No greater example exists in NFL history for the thin margin between an 11-5 regular season record and 5-11 than the 2019 Seahawks. They were the second team in league annals to win 10 games by one score (eight points or less), tying the 1978 Houston Oilers.
Also tied, in knots, were the stomachs of Seahawks fans, astonished how mediocre a good team can be, and how delightful a mediocre can be, in course of a single season. Or in consecutive weeks. Or in consecutive plays.
“What we went through is about as challenging as we can make it,” Pete Carroll told reporters Tuesday. “A couple of inches, here or there, could have made things different.
“We can make games a little easier on ourselves.”
How they get to that point is why Carroll, general manager John Schneider and a battalion of personnel staff showed up this week to the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. They seek help to make things easier.
Or, if you believe that the ’19 Seahawks were more of a fluke than D.J. Fluker himself, to stave off disaster.
Perhaps you can guess how the Seahawks coach chooses to look at it.
“I think we were ahead of you (reporters) all year with the thought that we could do something with this season,” he said of a team that advanced to the playoffs’ round of eight despite having one of the NFL’s worst defenses, and injuries on offense that wiped out nearly all the running backs and tight ends. “We come out of of it with a better understanding and clearer expectations that we can do something really special. We have stuff we’ve got to get done, but we have the nucleus of a really good club. The players and coaches feel like that. I hope the fans do as well.
“We’re very close to being a tough club to deal with. We’re going to set our expectations really high.”
Sounds like he could be the third Blues Brother — $51 million in his salary-cap pocket, nine draft choices, a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and they’re wearing sunglasses.
Hit it, Joliet Jake.
As always, Carroll believes in belief. He doesn’t see how close the Seahawks came to losing most of those 10 games, only how narrowly they missed an appearance in the Super Bowl. That’s what a quarterback with superpowers can do to a coach’s thinking.
Cold logic, however, says they can’t skate like that for a second season. Better than anyone, Carroll knows his defense needs a major upgrade. And it starts with attempting to give DE Jadeveon Clowney more money than LB Bobby Wagner, and perhaps more money than any defender in the NFL.
Clowney, whom Carroll confirmed had surgery to repair a core injury, will become a free agent March 18 unless he and the Seahawks agree on a new contract that will be at or near the $22 million annual average received from the Rams by DT Aaron Donald. The potential one-and-done situation is because in order to induce Clowney to accept a September trade from the Texans to Seattle, Schneider agreed to waive the right to use the franchise tag that would have kept him in town for at least another season.
No one much cared at the time of the trade, given Clowney’s potential to upgrade the defense. But in hindsight, after a good-but-not-great year by Clowney that saw the Seahawks finish next to last in sacks, an argument can be made that the Seahawks gave up a huge asset.
“We’re trying to get it done,” Carroll said. “He had a fantastic season. We’d love to have him back.”
In an earlier press meeting in Indy, Schneider said he would be meeting with Clowney’s agent to discuss a deal. Naturally, he offered no clue about potential outcomes. A year ago at the combine, he reminded his questioners that “I thought Frank (Clark) was going to be on our team.’’
When it became apparent that Clark’s price for a contract extension was too high, he was dealt to Kansas City for high 2019 draft choices that became DT L.J. Collier and WR DK Metcalf. It worked out for both teams, but Seattle is faced with a somewhat similar situation with Clowney, minus the contract control.
Ominously, Schneider made it plain he had more than next season in mind.
“It’s really a daily or weekly process of figuring out how you’re going to put this thing together,’’ he said. “We have some cap flexibility this year, which is great. But it’s not just about this year. It’s planning for next year and the following year, as well. We have to be cognizant of where we’re going.”
If Clowney’s deal proves too burdensome for Seattle, a weakness gets weaker.
“Pass rush is something we’re really focusing on,” Carroll said. “We really liked the way we turned over the ball; we got the ball a lot. We need to rush the passer more consistently. Not just the guys up front, but how we cover.”
While it’s true that the Seahawks tied for third in NFL turnover ratio with a +12, 16 of those were recovered fumbles, which typically is as random an act as ordering cats to fall in line, single-file. Which gets back to Carroll’s point about inches, but not in the way he sees it.
What the Seahawks hope this week is to sleuth out at the combine a pass rusher as undervalued by other teams as Metcalf was a year ago among receivers. An injured junior from Mississippi, Metcalf wowed everyone when he took off his shirt, as well as when he ran the 40-yard dash. But he lasted until the Seahawks took him with the final pick in the second round because rival scouts devalued his upside for the pro game.
Carroll was quick to seize upon the topic that validated the Seahawks’ draft wisdom.
“We didn’t see the negatives other people saw,” he said. “We were very fortunate he was there. It was an extraordinary moment when we picked him. Should never have happened.
“His mentality may surprise people who didn’t think he should have been highly regarded. I don’t think they knew that about him. He had limited production his last year (at Mississippi). I think (rival scouts) missed the fact that he had this makeup.
“I gotta admit I learned a lot about him, too, that’s special. There’s really no limits on him, and the good thing is he realizes that. Hes going for it.”
Given all the recent resources the Seahawks have applied to the the pass rush with modest results — Clowney, Ziggy Ansah, Malik McDowell and the untested Collier — the need to nail find a defensive equivalent to Metcalf in this draft becomes acute.
They have little choice, since in 2019 they used so much good fortune to get so far, the well of karma may take years to replenish.