INDIANAPOLIS—While evaluating draft prospects is the No. 1 priority at the NFL Scouting Combine, the event also provides a chance for media to catch up with NFL coaches and general managers partway through the offseason, and on Tuesday Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider met with the media to provide some updates on their team, on the upcoming draft and free agency, and on a couple departures from their coaching staff.
In addition to Carroll and Schneider's comments on the ongoing negotiations with quarterback Geno Smith, as well as some injury updates, here are five things we learned from Seattle's head coach and GM on Tuesday at the combine:
1. The Seahawks have "an exciting opportunity" with four picks in the first two rounds.
There's a lot of good that comes from being a winning franchise year after year, and the Seahawks have been exactly that under Carroll and Schneider, reaching the playoffs 10 times in 13 seasons since those two took over. But if there is a negative to all that winning, it's that the Seahawks have rarely had a chance to select players near the top of the draft. Other than in 2010 when they were inheriting a team that went 5-11 the previous year, Carroll and Schneider's Seahawks have only "earned" a top 10 pick once, and that was the 10th overall pick in 2022 that went to the Jets as part of the Jamal Adams trade.
But this year, thanks to the trade that sent Russell Wilson to Denver, the Seahawks have four picks in the first two rounds, including the fifth overall pick and a pick near the top of the second round from Denver.
"This draft capital, it's cool," Schneider said. "Obviously it's really exciting picking fifth overall. Personally, I haven't been part of a team that's picked fifth since we took A.J. Hawk out of Ohio State when I was with the Packers. So yeah, it's fun. Good stuff."
Said Carroll, "This is really an exciting opportunity for us. We have not been in this situation, we have not felt like this ever. So all of the build up to it has been exciting, and we're hoping to obviously max out everything we can with it. It's another competitive opp for us, and John and I have spent a ton of time already just kind of positioning and posturing where are heads are at and all that stuff. Even at such an early stage of gathering information, it's still really exciting. We know that the opportunity is something special, so we're looking forward to it and we'll see how it goes."
2. The Seahawks are losing some good coaches in Dave Canales and Sean Desai.
The Seahawks learned earlier this offseason that Dave Canales, a longtime assistant under Pete Carroll dating back to his final year at USC, was leaving to become the offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay. Then on Tuesday the Eagles announced that they are making Sean Desai, who spent last season as Seattle's associate head coach-defense, their new defensive coordinator.
In both cases, Carroll is happy to see an assistant move on for a new opportunity, but sad to be losing a good coach.
"We had a great time," Carroll said of his one year with Desai. "He's really, really a brilliant football guy—background, the information that he holds, his access to information is really special. He helped us a ton getting going and making the transition. So we got along great. It was a good challenge for me, because of the different source of his football background, so it was really fun to knock heads and make sure that we were always trying to figure it out."
The connection with Canales was particularly strong given how long the two had worked together, with Canales serving in multiple roles ranging from receivers coach to passing game coordinator to, most recently, quarterbacks coach.
"That's a big hit for us, because he has been so ingrained in the fabric of what we're all about," Carroll said. "He's been such a favorite guy on the staff for years, we go way back. It's rare that you spend that much time with one coach; there's usually a little bit of transition, but he's been like one of our very own, really like family. Just like you would think, you're excited for your family when they do things, and we really are really pumped for his opportunity. He's going to do great. He's got great background, he's got great background, he's got the frame of mind that chilled and confident and complete in his decision making and all. He's going to do a great job with that, and we'll be cheering for him the whole way. It's meaningful for our guys, because I really like to help guys on our staff and elevate them and bring them up and grow them into our mentality and our approach. So to see a guy who has truly done that get rewarded with this opportunity, it's a great deal. We're fired up for him."
3. The Seahawks are "counting on" bringing Ryan Neal back.
While the Seahawks have one of the league's best safety tandems in Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams, they still see it as a priority this offseason to bring by Ryan Neal, who is coming off of his best season, starting 10 games in place of an injured Adams and earning Pro Football Focus All-Pro honors.
As a restricted free agent, the Seahawks have some control over Neal's future, but he is able to negotiate with other teams, presuming the Seahawks tender him ahead of the deadline. If they don't place a restricted free agent tender on Neal, which would give them draft compensation should he sign elsewhere, then Neal would be a free agent when the new league year began, though it would seem unlikely the Seahawks would go that route.
"I'm hoping we can get that done now," Carroll said. "We're counting on getting that done. Ryan played his best football this year. And he just continues to grow and he has so much versatility in what we ask him to do. And he's done it all well, whether it's covering tight ends, whether it's playing in the box, whether it's playing on a deep end, and special teams. And he's a fantastic personality on a team. His character and competitiveness, he is infectious and we love what he brings."
Said Schneider, "We'd love to have Ryan back. He's a good player, flies around. He just throws his body around too, and he's got a lot of juice. In the locker room, he's a great locker room guy. Really developed into a strong leader."
4. The Seahawks were able to get a head start on free agency by extending Nick Bellore, Jason Myers and Phil Haynes.
In past years, the Seahawks haven't gotten many contract extensions done between the end of a season and the start of free agency. But this offseason, the Seahawks were able to get deals done with Pro-Bowl kicker Jason Myers, guard Phil Haynes and special teams captain Nick Bellore, locking up three important players before they could hit the open market.
Those moves happened now in part, Schneider explained, because of a tight salary cap last year that prevented any late-season extensions, and also just because the Seahawks identified all three as players they wanted to have back in 2023.
"We were in a situation where towards the end of the season we had identified some guys, and we had a lot of guys on the team that hit a lot of incentives, so we didn't necessarily have the cash and or cap to do some of those extensions," Schneider said. "Jason having a Pro-Bowl year, and then Phil being still a young ascending guard in our minds, and comparing him to the rest of the free agency class, it was a huge deal for us getting him back. And he knows that we know how to take care of him. (VP of health and player performance Sam Ramsden), (head athletic trainer David Stricklin), everybody. And then also Nick Bellore, who you guys know very well, is one of our core people leaders, and one of the better special teams players in the National Football League."
5. Austin Blythe is retiring, but there was interest in bringing him back.
Center Austin Blythe announce on Instagram Tuesday that he was retiring after a seven-year career that included a 2022 campaign in Seattle in which he started all 17 games. Blythe was set to become a free agent this offseason, so even if he had decided to keep playing, there were no guarantees it would have been in Seattle, but prior to Blythe making that announcement, Carroll said the Seahawks were interested in having him back.
"We got to get the center thing figured out. Austin had a really nice year for us last year and did a good job for us, as a really leader for us," Carroll said, noting Blythe almost retired last offseason. "… He was ready to get out of football. And our guys who knew him kind of convinced him that he could be, he would have fun. He had a great time, he loved being here and all that. To the point when we left, he said, 'If I've got to end my football career, I'm really grateful that it ended on this kind of a note with this kind of a team.' And all that. So it was really positive, so we'll see happens."