They knew what they were doing with Russell Wilson trade

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Hannah Lucca)

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Hannah Lucca)

Here’s where we apologize to Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks. It isn’t the first time.

The Seahawks have been unconventional for years and it always works out. They pushed it to the limit last season. They traded Russell Wilson, who made nine Pro Bowls in 10 Seahawks seasons, to the Denver Broncos. Teams do not trade franchise quarterbacks in their prime, but the Seahawks did. They didn’t do much to replace Wilson either. The football world chuckled that their QB battle would be between Geno Smith and Drew Lock.

“We’ve been successful for a long time and we’re proud of that,” Carroll said in March 2022, according to the Seattle Times. “We know what we’re doing.”

That’s hard to deny. The Seahawks looked very smart by the end of the season, making the doubters look dumb. Wilson fell apart in Denver, though poor coaching didn’t help that. Smith won the job in preseason and had a remarkable year. It was the kind of career revival you don’t see often. The Seahawks had all of those draft picks from the Wilson trade and ended up with the better quarterback, at least for last season.

The Seahawks spent all offseason getting ridiculed, then made the playoffs. It was inexplicable that a team could trade a nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback, replace him with a 32-year-old washout who hadn’t started regularly since 2014, and get better. But the Seahawks did it.

Carroll, and general manager John Schneider, proved everyone wrong again.

“People don’t get it,” Carroll said on KIRO-AM during last season, via The Athletic. “I love to show them. I love to prove it to them.”

It’s not like the Seahawks are back to their 2012-14 heights yet. There’s work to be done. Seattle did go just 9-8 and caught a break to make the playoffs when the Detroit Lions beat the Green Bay Packers in the final game of the regular season. The defense gave up too many big plays. Fair or not, Smith will need to prove last season wasn’t a fluke. The Seahawks were blasted three times last season by NFC West rival San Francisco, including in a wild-card playoff game.

But let’s assume Carroll has a good plan.

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll's faith in quarterback Geno Smith was rewarded last season. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll’s faith in quarterback Geno Smith was rewarded last season. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Seattle’s surprising season was led by Smith’s career year and a draft class that will bolster the Seahawks going forward. They hit on many picks, and it didn’t hurt to have all those Broncos picks. Then this year’s draft haul got the fourth-best average grade among analysts, via Football Outsiders. If that draft hits like experts think it did, Seattle will be in good shape for a while.

The Seahawks are set up to be pretty good for the next few years, though it’s worth wondering how much longer Carroll will be around. He’s 71 years old and very few coaches have lasted that long. But he also knows that taking another group to a Super Bowl, after moving on from a franchise quarterback, would solidify his Hall of Fame resume.

Carroll’s ability shouldn’t be questioned after what he pulled off last season after trading Wilson. He knows what he’s doing.

Offseason grade

The Seahawks got better this offseason. Maybe much better. They signed defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones to a three-year deal worth more than $51 million. Safety Julian Love and defensive lineman Jarran Reed were added on smaller deals. Then came a fun reunion, with linebacker Bobby Wagner rejoining the team after one season on the Los Angeles Rams. Wagner had the top Pro Football Focus grade among all linebackers last season. Those were much-needed additions to the defense. There were no crucial losses either. Then the draft class, bolstered by picks from the Broncos, looked very good. Cornerback Devon Witherspoon was added with the fifth overall pick (thanks, Denver), and with the 20th pick Seattle took Jaxon Smith-Njigba, the top receiver in the class. In the second round the Seahawks added edge rusher Derick Hall and running back Zach Charbonnet. Seattle did all that and still was able to re-sign quarterback Geno Smith.

Grade: A

Quarterback report

Geno Smith was fantastic in a Week 1 win over the Broncos, completing 23-of-28 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns. After years of languishing as a backup, it was his time in the sun.

“They wrote me off. I ain’t write back though,” Smith said in a memorable quote to ESPN.

And it was supposed to fall apart after that. It didn’t. Smith, who failed quickly as a second-round pick of the New York Jets, maintained a high level all season. He led the NFL in completion percentage. He threw for 4,282 yards, 30 touchdowns and had a 100.9 passer rating. That rating was better than Joe Burrow and Josh Allen, among others. He signed a three-year, $75 million deal (with $30 million more possible in incentives) in the offseason to stay in Seattle. It was one of the best stories in the NFL last season, and there’s no great reason to believe Smith can’t repeat it.

BetMGM odds breakdown

I’ll take the Seahawks at +195 at BetMGM to win the NFC West (those odds have come down significantly over the offseason). They made the playoffs last season and then got better this offseason. There is the concern about the way the 49ers dominated them last season, but San Francisco’s quarterback questions and the odds have me taking the Seahawks. I’ll also take the over on 8.5 wins and for Seattle to make the playoffs at -120. This Seahawks team is poised for a nice season.

Yahoo’s fantasy take

From Yahoo’s Scott Pianowski: “Tyler Lockett is a little pricier in Yahoo leagues than he is in national ADP, but that doesn’t faze me. He fits one of my favorite fantasy themes, the boring value veteran who is priced for profit.

“Lockett’s end-of-year ranks in standard leagues have been remarkably consistent over the last five seasons: WR11 WR15, WR11, WR11, WR13. And yet you can still land him as the WR20 in early Yahoo drafts. I get that he’s entering his age-31 season, and the Seahawks have other buzzy receivers on the roster — alpha DK Metcalf, and rookie hotshot Jaxon Smith-Njigba. But Seattle’s target tree is fairly narrow — the tight ends and running backs don’t catch a lot of passes — and QB Geno Smith earned circle of trust privileges last year. This offense can support multiple wide receivers. I am confident Lockett will be a proactive part of my 2023 fantasy portfolio.”

Stat to remember

Seattle’s pass defense was average last season. It was 13th in passing yards allowed, 14th in passing TDs allowed and 13th in passer rating allowed. The pass D was 17th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. That’s an area in which the Seahawks could make a jump. Adding cornerback Devon Witherspoon, the fifth overall pick, to go with 2022 rookie surprise Tariq Woolen could give the Seahawks an elite cornerback duo. At safety, Quandre Diggs is very good and the team added Julian Love in free agency. The difference between the secondary being good and great could be Jamal Adams. Adams suffered a season-ending quad injury in Week 1 last season. If the three-time Pro Bowler can rebound, he’s a playmaker and disruptor at strong safety. He’d add to the depth and versatility of the secondary.

“It’s an area that I’m really fired up about,” coach Pete Carroll said about his secondary, via the team’s site.

Burning question

How will the Seahawks’ skill-position players fit together?

There were some chuckles when the Seahawks used a second-round pick on running back Zach Charbonnet. The Seahawks had Kenneth Walker III coming off a strong rookie season. But of course the Seahawks used a high pick on another back. Again, they’re unconventional. Now how will Walker and Charbonnet fit together? Walker had a lot of negative runs but was also a big-play threat every time he touched the ball. He finished with 1,050 yards last season. Charbonnet will probably be a more consistent runner and he’s better in the passing game. Walker was very good last season and should start off with a bigger share of the snaps, but if the Seahawks are willing to trade big plays for reliability then Charbonnet could change that split during the season.

The receiver room is crowded too. DK Metcalf will be the No. 1 receiver but there is some overlap between the skill sets of Tyler Lockett and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Smith-Njigba is a very good prospect, but Lockett has been a productive player for years. Lockett won’t be phased out of the Seahawks offense. It’s hard to figure out how Metcalf, Lockett and Smith-Njigba all get enough targets to reach 1,000 yards, especially on a team that still likes to run the ball.

Best-case scenario

We’re starting to get to the point in the countdown in which, if you squint hard enough, you can see a Super Bowl upside with these teams. Seattle’s offense should be excellent if rookies Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Zach Charbonnet make an impact right away. The defense added several starters in the draft and free agency. If the offense reaches its full potential — and that relies heavily on two second-year tackles improving upon promising rookie seasons — and the defense improves greatly with some personnel improvements, why can’t the Seahawks compete for an NFC title? They still have to figure out the 49ers, but they won’t be intimidated by the rest of the conference if they do so. If this draft class hits like last year’s did, the Seahawks could be really good.

Nightmare scenario

Geno Smith wouldn’t be the first quarterback to catch lightning in a bottle, then crash hard the following year. Before last season Smith had 34 career touchdowns, 37 interceptions and was six years down the backup QB path of his career. Maybe he’s a Rich Gannon, who was very good for multiple seasons late in his career with the Raiders, but it wouldn’t shock anyone if he faded back to mediocrity. If that happens the Seahawks could struggle and also look at a fun, young roster and realize that they still have a huge hole at the most important position.

The crystal ball says …

The Seahawks will be fun. The offense should be explosive. The defense is going to be better. It’s a bit of a leap to believe Seattle can take the NFC West from the 49ers, but the NFL is full of surprises every season. Maybe I’m being too optimistic on the Seahawks being much better this season, but I can see them winning the division and maybe a playoff game or two. It’s never a bad idea to bet on Pete Carroll’s Seahawks exceeding expectations.

Other team previews

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