5 key questions the Seahawks face this offseason

Whether or not Seattle will re-sign DE Jadeveon Clowney is the top thing to keep an eye on.

The Seattle Seahawks have 19 unrestricted free agents heading into the offseason, headlined by defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. For a complete list of Seattle’s free agents, including restricted and exclusive rights free agents, visit the online version of this story at www.heraldnet.com.

The Seattle Seahawks’ 2019 season ended Sunday with a 28-23 loss at Green Bay in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. Though the defeat is still fresh, it’s already time to start thinking about next season. Here are five questions I’ll be keeping a close eye on during the offseason:

1) Can the Seahawks re-sign Jadeveon Clowney?

Clowney is an unrestricted free agent, and the defensive end who was the first-overall pick of the 2014 draft will be one of the most-coveted players on the market this offseason.

Clowney’s numbers this season don’t pop off the page — 31 tackles, three sacks — but he showed he can be a disruptive force, and when he was at his best, he was one of Seattle’s top defensive players.

Because of that, Clowney is going to get paid. The 26-year-old is likely to get a contract somewhere in the range of five years at more than $20 million a season with a lot of guaranteed money. This is for a player who cost Seattle just $8 million against the salary cap this season according to SpoTrac.com.

That’s a steep price, and the long-term commitment may create some pause for a player who will undergo offseason surgery for a core-muscle injury that slowed him this season. But the Seahawks have some salary-cap space to work with, and Seattle coach Pete Carroll indicated the Seahawks are making re-signing Clowney a priority.

There’s no guarantee Seattle will retain Clowney, and signing him to a big contract my restrict the Seahawks’ ability to bolster the roster in other areas. But it’s still the No. 1 question facing the team this offseason.

2) What else can Seattle do about its pass rush?

Even with Clowney the Seahawks struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks this season. Seattle finished tied for 29th in the NFL in sacks with a mere 28, and the Seahawks were 28th in quarterback pressure percentage at 19.3. This was the primary reason the Seahawks, who led the league in scoring defense from 2012-15, finished in the bottom half of the league (22nd) in scoring defense for the first time since 2010.

So while re-signing Clowney is a critical piece of this puzzle, more needs to be done to address the pass rush.

From a personnel standpoint there’s sure to be change. Veteran defensive end Ziggy Ansah was oft-injured and ineffective and is unlikely to be brought back for a second season. Seattle has decisions to make regarding the re-signing of defensive tackles Jarran Reed and Quinton Jefferson. And 2019 first-round draft pick L.J. Collier was a frequent healthy scratch and appears miles away from being a contributor. So Seattle likely will be active in both the free-agent market and at the draft in trying to improve the pass rush.

However, Carroll also alluded to the possible need to change things scheme-wise to generate a better pass rush. So the offseason activity — or lack of it — will shed light on how much the Seahawks believe their pass-rush woes were a matter of personnel versus scheme.

3) Do the Seahawks have a running back?

The Seahawks were once again a run-heavy team in 2019, finishing third in the NFL in rushing attempts, and that seems unlikely to change under Carroll. That requires a running back to carry the load, and as of now one has to ask whether Seattle has a reliable option.

Chris Carson had a good season, his second straight surpassing 1,000 yards, but his season was ended by a cracked hip. Rashaad Penny, the team’s 2018 first-round draft pick, finally showed glimpses of what he can do, but his season was ended by an ACL tear in his knee. They’ll both be back in 2020, but as we saw with Thomas Rawls, there’s no guarantee that a running back can return to full effectiveness following a significant injury.

Travis Homer did an admirable job with everyone else sidelined, but he appears more suited to a third-down role. The injury-prone C.J. Prosise seems unlikely to be re-signed as a free agent. We may find out at the draft what the Seahawks think about the prognosis for Carson and Penny.

And who knows, maybe the Seahawks will bring Marshawn Lynch back for one more go.

4) Will Seattle have to rebuild its offensive line?

Carroll said the team wants to maintain as much continuity on the offensive line as possible, but the Seahawks don’t have full control in this area.

Two of Seattle’s starters, right tackle Germain Ifedi and left guard Mike Iupati, are unrestricted free agents. The inconsistent Ifedi may get an offer the Seahawks don’t want to match, and the 32-year-old Iupati may have more miles than Seattle desires. Also, back-up tackle George Fant is an unrestricted free agent who said he wants to be a starter instead of being “No. 74 is eligible.”

Then there’s center Justin Britt, whose season-ending knee injury combined with his high salary-cap number in 2020 could make him a cost-savings casualty. Right guard D.J. Fluker is another player who could get cut to save some cash. The only starter whose position appears 100-percent secure is left tackle Duane Brown.

Joey Hunt, Jamarco Jones and Phil Haynes all spent time filling in, but did they do enough to convince?

While Seattle doesn’t want to go through another rebuilding effort on the offensive line, the Seahawks may not have a choice.

5) Who gets sacrificed?

Seattle is in good position with its salary cap, ranking seventh in the league in available space for 2020 with more than $69 million available according to SpoTrac.com. But that doesn’t mean the Seahawks will be able to re-sign all their free agents, or that there won’t be veterans who get cut to create more salary-cap space.

In addition to the impending free agents and potential salary-cap casualties listed above, the biggest — and potentially most emotional — decision Seattle will have to make is whether mainstay linebacker K.J. Wright is worth his $10 million cap hit next season. Between Britt and Wright the Seahawks can save about $15.5 million in salary-cap space if they are released. Of course, contract renegotiations are also a possibility.

Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.s

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