Threading the needle is an expression regularly used in football to describe a pass completed through a thicket of helmeted heads and grasping hands. The phrase can also be applied to what Seahawks management has done to forestall an unraveling.
A little more than a year ago, the Seahawks seemed upon a franchise-tearing moment, forced into trading decade-long hero Russell Wilson while gaining no substantial replacement at quarterback. Few NFL personnel sins are more grievous than ejecting a quality QB in his prime with no alternative. Yet here are the Seahawks, springboarding from an unexpected return to the playoffs in 2022 into the deep end of the pool in 2023 veteran free agency. The hiring period precedes the NFL draft April 27-29, where the Seahawks have 10 choices, including five among the first 83 selections.
The Seahawks in the first week signed five free agents, most notably Dre’Mont Jones, 26, from the Denver Broncos (considered in media rankings among the top 30 in the class) and former Seahawk Jarran Reed, 29, both defensive linemen to fix the team’s weakest unit. Along with safety Julian Love, linebacker Devin Bush and center Evan Brown, the quintet represents the biggest free agent splash of the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era.
Normally the coach and general manager walk wide around the free agent pool, seeing it as it so often is — quicksand. With the NFL’s salary cap, throwing money at used players is too often precarious and underproductive. Good teams use free agency only to plug gaps. So the quantity of these hires represents a frank admission that Carroll and Schneider had blown it over the past several seasons, with weak work in free agency and drafting that consigned the Seahawks to the NFL’s great mediocre middle.
But after a draft in 2022 that was widely regarded as the best in the NFL, the Seahawks pulled off a business deal at least as crucial in the attempt to get well fast — signing football-born-again QB Geno Smith, Wilson’s unheralded successor, to a three-year contract that is so team-friendly he practically qualifies as management instead of labor.
From the 30,000-foot view, the deal seems typical — $105 million over three years, $40 million guaranteed. But at lower altitude, the Seahawks are paying Smith $27.3 million this season. For a guy whose 2022 statistics were good enough to be called top-10 in the NFL, his 2023 expense currently ranks him 13th. Topping the NFL list is Aaron Rodgers with $50.3 million, just ahead of Wilson’s $49 million.
The differences between the salaries of Wilson and Smith is a $20 million-plus gap through which the Seahawks can rustle a lot of talent. The comparison is a little simplistic — the Seahawks also had to part ways with quality veterans such as RBs Rashaad Penny and Travis Homer, LB Cody Barton and DT Al Woods, with more to come — but the ability to get top-10 QB play for a mid-tier price opens the door to off-season opportunities unlike any in the Carroll era.
Should the Smith skeptics be validated by a possible regression to the mean in 2023, the Seahawks also re-signed his backup, Drew Lock, 26, to a one-year deal for $4 million, despite not playing a single snap in 2022.
“Drew was as positive as you could hope a guy would be that didn’t get a chance to play,” Carroll said in January. “He had a really good experience. He worked great with the coaches. We really appreciated his talent, his work ethic, and even more so, his mentality and support of Geno. He and Geno were buddies through the whole thing.”
To those who would smirk at the gooeyness as well as Lock’s ability, all Carroll has to do is point to Smith, and he wins the benefit of the doubt in judging QBs. At the most vital position in all of sports, the Seahawks threaded the needle.
With the QB position secured at lower cost, the Seahawks took a shot at mitigating their largest personnel mistake of recent years — the over-investment in safety Jamal Adams. He was lost for the 2022 season in the first game, tearing a quadriceps muscle attempting to tackle, of all people, Wilson. Since the surgery likely will keep Adams, 27, out at least for the start of the season — there’s some threat that the remaining $44 million in salary over three years will be for naught — the Seahawks hired Love, 25, from the Bears for $12 million over two years. He was the captain of the defense as well as special teams in Chicago and versatile enough to play both safety positions and cornerback. Since injuries forced four players into Adams’ job over the season, Carroll apparently was determined not to re-live the nightmare.
What do all these maneuvers mean for 2023? Hard to say, since the off-season is only around halftime. What’s clear is that the performance of Smith, as well as the relatively light weight of his subsequent contract, affords the chance for the Seahawks to do many things. That includes selecting with the No. 5 pick the scouting combine’s phenom, Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson. He’s a DK Metcalf-type athlete, 22 in May, who is unpolished, but could spend two years developing a shine behind Smith before succeeding him.
Logic says the Seahawks should draft high for defense. But given how far Carroll has come with quarterbacks since the civic despair of the Wilson trade 13 months ago, it seems a poor time to take the dice away from the hot hand.