Shoppers, as much as scouts.
That’s what all teams are at every NFL combine. And theirs is always a buyer’s market. Each year they have more prospects to evaluate than there are spots in the draft (this year its 336 combine invitees, 254 draft spots).
But the Seahawks enter this week’s league scouting extravaganza at Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indiana Convention Center needing to shop for more than players. They have the fewest draft picks in team history, four. It’s the fewest in the NFL this year.
That won’t stay that way through the actual drafting April 25-27, when Seattle owns the 21st-overall choice in the first round.
Coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider haven’t used the Seahawks’ original first-round selection since 2011. Trading down isn’t just a goal for them, it’s a way of draft life.
Now, more than in any other Carroll-Schneider offseason, it’s an imperative for the team that is coming off its sixth playoffs in seven years. The Seahawks will eventually find partners to trade down in and perhaps again out of round one, to acquire more picks over the final six rounds.
For instance, Seattle does not own a second-round pick; it traded that to Houston during the 2017 season to acquire veteran left tackle Duane Brown. And the second round is where many draft experts see this year’s highest value in top-quality prospects.
The Seahawks’ multitasking begins this week in Indianapolis.
“I love this team and I love where we’re going,” Carroll said last month after Seattle’s sixth playoff appearance in seven years. “It’s going to be more competitive than ever.
“The roster will continue to be built and constructed to be competitive and bring out the best in our guys.”
Many of the seeds for many draft-pick trades that bloom in April get planted here at the combine. It happens through informal chats with other teams’ coaches, scouts and GM types around hotel lobbies and in downtown Indianapolis restaurants, as much as at the combine events of running and jumping at the indoor stadium and weigh lifting in the adjacent convention center.
It’s not that the Seahawks will necessarily talk trades at the combine, per se. This week they will learn through chatter here what teams like which players, who is primarily targeting certain positions and skills. That will lead to Seattle—and every other team—refining their bigger, league-wide draft boards. This week they will gain a better projection for what players are likely to be available in each round, and for which other teams are likely to be interested in trading up to get those guys.
At the same time, the Seahawks will be evaluating one of the deepest classes of NFL-ready defensive linemen in recent drafts, to fill a pressing need. Four or five D-linemen could go in the first dozen picks in April. That includes end Ed Oliver from Houston, Alabama’s Quinnen Williams and Clemson teammates Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence.
Those studs are likely to be long gone by 21 in round one. Plus, the Seahawks usually have fewer players assessed as first-round talent than the round’’s 32 selections. So Seattle will be assessing its potential options for trading its first-round pick, for the eighth consecutive year, to get more picks and better value later in the draft again.
To whom might the Seahawks be talking most over the next two months, including this week in Indiana?
They are many prime candidates, including the Packers (Seattle’s usual trading partners), Patriots, Browns, Bengals, Raiders, Broncos and Bills.
Those teams have 10 or more picks in the upcoming seven-round draft. New England has a league-high 12.
On Friday the NFL awarded the Super Bowl champion four compensatory picks for net losses of unrestricted free agents in the past year.
The Cardinals have 11 picks, including four comp picks. But teams don’t usually like to make trades within their division, for fear a bad move will sting one such trading team twice each season in intradivisional games.
The Seahawks didn’t get any compensatory picks, because they signed more top free agents in 2018 than they lost.
That makes trading down imperative for Seattle this spring, more than in any of Carroll’s and Schneider’s previous nine drafts.
The Seahawks aren’t alone in needing more draft choices this year. Chicago has just five, partly the result of the Bears trading a first-round pick to Oakland last year for elite pass rusher Khalil Mack. The Cowboys, Titans, Buccaneers 49ers, Jets and Saints each have six picks.
New Orleans traded its first-round selection to move up in last year’s draft to get pass rusher Marcus Davenport.
Those moves by the Bears and Saints underscore the premium value today’s NFL places on quarterbacks and the guys who can sack them.
The Seahawks aren’t in the market for a franchise quarterback because they have one still in his prime. Russell Wilson will come down out of the sky as a part-time helicopter pilot this offseason to join his agent Mark Rodgers in talks with Seattle on a second contract extension with the team.
The Seahawks have been preparing for years to pay Wilson at the top of the league’s market for QBs, which means the highest average salary in football, at $35 million per year or more. They knew Aaron Rodgers was going to re-sign with Green Bay by now, for $134 million over four years with $98.2 million guaranteed in his new deal last summer.
“That’s very much in our plans,” Carroll said last month of a new deal for Wilson.
So Seattle will not be a participant in only a spectator of this week’s biggest show at the combine. That is Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray of Oklahoma trying to become the first player drafted in the first round in both the NFL and Major League Baseball. This week Murray is beginning in earnest his path to be an NFL quarterback instead of taking $4.6 million guaranteed from baseball’s Oakland Athletics.
This combine and draft are considered deep not only in defensive linemen but in defense, overall. That’s also good for Seattle.
The Seahawks are likely to spend their week in Indianapolis through March 4 interviewing linebackers to potentially replace imminent free agent K.J. Wright, versatile safeties with Tedric Thompson not yet fully proven as the long-term replacement for departing free-agent All-Pro Earl Thomas and long-armed cornerbacks. In Carroll’s system he can never have too many of those, or pass rushers.
One top defensive lineman that could become intriguing to Seattle and its efforts to trade down into the second round: Jeffery Simmons from Mississippi State. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive tackle as speed and agility inside that Carroll and the Seahawks covet. So does every other team.
He was considered a top-15 pick, until he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee this month while training for the combine and draft in Florida. He had surgery last week.
He is so skilled at such a premium position in the NFL Simmons may be still go in the first round, before the Seahawks trade down and select.
“I am going to come back stronger and more determined than ever,” Simmons posted on his Twitter account two weeks ago. “If it is in God’s will, no matter which team drafts me this April, I will work extremely hard to get healthy and become a leader in that organization.”
NFL Network reported last weekend the league sent a memorandum to all teams informing them it was allowing Simmons the opportunity for “limited” interviews with teams at the combine Wednesday, and for medical examinations. But NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported the memo also said Simmons will not be able to attend the combine because of his ACL surgery. So any Seahawks first-hand evaluations of him apparently will have to come later.
ACL tears often involve a nine- to 12-month recovery, so that may scare some teams from Simmons. So might video aired by WCBI in Mississippi in 2016 that showed Simmons hitting a woman while she is on the ground. Simmons said it was in response to comments the woman made about a deceased family member.
The NFL that same year made a rule that barred from the combine any player with a documented history of violence.
In 2015 Frank Clark fell down or off many NFL teams’ draft boards after his arrest and brief jailing in Ohio for a domestic-violence incident in Ohio. Months after Michigan kicked Clark out of its football program, the Seahawks made Clark their top draft choice in 2015 by selecting him in the second round.
He had a career-high 14 sacks in 17 games this past season, including Seattle’s playoff loss at Dallas last month. He has 34 sacks in his last 48 games. He’s about to go from a $943,000 salary in 2018 to as much as $18 million or more this year. The Seahawks are set to either give him a franchise tag in the next two weeks or contract extension in coming months to keep him from leaving in free agency.
And Clark is the doting father to his toddler daughter. She was born in Bellevue in his first NFL seasons with the Seahawks.
This week the team will be searching to find the next Clark, to potentially change more’ lives of young prospects.
They just have some other shopping to do, too.