Best in the west — the beginning of the end for the Seattle Seahawks?

At some point, the Seattle Seahawks’ reign atop the NFC West will end. With an array of unanswered questions, the blue birds have the aura of a team poised to fall off their perch — possibly soon.

The concerns:

  • Non-existent production from their recent high draft picks,
  • Approximately $100M committed to only 10 players,
  • A veteran Legion of Boom that is now more commonly referred to as the Legion of Whom, and
  • An offensive line that only scares people who work at the VMAC.

Is this the end of the Seahawks’ reign atop the NFC? Let’s examine the blue birds’ well-known problems.

Pop quiz

Of the Seahawks’ past three drafts, which first-round draft pick has had the most impact? Go ahead and chew on that for a bit. Give up? Sorry to start you off with a trick question but the answer is: nobody. The Seahawks have traded away their past three (!) first-round draft picks.

OK, so they skipped the first round of top collegiate talent three years running. It puts even more emphasis on developing their second-round picks, naturally. So, same question: Which second-round draft pick over the past three seasons has had the most impact?

Uh, the answer is almost the same as it was to the first question.

Pick your poison. Here are the Seahawks second-round picks from the past three drafts:

  • 2015: Frank Clark, DE, TBD
  • 2014: Paul Richardson, WR, likely PUP or IR to start season.
  • 2014: Justin Britt, T/G, just moved to Siberia.
  • 2013: Christine Michael, RB, third-string / roster bubble.

The star of this bunch is most likely a guy who isn’t on this list: third-round pick Tyler Lockett. Reports out of camp indicate a high ceiling for the wiry wideout from Kansas State. The other most recent second-rounders can all be classified as disappointments so far in their young careers, with the exception of the rookie Clark, who gets an “incomplete.”

Britt just lost his starting right tackle job in ugly fashion and is now toiling at the merry-go-round left guard spot — a role that almost certainly suits him better. Richardson capped his lackluster rookie season with a torn ACL which continues to keep him on the shelf. He may begin the season on the PUP list or possibly on injured reserve. Michael remains an enigma with talent to burn and an inability to take carries away from the two running backs in front of him: All-World Marshawn Lynch and all-Renton Robert Turbin.

NFL observers would be hard-pressed to find another NFL team with less production from their top two picks of the past three drafts. It’s tough to get better when you’re whiffing on the best collegiate talent available.

Moneymoneymoneymoney

With the recent big-money contracts handed out to (deserving) Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner, the Seahawks have now committed a cool $100 million to 10 players. That kind of salary disparity is at the heart of why other already highly paid players like Michael Bennett and Kam Chancellor are asking for similar treatment.

Of course, the Seahawks can no longer afford to buy chewing gum, let alone sweeten deals for other “deserving” players. The cap is tight this year and will be again next year, according to Over The Cap. The Seahawks have a shade under $5M in cap space, placing them ahead of only the St. Louis Rams, New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions and New Orleans Saints. Note that two of their cap-strapped compatriots are NFC West foes.

If you want to feel better about the Seahawks’ cap situation, I recommend you read Evan Hill’s analysis of the Seahawks’ cap situation on Field Gulls. His premise is that the kvetching you’ve likely heard is probably wrong. He goes into a lot of depth and has a firm grasp of the Seahawks’ cap realities.

However, there are two fundamental flaws to Hill’s prognosis that all is well. Here is an excerpt:

“At the beginning of each season, teams put aside $4M for IR and $1M for practice squad. So in terms of “real space” … the Seahawks are slightly over the cap. They will have to make a move before the NFL season starts, to open up space. However, this can be easily done. This can come in the form of an extension, restructure, or flat-out cut of a player.”

Did you catch that? The Seahawks are out of money, which is not news. According to Hill, they’re not close to the cap — they’re over it. He further opines (wait for it) that they’ll have to cut or restructure player(s) to fix their problem.

Cut players? Who thinks that cutting players is not only not a preferred solution, but exactly the type of problem smart NFL teams strive to avoid? Cutting players is exactly the problem when you’re in cap hell. If you’re OK with cutting players, then nobody is ever in cap trouble. Ever. One’s argument is, let’s say, full circle if you want to claim that cutting players is an “easy” solution to having no cap space. Restructuring, of course, only pushes the problem into the future — it does not solve it.

When it comes to being out of money and looking around the room to see who is gonna go, put the Seahawks at the top of that lamentable list. Just ask Tony McDaniel. And Pete Carroll. The Seahawks already cut McDaniel for reasons solely cap-related. Carroll’s “This decision sucks” pronouncement is just the preamble to the future of Seahawks roster shaping. Was cutting McDaniel “easily done”? Carroll doesn’t think so. And he won’t think so again when the Seahawks, as predicted by Hill, will do so again before cutting down to 53 players.

That’s just this year. The Seahawks’ expensive 10 will all, presumably, be around for the next few seasons, with the likely exception of Lynch. Lynch’s salary will be more than compensated for in the 2016 cap when Wilson’s $7 million cap hit in 2015 more than doubles in following seasons.

So if you buy cutting players as the way to go, then yippee! The Seahawks are sittin’ pretty. If you’re in the Pete Carroll camp, and you don’t like jettisoning valuable (starting!) role players to keep a handful of stars, then you have legitimate reasons for concern.

Moving day

Cap schmap. Why does it matter? The Seahawks have holes, which you have surely noticed. They can’t/won’t draft their way out of it and now cannot afford to buy their way out of it. Which is the main reason why the temporarily coveted Evan Mathis is now playing in Denver, despite his visit to Seattle not long ago. The Seahawks have similarly been changing defensive back rotations like worn-out socks, as they try to fill spots left by injury, hold-out and ineffectiveness.

Their answer to their two most unsettled position groups is to shuffle players madly across every position. At Seahawks training camp, every day is moving day. Just about every defensive back (too many to list) has been called a starter at some point this offseason. With the exception of Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy, every other offensive lineman (too many to list) has had a stint at the left guard, center and right tackle positions. When will it end? How long until we see Drew Nowak and Alvin Bailey line up at strong and weak safety? Don’t think they haven’t thought about it.

Yeah, so, and?

These are legitimate reasons for concern. Does it mean the Seahawks are going to be replaced as NFC West champions in 2015? I don’t think so. Surprised? They’re vulnerable, sure. But it appears their NFC West opponents are finding their championship dreams as derailed as the Seahawks — and they’re starting from an comparative talent deficit.

Take the San Francisco 49ers. Go ahead, take them. Pick them to win the NFC West. You can’t because you’ve seen a few offseason reports on the Seahawks’ formerly formidable foe. The hits keep coming, too. Starting linebacker Ahmad Brooks has now been indicted for sexual assault. The only surprise in the NFC West this year would be if the 49ers don’t end up in fourth place.

It’s tempting to pick the other two NFC Westers, both of whom have given the Seahawks trouble of recent. The Cardinals managed to steal a rare home game from the blue birds in their Super Bowl season. The Rams defeated the Seahawks last October.

Both enter this season with legitimate renewed hope. Both are finding the offseason and preseason rough going. Reports indicate that The Rams’ new quarterback, Nick Foles, is looking like anything but a franchise quarterback. The Rams’ offensive line is almost as in flux as the Seahawks’. Foles can only hope to get more settled as he tries to improve upon his preseason week-one output of 3-of-5 passes for 69 yards and 2 sacks, and 3-of-7 passes for 18 yards and 1 interception in week two. The Rams’ top rushing hope, rookie Todd Gurley, has only just started practicing this week as he recovers from a torn ACL.

The red birds’ signal caller, Carson Palmer, has bounced back from ACL surgery which ruined his (and the Cardinals’) 2014 season. The Cardinals know their championship hopes ride entirely on the 35-year-old Carson’s ability to make it through the season. Not likely to join Palmer between the lines are new guard Mike Iupati, cornerback Jerraud Powers, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and new running back Chris Johnson. The veteran Johnson was brought in late to bolster the faltering Cardinals’ running back corps.

Doesn’t add up

As of right now, neither team looks ready to wrest the NFC West crown away from the Seahawks for one more season. The 49ers are clearly in the burning down stage of rebuilding mode. The Seahawks have been NFC West and NFC champions two years running — a stretch that seems longer. The Seahawks’ reign will end one day. Despite their current challenges, they appear to remain the front runners to win the NFC West one more time.

©Julian Rogers | @thejujueye | Juju Eye Communications, LLC

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