BY Art Thiel 06:20PM 02/25/2020

Thiel: Hawks a good bad team, or bad good team?

Despite a weak defense, Seahawks went a long way. But they can’t continue to rely on bouncing fumbles and Russell Wilson. So begins the Jadeveon Clowney sweepstakes.

GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll are on a desperate hunt for a pass rush. / Seahawks.com

No greater example exists in NFL history for the thin margin between an 11-5 regular season record and 5-11 than the 2019 Seahawks. They were the second team in league annals to win 10 games by one score (eight points or less), tying the 1978 Houston Oilers.

Also tied, in knots, were the stomachs of Seahawks fans, astonished how mediocre a good team can be, and how delightful a mediocre can be, in course of a single season. Or in consecutive weeks. Or in consecutive plays.

“What we went through is about as challenging as we can make it,”  Pete Carroll told reporters Tuesday. “A couple of inches, here or there, could have made things different.

“We can make games a little easier on ourselves.”

How they get to that point is why Carroll, general manager John Schneider and a battalion of personnel staff showed up this week to the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. They seek help to make things easier.

Or, if you believe that the ’19 Seahawks were more of a fluke than D.J. Fluker himself, to stave off disaster.

Perhaps you can guess how the Seahawks coach chooses to look at it.

“I think we were ahead of you (reporters) all year with the thought that we could do something with this season,” he said of a team that advanced to the playoffs’ round of eight despite having one of the NFL’s worst defenses, and injuries on offense that wiped out nearly all the running backs and tight ends. “We come out of of it with a better understanding and clearer expectations that we can do something really special. We have stuff we’ve got to get done, but we have the nucleus of a really good club. The players and coaches feel like that. I hope the fans do as well.

“We’re very close to being a tough club to deal with. We’re going to set our expectations really high.”

Sounds like he could be the third Blues Brother — $51 million in his salary-cap pocket, nine draft choices, a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and they’re wearing sunglasses.

Hit it, Joliet Jake.

As always, Carroll believes in belief. He doesn’t see how close the Seahawks came to losing most of those 10 games, only how narrowly they missed an appearance in the Super Bowl.  That’s what a quarterback with superpowers can do to a coach’s thinking.

Cold logic, however, says they can’t skate like that for a second season. Better than anyone, Carroll knows his defense needs a major upgrade. And it starts with attempting to give DE Jadeveon Clowney more money than LB Bobby Wagner, and perhaps more money than any defender in the NFL.

Clowney, whom Carroll confirmed had surgery to repair a core injury, will become a free agent March 18 unless he and the Seahawks agree on a new contract that will be at or near the $22 million annual average received from the Rams by DT Aaron Donald. The potential one-and-done situation is because in order to induce Clowney to accept a September trade from the Texans to Seattle, Schneider agreed to waive the right to use the franchise tag that would have kept him in town for at least another season.

No one much cared at the time of the trade, given Clowney’s potential to upgrade the defense. But in hindsight, after a good-but-not-great year by Clowney that saw the Seahawks finish next to last in sacks, an argument can be made that the Seahawks gave up a huge asset.

“We’re trying to get it done,” Carroll said. “He had a fantastic season. We’d love to have him back.”

In an earlier press meeting in Indy, Schneider said he would be meeting with Clowney’s agent to discuss a deal. Naturally, he offered no clue about potential outcomes. A year ago at the combine,  he reminded his questioners that “I thought Frank (Clark) was going to be on our team.’’

When it became apparent that Clark’s price for a contract extension was too high, he was dealt to Kansas City for high 2019 draft choices that became DT L.J. Collier and WR DK Metcalf. It worked out for both teams, but Seattle is faced with a somewhat similar situation with Clowney, minus the contract control.

Ominously, Schneider made it plain he had more than next season in mind.

“It’s really a daily or weekly process of figuring out how you’re going to put this thing together,’’ he said. “We have some cap flexibility this year, which is great. But it’s not just about this year. It’s planning for next year and the following year, as well. We have to be cognizant of where we’re going.”

If Clowney’s deal proves too burdensome for Seattle, a weakness gets weaker.

“Pass rush is something we’re really focusing on,” Carroll said. “We really liked the way we turned over the ball; we got the ball a lot. We need to rush the passer more consistently. Not just the guys up front, but how we cover.”

While it’s true that the Seahawks tied for third in NFL turnover ratio with a +12, 16 of those were recovered fumbles, which typically is as random an act as ordering cats to fall in line, single-file. Which gets back to Carroll’s point about inches, but not in the way he sees it.

What the Seahawks hope this week is to sleuth out at the combine a pass rusher as undervalued by other teams as Metcalf was a year ago among receivers. An injured junior from Mississippi, Metcalf wowed everyone when he took off his shirt, as well as when he ran the 40-yard dash. But he lasted until the Seahawks took him with the final pick in the second round because rival scouts devalued his upside for the pro game.

Carroll was quick to seize upon the topic that validated the Seahawks’ draft wisdom.

“We didn’t see the negatives other people saw,” he said. “We were very fortunate he was there. It was an extraordinary moment when we picked him. Should never have happened.

“His mentality may surprise people who didn’t think he should have been highly regarded. I don’t think they knew that about him.  He had limited production his last year (at Mississippi).  I think (rival scouts) missed the fact that he had this makeup.

“I gotta admit I learned a lot about him, too, that’s special.  There’s really no limits on him, and the good thing is he realizes that. Hes going for it.”

Given all the recent resources the Seahawks have applied to the the pass rush with modest results — Clowney, Ziggy Ansah, Malik McDowell and the untested Collier — the need to nail find a defensive equivalent to Metcalf in this draft becomes acute.

They have little choice, since in 2019 they used so much good fortune to get so far, the well of karma may take years to replenish.


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YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    The Hawks are a few subtractions from becoming a bad team or a few additions from becoming a good team. They could take the same approach the Rams did and go all in on one season and gamble they’ll win the Super Bowl but the Rams ended up sacrificing the next season. Since their own Super Bowl run the Hawks have been unable to maintain their offensive and defensive lines which makes me question their scouting. Their draft picks and free agent pick ups haven’t worked out since then and they’ve passed on players in the draft who ended up developing into solid players. Sure that does happen but finding those players used to be a Schneider-Carroll trademark. In the past the coaches, especially Tom Cable and Darrell Bevel, would take heat for the team’s shortcomings but with a new coaching staff in place and the same shortcomings rearing it’s ugly head at times makes me wonder if their scouting needs to be tinkered with.

    • art thiel

      The Seahawks scouting is as good or bad as anyone’s. The OL shuffle is typical for almost every team, and will keep getting worse because fewer players are trained in the pro style in college. A handful of NFL teams might trot out the same five good linemen two years in a row, but that’s it.

      The Seahawks have had their whiffs, but things would be brighter if Pocic and Ifedi could become just NFL average.

      • jafabian

        Have they had any turnover in their scouting staff since the Super Bowl? Or has it been largely the same?

        • art thiel

          I’m sure there’s been changes, but the club announces changes only among department leaders. I don’t see a scouting problem, except when Schneider whiffs on whom to pick. That’s on him.

  • Husky73

    The NFL has achieved parity through the CBA, the salary cap and the draft. But, a very good coach (Carroll) and a very good quarterback (Wilson) can be the difference makers between 5-11 and 11-5 (even with stumbles in the draft). Kansas City and New England are other examples.

    • art thiel

      All contribute to a better team, but luck always plays a larger role than players, coaches and fans want to acknowledge. We humans like to control things, so when random acts throw off the plan, it drives us bats.

  • Kevin Lynch

    “Skating away on the thin ice of the new day” (Jethro Tull). It’s really hard to analyze last year for the reasons you state and the added fact they played 30% of their regular season games against backup QB’s. The Atlanta and Pittsburgh wins could easily have reversed into losses if Ryan and Rothlisburger played. And that’s not mentioning the first 49er game that could have been a tie. Regarding Clowney…you have to honestly and effectively predict the number of games he’s likely to play. His history with injuries is significant. Reminds me of Dwayne Wade in the NBA. A game changer, yes, but will he be that and available all year long. Very spendy gamble at $20 mill per. And three sacks. In the NBA players get rested, of course. But Wade didn’t play more than 62 games in 9 different seasons. That meant he missed 20 or more games 9 times. That’s when $20 mill begins to look like $25 or $30 mill.

    • art thiel

      Good point about Wade, as well as the QBs. Seahawks even lucked into a 3rd-string, 40-year-old backup QB finishing the Philly playoff game, and he nearly pulled it off.

  • tor5

    I appreciate Art’s cold logic, but I sure get some déjà vu reading this. The assessment of yet another successful season with a playoff appearance is that, “but for a few lucky bounces, it could have been a disaster.” Life is so much better as a 12. We just expect “lucky bounces” and, year after year, they come!

    • art thiel

      I think it’s worthy to remind fans how thin the margins are in the NFL relative to other sports. Bad officiating calls are random acts, and the NFL has gone to great lengths with replay to reduce randomness. But it still determines more outcomes than any other sport.

      • tor5

        Actually, I think your analysis is great and you always make it a good read. I just embrace the Carroll/Wilson/12 philosophy of expecting good things to come our way. Cold logic dictates that this doesn’t matter. But Hawk team over-performance is kinda the norm. Weird, isn’t it?

        • art thiel

          As I wrote, Carroll believes in belief. He’s won a Super Bowl, and I haven’t.

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