BY Art Thiel 07:52PM 03/10/2015

Thiel: Seahawks learning from their pain

Not only does the trade for Graham upgrade production at two spots, the trade of Max Unger and the first-round pick saves nearly Graham’s salary. Now, on to the offensive line.

John Schneider and Pete Carroll, in pursuit of lost swagger. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Let’s get the mass public sentiment out of the way right now: “Pete! You made a great hire — one pass too late!”

Fated to have almost every maneuver this off-season observed through the prism of The Play That Cannot Be Unseen, the Seahawks addressed it straight up as only Pete Carroll and John Schneider can — by throwing exclamation points at it.

The startling acquisition of premier TE Jimmy Graham from New Orleans Monday solves for the short slant pass problem. After seeing 3,756 photos of WR Ricardo Lockette being knocked off the final pass of the Super Bowl by a smaller defensive back, Carroll and Schneider determined that crap won’t happen again.

Schneider, in an interview with the NFL Network Monday afternoon, was asked what he liked about the 6-7, 260-pound Graham.

“Size,” he said, “and what he can do in the red zone.”

Because of the injury absence of do-everything TE Zach Miller, now cut, for the final 13 regular-season games and three postseason games, the Seahawks didn’t have either size or a veteran weapon of strength in the passing game.

They got away with it until the last play of the season, when they threw an ill-fated pass to a skinny guy who’s best in the open field, not in traffic. The real issue on that much-debated play was less about the choice of pass or run, and more about the choice of receiver.

The Seahawks wanted to fix the red zone fluffs so much they gave away their anchor and leader in the offensive line, C Max Unger, a 67-game starter, after already losing the left guard, James Carpenter, to the New York Jets in free agency.

They obviously were impressed with unheralded backup center Patrick Lewis, who started the Arizona game in which the Seahawks had a club-record 596 yards of total offense. Whether Lewis is seen as the best solution isn’t known, nor is clear whether third-year Alvin Bailey is the answer at guard.

What is clear, however, is the Seahawks now have a way to complicate the life of NFL defensive coordinators by relying more on the two- and three-tight end sets that Carroll loves, by having tight ends for all occasions.

“He plays big, makes plays in a crowd, makes plays on top of guys, is a very effective player in the red zone,” said Carroll on a conference call with reporters. “We’re going to fit it into our offense and make him a very obvious complementary part of it.

“Your best players always help your other guys play well and be productive. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

Lost in the Graham acquisition was the return over the weekend of TE Anthony McCoy, a top-end blocker. Remaining on the roster are TEs Luke Willson, who can play more H-back/fullback, and TE Cooper Helfet, whose speed is a matchup problem.

As a group, which included midseason pickup Tony Moeaki, Seahawks tight ends accounted for 757 yards on 48 catches, a 15.8 yards-per-catch average, including 16 that went for 20-plus yards, with six touchdowns.

That’s actually good production, until compared with Graham’s numbers with the pass-happy Saints: 85 catches for 889 yards and a 10.5 ypc average, with 10 touchdowns.

He won’t ever match those numbers in Seattle. But the difference is Graham can also be moved into the slot or outside, drawing a double team wherever he lines up. That means the Seahawks can have other tight ends in on the same play to do what they do best, while Graham provides the biggest target in the football life of QB Russell Wilson, who is already a master at the play-action fakery that makes defenses lose a beat.

Hard to defend.

But not so hard to afford.

One temporary help for Seattle in this transaction for 2015 is that Graham’s contract — four years and $40 million, signed in July — calls for an $8 million cap hit. But in a trade, Unger’s cap hit of $4.5 million goes with him. Plus in trading away the first-round pick, that gets them out of an obligation for 2015 of more than $3 million.

Had the Seahawks acquired top free agent TE Julius Thomas, as was rumored, they would not have come away nearly as affordably.

That’s crucial in having to play top dollar for three difference-making offensive players in their primes — Graham, Wilson and RB Marshawn Lynch. If we assume for argument’s sake that Wilson gets an an extension that will pay him $20 million in 2015, adding that to Graham’s $8M and Lynch’s $12M makes $40 million tied up in three offensive plsyers.

That’s huge, and it means little room for expensive offensive linemen. The Seahawks have to figure a way to get it done with young guys.

But then there’s this to think about: After the first day of free agency, the Seahawks have done major repair work to three areas of need — tight end, wide receiver (Graham takes care of both) and cornerback. The Seahawks over the weekend hired two free-agent corners, Cary Williams from Philadelphia and Will Blackmon from Jacksonville, that will go a long way to fill the absence of Byron Maxwell, and the uncertain futures of the injured, Jeremy Lane and Tharold Simon.

It’s one of biggest transactional days the Seahawks have had since . . . well, the Percy Harvin trade two years ago nearly to the day.

Yeah. That was a celebratory day for the Seahawks too.

Asked about that Monday, Schneider was reticent, finally saying:

“We learned from our previous trade for Percy.”

He didn’t say what they learned. Just as they didn’t say what they learned from the final pass of last season.

But with consecutive Super Bowl appearances on the resumes, it’s fair to assume Carroll and Schneider are unlikely to repeat mistakes.


  • Wow. I got here first. Another great post, Art. It is still with bated breath that the world awaits the Russell Wilson coronation. I sincerely hope your brief reference to the offensive line as a priority is prophetic. I have believed for a long time that a good offensive line is the most important tool of a quarterback. Any quarterback who has a good offensive line has a productive running game and time to look downfield to pass. Making the OL better will make Russell Wilson just about invincible.

    • Art Thiel

      When a team has runners like Wilson and Lynch, it takes some pressure off O-line run blocking. But pass pro is large. I’m sure Schneider and Cable understand better than all of us the talent they have on hand, and whether they have to spend heavily on a 30-something vet.

  • jafabian

    Will the Hawks actually use Graham in the passing game? Zach Miller had a Pro Bowl resume when he joined the Hawks via Free Agency but his receptions went down as a Hawk because the TE does more blocking than catching in the Seahawks schemes. Can’t argue with the results when you see how Beastmode has done over that period of time. Or even DangeRuss.

    I’ve thought the TE should be used more in the passing game during the Carroll tenure. Maybe that will finally happen now. Or not.

    • eYeDEF

      Seeing how Graham can’t block the Seahawks really don’t have a choice. They’ll have to use him in the passing game. He took more than 60% of his snaps last year lined up as a wide receiver.

      • Art Thiel

        Yes. He’s a 6-7 WR who can also cross and take the hits.

    • Art Thiel

      Graham had 2/3 of his snaps in 2013 as a WR/slot. That’s why he wanted WR money as franchise tag, but the Saints gave him $5M less as a TE. As I wrote, other TEs can do the blocking.

  • Jamo57

    I’m sorry to see Unger go but he and Miller both have been having trouble staying on the field the past couple of years. I would imagine they’ll pick up a couple of OLs from the waiver wire that are experienced with the zone blocking scheme and add depth through the draft.

    At least I won’t have to sit through the first night of the draft waiting for the Hawks just to see them trade down again. LOL. I guess I’ll watch to see where the Huskies go (and don’t you eat that yellow snow…….sorry couldn’t resist the Zappa reference).

    • JasonW

      Graham has had a hard time staying healthy as well. I don’t mind the player for player trade, I just hate moving the first round pick. You can never replace a first round draft pick.

      • sabasarge

        Really? Take a look at his history..he’s missed very few games.

      • Jamo57

        According to ESPN he’s missed two games in his 5 year career. But I agree with how you feel about draft picks. It’s very possible the Hawks would have moved down again like they did last year, though. At least Schneider sounded like that’s what he wanted to do at his combine presser. At least they kept the same number of picks and they seem to excel in the mid rounds anyway.

        • Art Thiel

          They are big on this year’s talent level at 3-4. That’s why they pulled a 4 back from Saints.

      • eYeDEF

        Schneider only had first round grades on 16 guys in this draft, which made the decision to trade the 31st pick a no brainer when the 31st pick wouldn’t be a first round talent.

        • Art Thiel

          True. A 31st is helpful, not special.

      • Art Thiel

        He’s missed two games. and Seahawks have been to 2 Super Bowls without getting much from first rounders.

        • JasonW

          Art: I seem to remember huge contributions from Earl Thomas/Russell Okung. Irvin and carpenter were contributors. The draft is the best way to replenish your roster with talent. This move does have me concerned how the o-line will be next season.

          Plus stats don’t lie Hawks were a better team with Unger on the field. Schneider/Carol have earned the benefit of the doubt with how they have built this roster up, here is hoping guys like Britt and other youngsters can really contribute this year on the O-line. Because Graham can only block the suns rays on the rare sunny day in the pnw. How does JG react to only getting 8 targets a game (and if that’s a betting number I will take the under)?

          The silly season foe the NFL is interesting.

          • Bronzetan

            Please post what stats you are referring to–as to–Hawks being a better team with Unger on the field? I seem to remember him being injured against KC, and the Seahawks finishing the rest of their games without him, undefeated. I don’t know why everyone is so in love with Unger. Seattle had one of the worst O lines in the NFL last year, and anyone on that line is replaceable. Also, Unger was penalty prone, just like several of the other O-lineman, he was injury prone, and he also couldn’t even hike a decent shotgun snap to Russell. How many freaking times did RW have to use his baseball fielding skills to catch all of Unger’s poor shotgun snaps? I’m not worried at all about replacing Unger….I only wish more of the O lineman on this team were being moved….I’m looking at you Okung.

          • Art Thiel

            It’s true that offensive efficiency was higher with Unger than without. But Cable was surprisingly impressed with Lewis. Not saying that’s the answer, but keep in mind the burden of Unger’s $4.5M salary.

            However, if they hire a vet FA, much of that savings will be lost.

          • eYeDEF

            You realize they lost against KC right? The difference between how effective the offense was humming along before he was injured and how it kept sputtering after he went down couldn’t have been more stark.

          • MacPhisto92

            That was one game…..I’m talking about the Seahawks not losing a single game while Unger was out injured.

          • eYeDEF

            He said in his conference call to the press that he’s ready to do whatever it takes and whatever the team asks of him and is looking forward to getting together with Russell in the offseason to work on their timing and chemistry. Russ was the first one to call him 10 minutes after the trade and schedule a workout together. He said all the things you’d expect from a consummate pro.

    • Art Thiel

      Schneider is happy not to pay a first-round price. Apparently his draft board has tagged only 16 players as first-round talent, meaning players of 17 and beyond are 2nd-round caliber.

  • just passing thru

    It’s good to see this trade, even considering the huge loss of Unger. Clearly these guys have seen enough of the 3756 to get the guy who will catch that pass and knock the other guy down. No more looking back – just straight down the field.

    • Art Thiel


      • just passing thru

        Schneider and Carroll have seen enough of the 3756 photos of the wrong person on his kiester. :-/

  • notaboomer

    pete carroll just wants graham for the pickup b-ball games.

    • Art Thiel

      Pete and Jimmy beat everyone 2 on 2.

  • 1coolguy

    Graham split out is TROUBLE and Willson and Helfet can be the TE’.s So I look at Graham as getting an excellent impossible to defend receiver.
    I expect Cable was very much a part of this and gave his ok that he can rebuild the O line. RW will have it rough this year unless Pete and John find some pass blockers.

    • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

      One has to salivate in the red zone situations too. You cannot coach 6’7″.

      • Art Thiel

        Only with Miller on occasion has Wilson had a jump ball winner to throw to.

    • Art Thiel

      I’m sure Cable said he can do something with Lewis, but they need to be alert to vets. Not a good spot for rookies

  • sabasarge

    Great trade, but truly hard to see Max go. I sure hope he passes his N.O. physical, which seems to me to be not a given, with his history.

    • Art Thiel

      Fair point about the physical. Nobody is getting players until Max gets in from Hawaii to New Orleans for the exam.

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    I think even the casual fan understands that if you cut ties with your best TE you must address that need that Miller provided.Now Seattle has multiple looks to give opposing defenses when going to the TE this season.Wilson needed more offensive help the moment Harvin was sent east. I would hasten to say last season was nothing short of brilliant given the fact they did without offensively for much of the season while dealing with key injuries that would have sent teams like the 49ers spiraling to a 8~8 record and no play offs.Kudos to SEA for ripping off that win streak once they stepped off of the plane from Kansas City that finally ended with the ill fated pass moments before SB49 ended. Ouch~the pass.A continued hard pill to swallow.
    While no amount of “Ostrich Syndrome” will erase the nightmare in the Valley of the Sun we can take solace in that the Hawks showed amazing character in not allowing the season to spiral into mediocrity and perhaps miss the playoffs.As they say its now recorded history.
    Conversely, it was as obvious as a tattoo after the Fail in Glendale that they needed one more offensive weapon to give them that chance for SB50.Now they have it. In my opinion the key might be Graham’s ability to accept he wont be putting up superstar numbers here in Seattle. Just good blue collar ones.
    Let us hope the stars align.Go Hawks!

    • Art Thiel

      Graham will be apprised that this is a run-first team, which he knows from having two games in 2013 shoved up his backside.

      Good point about the win streak. Hope fans have a full appreciation about how hard a lift that was.

  • ll9956

    I’d never claim to have trade or draft smarts, but I find the trade of Unger a big shock. As Marshawn was described as the “heart and soul of the Hawks’ offense”, it seemed that Unger was the heart and soul of the Hawks’ O-line. Can’t help but wonder what Unger’s thoughts are on this development.

    The loss of Zach Miller is almost as much of a shocker as Unger’s exit, although Graham is a monster. It will interesting to see how all this plays out. Hopefully Carroll and Schneider are making good decisions. Whew!

    • Art Thiel

      I’m sure all on the club are in shock, but I suspect Unger’s agent gave him a heads-up that the $4.5M cap charge made him vulnerable to a cut, given what Seattle has to do for Wilson. But yes, it’s always been a ruthless business.

  • In Montesano, WA, a hamburger stand will open in May. An old retired guy I know will be running it. Come on down, Art. I’ll buy you lunch. I can only promise you it will be the best hamburger in this quadrant of the galaxy.

    • Art Thiel

      Montesano is an M-class planet, right? Air is breathable, gravity is like Earth’s?

      • Yes, sir. All those things. Pretty close to 1G. Hot and cold running water. Indoor plumbing most places. The natives speak an English dialect not terribly dissimilar to that of the “SoDo” tribes in your area.