We’re not used to Seattle Seahawks football being done in December.
The offseason came early for Seattle this season. For the first time since 2011 the Seahawks are sitting at home for the first weekend of the playoffs, watching from their couches after finishing 9-7. Therefore, it could be an offseason of transition for the organization.
With that in mind, here’s the five burning questions I’ll be chewing on this offseason:
1. Can the Seahawks hold onto general manager John Schneider?
For all the questions swirling around Seattle’s roster heading into the offseason, the most important question facing the Seahawks concerns the man responsible for assembling that roster.
Schneider has done a fantastic job since arriving in 2010, building the team that made the playoffs five straight seasons, reaching back-to-back Super Bowls, and claiming Super Bowl XLVIII. But Schneider’s roots are with the Green Bay Packers organization, where the Wisconsin native got his start in their scouting department in 1993 and was the top aide to general manager Ted Thompson when he was hired by the Seahawks. Thompson is stepping aside after 13 years and the Packers are searching for a new GM. According to reports Saturday, the Packers were denied permission to interview Schneider, but may be willing to offer Seattle compensation to make it happen. ESPN later reported that Schneider would be the preferred choice of many in the Packers organization, including coach Mike McCarthy.
Schneider signed a contract extension with Seattle in July of 2016 that runs through the 2021 season, and at the time Schneider said the extension did not contain an out clause should the Packers job open up.
This one should be sorted out in short order.
2. How much of the core of the defense is left intact?
This could be the offseason when Seattle begins dismantling the defense that dominated the league from 2012-16.
The core members of the defense — defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, cornerback Richard Sherman, and safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas — are all under contract for 2018. But the defense’s performance slipped this season as Seattle finished tied for 13th in the league in points allowed. The defense was also hit hard by injuries as Avril, Sherman and Chancellor all were lost for the season. With all of those players either approaching or passing 30 years old, the Seahawks may decide it’s time to get younger on defense and cut ties with some of the players who gave the team it’s Legion of Boom identity.
The Seahawks may have no choice on Avril or Chancellor, both of whom may be forced to retire because of their neck injuries. But even among those who made it through the season in one piece there are questions, with both Bennett and Thomas voicing doubts following the season finale about whether the organization intends to keep them around another year. We could see a changing of the guard with Seattle’s defense this offseason.
3. Do the Seahawks have a running back?
Based on the results of the running game this season, the answer is an emphatic, “No.” Seattle finished 23rd in the league in rushing yards per game (101.8), and much of that was due to the scrambling of quarterback Russell Wilson as no running back accumulated more than 240 yards. High-profile free-agent signing Eddie Lacy, a former Pro Bowler, was a big-time bust, while 2015 rookie sensation Thomas Rawls had his second straight disappointing campaign. There’s a good chance neither is back nexrt season.
Who does that leave in the stable? Rookie Chris Carson looked promising early in the season before suffering a broken leg. Mike Davis provided some spark down the stretch and could be an option. And C.J. Prosise is still lurking, provided he’s ever able to get healthy after missing 21 games over his first two NFL seasons.
But more likely Seattle will have to seek help from outside the organization. The Seahawks could use their first-round draft pick on a running back, such as LSU’s Derrius Guice or Stanford’s Bryce Love. Or they could hope to have better luck on the free-agent market this year, with the likes of San Francisco’s Carlos Hyde, Philadelphia’s LeGarrette Blount and New England’s Dion Lewis among the names likely to be available.
4. What happens at tight end?
Seattle’s two primary tight ends, Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson, both head into the offseason as unrestricted free agents.
Graham caught 57 passes for 520 yards and 10 touchdowns this season as he was named to the Pro Bowl. However, it was a frustrating season for Graham, characterized by drops and spells of disengagement. It’s safe to say the blockbuster trade that brought Graham to Seattle from New Orleans three years ago didn’t work out as the Seahawks hoped, and it’s a big question whether Seattle would be interested in bringing Graham back at the the price he would cost.
Willson, the last survivor from the Seahawks’ 2013 draft, is a popular figure in Seattle, but he’s never been a big producer for the Seahawks (15 catches, 153 yards, four touchdowns this season). This is Willson’s second straight year as an unrestricted free agent. Would he be willing to sign another team-friendly deal, and would the Seahawks see Willson as a viable starter?
5. Does Seattle invest dollars in a kicker?
For six years the Seahawks had few worries about their kicking game, with Steven Hauschka being as dependable as any in the league, making 88.8 percent of his field goals, including 15 of 22 from 50-plus yards. But when Hauschka became a free agent last offseason Seattle decided it couldn’t afford to re-sign him, and instead went with a low-budget option in Blair Walsh, who had been discarded by the Minnesota Vikings.
This year the Seahawks saw why Walsh was cut loose by the Vikings. Walsh was just 21-for-29 on field goals, and his misses played critical roles in Seattle’s losses to Washington, Atlanta and Arizona, all of which came at home. It seems highly unlikely the Seahawks will bring back Walsh, who is an unrestricted free agent.
But if Walsh isn’t re-signed, how does Seattle fill the void? Do the Seahawks get a veteran kicker with a track record, or do they search for another cost-savings option? This season showed the price for going cheap on a kicker. Can Seattle afford to take that risk again?
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.