Any NFL team’s offseason is sort of one long game of who’s in and who’s out.
The Seahawks didn’t have as much turnover this year as the past few seasons. But they had their share, seeing a handful of key players sign as unrestricted free agents with other teams, and a few others who remain unsigned and potentially unlikely to be back, while signing a few others to replace those who are gone.
With Seahawks coach Pete Carroll speaking to the media Tuesday at the NFL league meetings for the first time since the beginning of the free agent signing period, here are his thoughts on how the team plans to replace some of those who got away.
Earl Thomas is now gone for good, off to Baltimore with a four-year, $55 million contract. Carroll confirmed Tuesday the team never really talked to him.
While rumors have floated that the Seahawks could be interested in a veteran free agent to help fill the void — and Seattle could also take a safety in the draft — for now Carroll seems content to go with the same three players who filled the safety spot last year once Thomas was lost for the season in the fourth game. Those three are Bradley McDougald, Tedric Thompson and Delano Hill, players Carroll says are versatile enough to give Seattle a lot of mix-and-match options.
“I’m encouraged about the spot,’’ Carroll said. “Delano did a really nice job late in the season, he really came on. We chose him with the thought that he’s an extraordinary athlete, really fast, he’s big and strong, we thought he was the best tackler in the draft. In transitioning to the spot, all of a sudden he just popped last year, past the midway point, late in the season he just looked like he really embraced the position, the challenges, the questions, all that kind of stuff. So that’s a big positive. Bradley is a terrific football player. Bradley was working through some (injury) stuff last year, so he wasn’t as healthy as he would liked to have been. He’s feeling great now, and we’re hoping he’ll be back in great shape. Then T2 (Tedric Thompson) was a terrific performer for us. Remember how well he competing through camp, he made such a big impression. We know he’s a good player, he’s a smart kid. So it’s a good trio, at least. We’re in good shape right there.”
Seattle lost left guard J.R. Sweezy, who signed with Arizona, but kept right guard D.J. Fluker and signed free agent Mike Iupati to replace Sweezy. Iupati played for Seattle offensive line coach Mike Solari for five years with the 49ers, and Carroll said that was a key in Iupati’s decision to sign with Seattle.
“Iupati said his favorite coach he ever had was Mike,’’ Carroll said. “That was another added to the positives of it. They have good background together. Again, we’ll see it this year. Fluke was always ahead of our guys (last year) because of the understanding of what Mike expects. I think we just got a bit better.’’
And Carroll made clear that he sees a Fluker-Iupati guard tandem, which would mean the rest of the line staying as is — Justin Britt at center and Duane Brown and Germain Ifedi at left and right tackle (and obviously players such as George Fant getting their chance to compete).
“Fluke and Iupati, I’m really looking forward to seeing those guys go,’’ Carroll said. “Mike’s a guy we played against forever, love how tough he is and how physical he is. Add him to what Fluke brought us last year I think it’s going to be a real positive. Bigger, stronger, tougher is good for us.”
This one was pretty simple. Out is Sebastian Janikowski, who had an erratic season in 2018 in which he also suffered two injuries late in the year. In is Jason Myers, who was with the Seahawks in training camp last year before Seattle decided to keep Janikowski. Each at the time was on a one-year deal. Seattle signed Myers earlier this month to a four-year contract worth up to $15.45 million after Myers made 33-36 field goals last year with the Jets — who claimed him after he was waived by Seattle — to earn a Pro Bowl nod.
“I had a real clear thought about it when he was free — we end the season and he’s one of the top guys in the league,’’ Carroll said. “We had him, really liked the kid and thought the world of him. I remember saying to John if he had been on our team and had that kind of year we would have done everything to sign him back. To me it wasn’t that much different. He had an incredible season, great from long distance, extraordinarily consistent, he really liked being with us, family wanted to come back if they could, and it all fit together really well.”
Justin Coleman, the starting nickelback all of last season and most of 2017, departed after getting a contract from Detroit making him the highest-paid slot corner in the NFL.
Exactly how Seattle plans to replace Coleman remains a little clear. Carroll mentioned each of the obvious candidates on Tuesday when asked about that position — Akeem King, Kalan Reed and Jeremy Boykins. King played some slot corner in a six-defensive back scheme last year while Seattle kept Reed on the 53-man roster at the end of the year with the idea that he might be needed to help replace Coleman.
“He’s going to be in the competition of it,’’ Carroll said of King. “He did a really nice job. He’s going to have a shot at the nickel spot as well. We played him in there in the dime situation and moved him in and out of there. He’s bigger than other guys, got big, solid frame and over 200 pounds. He’s been really consistent, he’s really fast and we like the heck out of him. From what he did last year we expand his role, see where he can take it and expect him to play for us on a regular basis.”
King, though, is 6-1, 215, which doesn’t really fit the traditional mold of a slot corner — Reed, who is 5-11, 199, does.
“Lots of times that’s where a smaller guy gets his chance,’’ Carroll agreed. “But it doesn’t have to be a smaller guy. But we’ll see how he does. We’ll have to check him out against all different types in there. We have enough information to feel good about it. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. He’ll have some good competition. We have a couple other guys who will battle for the spot as well.”
One of those other guys, Carroll said, is the 6-2, 183-pound Boykins who caught Seattle’s eye during training camp last year and spent much of the season on the practice squad.
“I want to see what he does in there,’’ Carroll said. “He’s real quick guy that did a really nice job for us. You guys don’t know much about him. He’s longer, he’s more like Akeem is. Really feisty, really challenging guy. Kalan Reed will get a shot in there, too. We like what he does. He’s played there before. We know that he looks good there as well. It’s going to be a wide open comp and we’ll see how it goes.”
Seattle lost Mike Davis, who was the team’s second-leading rusher a year ago and the primary third-down, two-minute back, to the Chicago Bears.
Seattle isn’t worried about the top of its tailback depth chart with Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny returning — expect the Seahawks to find plenty of ways to get the ball to each, with the two likely sharing the early-down role.
Penny, in particular, can also fill the third-down, two-minute role, having done so a few times last year.
But Carroll said another player the team hopes is a factor there is fourth-year tailback C.J. Prosise. Prosise has been oft-injured in his previous three seasons and most Seattle fans raise a pretty skeptical eye at any mention of his name.
But Carroll said Tuesday he hopes that a recent abdominal surgery will allow Prosise to get and stay healthy and be a significant contributor in 2019.
“C.J. had his surgery,’’ Carroll said. “The surgery was more intense than they had even anticipated. He was working really hard to stay with us as long as he could. That’s an injury you can deal with to a certain extent and then it just overcomes your ability. He hung tough throughout and so we’ve loved C.J. and the dynamics that he brings to us, so to get him back – and really when you think of us losing Mike, C.J. comes back into the fold I think it’s a tremendous addition running and catching and blocking. He’s a good prospect. So in the position we love the competition, we love the depth, we love the play of our guys. C.J. can really bring us something. I’m anxious to see him fit back in.’’
The Seahawks have yet to add any significant pass rushing players in the offeason, though they are exploring some free agents, such as former Green Bay Packer Nick Perry. But they also could lose player as defensive end Dion Jordan remains unsigned with no certainty that he will return.
Carroll, though, cited one returnee as a player he thinks can take a big step next season – second-year edge player Jacob Martin.
“I’m pretty excited about what Jacob Martin did,’’ Carroll said. “If you guys check his stats, you’ll see Jacob Martin’s pressure percentage was really up there with elite players in a limited role. As a matter of fact, I saw Jacob the other day, he looks great, working hard to keep—he lost weight during the season, trimmed down more than we would like him to. I think if he can maintain his weight around 245, right in that area, I think it’s going to make a difference. But he had a very effective year, three sacks and a really good looking percentage of pressures, I think 15-something, which is right up there with really good players. So we’re thinking we give him more opportunities. He’s got a great motor, he plays like crazy on the field. So to have him and Frank (Clark) going, that’s fantastic energy that they bring. We’ll see how he does, but he should be better than last year.”
Seahawks may not have noticed Shamar Stephen a whole lot last season. But after signing as a free agent last March he started 15 games for Seattle at defensive tackle last year. He’s now back with the team he came from –Minnesota — leaving a hole at the tackle spot.
Carroll confirmed Tuesday that one player he expects to take on a bigger role there is Poona Ford, who made the roster last year as an undrafted free agent out of Texas and came on strong at the end of the season.
Carroll said “yes, absolutely’’ when asked if Ford will have a bigger role in 2019.
“Poona really did a nice job,’’ Carroll said. “We’re really fired up about him. Maybe we were a little conservative in playing him early but the more we played him the better he played and the more we saw. He’s a really active football player, great instincts, his ability to run sideline to sideline, he was documenting that. So we’re fired up. He’s going to play in the rotation with the first guys. We’re excited about that.’’