The Seahawks will wrap up their 2021 season with a trip to Arizona, but while their season hasn't gone according to plan, they're still looking to finish strong after an impressive win over the Lions in Week 17. And before we turn our attention to the season finale, it's time once again to open up the mailbag and answer questions from you, the fans. As always, thanks to everyone who asked questions this week, and apologies if I couldn't get to yours this time around.
Dasy Guzman from Mesa, Arizona asks, "Aside from Quandre Diggs, which Seahawks free agent do you think they should try hard to re-sign?"
A: You're correct that Diggs is one of the most significant pending free agents on Seattle's roster, a two-time Pro-Bowler who has 13 interceptions since joining the team midway through the 2019 season. And being able to bring him back would be big for the Seahawks defense if they can figure out a way to get that done, either by signing him to an extension before free agency, or re-signing after the new league year begins in March.
But Diggs is far from being the only important player who is in the final year of his current contract. Other starters/key contributors who are set to become free agents in March include left tackle Duane Brown, cornerbacks D.J. Reed and Sidney Jones IV, tight ends Gerald Everett and Will Dissly, defensive tackle Al Woods, defensive end Rasheem Green, running back Rashaad Penny, right tackle Brandon Shell and center Ethan Pocic.
The realities of the NFL, most notably the salary cap, means no team, the Seahawks included, is usually able to re-sign every player they hope to bring back. That's not to say Pete Carroll and John Schneider aren't telling the truth when they say they'd love to have a player back, only to have said player sign elsewhere, but sometimes the Seahawks might love to have a player back, but not at the price another team is willing to pay.
On a related note, @qwertyXYZ21 asks, "Is there a plan to keep Rashaad Penny?"
A: Penny's situation is a fascinating one because, as of about a month ago, most people would have assumed that the Seahawks would have let him leave in free agency, thinking a fresh start might be good for both parties after what up to that point had been a disappointing career full of injuries. But in the last four weeks, all Penny has done is rush for 135 or more yards in three of four games, including a career-high 170 on Sunday, and he leads the NFL in rushing over that four-game span. Most importantly, he has been able to stay on the field week after week despite a starter's workload.
So to answer the question, yes, I do think the Seahawks will want to bring Penny back, but of course the question then becomes that of price. The running back market is always hard to predict, and it is tough to know how other teams will value a player with Penny's explosive potential but also his injury history. So while I can't predict if he'll be back, I do think the Seahawks will make a very real attempt to keep him in Seattle.
@ThatWiiMaster asks, "Given that the Seahawks defense has followed a slow-start-and-heat-up trend the past two seasons, what changes do you think will be made in the offseason to help get the defense in late-season form at the start of the season?
A: That's a great question and one that defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. addressed last week. In 2020, it's fair to blame the COVID-19 shutdown for some of Seattle's defensive struggles, and for a huge spike in offensive numbers across the league early in the season. Teams did get a more normal offseason in 2021, but you are correct that Seattle again started slow on that side of the ball before settling in and playing well down the stretch. One factor this year was that the Seahawks were unsettled at cornerback, and the defense has been a lot better since they made changes at that spot early in the season, but regardless of who is back in 2022, Norton wants to see the defense start the season better than it has the past two years.
"If I look at this year and even last year, I think it's the early start, just getting a stronger start as far as passing yards," Norton said. "Everything is about total yards, we have been outstanding in situational ball, but coming out of the chutes really, really strong, I think it's very important that we get some offseason work in mini-camps and training camps. Time in the offseason is so key for teams and younger players to really come together and be ready for the start of the season. Unfortunately, we haven't gotten a real rhythm this year as far as coming out with great momentum in the offseason, going right into the season with fantastic momentum. This year, we are going to make sure that we go into the next year with really, really strong momentum starting off in the offseason."
@HolliWinters asks, "The Seahawks offense played well on Sunday. Granted, it was the Lions, but could Russell Wilson's finger finally be healed, or could it be the offense finally clicking under Shane Waldron? Hope for 2022?
A: You're right that Seattle's breakthrough offensive performance came against a struggling team, but with the amount of talent and parity in the NFL—the Lions had held five of their previous seven opponents to 20 or fewer points before the Seahawks hung 51 on them—a performance like that can't be dismissed either.
As for Wilson, both he and Carroll acknowledged that he wasn't 100 percent when he came back, so yes, him getting healthier is a factor. And with Wilson being back and having more games under his belt, we are no doubt seeing some growth with the offense as a whole. A new offense was always going to lead to some growing pains even if Wilson, Chris Carson and everyone else stayed healthy, but with the quarterback missing a significant amount of time, that had to have hindered the ability of the offense to jell in its first year under Waldron. And as we'll get into more in the next question, having a steady running game with Penny leading the way in recent weeks has also made a big difference for the offense. So yes, if the offense comes back mostly intact in 2022, I do think what we saw Sunday, and what we've seen in recent wins over the 49ers and Texans—and for parts of the loss to the Bears—is encouraging for the future.
And speaking of Wilson and the offense…
@CelestialMosh asks, "Any data on how Russell Wilson performs when he has a healthy workhorse running back (Marshawn Lynch, Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny) vs. when they are going with a running back by committee approach?
A: I'm sure such data exists somewhere, but I'm not sure where to find it and what exact parameters we'd use, but I do think it's safe to say that Wilson, like pretty much every quarterback, is going to perform better with a good running game.
And that has nothing to do with Wilson in particular, nor is it to suggest he can't carry an offense when the Seahawks want/need to go pass-heavy, but any defensive player or coach will tell you that it's harder to defend an offense that can do multiple things well. If a defense knows a team isn't interested in running the ball or knows that team can't run it particularly well, they can focus more on stopping the passing game and ignore the threat of a run.
Whether it was early in Wilson's career with Lynch in the backfield, or in 2015 when Wilson was putting up some of the best numbers of his career while Thomas Rawls was also having huge games, or more recently with Carson, the Seahawks offense almost always functions better with a good rushing attack. Even last year when there was so much focus on the increased passing numbers, Carson was adding solid contributions early in the year, then he got injured and not long after we saw the offense cool off, particularly in a loss at Los Angeles when Carson and Carlos Hyde were out. And it's probably not entirely a coincidence that two of Wilson's three lowest passer ratings of his career came in 2016 and 2017 when the Seahawks were dealing a number of injuries at running back—though it's also worth noting Wilson was playing through multiple injuries in 2016.
As the Seahawks experience last year and a lot of other prolific passing attacks have seen this season as well, more and more defenses are willing to play two-deep safety looks and dare teams to run against them, making it much harder to throw the ball, particularly downfield. A good enough running game, however, makes it more difficult for defenses to do that if an opposing back is putting up numbers like Penny has the past month.
"That's what it looks like, and that's what we were working towards," Carroll said Sunday when asked about his team's balanced attack. "And when you play like that, you can play great football. And we've done it for a lot of years. And when we're really at our very best we're at our most balanced. And that's maybe hard to get excited about or whatever, which I don't care whether you do or not, but that's a great way to play this game. It suits everything. Look at all the play passes we got to run today and how that all fit together and made hard on the opponent. It's great ball. Shane (Waldron) had a great day today and called it beautifully."
Seahwaks Sandbox January Tournament Giveaway
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@TheAntarcticaPM asks, "Can you please ask if the front office has already started working on free agency pickups?"
A: If you mean working on free-agent signings as in trying to negotiate deals, then no they're not, because that would be tampering, and teams can get in serious trouble for that. But in terms of recognizing who can become free agents in March and trying to look at what signings could help the team, I assure you there are people in the front office looking ahead (and not just with regards to 2022) to things like that all the time. While most people think of the draft when it comes to NFL scouting, teams also have pro scouts whose job it is to know what is going on with the rosters of the other 31 teams. So yes, the Seahawks, like every team, are working on free agency in terms of planning for it even if they can't yet actually work on getting deals done.
@DanCohen17, who is becoming a mailbag regular, asks, "With the utterly sensational record that UK Seahawks fans have put up this season (namely @adamnathan & @Stu_Court at Lumen vs. the 49ers, and myself this pas weekend), will the Seahawks start paying for flights and accommodations for us British good luck charms?"
A: Ha! Great idea, Dan, but don't see that one happening. It did occur to me though after the Lions game that, as you noted, Adam and Stu were at the 49ers game, and that you were there Sunday to see a win, so maybe there is something to it. Perhaps we can partner with Delta to create a UK Seahawkers London-to-Seattle route during football season or something?
Go behind the scenes with team photographer Rod Mar as he shares moments from the Seattle Seahawks' 51-29 win vs. the Detroit Lions on January 2, 2022 at Lumen Field. Eye On The Hawks is presented by Western Washington Toyota Dealers.