Seattle coach Pete Carroll says the team needs to add depth at linebacker behind standouts Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright.
The Seahawks could hardly have asked for more out of their two primary linebackers this season — middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who set a team record and led the NFL with 167 tackles this season, and weakside linebacker K.J. Wright, who made his first Pro Bowl.
But after that?
Seattle coach Pete Carroll offered a somewhat surprising assessment in his season-ending press conference when asked to name a few positions that could use some upgrading in the off-season.
“We need some youth at the linebacker spot,” Carroll said. “Bobby and K.J. played thousands of plays this year between the two of them and were extremely successful. We need to address that. We didn’t get anybody that made a difference in the last couple of years that can really fight to take those guys’ jobs. Think if someone can battle K.J. and Bobby for their starting time. That’s what we need to draft towards.’’
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It was as frank of a criticism as Carroll ever levies and sent the obvious signal to not be surprised if the team drafts a player or two to compete with the likes of Kevin Pierre-Louis and Brock Coyle for the spots behind Wagner and Wright.
Also a question is what happens to the strongside linebacking spot — veteran Mike Morgan was the primary player this year but is an unrestricted free agent and Seattle could also look at options there either through the draft or free agency.
Continuing our series reviewing the season that was, here’s a look at the linebacking position.
Snaps played: 1,073 of 1,080, 99.3 percent (per Pro Football Reference).
Contract situation: Signed through 2019 season.
Stats: 167 tackles, 4.5 sacks.
Snaps played: 1,052 of 1,080, 97.4 percent.
Contract situation: Signed through 2018 season.
Stats: 126 tackles, four sacks.
Snaps played: 138 of 1,080, 12.8 percent
Contract situation: Unrestricted free agent.
Stats: 10 tackles.
Snaps played: 127 of 1,080, 11.76 percent.
Contract situation: Restricted free agent.
Stats: 15 tackles.
Snaps played: 71 of 1,080, 6.6 percent.
Contract situation: Signed through 2017 season.
Stats: Seven tackles.
(Dewey McDonald, who was a special teams standout, saw six snaps as a backup linebacker this year without making any tackles while Ronald Powell, signed late in the season, was also on the 53-man roster as a backup linebacker but was never active for a game. Both are restricted free agents).
Wagner, already viewed as among the best middle linebackers in the NFL, had the best year of his career, largely because he was able to stay healthy for all 16 games (he had missed at least one game every season since his rookie year in 2012).
Wagner’s tackles shattered the previous team record of 153 by Terry Beeson in 1978 and his 4.5 sacks were the second-most of his career as the Seahawks at times turned increasingly to using linebackers to get pressure on the quarterback.
Wright, meanwhile, has been as consistent and durable as any Seahawk in recent years, starting all 16 games for the third straight season and finishing with career highs in tackles and sacks.
Morgan, re-signed last spring as an unrestricted free agent, won the job as the strongside linebacker, technically taking the place of the departed Bruce Irvin. But unlike Irvin, who played in both the base and nickel defenses, Morgan was used solely in base downs, a role that is increasingly diminished as the Seahawks played nickel roughly two-thirds of the time.
Morgan missed seven games with an injury during which time Pierre-Louis, Coyle, Cassius Marsh (who saw most of his time this season as a rush end) and the departed Jordan Tripp all got starts.
But as Carroll’s comments indicated, none took the opportunity to grab the job heading into the 2017 season.
GRADE: A-minus. Wagner and Wright get A’s.
If the team doesn’t re-sign Morgan, who made $1 million in 2016, then the Seahawks will have to add someone to help compete at the strongside spot, and the Seahawks will also have to decide whether to tender Coyle.
But as Carroll said after the season, the biggest goal will be to add some young players to add depth and be groomed as possible starting options down the road while also serving as productive special teams players in the present.
The 2017 season will be especially pivotal for Pierre-Louis, a fourth-round pick in 2014 who will be entering the final year of his contract having yet to really establish a role on the defense and having ended the 2016 season with the unfortunate penalty that helped turn the divisional playoff game against Atlanta.