Maybe it shouldn’t be all that surprising the Seattle Seahawks managed 10 wins and made a playoff appearance despite an offseason overhaul that claimed some of the best players in franchise history.
Just listen to any interview with John Schneider.
While the Seahawks’ general manager rarely speaks to the media, he repeats the same five-word phrase pretty much every time he does: “Consistent championship-caliber football team.” It’s his way of saying the Seahawks are always going to try to be in the mix for a Super Bowl without ever having to intentionally be lousy for a season or two to get there.
“It’s just always very, very hard to make those decisions to move on from people, but that’s what we have to do in order to be a consistent championship-caliber football team,” Schneider told reporters at the owners meetings last March.
By that point, the Seahawks had released cornerback Richard Sherman, traded defensive end Michael Bennett and let three other starters leave in free agency: tight end Jimmy Graham, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and wide receiver Paul Richardson. They would later release defensive end Cliff Avril, who had suffered a career-ending neck injury, as had strong safety Kam Chancellor.
“We don’t want to be having these major rebuilding years,” Schneider said. “We want to be able to have little resets, if you will.”
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Whatever you want to call it, all the firepower that left made this the most significant transformation of the Seahawks’ roster since Schneider and coach Pete Carroll arrived in 2010 and almost completely turned things over in their first two years in Seattle.
Those decisions resulted in a 10-6 record and the postseason a year after 9-7 left them out of the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Carroll brought in offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and offensive line coach Mike Solari as part of an overhaul of his staff, and while Schottenheimer’s playcalling deservedly came under fire after Seattle’s wild-card playoff loss to Dallas, those additions were still a net positive with the Seahawks leading the league in rushing and scoring the second-most points in franchise history.
Tyler Lockett (10 touchdowns), Chris Carson (1,151 rushing yards), Frank Clark (14 sacks) and Jarran Reed (10.5 sacks) had the best seasons of their careers after taking significant steps in their development.
The Seahawks curbed their penalty problem, going from a franchise-record and league-high 148 in 2017 to 111 for about 2.3 fewer flags per game.
And then there were the personnel moves that Schneider and his staff made.
They cleared more than $25 million in 2018 cap space by moving on from Sherman, Bennett, Avril and cornerback Jeremy Lane. But they didn’t use those savings to make any expensive free-agent splashes. Of the players Seattle added in free agency, tight end Ed Dickson‘s three-year, $10.7 million contract was the longest and most expensive in terms of annual average. The Seahawks went bargain shopping and found some excellent values.
Between free agency and the draft, here are the five most impactful moves Schneider made in rebui… — err, resetting Seattle’s roster:
1. Re-signing Bradley McDougald. This may have been the single-most important signing because of Chancellor’s injury and the uncertainty with Earl Thomas, who had already hinted at a holdout. The Seahawks brought him back on a three-year, $13.5 million deal right before the start of free agency. He finished second on the team in tackles with 78 to go along with three interceptions and three forced fumbles while starting every game. He was the most veteran member of a secondary whose youth was evident at times, and his versatility again came in handy when he moved from strong safety to free safety for the final two games of the regular season.
2. Adding D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy. There’s no better example of the bargain approach the Seahawks took in free agency than what they did at guard. Fluker and Sweezy signed one-year deals that — factoring in bonus money — paid them $1.6 million and $1.8 million, respectively. They gave Seattle a combined 24 regular-season starts and were vital in the run game. The $3.4 million combined for Fluker and Sweezy was less than half of the nearly $8 million the Seahawks paid last year for 11 uneven starts at guard from Luke Joeckel. It would be a boon if the Seahawks could bring back Fluker and/or Sweezy on another inexpensive deal in 2019.
3. Replacing the specialists. The Seahawks used the fifth-round pick they got from the Eagles in the Bennett trade to move up in the same round for Michael Dickson. Trading up for a punter was a rare move that raised eyebrows — especially since the Seahawks already had a good one in Jon Ryan — but it immediately paid off. Dickson became the first rookie punter to make the Pro Bowl and was also named a first-team All-Pro. He was leading the league in net punting average before he had two punts blocked in Week 17. The lasting image some may have of Sebastian Janikowski is either his weak attempt at a tackle on a kickoff that was returned for a touchdown in Week 15 or the pulled hamstring that sidelined him for the second half of the wild-card game, but he was a significant upgrade. Blair Walsh went 21-of-29 on field goal attempts last season. That included misses in losses to Washington, Atlanta and Arizona that could have changed the result. Janikowski went 22-of-27, including three game winners as time expired.
4. Moving on from Graham. Dickson’s 12 catches for 143 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games didn’t come close to matching Graham’s receiving production. It wasn’t supposed to. The Seahawks signed Dickson to be an upgrade as a blocker, which was never a strength of Graham’s. It was the same reason they spent a fourth-round pick on Will Dissly, whom they considered the best blocking tight end in the draft. That skill took on more importance with Seattle trying to rebuild its running game. Graham’s re-emergence as a red zone threat last season was directly tied to the Seahakws’ inability to run the ball, especially near the goal line. Dickson’s blocking was a factor in Seattle’s running game, and he cost about a third of what Green Bay paid for Graham.
5. Drafting Tre Flowers. Dissly and Flowers were the two players the Seahawks felt they absolutely had to have in last year’s draft. Flowers played safety at Oklahoma State, but the Seahawks thought he had the potential to become their next oversized cornerback. Flowers went from a supposed project as a fifth-round pick to the starter in Week 1 on the right side. He predictably struggled in his NFL debut but was playing as well, if not better, as Shaquill Griffin by the end of the season. Would the Seahawks have been better at cornerback in 2018 had they hung onto Sherman for the final season of his contract and left Griffin on the right side? Probably so given the way Sherman bounced back from his Achilles injury. But the drop-off without Sherman wasn’t nearly as significant as it could have been given he’s one of the best cornerbacks of his era. The long-term upside that Flowers showed as a rookie, plus the money the Seahawks saved, made that a worthwhile swap.