It's not been a great off-season for the Seattle Seahawks.
Since missing the playoffs last season Seahawks fans have sat through the team firing large chunks of their coaching staff, hearing the news that defensive studs Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril might never be able to play football again, Richard Sherman's impending release, Russell Wilson declaring that drinking water will cure concussions, and yesterday's deal that sent pass-rusher Michael Bennett to the Philadelphia Eagles for a late-round pick and a receiver they'd never heard of.
And it's only March. Yikes.
That's . . . not a great haul for a Pro Bowl-caliber defensive lineman, and Seattle having to throw in their own 7th-round pick to sweeten the deal is possibly the most insulting part of the whole transaction.
Yes, Bennett is 32, and yes, he's in the last year of an extremely team-friendly contract before he likely opts out - but he's is still a capable player, and the modest return Seattle received for him is indicative of the prioritization of internal roster building in the modern NFL today. There are plenty of teams that would benefit from Bennett's skills, but if Philadelphia truly proposed the best offer to the Seahawks then it's a fairly large red flag for GMs and veteran players about the value that they can expect to command in the trade and free agent markets in these coming weeks. GMs value building through the draft more and more these days, and aging veterans just aren't in demand like they used to be.
The Bennett trade signals that the days of Seattle being a defensive powerhouse are all but over. The young, cheap, aggressive Legion of Boom became old, expensive, and fraught with infighting, open dislike for Russell Wilson, and regressions across the board without many meaningful additions. Additionally, a rash of unfortunate injuries robbed the group of playing a final meaningful season together before their inevitable breakup. Chancellor, Sherman, and Earl Thomas made up the core of the Seahawks' once-vaunted secondary, but they weren't able to stay on the field consistently down the stretch of their final years together. It's no secret anymore that the most dominant young defense in the league isn't in Seattle; it's down south in Jacksonville, and free agents-to-be are well aware of it.
The Seahawks will still hold on to highly skilled players like Thomas (who in the past has openly talked about potentially retiring) so their defense won't turn into toilet paper overnight, but it's impossible to call this massive turnover of the coaching staff and the departure of two of the cornerstones of the defense anything other than a rebuild or a reboot. Does that mean the Seahawks are going to collapse, and the Wilson-Carroll combination will never sniff the postseason again? No, but Seattle has some very real needs to fill in the coming months; none bigger than the offensive line.
It's imperative that Seattle finally put some money and resources into this unit. They began the process with the firing of oft-maligned Offensive Line Coach Tom Cable, replacing him Mike Solari - Pete Carroll and new OC Brian Schottenheimer have had prior experience with Solari and know what he brings to the table that should net better results than Cable's tenure as line coach - but personnel upgrades are desperately needed up front as well.
Solari should help steady what's been a notoriously shaky ship, and no one should be more thankful for his arrival than Russell Wilson. Seattle's line has been spectacularly bad over the past few seasons, and turning it around has to be the absolute first priority for this team's front office heading into the draft. Wilson was running for his life on every other down, having to make spectacular plays on every non-rushing play Seattle ran from scrimmage seemingly every drive just to keep the chains moving. The Seahawks shipped out Max Unger for Jimmy Graham and also let Russell Okung walk, only to replace them with guys who do this:
Not great! Sure, that play is about as coincidental as that weird 2K-like glitch were the Phoenix Suns all started running at the same time, but when your line coach was also responsible for a group that does this, you might have a problem on your hands:
That's a one-man rush getting pressure on the QB. There are four dudes standing completely still, totally unaware that their QB is being hassled by a single linebacker. Thomas Rawls is just dancing around wondering what's happening. Unreal.
That group needs serious help, and there are plenty of available free agents the Seahawks can pursue that should help shore things up. Nate Solder, Josh Sitton, Ja'Wuan James, and Justin Pugh highlight a free agent bunch that's more than capable should Seattle find a way to land one or two of them, and if GM John Schneider can address the remaining holes up front via the draft, the line can flip from a massive weakness to a strength fairly quickly.
Seattle plays in one of the tougher divisions in all of football, with matchups against the Rams, 49ers, and Cardinals twice a year. LA is a legitimate Super Bowl contender, the Niners will be vastly improved this year with a full training camp of Jimmy Garoppolo and some meaningful additions, and Arizona is always a threat to turn a potential “gimme” game into a hard-fought contest. With the amount of internal strife Seattle will have endured by the time the fall comes around, it's easy to imagine the team already being somewhat burnt out by the time they even step on the field for Week 1.
The Seahawks will also need to fill holes in their secondary, along their defensive line, and in their backfield. This team is going to look much different than the one we saw last season, and how well the new group of incoming players mesh together will determine a great deal of Seattle's success. The only silver lining is that all the players, both new and old, will be learning new schemes - but that's not generally something that comes easily or quickly.
It's going to take time for the schemes of all the Seahawks' new coaches to mesh together, and in what's shaping up to be a difficult division the margin for error is going to be extremely slim. If Seattle finds themselves dropping a few early games, it may be too late for them to save their season by the time they get things sorted out. While they can rely on Wilson for a few late-game heroics per year, that's not a viable thing to bank on week in and week out.
It's shaping up to be a down year in Seattle, but that doesn't mean the Seahawks won't be able to bounce back quickly. They still have a franchise quarterback in Wilson, some solid defensive players remaining, and a consistently underrated receiving corps - things shouldn't get too dark in the long term, but the Seahawks have some serious needs to address in the coming months if they want to prevent their franchise reboot from turning into a full-on rebuild.