Fann: The top 4 Seahawks storylines for this offseason

Jan 17, 2023, 2:31 PM | Updated: 2:50 pm

Seahawks Pete Carroll...

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll reacts after a play during a game against the Jets on Jan. 1, 2023. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

It took a week longer than expected, but the Seahawks offseason has now arrived following Saturday’s Wild Card loss to the 49ers.

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The next several months will be critical if Seattle hopes to continue its upward trajectory following a better-than-expected 2022 season. While general manager John Schneider will have to get creative in terms of creating salary cap space (right now the Seahawks are projected to have around $35 million to play with), Seattle has a war chest of draft capital at its disposal.

The Seahawks have two first-round picks (Nos. 5 and 20), two second-rounders (Nos. 38 and 53) and one third (No. 84). That’s enough ammunition to close the gap in the NFC West with San Francisco if Seattle can hit on those picks.

But there is much work to be done with several glaring roster holes and a number of critical decisions upcoming. Here are four storylines that I believe will define this offseason.

1. What will they do with Geno Smith?

First thing’s first: Seattle has to make a decision on its quarterback. Head coach Pete Carroll seemed absolute on Monday in his confidence that Smith would return in 2023. Smith expressed his desire for that outcome, as well. But this will remain a top storyline until it comes official. The two sides will have to agree on an extension prior to the new league year starting in mid-March.

The franchise tag is also an option, and it’s possible to use the tag while still working on a new contract. Last year, teams had until July 15 to work out an extension for players on the franchise tag.

An extension would be the ideal outcome as it would allow the Seahawks to move a necessary portion of the cap hit into future years, whereas the franchise tag, worth around $32 million for quarterbacks in 2023, would consume most of Seattle’s current cap space.

Rost: What are the Seahawks’ options with QB Geno Smith?

2. Will they give restricted free agent Ryan Neal a second-round tender?

Neal first came on the scene in 2020 when he secured a game-clinching interception of Dak Prescott. He has since gone from practice squad journeyman to a vital piece of Seattle’s defense. Neal replaced Jamal Adams in the starting lineup this season and did so admirably with 66 total tackles, four tackles for loss, eight passes defended, a forced fumble, one interception and one sack.

Pro Football Focus included Neal as a 2022 first-team All-Pro in their year-end honors as the website’s third-best safety league-wide. It should be a no-brainer for Seattle to retain Neal, especially given the uncertainty surrounding Adams’ return from a torn quad muscle.

The easiest avenue to do so would be by placing a second-round tender on Neal as a restricted free agent. That would project to about $4.3 million in 2023, a payday Neal has certainly earned. There’s still a chance a team would be willing to part with a second-round pick in order to sign Neal, but the tender would increase Seattle’s chances of keeping him nonetheless.

3. What will they do at inside linebacker and in the trenches?

Seattle’s front seven is a glaring issue, especially when compared to San Francisco’s. The late-season loss of Jordyn Brooks to an ACL tear only added more uncertainty to the team’s defensive front. Fellow linebacker Cody Barton is an unrestricted free agent and Brooks could miss most if not all of the 2023 season. The need is comprehensive as the Seahawks could use additional pieces on the interior of the defensive line and off the edge.

Shoring up the interior of the offensive line is the top priority on that side of the football. The decision to take wide receiver Dee Eskridge over Creed Humphrey in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft continues to be a decision that haunts this franchise as it remains in need of a center. Finding a new right guard to replace the combination of Gabe Jackson and Phil Haynes is mandatory as well.

4. Will John Schneider fall in love with a QB prospect?

Most Seahawks fans, at least ones I follow and see in my mentions on Twitter, seem to both want and assume that Seattle will use the No. 5 overall pick on a defensive lineman. I think that’s possible, even though the Seahawks are no longer guaranteed either Alabama’s Will Anderson or Georgia’s Jalen Carter following Denver’s win in Week 18. It’s also feasible that Schneider looks to trade back in order to continue stockpiling draft capital.

But my main curiosity is whether or not Schneider falls in love with a quarterback prospect. We’ve heard all about how Schneider loved Patrick Mahomes in 2017 and Josh Allen in 2018, but a combination of Russell Wilson’s presence and a lack of draft assets roadblocked any potential trade up to get those guys.

Now Schenider has the No. 5 pick at his disposal with a variety of quarterbacks who could fall to him, namely Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Kentucky’s Will Levis. This year figures to be Schneider’s only shot at using a top five pick on a quarterback without requiring a huge trade in future years. Furthermore, a decision to extend Smith wouldn’t rule out Seattle taking a quarterback at No. 5 in my opinion.

This is sure to be the most exciting draft season Seahawks fans have gotten to enjoy since 2010.

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