The heart of the Falcons’ 2017 schedule brings a lot of challenges, from the Patriots to the Cowboys to the Seahawks. It’s that last team that I’m particularly intrigued by, as the Falcons seem on the cusp of crafting a real rivalry with this football team.
That’s because these two teams figure to be perennial playoff teams in the near future, and because the Falcons have dealt the Seahawks two crushing playoff defeats in the last five seasons, with their triumph in 2012 en route to the NFC Conference Championship and their big win that catapulted them to the same game against the Packers in 2016. It’s also because Seattle is where Dan Quinn got his NFL start, and the ties between the two teams thus run deep.
So it’s safe to say I’m looking forward to this matchup, but did the Seahawks improve this offseason? To answer that, we turn our baleful gaze to Field Gulls, one of SB Nation’s best sites, and they give us the skinny on the team’s offseason moves.
Notable free agent additions: RB Eddie Lacy, OT/OG Luke Joeckel, OG Oday Aboushi, LB Michael Wilhoite, LB Arthur Brown, S/CB Bradley McDougald, QB Austin Davis, LB Terence Garvin, DE Dion Jordan, K Blair Walsh
Notable free agent departures: OT Bradley Sowell, K Steven Hauschka, OT Garry Gilliam, TE Brandon Williams, RB Troymaine Pope, FB Will Tukuafu, DT Tony McDaniel, LB Brock Coyle, DE Damontre Moore
Trades: RB Marshawn Lynch to Raiders
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:
DT/5-Tech Malik McDowell - The Seahawks traded down twice and eventually selected McDowell out of Michigan State to be their answer to a lack of an inside pass rush. As a rookie, I expect him to be a regular rotation player on the inside with run-stopper Jarran Reed, their second round pick in 2016. Fans and experts will keep a close eye on McDowell’s effort and commitment early on.
C/G/T Ethan Pocic - Seattle needed to address their league-worst offensive line at some point, and they did so with Pocic at pick 58. He was an All-American center at LSU but is competing at tackle and guard for the Seahawks. If he doesn’t win a starting job it would be mildly surprising, but at worst he’ll be the next man up as a super-sub.
CB Shaquill Griffin - The Seahawks needed someone to play either outside or nickel cornerback following the ACL tear to DeShawn Shead last season and the struggles of Jeremy Lane. Griffin has drawn immediate praise from defensive coordinator Kris Richard as one of the smartest players they’ve had at the position (third round is the earliest Pete Carroll has drafted a corner in his eight seasons with the team) and he’ll probably be the first man up for the slot when Seattle is in nickel. That pretty much makes him a starter as Lane played 71% of snaps last season while playing in the slot. Griffin could also potentially start on the outside opposite of Sherman.
S Delano Hill and S Tedric Thompson - The Seahawks clearly needed depth at safety after they struggled mightily following the broken leg to Earl Thomas last season and the constant bang-ups to Kam Chancellor. Depth is markedly improved but Hill and Thompson may play sparingly as rookies.
DT Naz Jones - Another third round pick (Seattle had four), Jones probably sits and learns for a bit, but Carroll will give him the opportunity to compete for a spot in the rotation.
WR Amara Darboh - The Seahawks drafted Darboh with their last pick in the third round, which is high enough to consider Darboh a player to watch this season. He’s been compared to Jermaine Kearse, a player that a lot of fans want to see replaced immediately as a starter. Darboh, and fellow rookies David Moore (seventh round) and Cyril Grayson (signed before the draft, a track star who never played football at LSU) are all drawing praise in offseason workouts.
Biggest offseason addition:
There are a number of players to seriously consider here, including Joeckel, Lacy, McDowell, and Pocic, but I’ll go with Shaq Griffin. The Seahawks have had the best secondary in the NFL for most of the last five years, but that started to crumble last season. Griffin could become a staple of the next iteration of the Legion of Boom and they may need him immediately. He has the ball skills and athleticism to excel in Carroll’s system, and Carroll is arguably the best defensive backs coach in NFL history. I’ll go with Griffin, followed by Lacy. Seattle needs to get their run game back on track too.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp:
The offensive line’s ability to protect Russell Wilson this year. The o-line was the biggest story for all the wrong reasons in 2016, but the additions of Joeckel, Aboushi, and Pocic, plus the hopeful maturation of Germain Ifedi and George Fant, could push it to at least getting out of the cellar. Wilson doesn’t need much to work with to stay on his feet, as he’s one of the most athletic QBs in the league, but he needs more than they gave him last year when he suffered three notable injuries. As Wilson goes, so do the Seahawks. Plus it wouldn’t hurt to open up more lanes for Lacy, Thomas Rawls, and secret superstar C.J. Prosise.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp:
I would keep an eye on the role that newly-signed safety Bradley McDougald plays. The coaches seem very excited about him and the role he’ll play in 2017, so I think there’s reason for optimism that he could become a key player and a fan favorite almost immediately. McDougald flew under the radar during his three-and-change seasons with the Buccaneers and signed a one-year deal in Seattle, but he could be just the type of guy who was bottled up and needs the right system to truly fly. If he does, there’s a good chance the Seahawks won’t be able to keep him and he’ll be one-and-done.
Notable injuries heading into training camp:
Seattle fans have kept close tabs on the broken legs of Earl Thomas and Tyler Lockett. Both seem on track for Week 1. DeShawn Shead (ACL) will probably start the season on PUP but could be a huge boost for the second half of the season. C.J. Prosise, Thomas Rawls, and Eddie Lacy are slated to be the running backs; none are dealing with specific injuries right now that should keep them out for Week 1, but all have extensive injury histories and that’s a concern that fans hope doesn’t pop up this season with much regularity.