As the final whistle sounded in Atlanta and the 2016 postseason officially sputtered to an end for the Seattle Seahawks, the countdown began on roster preparations for the 2017 campaign.
Despite capturing the NFC West crown and winning 10+ games for the fifth consecutive season, the ‘Hawks season left a lot to be desired and has some people wondering whether their window of opportunity at continued success is closing.
Injuries played a large part in the Seahawks’ woes of 2016, most notably to quarterback Russell Wilson and safety Earl Thomas at the end of the season. There were plenty of other significant injuries in between (Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, Tyler Lockett), but the injuries to Wilson and Thomas clearly had the most impact.
As has been customary at the end of each of the past several seasons, many of the question marks heading into next season revolve around the offensive line, which consistently proved themselves to be among the worst positional units in all of football. First-round pick Germain Ifedi played poorly for much of the season in his transition to RG, while the ‘Hawks trusted the blindside protection of its franchise player to undrafted rookie George Fant, who is currently just two years removed from beginning his football career.
Despite these issues, there is still plenty of reason for optimism. A defense that seemed to lose its edge at the end of the season can be bolstered from a strong draft class at key positions, most notably edge rushers and cornerbacks. The Seahawks also benefit from having enough cap flexibility to attract key free agents if they so choose. With that being said, here are several free agent acquisitions, as well as round-by-round NFL Draft prognostications, that could help restore some of the lost optimism come next fall:
OT Ricky Wagner
It goes without saying that the Seahawks will address the offensive line in some form or another over the course of the offseason. In Pete Carroll’s end-of-season press conference, he implied that their tentative plan relies heavily on the continued development of the current offensive line. Not to mention the fact that after removing himself from the 49ers head coaching search, OL coach Tom Cable will likely want to stick with “his” group as long as possible.
Unfortunately for the ‘Hawks, the free agent crop and draft class for offensive tackles is especially weak, but one under-the-radar player that may be of interest is Ravens OT, Ricky Wagner. Wagner, a fifth-round selection of Baltimore in the 2013 draft, has served as the Ravens’ starting right tackle since the 2014 season. He has started 14 or more games in each of the past three seasons and despite not being the type of athlete Seattle typically covets in their offensive line prospects, Wagner is adept in both the pass and run game and would immediately become the best player out of the current unit.
With the scarcity of offensive line help available this offseason, Wagner could end up being out of Seattle’s price range when all is said and done. However, they could have the benefit of a recruiting edge, as Wagner spent his final collegiate season for Wisconsin at left tackle…protecting none other than Russell Wilson.
Potential deal: 4 years, $26 million ( $16 million guaranteed)
S Duke Williams
The loss of Earl Thomas late in the season was perhaps the breaking point of the Seahawks’ 2016 defense, as the club seemed unable to get the stops at critical moments they were so used to getting on a regular basis. Thomas’ safety position became a bit of a revolving door, with Kelcie McCray and Steven Terrell getting a majority of the snaps. What became clear is that the lack of depth that the Seahawks are accustomed to having on defense became their biggest enemy in 2016. Mental lapses, penalties and some well-publicized outbursts from Richard Sherman became the norm as Seattle struggled to find the next man up when the injury bug hit.
With McCray and Jeron Johnson both scheduled to hit the market as UFA’s, it’s possible that the Seahawks will address the safety position both in free agency and the draft. One name that could get a look is former Bills fourth-round pick Duke Williams. Williams was cut by the Bills last November and ended up playing the remainder of the season with the Colts. Williams has tremendous range and athleticism that could provide valuable depth for the Seattle secondary and special teams unit. He’s a good tackler in the open field, something that certain members of the secondary struggled with this season, much to the dismay of Pete Carroll.
It may not be a flashy or expensive addition, but putting Williams on the roster could help ease the worries of ‘Hawks fans if Thomas and/or Chancellor is forced to miss any significant time next season. One other note: Williams was an official 30 visitor to the VMAC during his draft process back in 2013, another reason that John Schneider and Co. could already have him on their radar.
Potential deal: 2 years, $4 million ($2 million guaranteed)
DL Abry Jones
If there’s one spot Seattle has had success finding gems in free agency, it’s on the defensive line. The signings of Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett have proven to be among the most important acquisitions in franchise history. John Schneider continues to look for under-the-radar additions to the defensive line, and one name who could intrigue Seattle is Jaguars defensive tackle Abry Jones.
With Tony McDaniel scheduled to be a UFA at age 32, Jones could provide a valuable, younger presence to replace him for 2017. Jones started nine games for Jacksonville this season and although he isn’t a pass rushing threat (just 5.5 sacks in 4 seasons), he’s stout in the interior run game (35-inch arms!) and would form a formidable duo inside with 2016 draftee Jarran Reed. The Seahawks are at their best when they are able to rotate bodies up front and still create havoc, and adding Jones would be yet another way to add depth heading into next season. As much as we’d like Avril and Bennett to be around forever, knowing that some combination of Frank Clark, Jarran Reed and Abry Jones will be around for the future should bring some comfort to ‘Hawks fans.
Potential deal: 3 years, $12 million ($8 million guaranteed)
Other names to watch:
CB Johnthan Banks
K Randy Bullock
DL Stephen Paea
LB Spencer Paysinger
LB Josh Martin
QB Ryan Mallett
OL Menelik Watson
OL Tom Compton
LB Akeem Ayers
CB Sterling Moore
With the college All-Star games in full swing, John Schneider’s scouting department looks to gain valuable intel in order to narrow down their final draft board before April. Here, round-by-round, are some names you may end up becoming familiar with by the time the 2017 season rolls around:
Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson
The Seahawks could use a boost to their interior pass rush and Watkins has the size and athleticism to provide it.
Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana
Tak McKinley, EDGE, UCLA
Charles Harris, EDGE, Missouri
David Sharpe, OG, Florida
Listed at 6’6″, 357 lbs, David Sharpe is massive human being who will likely be another tackle-to-guard convert at the next level. Sharpe played in every game for the Gators in 2016 and from all accounts, was as motivated as ever to get improve his game, something that was apparently a problem in previous seasons. He’s a good run blocker and though his pass protection skills need work, he could be a worthy project for Seattle to develop for the future.
Budda Baker, S, Washington
Forrest Lamp, OG, Western Kentucky
Vincent Taylor, DT, Oklahoma State
Taywan Taylor, WR, Western Kentucky
I mentioned fellow Hilltopper OL Forrest Lamp in a previous draft post, but also on my radar of potential Seahawks is wideout Taywan Taylor, a speedster who enjoyed one of his best games in 2016 against a stout Alabama secondary. Over the past two seasons, Taylor totaled an absurd 34 receiving touchdowns, and racked up over 1,700 yards last season alone. Taylor reminds me quite a bit of Paul Richardson because of his tremendous ability to create space, so the addition of Taylor could serve as a bet hedged in case the club’s faith in P-Rich dwindles in 2017.
Jaleel Johnson, DT, Iowa
Kevin King, CB, Washington
Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma
Corn Elder, CB, Miami (Fla.)
With DeShawn Shead suffering a serious ACL injury in the Seahawks’ final game against Atlanta, John Schneider will look to add depth to the secondary going into 2017. Luckily for the ‘Hawks, the 2017 safety and cornerback class is one of the deepest in years. Former Hurricane and future Best Name in the NFL Award recipient Corn Elder could be a nice upgrade in the fourth-round, though it’s entirely possible he goes much higher than this. Elder could contribute right away at nickelback, possessing the speed and knack for creating turnovers that would immediately make him a valuable asset to the Seahawks secondary.
Jadar Johnson, S, Clemson
Gerald Everett, TE, South Alabama
James Conner, RB, Pitt
Blake Jarwin, TE, Oklahoma State
Luke Willson’s days in Seattle are all but over and after drafting Nick Vannett in the third round last year, the Seahawks could once again look to add another tight end to the roster via the 2017 draft. The club has had a heavy presence at Oklahoma State games throughout the year and Cowboys tight end Blake Jarwin is one likely target. Jarwin wasn’t much of a receiving threat last year for Oklahoma State but is valuable while blocking in the run game, which could help Seattle free up opportunities for Vannett and Jimmy Graham in two-TE packages.
Jessamen Dunker, OG, Tennessee State
Fabian Moreau, CB, UCLA
Rayshawn Jenkins, S, Miami (Fla.)
Derek Rivers, EDGE, Youngstown State
One of the better small-school defensive prospects in this class, Youngstown State’s Derek Rivers has the length, size and athleticism that Seattle looks for in an edge rusher. Rivers holds the school record for career sacks and was coached at Youngstown State under former Nebraska head man Bo Pelini, who has certainly been through his share of talented defensive line prospects. Rivers shows great instincts when diagnosing plays at the line of scrimmage and gets a good bend when coming off the edge in pass rushing situations.
Tedric Thompson, S, Colorado
Aaron Jones, RB, UTEP
Jayon Brown, LB, UCLA
Dallas Lloyd, S, Stanford
Originally at Stanford to play quarterback, Cardinal safety Dallas Lloyd was one of the key members of one of the best defenses in the Pac-12 last season. He finished up his 2016 campaign by picking off top quarterback prospect, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, twice in the Sun Bowl, finishing with five interceptions and 61 total tackles on the year. Lloyd is 6’2″, 213 and could be valuable in the box while also possessing enough speed and instincts to to cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield.
Jehu Chesson, WR, Michigan
Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee
Justin Davis, RB, USC