Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider are ahead of schedule in the reclamation project that started with the trade of franchise quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos and the release of All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner last year.
To the surprise of many around the league, Carroll led the Seahawks to a 9-8 record and a postseason berth in 2022. Wilson’s replacement, Geno Smith, had his best season as a pro, finishing with a franchise record 4,282 passing yards and reaching the Pro Bowl for the first time in his professional career.
For his effort, Smith was named the Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year.
Armed with a bounty of draft picks and cap space, Schneider’s job this offseason is to continue to add pieces to a young and hungry group that could make a deep playoff run in 2023. That starts in earnest at this week’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
For the Seahawks, that means locking up Smith, who’s scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent when free agency begins at the start of the NFL’s new league year on March 15.
“We have our guy,” Carroll told reporters when asked about Smith at the end of the season. “We need to, hopefully, work things out so he is with us. There is business to be done there, of course, but there is no lid on what he can do. The sky is the limit.
“He’s a big deal to us. I just couldn’t be more tickled by the way the whole thing turned out and how he handled it. Really, as we look to the future, he is a big part of why we are looking to the future so promisingly.”
Geno Smith wins “NFL on FOX” comeback award
Mark Sanchez and Chris Myers awarded Seahawks QB Geno Smith with the Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Three hot issues
1. Sign Geno Smith
Smith led the league in completion percentage (69.8), throwing 30 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. His 100.9 passer rating ranked No. 9 during the regular season.
However, after a strong first half in which Seattle sprinted to a 6-3 record, Smith’s play tailed off during the second half and the Seahawks finished 3-5 down the backstretch of the regular season.
Smith struggled during the final eight games of the regular season. From Week 10 on, he completed 66.4% of his passes for 2,083 yards, with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Smith was sacked 25 times, posting a 94.7 passer rating over that time frame.
Key issues for the Seahawks as they broker a new deal include Smith’s age (32) and the fact that he’s only put up impressive numbers for one season, providing some concern that he can continue to play at this level moving forward in Seattle’s system.
So far, negotiations between the team and Smith’s representation seem to be progressing well.
“Where we are with Geno, good talks so far,” Schneider told Seattle Sports Radio 710-AM. “We’re in it. Just trying to figure out what’s best. We’ll do what’s right.”
Smith echoed those sentiments during an appearance on SiriusXM NFL radio while he attended the Pro Bowl in Las Vegas earlier this month.
“We’ve had talks, and we’re in the process of getting all that settled right now,” Smith said. “It’s looking very good. We think we can get some things done, but obviously those things take time.”
Former NFL agent Joel Corry, a salary cap expert for CBS Sports, told KJR-AM Sports in Seattle that if he were representing Smith, an acceptable deal would be a three-year, $90 million contract, with $65 million guaranteed in the first two years of the deal.
The Seahawks could also use the franchise tag on Smith, taking a one-year rental for the 2023 season while drafting a quarterback of the future. Although Smith likely wants and deserves a multi-year deal, getting paid $32.4 million on the franchise tag would not be a bad consolation prize for the West Virginia product who has earned a little over $17 million during his 10-year NFL career.
The franchise tag window closes March 7. If the Seahawks tag Smith, they have until July 15 to work toward a new deal.
2. Improve defensive line
Seattle went young on defense and showed improved production in the secondary but must do a better job stopping the run next season. Part of the issue was a learning curve in switching to a 3-4 base defensive scheme.
The Seahawks need to find more talented players who fit the team’s overall defensively philosophy. Last year the team allowed 150 rushing yards a contest during the regular season, No. 30 in the NFL. Seattle allowed nine different players to rush for more than 100 yards in 2022.
“We have to clean things up,” Carroll said about his defense. “We have to get sharp, and we have to get back to where we can effectively play the running game.”
3. Add a center, playmakers on offense
The Seahawks selected two rookie tackles who anchored the offensive line last year in left tackle Charles Cross in the first round and right tackle Able Lucas in the second round.
Veteran Austin Blythe provided leadership at center with his experience in offensive coordinator Shane Waldron’s offense. However, Blythe is a little undersized (6-foot-2, 298), and the Seahawks could look to get a younger, more physical player in the middle of the offensive line. The 30-year-old Blythe has said he’s considering retirement this offseason.
Seattle could also use a guy who can make people miss in space to help create more explosive plays in the passing game. The Seahawks finished with 50 passing plays of 20-plus yards in 2022, tied for 14th in the league.
Top free agents hitting the open market
Seattle had 26 players set to hit free agency but has already started the process of keeping some of them in the fold, including signing kicker Jason Myers (four years, $21 million), special teams standout Nick Bellore (two years, $6.6 million) and right guard Phil Haynes (one year, $4 million).
Other players the Seahawks could seek to keep around include defensive tackle Poona Ford and restricted free agent safety Ryan Neal. On the other hand, the Seahawks could choose to move on from oft-injured running back Rashaad Penny, although the San Diego State product has been productive of late when healthy.
According to Over the Cap, the Seahawks have $24.4 million in salary cap space, so Seattle could make some sensible signings in free agency.
Wagner is expected to be released by the Los Angeles Rams. However, the ship has likely sailed on a possible return of Seattle’s Pro Bowl linebacker, with the Seahawks looking for younger and less expensive options at the position. Meanwhile, Wagner seeks to finish his career with a team that has a legitimate chance at winning a Super Bowl.
Other possible targets for the Seahawks include:
WR Robert Woods: Recently released by the Tennessee Titans, Woods knows Waldron’s offense well and offers an ability to make plays after the catch in the passing game and the running game.
DT A’Shawn Robinson: The Alabama product finished the year on the Rams’ injured reserve with a torn meniscus. However, when healthy the 28-year-old Robinson is one of the better run stuffers in the league.
OL Daniel Brunskill: The 29-year-old San Diego State product split snaps at right guard last season, but he can play also center. Brunskill played in a similar offense with the 49ers and at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, he would provide a bigger body at the anchor position inside for Seattle.
Seahawks and the draft
The Seahawks have nine selections in this year’s draft, including two in the first round and two in the second round, giving them four selections in the top 52 picks. According to Tankathon, the Seahawks have the second-most value in this year’s draft.
And based on the team’s impressive draft haul last year, which included finding six impact players as rookies in 2022, there’s reason for optimism that Schneider and Carroll can continue to build on a good foundation established last year.
Generally, Schneider likes to move down to acquire more picks, but this year the Seahawks will have the flexibility to move up or down, based on the players they want.
“This is a dream opportunity here,” Carroll said. “He’s [Schneider] pumped about it. We’ve had enough experience together with our guys in our system that we are wide open of what the options could be, whether it is the players at the top or whether it’s the opportunities to move or whatever it is. We’ve done all of it to some extent.”
Possible targets for Seattle heading into draft include:
Georgia DT Jalen Carter: Carter most likely will not be around when Seattle selects at No. 5, but the Seahawks could use an imposing presence in the middle of their run defense like the Georgia product, and they need to find it early in this year’s draft.
Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker: Still recovering from ACL knee surgery, Hooker can make all the throws and would give Seattle a developmental prospect behind Smith as a Day 2 pick.
Alabama RB Jahmyr Gibbs: He finished with 1,370 all-purpose yards and a career-best 10 touchdowns for the Crimson Tide last season. Gibbs would give Seattle a gadget guy to use in the run game and the pass game.
Wisconsin C Joe Tippmann: He has prototypical size (6-foot-5, 317 pounds) and played in a pro-style offense for the Badgers.
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
Top stories from FOX Sports:
Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more