MIKE SALK

Salk: The 5-step plan to make Seahawks contenders again in ’22

Jan 20, 2022, 9:00 AM
Seahawks Jamal Adams...
Seahawks safety Jamal Adams walks off the field after a loss to Tennessee on Sept. 19, 2021. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

No one wanted to see the Seahawks go 7-10. And it wasn’t your average, everyday mediocre season either.

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It was full of horrible blowouts, embarrassing losses and deep lows that we hadn’t seen here in quite some time. With the backdrop of last offseason and Russell Wilson’s unhappiness, it was easy to declare this era over and call for a new one to begin.

But Pete Carroll never believed that. He subscribes to a theory that doesn’t allow you to win in the first, second or third quarters. And because of that, he continued to battle and got his team to join him all the way to the end of the season.

And so 7-10 doesn’t quite feel like the end of an era. Instead, it feels like a step back. Perhaps more of a wake-up call, an opportunity to make the changes necessary to get this team back into legitimate contention. Not just for the playoffs, but for the Super Bowl.

As bad as the offense was at times this year, the path for success there isn’t overly complicated. The Seahawks need their quarterback to be healthy and play like himself. He certainly has the weaponry he needs to succeed. They need to maintain the running game that arrived just in time for the end of the season. And they need some work on the offensive line.

OK. Doable.

It’s the defense that needs some love and attention. After all, the offense was the talk of last offseason. Now it’s time for Pete’s true love to get back to where he needs it to be in order for his system to work.

And make no mistake, this defense did not work right this season. Setting a franchise-low in takeaways is not the Pete Carroll style. Nor is finishing 24th in sacks. Nor is the regression of Jamal Adams, the defense’s second slow start in as many years, or the challenges in getting off the field on third down.

If the Seahawks want to be playing in the divisional round of the playoffs and beyond, they need to get their defense right. Thankfully, I’m here to help with a simple five-step plan that anyone can follow.

Step 1: Change your defensive coordinator.

Conveniently, the Seahawks have already started this process by relieving Ken Norton Jr. of his duties. Now they search for his replacement.

The rumored candidates represent a somewhat diverse range of ages, experiences, backgrounds, systems and familiarity with the current regime. The eventual hire will tell us something about what they value – communication, creativity, youth, experience, etc.

Step 2: Unlock Jamal Adams.

This is priority No. 1 for the new defensive leader. The team has spent a fortune in draft capital and money on as player that had All-Pro credentials before he arrived. In two years, he has regressed.

You can argue that the Adams trade was a mistake (it likely was) and that they should have cut their losses after year one, but they have paid him and somewhere in that #33 jersey is that All-Pro they acquired.

How do you unlock that potential? How do you move him around the field to play to his strengths? How do you put him in the best position to succeed? The next coordinator should be studying some 2019 Jets film to figure that out.

Step 3: Fix the pass rush.

As I mentioned, 24th in sacks isn’t going to cut it. But there is some good news. Thanks to the late season surge of Carlos Dunlap and the improved play of Darrell Taylor, they managed to get some pressure on the quarterback. Their hurry percentage was actually slightly ahead of the Rams despite finishing with 13 fewer sacks, and edge rushers are often available and successful in the free agent market.

Chandler Jones has had double-digit sack totals every year he’s played more than 10 games (so all but his rookie season) and is available this offseason. Spend the money and get a difference maker on the outside, much like the Bengals did with Trey Hendrickson and the Patriots did with Matthew Judon last offseason. Getting a premier rusher would allow Taylor to thrive on the other side and Dunlap to sub in like Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett did in 2013.

Step 4: (I don’t want to put this one in bold print.)

OK, no one wants to say this, but the Seahawks need to make a difficult decision with regards to Bobby Wagner. Put simply, he hasn’t played up to his salary. Yes, the raw tackle numbers are still high, but the impact plays have all but gone away. The sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, tackles for loss – these were the plays on which he built such a sterling reputation.

Related: How does Seahawks’ change at DC impact Wagner’s future?

As I see it, they have two options with Wagner. They could cut him outright, go with a young player like Cody Barton in his spot, and spend the money on free agency (see Step 3). They’d miss his veteran leadership, steadying presence and durability. But let’s be honest, the defense didn’t suffer in the final two games of 2021 without him. It arguably functioned better with Barton making aggressive plays and getting into passing lanes.

If they don’t have the stomach for that level of change, they could try to renegotiate a smaller deal. This would free up cap space but wouldn’t truly solve the problem on the field unless it was coupled with a drop in playing time. Maybe Bobby could be more effective if he played all out for fewer plays rather than saving himself to play every snap. It’s a theory, anyway.

I think I’d swallow hard and go with Option A, but if Option B has a legitimate chance to work, I’d sure be happier.

Step 5: Find a disruptive interior defensive lineman.

Here’s my caveat: I don’t know how to do this. This is the rarest of rare species. Like an athletic big man in basketball, a puck-moving defenseman in hockey, or a dependable pitcher who throws 200 innings per year. It isn’t quite as important as a quarterback, but all 32 teams are constantly on the hunt for it.

The Seahawks were at their best when Brandon Mebane was tearing teams apart from the inside, pushing the pocket and helping his outside teammates. Same with Jarran Reed. They need a disruptor to pair with Al Woods and Poona Ford.

There you go. It’s only five steps, and only Step 5 is that hard. Contention is just a few moves away!

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Salk: The 5-step plan to make Seahawks contenders again in ’22