About to board flights to Indianapolis for the NFL combine. The Seahawks are a bit more keenly interested in this year's meat market, because of having a first-round draft choice (at 31st overall) plus general manager John Schneider saying last week he expects to have 10 picks in May. This is the third time in 13 years Seattle, barring a draft trade, will have a double-digit number of selections.
SEAHAWKS’ EXPECTED PICKS IN MAY’S DRAFT
1st round, 31st overall
2nd round, 62nd overall
3rd round, 93rd overall
4th round, 31st pick of the round, *TBD by compensatory picks NFL will award for ’14 free agents lost
4th round, *TBD
5th round, 31st pick of the round, *TBD by comp picks
5th round, *TBD
5th round, *TBD
*6th round, sixth pick of the round from NYJ in Oct.’s Percy Harvin trade
7th round, 31st pick of the round
(*If Jets still have Harvin on roster by March 19 this pick becomes a 4th-round choice)
Beginning today through the weekend at the combine and after it ends at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis, Schneider’s guys will fan out across the country to attend prospects’ individual pro days on college campuses.
Who may they be studying most?
Here's what I see as the Seahawks’ biggest needs – at least as long as we assume 1,500-yard running back Marshawn Lynch is indeed coming back and not retiring before the 2015 season, as Schneider floated as a possibility last week:
And here are some of whom I see as "endangered" veterans who could be gone (or, for all but Maxwell, stay with a steeply restructured contract, by the time the team begins the preseason in late July:
--CB Byron Maxwell, an unrestricted free agent who may prove too expensive to keep
--TE Zach Miller, who is coming off two ankle surgeries this past fall and is currently scheduled to be a $4 million cost against Seattle's salary cap in 2015.
--LG James Carpenter, the former first-round pick whose contract just expired
--LT Russell Okung, often-injured and beaten by edge rushers the past few seasons and with a base salary of $4.8 million and a 2015 cap hit of $7.28 million currently on the Seahawks' books.
--LB Malcolm Smith, the Super Bowl MVP two seasons ago who barely played this past season is a free agent.
There is little doubt a couple of veteran starters will not be back, as Schneider and coach Pete Carroll continue their ways of constant backfill with younger, hungry additions to compete for starting jobs this summer.
Who may some of these young-ins be?
Some are projecting La’el Collins, a 6-foot-5, 321-pound blocker out of Louisiana State, to be a top-10 pick. Others say the run-route paver and pass protector is a second-round talent. Some see him as guard, of which the Seahawks have a perhaps endangered one in 2011 first-round pick James Carpenter on the left side. Others project him as a tackle; Seattle had 2014 second-round pick Justin Britt start every game this past season at right tackle, while left tackle Russell Okung (its sixth-overall selection in 2010) has been limited by injuries for years and has had trouble recently. Both had trouble with speed rushers outside.
If Florida’s D.J. Humphries (6-6, 300) is still around at No. 31 overall, the Seahawks could be tempted by one of college football’s most impressive pass blockers, to address years-old pass protection issues.
Could Washington Husky Danny Shelton from Auburn High School still be around at the end of the first round? If not, almost as highly acclaimed and athletic defensive tackle Arik Armstead of Oregon may be. In later rounds, 288-pound Grady Jarrett of Clemson may intrigue the Seahawks for his speed.
The other apparent need on defense, cornerback, hinges on whether the Seahawks do in fact lose unrestricted free agent starter Byron Maxwell to a higher bidder, as even they expect.
The Seahawks’ apparent needs to upgrade at wide receiver may be timely; that position is considered one of the deeper ones in this draft. Amari Cooper of Alabama is likely to be gone among the first dozen or so picks. But 6-3, 212-pound Jaelen Strong of Arizona State, 6-5 Devin Funchess from Michigan and towering, 6-6 Dorial Green-Beckham have the size and could be projects the Seahawks covet. Green-Beckham is off some teams’ boards because of red flags – he was kicked off the team at Missouri over an alleged forced entry into an apartment -- but Carroll and Schneider have embraced reclamation projects to varying results in their five years recreating the Seahawks.
Those rookies-to-be that get keen interest from the Seahawks should be ready: The two-time defending NFC champions don’t usually waste time at these combines. Seattle’s interest often translates immediately into opportunity.
“My belief is that if you want to be a consistent, championship-caliber team, you have to make those tough decisions,” Schneider said, “where guys are moving on every year and you just have to keep playing young people.”