2022 NFL Preview: Seahawks move on from Russell Wilson without clear QB replacement

·9 min read

The Seattle Seahawks had to have a backup plan.

You don't just trade a future Hall of Fame quarterback like Russell Wilson and not have the next step mapped out. You don't ship Wilson, in his prime, and go into the season with Drew Lock as his replacement.

The Seahawks disagree.

For many years the Seahawks have been proudly unconventional. They wanted to establish the run when they had Wilson, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett in the passing game. They'd make draft picks that would stun the league. Seattle's approach went against just about every modern tenet in the NFL. And it worked.

From 2012-20, the Seahawks didn't have a losing season. For a time they were a dominant mini-dynasty. Pete Carroll would do things that looked odd, and they'd work out. He'd be the guy at the blackjack table who would hit on 18 and be dealt a 3.

It seemed through many of those seasons that the reason the Seahawks were winning, despite following paths that any other team would avoid, was Wilson. His singular greatness could bail the Seahawks out of a lot of jams.

We're about to find out how important Wilson was.

The Seahawks didn't do anything splashy to replace Wilson. They talked up Lock. They seem OK with Geno Smith if Lock doesn't work out. They didn't draft a quarterback. They didn't trade for Baker Mayfield. They didn't sign anyone. It's not a blueprint most teams would follow, but that's the Seahawks' way.

“We’ve been successful for a long time and we’re proud of that,” Carroll said in March, according to the Seattle Times. “We know what we’re doing.”

In many ways, Carroll's NFL legacy is on the line the next couple seasons. He never had great success with the New England Patriots in his first stint as a pro coach. He was 7-9 his first two non-Wilson Seahawks seasons, and then when Wilson finally missed time with an injury last season Seattle went 7-10. If Carroll doesn't make it work without Wilson, history will look back on those nine winning seasons in a row more favorably toward Wilson than Carroll, especially if Wilson thrives with the Denver Broncos.

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, left, watches quarterback Geno Smith during practice. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, left, watches quarterback Geno Smith during practice. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Carroll is going to have to pull a rabbit out of his hat with this year's team. There are very good skill-position players, but Seattle's quarterback play could hold them back. The projected offensive line doesn't have one starter who finished in the top 50 of Pro Football Focus' grades at his position last season. The defense wasn't great either and lost longtime standout middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and cornerback D.J. Reed. Free agent edge rusher Carlos Dunlap hasn't been re-signed either. There are plenty of starting spots up for grabs, and that's not necessarily a good thing.

Carroll has done this before. He has taken rosters with glaring holes and helped lift them to winning records and usually the playoffs.

But he hasn't done that without Wilson before.

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

It's not often you see a team trade a quarterback like Russell Wilson in his prime. The relationship had soured, but it was still shocking to see Wilson move to the Broncos. The Seahawks did get good value back — Wilson and a 2022 fourth-round draft pick to the Broncos for two first-round picks, two second-round picks, a 2022 fifth-round pick, tight end Noah Fant, defensive end Shelby Harris and quarterback Drew Lock — but it still stings to trade a great quarterback without having an obvious replacement. The Seahawks also cut linebacker Bobby Wagner, another player who could end up in the Hall of Fame. Those two moves marked the end of an era. Cornerback D.J. Reed left for the New York Jets when he didn't get a contract offer from Seattle that he thought was adequate. Seattle added pass rusher Uchenna Nwosu and defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson to the front seven. It would help if Carlos Dunlap was brought back, but that hasn't happened yet. The Seahawks' draft started with offensive tackle Charles Cross, the ninth overall pick. Cross is an "air raid" tackle going to a run-heavy offense, but let's figure it'll work out. In the second round Seattle drafted running back Kenneth Walker III, which was very much a Seahawks pick. Ultimately, it's hard to put a positive grade on an offseason that included swapping out Wilson for Lock.

GRADE: D-plus

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

The Seahawks are promoting a quarterback competition between Geno Smith and Drew Lock. Don't get too excited. Smith played pretty well last season filling in for Russell Wilson and he has a head start on the offense. Still, his flaws were exposed when he was quarterback of the New York Jets. The Seahawks see something in Lock, a former second-round pick who made too many mistakes as Broncos quarterback to hold onto that job.

“The first look at Drew, he’s really athletic, he’s really a confident athlete, you can see he’s got a lot of body control, he’s got quick feet, he’s got a quick arm, he’s got various ways he can release the football as his body’s in different positions,” Carroll said, via SI.com. “He’s got a real knack there. He’s got a strong arm, he can throw the ball a mile down the field."

If the Seahawks can turn Lock or Smith into an above-average starting quarterback, it will be a coup.

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

The Seahawks' win total at BetMGM is 5.5. The last time the Seahawks failed to win six games was 2009, Jim Mora Jr.'s only season as Seattle's coach. The Seahawks' leading passer, rusher and receiver that season were Matt Hasselbeck, Julius Jones and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. It has been a while since the Seahawks were bad enough to go under 5.5 wins. It's hard to project the Seahawks to be under 5.5 wins, but taking them to go over that number puts a lot of faith in them figuring out the quarterback position.

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

From Yahoo's Scott Pianowski: "Wide receiver is the volatility position in fantasy football, but even with that, Tyler Lockett drove us batty in 2021. He had a nine-game midseason stretch without a touchdown, and his two-touchdown spike in Week 18 (5-98-2) was irrelevant in most fantasy leagues. Now Lockett could be forced to deal with Drew Lock or Geno Smith at quarterback full-time, as the Seahawks transition to life without Russell Wilson. Even if the Seahawks find an outside option (Baker Mayfield would make sense), it will take Lockett time to get used to a new passer.

"Lockett turns 30 in September, and that’s often a line of demarcation for a wideout, when production starts to drop notably. We also have to acknowledge that four of Smith’s five touchdown passes last year went to D.K. Metcalf (zero were to Lockett). Although Lockett’s ADP has collapsed in early drafts — he’s available outside the Top 100 in Yahoo, 18 picks cheaper than his NFFC ADP — I’d rather be a year early than a year late on this type of player. I will not be drafting Lockett proactively in the summer."

[Set, hut, hike! Create or join a fantasy football league now!]

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

With five games left in the NFL season, Rashaad Penny had 931 rushing yards in 32 NFL games over three and a half seasons. He was looking very much like a first-round bust. Then in those final five games he rushed for 671 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged 7.3 yards per carry. It was a stunning finish practically out of nowhere. The Seahawks want to run the ball and drafted Kenneth Walker III in the second round. But given how Penny finished last season, he should have the first shot to carry the Seahawks offense to start the season. Seattle happily brought Penny back on a one-year, $5.75 million deal when he was a free agent.

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

What to expect from DK Metcalf?

Some high-profile receivers switched teams this offseason as the market for the position exploded, but Metcalf didn't go anywhere. The Seahawks gave Metcalf a massive 3-year, $72 million extension just a few days into training camp.

The Seahawks might not be much of a passing team until they figure out Russell Wilson's permanent replacement, but Metcalf is an elite talent. At his new price tag of $24 million a season, we'll have to see if Metcalf can keep producing without Wilson, but Seattle apparently wants to build their new-look passing game around him.

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

Bury the Seahawks at your own risk. Pete Carroll has found ways to win for many, many years. The quarterback options are not exciting, but maybe they play well enough with great receivers around them, and the running game with Rashaad Penny and Kenneth Walker III carry the offense. The defense wasn't great last season but it got better as the year went on. It's hard to envision Seattle winning big with the roster it has, but perhaps they surprise. The NFC isn't deep and wild-card spots will be there for the taking.

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

Russell Wilson is 33 years old going to a pretty good situation in Denver. It's possible that Wilson finishes this season winning another Super Bowl while Seattle is one of the worst teams in the league. That would hurt. Wilson could have five or so good seasons left and he might make the Seahawks regret trading him. It's hard to find a quarterback in the NFL and regardless of how the Seahawks have operated, it's important to have a good QB. It's possible we look back on the Wilson trade as the first step in a long downturn for a franchise that is coming off a remarkable run of success.

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

The Seahawks' track record is strong, but it's hard to ignore how big of a part Russell Wilson played in their success. This is a heat check for Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider. If they can trade away a future Hall of Fame quarterback and build a second, distinct championship era, it will take both of them to a new level. I'm skeptical. I don't believe in either quarterback options and aside from the skill-position talent it looks like a bottom-half NFL roster. It would be surprising if the post-Wilson Seahawks didn't finish in last place of the NFC West this season.

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

32. Houston Texans
31. Atlanta Falcons
30. New York Giants
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
28. Chicago Bears
27. New York Jets
26. Seattle Seahawks
25. Detroit Lions
24. Carolina Panthers
23. Washington Commanders
22. Pittsburgh Steelers
21. Minnesota Vikings
20. Miami Dolphins
19. New Orleans Saints
18. Las Vegas Raiders
17. Arizona Cardinals
16. Tennessee Titans
15. Cleveland Browns
14. Indianapolis Colts
13. Philadelphia Eagles
12. San Francisco 49ers
11. Denver Broncos
10. Cincinnati Bengals
9. New England Patriots
8. Los Angeles Chargers
7. Baltimore Ravens
6. Green Bay Packers
5. Dallas Cowboys
4. Kansas City Chiefs

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