Now that the Super Bowl is over—wait, when did this one start?—the NFL offseason is officially here.
It’s time for a different kind of game for the Seahawks: Let’s Make a Deal.
And not just deals to re-sign veteran starters Frank Clark, D.J. Fluker, J.R. Sweezy and, eventually, some guy named Russell Wilson, either.
The league on Tuesday made official its order of selections for the draft’s first round this spring. The Seahawks (currently) have the 21st-overall pick in round one. That would be the highest choice coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have made since they drafted Bruce Irvin 15th overall in 2012.
Whatever. There’s a better chance of Carroll showing up for the draft on April 25 with his hair dyed black in a man-bun while wearing UCLA gear than the Seahawks using that 21st pick that day.
Carroll’s and Schneider’s M.O. in Seattle has been to trade down and even out of round one. They’ve done that to begin each of the last seven drafts. Carroll and Schneider have dealt Seattle’s way entirely out of the first round in four of those last seven drafts—and that’s been in years they’ve had 10 picks (2012 and ‘16) and even 11 (2013 and ‘17).
Offensive lineman James Carpenter was the last top pick Seattle made without making a trade affecting its first round. That was in 2011.
This year, that preference appears to be their imperative.
Entering the league’s annual scouting combine in Indianapolis this month, the Seahawks have just four picks in the 2019 draft. That’s half as many as their previous low under Carroll and Schneider: eight picks in 2015.
In fact, four picks is currently the fewest in team history.
The fewest players selected in a Seahawks draft is five. That was in 1997, when Seattle’s trades sent away seven picks but netted the team cornerback Shawn Springs with its new third-overall choice then eventual Hall-of-Fame left tackle Walter Jones at sixth overall. The team also had five picks in 1994, after trades dealt away two choices.
Having only four picks now is why the Seahawks are nearly certain to trade down in round one again, provided they find the right dealing partner. More than any in other draft of the Carroll-Schneider regime that started in January 2010, they need to acquire more picks to fill the holes that kept Seattle from having a home playoff game this past season.
Carroll mentioned again following the Seahawks’ 24-22 playoff loss at Dallas in the wild-card playoffs last month (as he did after each of the road playoff defeats that ended the 2015 and ‘16 seasons) how vital earning home playoff games are from each regular season, and how improving to that is Seattle’s goal for 2019.
Trading down for more draft picks and thus more help is a top priority for improvement this offseason. So any of the billion mock drafts you read between now and late April that have Seattle using its selection at 21 in the first round may be worth less than snow forecasts around Puget Sound.
Though Seattle’s need is obvious, don’t expect deals for more picks to occur in the next days or weeks. The Seahawks’ most immediate priority is re-signing Clark, or, failing that, using the franchise tag to keep their 14-sack force this past season from entering free agency March 13. The window to use the tag opens Feb. 19 and closes March 5.
Plus, teams have yet to gauge this draft class extensively enough to slot players into projected picks within rounds; this month’s combine is merely another step in those projections. Until they do, until they have good reads on what player may go where, teams won’t seriously discuss deals for picks in this year’s draft, let alone make them, until the days or hours leading up through it beginning April 25.
How did Carroll, Schneider and the Seahawks get here: from 10 picks in last year’s draft to just four for 2019’s seven-round draft: in rounds one, three, four and five?
Three trades. Only the first one seems worth losing a pick for right now.
In October 2017 the Seahawks sent a 2019 second-round choice to Houston as part of the package to acquire hold-out and Pro Bowl veteran left tackle Duane Brown. Brown has been the most accomplished and dependable member of Seattle’s offensive line the last season and a half. The Seahawks rewarded him with a $36.5 million, three-year extension last summer.
Also last summer, while setting their initial 53-man roster for the regular season days before the opener, Seattle traded a seventh-round pick in the 2019 draft to Oakland for safety Shalom Luani. Despite injuries to both starting safeties, Bradley McDougald and Tedric Thompson, that caused each to miss starts in 2018 Luani played just 10 snaps and made two tackles on defense all season. He made another seven tackles as a special-teams player.
Two days before the deal for Luani the Seahawks traded a sixth-round draft choice in 2019 to Green Bay for Brett Hundley. They wanted an experienced starter to backup Wilson at quarterback.
Then Wilson did what he always does: he started played every game for the seventh time in his seven NFL seasons. Not only that, the franchise quarterback took every snap. He was the only QB in the league to do that. The 30-year-old Wilson still hasn’t missed a practice in his pro career, let alone a game. Hundley is headed to free agency next month without having played in a game for Seattle, and the Seahawks are out that sixth-round pick on the draft’s final day April 27.
So what, a sixth-round pick? Well, Carroll and Schneider drafted eventual Super Bowl starting defensive backs Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane in round six. Last year they drafted defensive end Jacob Martin in the sixth round. By the latter half of this past season Martin was a regular on the third-down sub packages as an edge pass rusher. He ended up with three sacks as a rookie.
Seattle apparently isn’t going to get compensatory draft picks this spring to offset the choices lost in those trades, either. The league announces each spring comp picks to teams that had a net loss of qualifying, unrestricted free agents in the previous year.
In the 2018 offseason the Seahawks lost in free agency tight ends Jimmy Graham (to Green Bay) and Luke Willson (to Detroit), plus defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (to Minnesota) and wide receiver Paul Richardson (to Washington). Before last season Seattle signed in free agency tight end Ed Dickson (from Carolina), linebacker Barkevious Mingo (from Indianapolis), defensive tackle Shamar Stephen (from Minnesota), wide receiver Jaron Brown (from Arizona) and right guard Fluker (from the Giants).
That was a net gain of one qualifying, unrestricted free agent. So it appears no comp picks to Seattle in 2019.
The Seahawks’ most pressing draft need is at defensive tackle, to improve a defense that allowed a galling 4.9 yards per rush in the 2018 regular season and failed in a base requirement of Carroll’s defensive system. They also could use a rookie safety; Earl Thomas is leaving, and Thompson is not a sure thing as Thomas’ long-term replacement at free safety two seasons into his career. They need another outside linebacker with the uncertain futures of veterans K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks and more offensive linemen, specifically guards (Fluker and Sweezy can become free agents March 13). Plus, their wide receivers behind Doug Baldwin, who turns 31 this coming season, and Tyler Lockett remain unproven and inconsistent.
Yes, that’s more needs than the Seahawks currently have picks.
Thus the near necessity to trade down and acquire more.