Seattle Seahawks first-round NFL football draft pick Devon Witherspoon, a cornerback from Illinois, holds up his jersey with head coach Pete Carroll, left, and general manager John Schneider, right, on April 28 during a press conference at the team’s headquarters in Renton. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Seattle Seahawks first-round NFL football draft pick Devon Witherspoon, a cornerback from Illinois, holds up his jersey with head coach Pete Carroll, left, and general manager John Schneider, right, on April 28 during a press conference at the team’s headquarters in Renton. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Broncos saved Seahawks from tough draft choice, but is it for better or worse?

Denver’s seemingly meaningless Week 17 victory over the Chargers last season could be franchise-altering for Seattle.

  • Matt Calkins, The Seattle Times
  • Saturday, May 6, 2023 4:35pm
  • SportsSeahawks

By Matt Calkins / The Seattle Times

The game was a distant third on any Seahawks fan’s priority list that Sunday.

It was the final week of last year’s regular season, when the Seahawks needed to beat the Rams and the Lions needed to beat the Packers in order for the Hawks to reach the playoffs.

But perhaps the most significant outcome regarding the future of the franchise took place in Denver that afternoon, when the Broncos came back to beat the Chargers 31-28.

At the time, this probably felt like a minor irritation to most 12s, as their team’s postseason hopes were of much greater concern. But Denver’s victory meant the Seahawks picked fifth, not third, in the next draft after acquiring the Broncos’ selection via the Russell Wilson trade 10 months earlier.

And at the risk of hyperbole, that final score may play out as an organization-altering result for the foreseeable future. The question is whether it is for better or for worse.

Why for worse? Well, Seahawks general manager John Schneider was asked twice by the media last week — once after Day 2 of the draft and again after Day 3 — about not selecting a quarterback. The first time, Schneider said he couldn’t force the issue with such a “unique” position and that the Seahawks could still pick one over the next four rounds. The next day, he asserted something similar but mentioned that three quarterbacks (Bryce Young first, C.J. Stroud second and Anthony Richardson fourth) were off the board before they could pick.

An implication that the Seahawks would have snagged one of those signal callers if given the opportunity? Doesn’t seem far-fetched.

The fact is, the storybook season of Geno Smith really only netted him one guaranteed year in Seattle, where he will earn at least $27.3 million. He is a 32-year-old who, yes, led the NFL in completion percentage last season while finishing fifth in passer rating, but who dropped off in the second half and has a career record of 22-29 as a starter.

Schneider and coach Pete Carroll weren’t shy about voicing their interest in drafting a QB, as their offseason selfie tour with the aforementioned names made national headlines. Their third pick would have guaranteed they got one of those guys if they really wanted him, and an opportunity to land a quarterback of that (ostensible) caliber may not present itself for years to come. It’s true that the Seahawks may have simply drafted edge player Will Anderson Jr. with the third pick (he went third overall to the Texans, who traded up to get him), the brass did seem pretty keen on these QBs.

Then again, here is why picking fifth instead of third may have been a blessing for the Seahawks: The decision to try and “win now” or build toward the future was already made for them.

Perhaps the easiest choice in Seattle sports history came in 2007, when the Sonics picked Kevin Durant No. 2 overall in the NBA draft. The real pressure that year was on the Blazers, who had to decide between KD and Greg Oden. So when Portland picked the latter, zero brain power went into the Sonics taking the former. The choice was made for them.

It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison to the Seahawks’ last draft, as they still had to decide which player best suited them. But they knew their interest was in who would help them win ASAP — not two or three years from now.

The personnel choice ended up being Devon Witherspoon, the cornerback out of Illinois. If you want to know how effective a cornerback who went fifth in the draft can be, just look at players such as Deion Sanders, Patrick Peterson and Jalen Ramsey.

No one’s promising Witherspoon will be enshrined in Canton like those three are/will be, but he could end up as Exhibit A for why the Seahawks’ trade with the Broncos two Marches ago was the best in franchise history.

I suppose a lot of this will come down to Geno himself. If he ends up being the Pro Bowl-level quarterback who earns every penny of the three-year deal that could pay him up to $75 million, then getting a standout defensive player at No. 5 will have been a break. But if Smith ends up posting numbers reminiscent of his days with the Jets, then that Broncos’ end-of-the-season win may be what posterity looks back on as the reason the Seahawks slumped for years to come.

Legacies in sports often come down to a bounce here or a call there — or maybe a few points in a game you were barely thinking about. The Broncos were better than the Chargers in Week 18 last season. We’ll see whether the Seahawks are better because of it.

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