The uncertainty surrounding Baldwin's status resulted in the Seahawks taking Ole Miss' DK Metcalf with the final pick of the second round in April's draft. His 6'3" size and 4.33-second speed make him an instant deep threat for Wilson.
Tight end Will Dissly, equally effective as a blocker and receiver, enjoyed a breakout rookie campaign until suffering a season-ending knee injury; he'll be a big plus once healthy again.
That leaves Wilson, the face of this team. He's lost a little elusiveness but none of his big-play or fourth-quarter magic. In 2018, he threw a career-best 35 touchdown passes while tying a career low with seven interceptions. He compiled a passer rating of 110.9, another career high. Wilson's next task: Make the franchise look smart for its huge investment.
With the weighty contract commitment to Wilson, something had to suffer. The Seahawks decided it would be the defensive line. They moved elite edge rusher Frank Clark to Kansas City instead of paying him. Seattle will turn to first-round pick L.J. Collier and second-year returnee Jacob Martin, a young and unimposing pair, for production at end. Seattle went for power with Collier over Clark's highly effective twitch speed.
Always a dependable run stopper, defensive tackle Jarran Reed wasn't known as an effective pass rusher, but he stepped up and turned himself into one with 10.5 sacks in 2018, surprising even the coaching staff. Reed is a rising star, but he will miss the first six games after being suspended for a violation of the league's personal conduct policy for a 2017 incident. The defensive line was already shaping up to be the Seahawks' weakest position group, and Reed's absence puts even more pressure on fellow tackle Poona Ford.
Wagner and K.J. Wright form one of the better linebacker tandems in the league. Together for seven seasons, they're the strength of the defense, the last remnants — at least on this side of the ball — of Seattle's Super Bowl teams. Wagner, equally effective in pass coverage as he is against the run, shows no signs yet of slowing down — he went 98 yards for a score on an interception return last season. Coming off a knee injury, Wright played only a third of the season but was his big-play self when he came back, and he re-signed with Seattle when he could have gone elsewhere for more money. Barkevious Mingo, the third backer, was adequate against the run but not much of a pass rusher, collecting a lone sack. Wagner makes up for any deficiencies here.
The secondary no longer has a catchy nickname — or any of the players responsible for it. The Legion of Boom was totally mothballed once Earl Thomas left town as an offseason free agent. In its wake are young guys who don't do anything spectacular but don't get embarrassed either. Tre Flowers used his 6'3" size to his advantage in coverage and became Seattle's top cornerback as a rookie, forcing teams to throw away from him. Shaquill Griffin moved to left corner and got picked on a lot, but the Seahawks remain patient with him. Strong safety Bradley McDougald took on a leadership role and enjoyed his finest pro season, finishing with 78 tackles and tying for a team-best three interceptions. Seattle drafted Marquise Blair to fill the role of big hitter, a void created by recent departures of Kam Chancellor and Thomas. Free safety is Blair's position to lose.
The Seahawks may well have the league's top special teams. They went all out for a punter last year, trading up in the draft to take Michael Dickson in the fifth round, and he was even better than advertised — an immediate Pro Bowl pick. His 48.2-yard average was second in the league, and the Seahawks' net average of 42.5 was a franchise record. Jason Myers is a new, and an old, placekicker for Seattle. He was cut by the Seahawks last preseason, then went on to earn a Pro Bowl spot with the Jets. He's got plenty of range, hitting on 6-of-7 field goal attempts from 50 yards and beyond. Lockett remains a dangerous returner, both on punts and kickoffs, with three scoring runbacks in his career.
It's been five seasons since the Seahawks played in the Super Bowl, six since they won one. If Carroll can find another playmaker or two — preferably at pass rusher and wide receiver — this team should be good enough to remain in the hunt for the postseason once again. With Wilson at the top of his game, anything is possible.