There is less uncertainty facing the Seattle Seahawks as they head into this year’s offseason.
Last year there were questions about which starters Seattle would lose to free agency. Questions about whether star players would hold out. Even questions about the status of general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll, who hadn’t signed contract extensions.
The Seahawks don’t have those kinds of questions this year. All of Seattle’s core players are under contract for 2017. There’s been no hints of potential labor unrest. And Schneider and Carroll signed on the dotted line just before the season began.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t Seahawks storylines worth following this offseason. Here’s four I’ll be keeping an eye on:
1) What happens with Kam Chancellor and Jimmy Graham?
Both Chancellor, Seattle’s starting strong safety, and Graham, Seattle’s starting tight end, are entering the final season of their contracts, the point at which the Seahawks look to negotiate extensions. Both are important players, as Chancellor is the team’s enforcer and spiritual leader on defense, while Graham’s gigantic frame makes him a unique weapon on offense.
But both also have put plenty of miles on the odometer. Both will be entering their eighth season in the league, with Graham being 30 when the 2017 season begins and Chancellor 29. Both have dealt with injuries the past two seasons. At their age, one has to question how much longer they can sustain the quality of their play.
And both come with large price tags. According to OverTheCap.com Graham is set to make $10 million next season while Chancellor is set to make $8.125 million. If the Seahawks were to release Graham they would save all $10 million against the salary cap, while releasing Chancellor would result in just $1 million of dead money counted against the salary cap. If Seattle decides it needs to free up more money under the cap, those moves would be the easiest way to accomplish it.
During his season-ending press conference Carroll praised both Chancellor and Graham, suggesting both will be back. But it’s still a situation that bears watching.
2) How does Seattle move forward on the offensive line?
The Seahawks ended the season with a starting offensive line that included a center (Justin Britt) who was on his third position in three seasons, a right tackle (Garry Gilliam) who lost his job midseason, a left guard (Mark Glowinski) in his second season, and rookies at right guard (Germain Ifedi) and left tackle (George Fant). None were older than 26, and none made more than $1.5 million.
Going with the young and inexperienced options on the offensive line allowed Seattle to lock its stars down to long-term contracts, but it led to mixed results up front. The Seahawks never gained consistency on offense, and the play of the line contributed to that.
Carroll said he expects the line to improve because of its youth. But he also didn’t rule out the possibility of bringing in other players to add to the competition. Without having much in the way of key free agents they need to re-sign, the Seahawks could put their financial resources toward trying to find an established offensive lineman or two to add to the mix, either through trade or free agency. Will Seattle add veterans? Will they add through the draft? And will it result in significant improvement?
3) How well will Seattle’s injured players recover?
Free safety Earl Thomas’ season-ending injury was a hammerblow for the Seahawks. Thomas suffered a broken tibia in a collision with Chancellor in Seattle’s 40-7 victory over the Carolina Panthers in Week 13. Seattle’s defense wasn’t the same without him.
Thomas wasn’t the only key player to suffer a season-ending injury. Receiver Tyler Lockett suffered a grisly injury when he had both the tibia and fibula broken in his leg in Seattle’s Week 15 34-31 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Then cornerback DeShawn Shead suffered a major knee injury in Saturday’s 36-20 playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Will these three be ready for the start of 2017? The Seahawks are hopeful Thomas, who made noise about contemplating retirement before backtracking, and Lockett will be back in time for the start of the season. They’re less confident about Shead. Whether those players remain on track with their recoveries — as well as whether they return at their same effectiveness — will not only impact next season, it may force Seattle to acquire some insurance policies during the offseason.
4) What do the Seahawks do with Steven Hauschka?
Hauschka has been Seattle’s kicker the past six seasons, and he’s been one of the best. He’s third on the NFL’s list of career field-goal percentage at 87.2 percent. He’s second on the Seahawks’ career scoring list with 759 points. He’s been money from 50-plus yards (12-for-14 the past four seasons) and he’s made game-winning kicks.
But something misfired with Hauschka this season. He was fine on field goals (33-for-37), but he missed seven extra points between the regular season and the playoffs, and his missed 28-yard field goal at the end of overtime in Seattle’s 6-6 tie against Arizona ultimately cost the Seahawks a first-round bye in the playoffs and home-field advantage in the divisional round.
Hauschka becomes an unrestricted free agent this offseason. His salary-cap hit in 2016 was $3.525 million, the fourth-highest in the league among kickers. Given Hauschka’s hiccups this season, will the Seahawks continue to pay top dollar for Hauschka, or will they choose a cheaper option at kicker and devote some of that money elsewhere?