With a single pick in the top 128 spots in the NFL draft, Seahawks fans Thursday night felt like the family who shows up in town the day after the circus left. To amuse them, Pete Carroll and John Schneider earlier in the day offered a token high-wire act, hiring former first-round selection DT Robert Nkemdiche, who washed out of the league in 2019.
If Nkemdiche, 26, busts again, as he did with Arizona — no sacks or starts in 17 games over 2016 and 2017, then had 4½ sacks in 10 games in 2018 before a knee injury ended his season — a non-guaranteed single year deal for a backup is a good safety net.
But if that signing doesn’t turn your football crank, well, 2021 wasn’t the Seahawks’ draft year anyway.
More than a year ago, they saw college scouting trouble coming with the pandemic, and decided to have ’21 in 2020 by trading their first-rounder to the New York Jets for SS Jamal Adams.
“That’s a heck of a pick,” Carroll said Wednesday. “He had a really good year leading into getting drafted by us No. 1, and it would cost us another No. 1 to get that done, for that incredible football player we saw last year.”
When healthy, Adams was as advertised. Given the dubious history with top picks in the Carroll/Schneider regime, they were wise to have kept six feet of social distance from No. 1s well before it became trendy.
Making easier the controversial decision to give up two firsts and a third for a mere safety was the belief that the havoc caused by COVID-19 would make the 2021 crap shoot even crappier.
“When you look at this draft in particular, we had to ask ourselves (in 2020) what kind of questions are we going to have answered by the time we get to next spring? What’s that going to look like?” Schneider said Wednesday. “Things just felt too hazy. So, yeah, we just made an organizational decision. (Owner Jody Allen) was great. She was super-supportive about it. Obviously, Pete and the staff, everybody was super-excited to be able to acquire Jamal.”
Along with draft-pick trades to acquire veterans DE Carlos Dunlap and OG Gabe Jackson, the Seahawks decided it was OK to go nearly naked into the ’21 draft. Not only are three picks the fewest in club history, it’s the fewest in the NFL since the Jets had three in 2009. The Carroll/Schneider regime has never had less than eight picks. The Seahawks like to point out that in that same time, only 13 of 105 draft selections did not play a game in the NFL.
The willingness to forego the future demonstrated how pot-committed the Seahawks were in 2020, which then amplified the despair by getting blown out in the first round of the playoffs. At home. To the Rams.
So began the ’21 workaround.
“For the Jamal trade that came about, that took a lot of insight to understand what was going to be at stake (regarding incomplete information) at this time of year,” Carroll said. “But it also led us into the moves that we made in free agency that we’ve done to fortify our team.
“We’re not going into the draft with great needs, big spaces we need to fill, because the great work the personnel department put together. We’re in a really good place.”
The Seahawks sat out the first round Thursday, as did the Rams. The other division rivals helped themselves.
The 49ers traded up to No. 3 and ended this year’s biggest guessing game by selecting North Dakota State QB Trey Lance, considered the biggest risk/reward guy among the five signal callers chosen the first 15 picks. Now the Niners have to figure out whether to keep starter Jimmy Garoppolo for a year, or trade him this off-season to a team that needs a really good-looking guy who’s otherwise slightly above average.
At 16, Arizona took LB Zaven Collins of Tulsa, a 6-5, 265-pounder with 4.6-second speed, to join J.J. Watt and Chandler Jones in a pass rush that will make Russell Wilson wonder if he should have pushed harder for that trade thingy.
The Seahawks begin the second and third rounds Friday (rounds four through seven are Saturday) with picks at 56, 129 and 250. While the popular speculation is that Schneider will do as he often has done and trade back to gain more selections, if this draft is as “hazy” as he claimed, why not stay put for the best available player?
Although Carroll insisted there are no “great” needs, a good second-round pick could compete to start at one among cornerback, center and third receiver, the three most noteworthy voids.
If newly signed Aldon Smith can’t get himself out of an arrest and charge of battery in Louisiana — “that’s not something we can talk about; we have to let the legal process take its course,” Schneider said — the Seahawks will need to find more help at rush end.
Carroll also said that because of the covid disruptions that wiped out so much in-person work in 2020, he needs to find out more about the players already on hand.
“Because of the format of last camp, where we didn’t have the off-season and preseason games, the evaluations of players were so uniquely different than it’s ever been,” he said. “I don’t feel like I gave our guys on the depth of the roster the best opportunity I could have for their statement for where they fit into this club.
“That means that guys that are starting are going to get guys battling for their spots. It’s going to make the starters get better or get beat, and (backup) guys deserve that opportunity. I’m going to make sure that I do a better job of that. I felt like, because we were tweaking to catch up with last off-season, we kept our offensive line almost intact the whole time. We just want to give them the opportunity to emerge.”
Carroll insisted he plays no favorites.
“We’re not keeping guys just because we drafted them, just because we’re trying to save face or whatever,” he said. “We’re going to do the right thing for that specific situation. John and I have worked our way through those. I think it’s a strength of ours.”
The burden of tough decisions this summer will at least be eased via lack of volume.