In their quest to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2015, the Seahawks had to address the pass rush this offseason. Stopping one and creating one.
Russell Wilson not so subtly suggested that he needed better pass protection, since opponents have sacked him 394 times in nine seasons, or nearly 44 per season, putting him on pace to be the most sacked quarterback in NFL history.
People wanted to know: Could this be the end of Wilson in Seattle, either by continually having to survive the game-day punishment or for taking this issue public?
At the same time, the Seahawks determined that they needed another pass rusher on the order of past standouts Frank Clark or Michael Bennett, a disruptor who could make another quarterback feel as uncomfortable as Wilson.
While it attempts to distance itself from any anti-Russell sentiment, it’s unclear if the Seattle front office adequately fixed either one of these pressing issues. It replaced just one of its offensive line starters, though, with a surefire upgrade in guard Gabe Jackson, while signing mercurial defensive end Aldon Smith (only to see him get arrested two days later) and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, who sat out the 2020 season.
For the second consecutive season, Wilson was in the middle of the conversation for league MVP honors only to fail to close the deal. He would no doubt blame his continuous lack of protection for tailing off. Others might suggest it was his untimely bouts of poor decision-making and his propensity to hang on to the football too long. Either way, he was good for a lengthy stretch, setting career marks in 2020 for pass attempts (558), completions (384), touchdown passes (40) and completion percentage (68.8), but he also threw the most interceptions (13) of his pro career.
He has plenty of offensive weapons to help him succeed in veteran receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, plus running back Chris Carson, all nine- or 10-touchdown scorers last season, and a new offensive coordinator in Shane Waldron. Maybe all he requires is just a little more time.
The newly acquired Jackson just might give it to him. The former Las Vegas Raiders guard didn’t permit a sack last season, which makes him Wilson’s new best friend. Jackson will line up next to left tackle Duane Brown, who enters his 14th NFL season without showing any signs of major decline — although he’s at an age where it could come quickly. Jackson will play opposite or next to Damien Lewis, who was an instant rookie standout and presented the Seahawks with all sorts of future options. A proficient run blocker, Lewis spent all but one game starting at right guard — he opened the other at center, a position he’d never played before, and performed well. Ethan Pocic returns at center on a one-year contract, with incentive to show that he deserves a longer deal, and Brandon Shell, an adequate pass protector who needs to upgrade his run blocking, is back at right tackle.
Wilson has no complaints whatsoever regarding his receiving corps — Metcalf, Lockett and now rookie D’Wayne Eskridge, a big guy and two little ones with speed to burn, with 40 times of 4.33, 4.40 and 4.38, respectively. Lockett received a four-year, $69.2 million extension after catching 100 passes for 1,054 yards and 10 scores. Metcalf was nearly as brilliant, hauling in 83 passes for 1,303 yards and 10 TDs. With Wilson alternating between these three, nobody will go deep better than the Seahawks.
Tight end Will Dissly finally stayed healthy for a full season after missing 22 of his first 32 NFL outings with injuries, but the Seahawks acquired Gerald Everett from the Rams just in case.
Two years ago, Seattle had one of the NFL’s better running-back duos in Carson and Rashaad Penny but lost them both to injuries entering the playoffs. Last season, these two collectively played in just 15 of 32 games, with Penny missing nearly the entire season. Even while hobbled at times, the slashing Carson rushed for 681 yards, caught 37 passes for 287 yards and found the end zone nine times. A healthy running back would go a long way toward keeping defenses guessing.
The Seahawks keep trying to fix their pass rush, and it’s like running in mud; they don’t get anywhere. They couldn’t re-sign Jadeveon Clowney last year. They brought back Bruce Irvin but lost him to injury after two games. They gave up on Jarran Reed. They signed a supposedly well-behaved Smith, and he was in trouble again within 48 hours due to a battery charge in Louisiana. They’re left with an underwhelming crew of undersized Poona Ford, journeymen Robert Nkemdiche, Carlos Dunlap II and Kerry Hyder Jr., and hoping one of their recent draftees (L.J. Collier, Alton Robinson and Darrell Taylor) matures and brings more pressure. Last season, the Seattle front four averaged 2.1 tackles for a loss and 1.6 sacks per game. This is the Seahawks’ most unsure position area.
Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright continue to hold the defense together, though these elite linebackers are entering their 10th and 11th seasons, respectively, and could show their age at any time. Wagner finished eighth in the league with 138 tackles, and Wright was his typical disruptive self with 11 tackles for a loss. If only there was someone like them among the front four. The Seahawks put rookie linebacker Jordyn Brooks in the starting lineup alongside them for half the season and want him to help the team transition to younger blood on the second row. He ultimately will replace Wagner in the middle.
Seattle mortgaged its future to obtain elite strong safety Jamal Adams, sending a pair of first-round picks and a third-rounder to the Jets for Adams and a fourth-round pick. Seattle added someone with an overly aggressive skill level reminiscent of the franchise’s long-dismantled Legion of Boom. Adams led the team in sacks (9.5), tied for the lead in quarterback hits (14) and tackles for a loss (11) and finished third in tackles (83), even while playing in just 12 games because of injuries. He pairs up with similarly disruptive free safety Quandre Diggs, who finished as the team’s interceptions leader (five). Both were 2020 Pro Bowl selections. The cornerbacks — newly acquired Ahkello Witherspoon from the 49ers and Pierre Desir from the Ravens — are a far less proven commodity. But the entire secondary consists of playmakers. Collectively, these four potential starters have 28 career NFL interceptions, with each scoring at least once as a pro and five times combined. If the new corners aren’t up to the job, the Seahawks have holdovers and part-time starters from last season in Tre Flowers and D.J. Reed.
Punter Michael Dickson and placekicker Jason Myers have never been better. Both are coming off their best NFL seasons. Dickson finished third in the league with a healthy 49.6-yard average on 61 punts and topped everyone with 32 punts downed inside the 20. Myers, in his sixth season, was a perfect 24-for-24 on field-goal attempts, including going 15-for-15 on kicks from 40 yards or more. He also made the NFL’s longest field goal last season at 61 yards.
The Seahawks, if they don’t suddenly age overnight at linebacker and left tackle, look fairly well stocked everywhere with the exception of that bothersome defensive line. The Jackson pickup should make Wilson feel safer. The hiring of Waldron was yet another olive branch to the quarterback thanks to the new OC’s passing-game acumen. However, the lack of a pass rush could be the downfall for this team. Adams might have to blitz every time if no one else can get there. If Seattle can’t apply more pressure on the opposing QB, it won’t move any closer to a Super Bowl.