Seahawks Still Look Super Despite Defections
By Corbin Smith
There's no doubt about it. It's been a rough offseason so far for the Super Bowl XLVIII champion Seattle Seahawks.
The franchise had to part ways with popular veteran leaders like Red Bryant and Chris Clemons to create cap space. Young talents such as Golden Tate and Clinton McDonald left for greener pastures to earn big paychecks elsewhere. Undervalued role players like Walter Thurmond and Chris Maragos fled for an opportunity to earn more playing time and potentially start for different teams. Even though Seattle managed to retain Michael Bennett and Steven Hauschka, a great deal of talent has been lost during the free agency period thus far, and it's looking more and more likely that the Seahawks won't replace any of these missing pieces until the draft.
It's easy to see why so many Seahawks fans have viewed the past week as a monumental disappointment, but in reality, Seattle hasn't taken much of a hit with the exception of losing Tate to the Detroit Lions. General manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll have a long-term plan in place, and both men were well aware of the fact that the team couldn't afford to keep everyone. The Seahawks had the most depth across the board in the entire league last season, and even with so many players departing to join new teams, another solid draft would more than make up for these losses.
Tate's decision to head to Detroit will certainly hurt the receiving corps, but how much remains to be seen. His playmaking ability after the catch and as a punt returner will be greatly missed, leaving the Seahawks with a major need on offense and special teams. As much as it angered some Seattle fans to see him depart, it's understandable why Tate signed with a Lions team that places much greater emphasis on the passing game. He has a chance to become a real star playing alongside Calvin Johnson, and in the end, this move could benefit both the Seahawks and the player.
Aside from finding an adequate replacement for Tate, the Seahawks already have strong in-house candidates to fill out the depth chart for other departed players. Clemons and Bryant excelled in Seattle's defensive scheme and were arguably even more valuable in the locker room, but Cliff Avril and Bennett appear ready for larger roles and unknown commodities like Benson Mayowa are waiting in the wings. Mayowa played admirably during the pre-season a year ago and with a year under his belt, he could be ready to earn some snaps at the end spots. If Seattle manages to sign Jared Allen or Henry Melton, that would lower his stock some, but Mayowa appears to have a bright future.
Staying on the defensive side of the ball, the Seahawks should be able to replace McDonald's production by giving more snaps to recently re-signed Tony McDaniel and second year tackle Jesse Williams. Williams missed all of his rookie season due to a knee injury, but if he can find a way to stay healthy, he's a monster to block in the interior line and would bring a nasty presence up front for Seattle. Durability dropped his draft stock substantially last April, and he could prove to be a real steal if he can bounce back and contribute next season. Greg Scruggs could also emerge after missing last season due to injury.
The secondary should be fine without Brandon Browner and Thurmond, as the Seahawks played just fine when both players missed time late last season following drug-related suspensions. The emergence of Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane made it an easy decision not to re-sign either player, and the coaching staff remains high on LSU product Tharold Simon. DeShawn Shead and Jeron Johnson are still on the active roster as back-up safeties and won't miss a beat replacing Maragos and Thurmond on special teams.
Losing Tate hurts, but Seattle could actually be better along the offensive line despite watching tackle Breno Giacomini sign with the New York Jets. Alvin Bailey and Michael Bowie gained invaluable experience playing at both the guard and tackle positions as rookies last season and both players have the potential to be upgrades over Giacomini in the long run. The Seahawks could also use the 32nd pick in the draft to find a replacement right tackle if the organization is unsure about Bowie or Bailey as starters.
Dynasties aren't built by spending big bucks on free agents, and the Seahawks have kept the players they viewed as vital to maintaining future success without breaking the bank. I'm sure the franchise would have loved to retain players like Tate for the long haul, but Seattle had no intentions of overspending to keep any of these players. Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas, and Richard Sherman will need to be paid next year, and management has been playing it safe with the salary cap to prepare for these future moves. Most teams don't have the luxury of staying competitive for a Super Bowl championship while seeing so many players leave, but strong drafting and thrifty signings have built enough depth to allow Seattle to do so.
It's always tough seeing important players leave a championship team. But the Seahawks have been built to withstand free agent losses, and the potential still remains for this team to be even more dominant in 2014 than it was this past campaign. Wilson will be entering his third season and should continue to improve, while budding star running back Christine Michael should start to see more carries as Marshawn Lynch begins to enter the latter stages of his career. Seattle will be able to live without Tate if Percy Harvin can stay healthy and Jermaine Kearse continues to develop into a better all-around receiver. The defense shouldn't miss a beat even without likeable veterans like Clemons and Bryant still on the roster.
It's been a long off-season so far in the Pacific Northwest, but Seahawk fans have no reason to panic. The starting lineup should be mostly intact come training camp, and Seattle will fill holes throughout the depth chart in the draft in May. With Schneider and Carroll running the show, Seattle should be able to absorb free agent losses and remain an NFC powerhouse for years to come.