Will the Seahawks make the right moves, the right draft picks, to keep winning? This offseason is littered with such choices.
It is never too soon to look ahead, and this offseason will be an important one in deciding the future of the Seahawks.
They have put together the best four-year run in team history. Speculation about whether their window to win another Super Bowl is closing is focused on the offseason: Will the Seahawks make the right moves, the right draft picks, to keep winning?
This offseason is littered with such choices. Here is our look at the six biggest story lines facing the Seahawks this offseason, plus picks for breakout stars and a look at position groups of intrigue:
Six big story lines:
1. Defensive line
By the numbers
A quick look at the Seahawks’ 2015 season:
Total points scored, 4th in NFL
Total points allowed, 1st in NFL
Passing yards by Russell Wilson, a Seahawks season record
Rushing yards by Thomas Rawls
Rushing yards by Marshawn Lynch
Receiving yards by Doug Baldwin (first Seahawks receiver with 1,000-yard season since Bobby Engram in 2007)
Average kickoff-return yards by Tyler Lockett
Sacks by Michael Bennett
Sacks by Cliff Avril
Interceptions by Earl Thomas
The strength of the defense shifted from the secondary to the defensive line this season.
But what becomes of that group next year?
For starters, Michael Bennett expressed displeasure with his contract early in the season, and he considered holding out before training camp. He is coming off the best season of his career and was selected to his first Pro Bowl. He has two years left on his contract, but will he demand more money before next season? The team could consider restructuring the contract in a way that might give him money up front and the team some salary-cap relief.
Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane turned 31 on Jan. 15 and is an unrestricted free agent. Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin will turn 30 before next season and also is an unrestricted free agent. And Bruce Irvin, a linebacker who joined the line as a pass rusher, is an unrestricted free agent.
At this point, it’s impossible to know what the defensive line will look like next season, but it could look very different.
2. Safety Kam Chancellor
Chancellor was so unhappy with his contract that he held out during training camp and for the first two games of the season. The Seahawks didn’t budge, and he returned in Week 3 after the Seahawks had lost both games.
When asked in September if Chancellor and the Seahawks would talk about a new deal after the season, he said, “That’s something we’ll discuss.”
Coach Pete Carroll wouldn’t discuss Chancellor’s future after the season ended. Chancellor has a base salary of $5.1 million next season, but will he play under that deal? And if he won’t, would the team be amenable to working out a new contract? The Seahawks could save more than $4 million by cutting ties with Chancellor, but he is a unique piece of their defense.
3. Tight end Jimmy Graham
Graham, the jewel of the Seahawks’ previous offseason, enters this offseason under much different conditions. He is recovering from a torn patellar tendon, historically a difficult and taxing injury to recover from.
Graham had a weird first year with the Seahawks. He finished with 48 catches for 605 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games. But he also rarely seemed like a game-changing weapon.
Part of the issue was figuring out how to incorporate Graham into the offense and the time it takes to develop chemistry between a pass-catcher and quarterback. But it wasn’t as smooth as many imagined.
The Seahawks could part ways with Graham and save $9 million in salary-cap space. But general manager John Schneider told ESPN 710 Seattle in an interview Friday that he expects Graham to return.
The Seahawks gave up a lot for Graham when they acquired him in a trade with the Saints. They must figure out how he recovers from offseason surgery, and how to get the most out of him in 2016.
4. Running back Marshawn Lynch
There seems little question that Lynch’s Seahawks tenure has come to an end. Still, exactly how and when they will part remains one of the biggest stories entering the offseason.
Schneider told ESPN 710 Seattle on Friday that Lynch again is considering retiring. Considering he has mulled retiring the past two offseasons, that wouldn’t be a surprise.
Lynch, who turns 30 in April, endured a frustrating 2015 season in which he battled injuries throughout and underwent the first surgery of his career. The Seahawks could release him, leaving Lynch to decide his future later.
Regardless, it’s expected there will be some finality to his situation with the Seahawks by the time free agency begins March 9. The Seahawks can save $6.5 million against the salary cap by releasing Lynch (the savings are the same if he retires).
If this is truly it for Lynch as a Seahawk, he would leave as the fourth-leading rusher in team history with 6,347 yards, the second-most touchdowns (57) and maybe the most unique persona.
A look back at 2015
5. Offensive line
The most-scrutinized position during the season could be one of the most volatile during the offseason. Left tackle Russell Okung and right guard J.R.Sweezy are free agents. Okung is representing himself and undoubtedly will test the market. He is regarded by some as the best left tackle available as an unrestricted free agent and could receive an offer the Seahawks can’t or won’t match.
One possibility if Okung departs is moving right tackle Garry Gilliam to left tackle, left guard Justin Britt back to right tackle (where he played in 2014) and inserting Mark Glowinski at one of the guard spots.
The Seahawks also seem likely to explore all draft and realistic free-agent options. Regardless, whatever they do figures to be heavily debated.
6. Linebacker Bruce Irvin
The Seahawks’ 2012 first-round pick is set to become a free agent after they declined in May to exercise an option that would have paid him almost $7.8 million in 2016.
Irvin reacted angrily at the time. But as the season progressed he said he’d welcome the chance to stay with the Seahawks, and would consider a deal that had a total value of $3 million to $5 million less than an offer from another team. We’ll see if that comes to fruition. Irvin’s agent, Joel Segal, might be less inclined than Irvin to give Seattle a hometown discount.
If Irvin and Okung depart, the Seahawks would have just one player on the roster who was drafted in the first round from 2010-15 — safety Earl Thomas. They also would need to find a strong-side linebacker. Listed backup Mike Morgan is an unrestricted free agent, and Kevin Pierre-Louis, considered by some as the heir apparent, remains unproven after playing sparingly in 2015.
Condotta’s potential breakout player in 2016
G Mark Glowinski
Glowinski, a fourth-round draft pick in 2015, could be a vital piece of what looms as the key to the 2016 season — the offensive line. Glowinski, from West Virginia, got one start in 2015, in the regular-season finale at Arizona, and coaches raved about his performance in a 36-6 win. “Very, very,’’ offensive-line coach Tom Cable said when asked if he was encouraged by Glowinski’s play. “He handled everything the right way. He didn’t make it too big, prepared himself the right way and just played really hard.”
Glowinski figures to contend for a starting job in 2016, especially if the Seahawks lose one or both of their free agents on the line — Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy. That could result in a reshuffling of the line.
Condotta’s position group of interest
Assuming Lynch is gone, the 2016 season would be the first time since Pete Carroll’s first year in 2010 when Lynch did not enter the season as the unquestioned leader of the Seahawks’ backfield. (The Seahawks acquired Lynch in October 2010 from Buffalo.) Thomas Rawls, who is expected to be fully recovered from the broken left ankle he suffered in December, would succeed Lynch as the starter. But Rawls will have to show he can be as durable as Lynch, who had 280 or more carries a year from 2011-14, missing just one game. The Seahawks also say they want to bring back Christine Michael, now restricted free agent. But expect the Seahawks to also bring in some other running backs for depth roles and as competition, be it via the draft or free agency.
Jenks’ potential breakout player in 2016
Receiver Tyler Lockett
This is a cheap way out, because Lockett was a breakout player in his rookie season. He had 664 yards receiving, six touchdowns, showed explosive ability as a returner and was a legitimate deep threat.
But as good as Lockett was in Year 1, he should be even better in Year 2. In other words, he could become a full-on star in his second season.
The Seahawks have questions at receiver outside of Lockett and Doug Baldwin. Jermaine Kearse is an unrestricted free agent. Paul Richardson played in only one game last season. And Ricardo Lockette is recovering from a serious injury.
Lockett is a crisp route runner, and he has the speed to blow by defenders. But he has room to become even better.
As Baldwin said, “When he walked in, he was this hairless 16-year-old-looking boy who wanted to do all the right things, who wanted to say all the right things, but just didn’t truly get it. But his work ethic was second to none … he bought in. He was willing to ask questions. He was willing to be vulnerable, to put himself out there. And his growth and his mind-set has allowed him to become one of the star players in our league. … The things he’s going to do to help us in the future, you can’t understate it, because it’s going to be huge for us.”
Jenks’ position group of interest
Chancellor isn’t the only key contributor in the secondary whose status is unclear. Cornerback Jeremy Lane, a starter in the second half of the season, is an unrestricted free agent. DeShawn Shead, a versatile player who started at corner and safety this season, is an exclusive-rights free agent, meaning the Seahawks can keep him by extending a minimum qualifying offer. Tharold Simon has potential, but he has played in only 11 games in his first two seasons. And Tye Smith has drawn praise as a rookie, but he hasn’t been thrown into the fire.
So though the Seahawks will have the usual anchors of safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman, the rest of the secondary is littered with question marks.
|Seahawks free agents|
|Seattle has 16 unrestricted free agents.|