Salk: With draft done, what we should expect from these Seahawks

Apr 29, 2024, 7:01 PM

Seattle Seahawks JSN Jaxon Smith-Njigba Zach Charbonnet...

The Seattle Seahawks celebrate a touchdown by Jaxon Smith-Njigba on Dec. 18, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Now the Seattle Seahawks have a complete team.

Sure, they could still make some tweaks and changes and we’ll see who emerges from training camp to make this roster. But with the 2024 NFL Draft and undrafted free agency behind us, we have a pretty clear idea of what to expect.

Or do we?

AP NFL Draft grades: How did Seahawks, NFC West rivals fare?

We know who to expect. We have a pretty good idea of which players will be on the team and what they have done in their past. We know most of the positions that are locked up and which ones will have some real competition.

But do we really know what to expect?

No. We don’t yet know what a new coach will bring out of the players he inherited from the previous regime. We don’t yet know what his scheme will look like or how he will deploy his personnel. We certainly don’t yet know how offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb will evolve his offense to fit a pro game that is faster, stronger and has less space in which to operate. And we don’t yet know how head coach Mike Macdonald will build culture, motivate a team, handle success, handle adversity, or manage the game from the sideline.

So if we know who to expect and not what to expect, how do we set reasonable expectations for the season?

Let’s start by ignoring their record. I know Bill Parcells said that you are what your record says you are, but I’m not sure it will give us an accurate gauge on what this team is building and what the new coach is all about. They have hovered around the edge of the playoffs the last few years and they could remain steady, slip below that level, or even rise above it. But I would hope that we see them operate in a different way.

I don’t believe they are ready to compete for a Super Bowl. Championship teams in the NFL are generally built in one of two ways: either with an elite quarterback leading a solid roster to a title or with an elite roster carrying a solid quarterback to the finish line. The Seahawks don’t seem to have an elite roster nor an elite quarterback, so a title prediction would seem early at best. If they aren’t truly competing for a Super Bowl this season, then their final record seems meaningless to me.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t expectations for the season.

I would expect to see growth from the players in each of the last three drafts. The team seemed to shift its draft philosophy in 2022, and the three classes between then and now are supposed to be the nucleus of this group. Those three classes have provided bookend tackles, competitive interior offensive linemen, a starting receiver, workhorse running backs, two edge defenders, two cornerbacks that competed for Defensive Rookie of the Year awards, and a host of depth players.

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Can this coaching staff turn those starting linemen into a force at the line of scrimmage? Can they develop Boye Mafe and salvage Derick Hall at edge rusher? Can they maximize the value of Devon Witherspoon and re-center Tariq Woolen at cornerback? Can they feature the running backs and highlight wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s unique talents?

That group needs to take steps forward in 2024.

I would expect to see them improve significantly on the line of scrimmage. For most of Pete Carroll’s tenure, we heard that the Seahawks wanted to be a team built up front. He wanted a strong running game on offense, and his defensive style mandated they stop the run and not give up big plays. But for the past few seasons, they have been anything but a team that fit those descriptions. They were not tough or physical. They did not dominate the line on either side of the ball. They did not run well and were constantly bullied by opposing running games.

Macdonald arrives with a similar message about controlling the game from the trenches. The Seahawks took a big step towards reaching that goal when they spent six of their eight draft picks on players that should play in that region. The next step is to see those lines push forward rather than being knocked back. If that happens, there is a good chance we’ll see another positive.

I would expect to see them as bullies more than bullied. If you want to play a physical style, you have to be more physical than your opponent. To play that style, you might make some sacrifices in the finesse portions of the game. You might not have as much speed or maneuverability in spots. You might not throw the ball to your offensive weapons as often. That is OK as long as you are winning the physical battles you say are more important to you. And if they can grow in that department, it would be a significant step forward.

I would expect Mike Macdonald to show that he has command of the team. This one can be tough to judge, but often we see it in the absence of problems rather than in what goes right. I don’t expect any coach to get through a season without challenges, but does he handle them confidently and consistently? How he handles the occasional lazy, over-penalized, tardy or confused player will have a marked effect on how he is perceived by the rest of the roster.

Can he motivate them? Can he build a culture that everyone in the building understands? The first attempt to do so (with the changes to some of the walls in the building) was understood by the players but not everyone else in and around the team.

And does he know how to manage a game from the sideline? Every coach makes mistakes and I would bet that rookie head coaches make more than their fair share, but I would expect him to learn from those and improve. I would expect him to not let the game speed up on him, as it can when you take on more than you ever have before.

It’s hard to imagine the Seahawks competing for a Super Bowl in 2024, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have anything to play for nor nothing to prove. Quite the opposite. This is a team that can begin to show a nucleus that will eventually challenge for titles. And if they do it right, that day could come a whole lot sooner than later.

More on the Seattle Seahawks

What UConn’s Jim Mora says OG Christian Haynes brings to Seahawks
Why Huard is a big fan of Seattle Seahawks’ sixth-round OL draft pick
AP NFL Draft grades: How did Seahawks, NFC West rivals fare?
What experts are saying about the Seattle Seahawks’ draft class
Seattle Seahawks ’24 NFL Draft Breakdown: A look at all eight picks

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