(Photo above by KRYSTAL ATWATER/Associated Press)
ORLANDO —As John Schneider discussed some of the difficult decisions his team has had to make in the offseason, the Seahawks general manager noted that seeing players move on via free agency or trade is tough on a personal level.
That being said, Schneider added, "That's what we have to do in order to be a consistent championship-caliber football team. We don't want to be having these major rebuilding years, we want to be able to have little resets, if you will."
In other words, people shouldn't look at the decision to release Richard Sherman or to trade Michael Bennett, or the losses of players like Jimmy Graham, Sheldon Richardson and Paul Richardson in free agency as signs the Seahawks are tearing it all down and starting over in 2018. Even with several key players moving on, the Seahawks still have a very talented nucleus in place, some young players they're expecting to see step up in bigger roles in 2018, as well as incoming free agents and an upcoming draft class that will help. Even with some significant changes in personnel, the Seahawks expect to be a very competitive team this season and beyond.
"Bobby Wagner, Duane Brown, Doug Baldwin, Russell Wilson, there's a pretty cool group of guys, and I'm leaving guys out, I know," Schneider said from the NFL's annual league meetings, which are taking place in Orlando this week. "It's not like 2010 when we felt like we had to make these sweeping changes. We've been here since 2010, and it feels like we've just constantly been doing this every single year. It's not like we have this, 'OK, season's over, now we're going to do A, B and C.' We're working all the way through the year."
In addition to Schneider's thoughts on resetting rather than rebuilding, here are seven more things we learned from the Seahawks GM at the annual league meetings:
1. It's status quo with Earl Thomas.
With reports surfacing early this offseason that the Seahawks might be willing to trade safety Earl Thomas, Schneider was asked about that possibility earlier this month at the NFL scouting combine, then again on Monday. And as was the case four weeks ago, Schneider didn't deny that everything is up for consideration this time of year. That doesn't just apply to Thomas—it's just who Schneider was asked about in this case—but instead it's a reflection of how the Seahawks approach the offseason. The way Schneider sees it, if they aren't at least willing to listen to other teams, they're not doing their jobs. For example, Schneider admitted a year ago that the Seahawks would consider trading Richard Sherman, but no one offered enough to make that happen, so Sherman played for Seattle in 2017 and played at a very high level until an Achilles injury cut his season short.
"Earl's under contract for another season, and if we're not listening to everybody, we're not doing our jobs," Schneider said. "So we have to listen to everything that's going on all the time."
2. Why the Seahawks released Richard Sherman and traded Michael Bennett.
Once the Seahawks decided that they weren't willing to keep Richard Sherman at his current price, Schneider said they owed it to a player who had meant so much to the organization to let him hit the open market as early as possible.
"It just became clear to us that at some point, Richard was going to be what we categorize as a cap casualty, because he had a pretty good sized contract," Schneider said. "So we had so much respect for Richard, and he was representing himself, so he wanted to get out there into free agency as quickly as he could, and we weren't going to just hold onto him until we signed other players, then let him go. We have so much respect for him that we were going to let him out into free agency as quickly as we could and not just hang onto him until we signed other players, then he had to do his deal. He has done so much for the organization that it wasn't fair for us to just sit and wait forever to see who we were going to sign or not sign. So that's why we went ahead and did it, as hard as it was."
As for the trade that sent Michael Bennett to the Philadelphia Eagles, Schneider said, "When I was at the combine, I talked to a number of teams. There were several teams interested. Philadelphia was the strongest team to come at us, and I gave my word to them, so we went with it."
3. Schneider is excited about what will be a pretty different-looking defensive line.
With Bennett in Philadelphia and with Sheldon Richardson signing with the Minnesota Vikings, the Seahawks will have at least two new starters on their defensive line in 2018, and possibly three depending on what happens with Cliff Avril's health going forward. But while those are all very good players, Schneider is also excited about who will be stepping into bigger roles.
The Seahawks have added pieces in free agency, signing defensive tackles Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen, as well as linebacker Barkevious Mingo, who will also have a pass-rushing role. They also re-signed defensive end Marcus Smith, who recently announced via Twitter that he played through a torn ligament in his foot last season, and will keep defensive end Dion Jordan on a restricted free agent tender. Defensive end Frank Clark, who led the Seahawks with 9.0 sacks last year, also returns.
"Excited, really excited," Schneider said. "Tom Johnson, Shamar, Mingo, we're going to let him rush a little bit, we've got Marcus Smith back, who played kind of beat up last year, so he's going to put his hand down a little bit too. We're excited about those guys, and we're still in the process of addressing this thing all the way through… Dion, he's a real big deal for us, because he played real well when he was out there. We just have to keep him healthy and making sure we can help him take care his body as much as he can."
Take a look back at photos of D.J. Fluker's first five NFL seasons as the offensive lineman signs a free-agent deal with the Seattle Seahawks.
4. D.J. Fluker is "all football."
The Seahawks added help at guard in free agency, signing veteran D.J. Fluker, a former first-round pick who last season played for the New York Giants under offensive line coach Mike Solari, who is now in Seattle. Fluker fits what Schneider said has been a theme of Seattle's offseason acquisitions and re-signings. Schneider also noted that Ethan Pocic, who will contend for a starting job, has gotten a bit bigger since his rookie season.
"Mike Solari coached him with the Giants," Schneider said of Fluker before adding, "Ethan has done a nice job this offseason, he's like 322 pounds right now; he's getting bigger. We're going to be a little bit more power. So we're excited about (Fluker). He's all football. When he came out, everyone knew he was an all-football guy. If you look at all the guys we've signed and re-signed, we know they all have a chip on their shoulder, they have something to prove, and they're all football guys, so we're excited about it. All these guys, every single one of them we signed."
Take a look back at photos of Tom Johnson's seven NFL seasons as the defensive tackle signs a free-agent deal with the Seattle Seahawks.
5. Schneider's thoughts on offseason acquisitions.
As noted above with Fluker, Schneider feels like there has been a theme to his team's offseason acquisitions, one that matches what they've always looked for in players.
"Just the way we started," he said. "Smart, tough reliable guys that love football and have a chip on their shoulder."
Schneider also added that he wants to see new players, as well as young returning players yet to make a big impact, be able to challenge established veterans for bigger roles.
"Personally I think we need to do a better job on the personnel side of bringing guys in that aren't necessarily in awe of the Earl Thomases and the Kam Chancellors; they want to compete with them," Schneider said. "And then from a development standpoint, we need to put those players out there and let them play like we did with (Byron) Maxwell and Sherman and Earl and Walter Thurmond and those guys. They've got to go play, and we have done it before, so I am excited for these guys that you guys don't necessarily know all that well."
Take a look back at some of safety Bradley McDougald's best photos from his 2017 NFL season with the Seattle Seahawks.
6. Re-signing Bradley McDougald was "a very big deal" for Seattle.
The Seahawks were excited to land Bradley McDougald as a free agent last year, and they're equally happy about their ability to re-sign him this offseason. McDougald started nine games for the Seahawks last year, two at free safety and seven at strong safety, and one way or another is expected to be a big part of Seattle's plans going forward.
"That was a very big deal for us," Schneider said. "We felt like we were super excited to acquire him last year, and he played a vital role for us last year in filling in for Kam, and we are expecting the same this year. A very good football player—in my opinion one of the more underrated players on our team and throughout the National Football League. … He played corner in college. He can play, strong (safety), free (safety). Those guys are pretty unique."
7. Still nothing definitive on Avril, Chancellor and McDowell.
The Seahawks have made several changes to their roster so far this offseason, but what they still don't know are the statuses of three defensive players dealing with different injuries: defensive end Cliff Avril, safety Kam Chancellor and defensive lineman Malik McDowell.
On Chancellor and Avril, who both finished the season on injured reserve due to neck injuries, Schneider said, "We are hoping and praying for both of them. As soon as we know from a scan standpoint, and the experts and all the doctors and what they say, we are going to go with. Both total professionals that obviously we didn't see this coming. You can plan for a lot of things and that's one of them you can't. Both those guys, their situations you can't plan for, especially Malik's too, summer accident like that on an ATV."
On McDowell, Seattle's top pick in the 2017 draft, Schneider said, "We are just waiting for more scans… I'm just going with what (doctors) say."