Two weeks before the 2019 NFL Draft, the Seattle Seahawks had plenty on their to-do list. Russell Wilson set an April 15 deadline for a market-resetting contract extension with a potential trip to free agency looming. Frank Clark’s future with the team beyond 2019 was unclear after being saddled with the franchise tag. Doug Baldwin’s future was unsure too, thanks to injury.
That wasn’t all this offseason threw at the Seahawks. The once-fearsome Legion of Boom defense lost one of its final remaining members when Earl Thomas signed with Baltimore, making a rebuild on that side of the ball a priority. Locking in Wilson would also mean needing to give him the blocking he’s never had and the targets he’s been missing in recent years, but money would be tight. The draft would help, but the franchise only had four picks to work with.
And in two weeks, Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have solved most of those problems.
The Seahawks were one of the NFL’s busiest teams in April, transforming their roster with a combination of trades and draft picks that should help them fend off the slide that once seemed inevitable after 2017. They extended Wilson, shipped out Clark, and built one of the league’s biggest draft chests over the course of 10 days, strengthening the team well into the future in the process. As a result, the Seahawks look like a problem-causer in the NFC West for years to come.
Here’s how they did it.
Before the draft: locking in Russell Wilson, locking out Frank Clark
Seattle lined up its dominoes before the three-day event in Nashville. First came a well-deserved megadeal for Wilson. The perennial MVP candidate became the game’s highest-salaried player after signing a four-year, $140 million extension that will keep him in the Pacific Northwest through 2023.
Next came a deal that stripped the team of its strongest pass rusher but replenished a dry basin of draft picks. Rather than offer Clark a similar extension, Seattle let the Chiefs worry about that instead. The Seahawks sent their leading sacker (and a 2019 third-rounder) to Kansas City, where he immediately inked a five-year, $104 million extension. In return, they got the Chiefs’ first- and third-round picks this year and next year’s third-rounder.
While this move depleted an already-shaky roster, it was also a financial boon for a team without much cap space and a distinct need for veteran talent. Extending Clark would have left the Seahawks with only about $33 million in spending money next spring. That was a tough sell for a club that will have to make decisions on new contracts for K.J. Wright, Jarran Reed, and to a lesser extent, Mike Iupati and George Fant. Instead, Seattle decided to sell high on Clark, bringing back the opportunity to draft two additional low-cost playmakers in his place.
As it turned out, trading away Clark was the echoing shout that gave way to an avalanche of draft trades aimed at replenishing the Seahawks’ roster with young, inexpensive talent.
At the draft: the trades. Good lord, the trades
Schneider and Carroll worked the phones throughout the draft to prove the team’s commitment to Wilson went beyond money. The Seahawk turned their small cache of picks into a mid-round war chest and then pounced on the players who slid through the early rounds to present great value on Days 2 and 3.
2019 saw a record-setting number of trades:
40 trades were completed during 2019 #NFLDraft, breaking the record of 38 established during the 2017 and 2018 drafts.— NFL345 (@NFL345) April 29, 2019
And the Seahawks were responsible for much more than their share of the chaos:
- Traded DE Frank Clark and the No. 84 pick to the Chiefs for Nos. 29, 92, and a 2020 third-round pick
- Traded No. 21 to the Packers for Nos. 30, 114, and 118
- Traded No. 30 to the Giants for Nos. 37, 132, 142
- Traded No. 37 to the Panthers for Nos. 47 and 77
- Traded Nos. 77 and 118 to the Patriots for No. 64 (drafted D.K. Metcalf)
- Traded Nos. 92 and 159 to the Vikings for Nos. 88 and 209 (drafted Cody Barton and Demarcus Christmas)
- Traded No. 114 to the Vikings for Nos. 120 and 204
- Traded a future sixth-round pick to the Jaguars for No. 236 (drafted John Ursua)
Or, as SB Nation’s draft expert Dan Kadar put it:
Messed this one up. Through a series of trades, Seattle turned No. 21 (S Darnell Savage by GB) into this:— Dan Kadar (@MockingTheDraft) April 27, 2019
47 - Marquise Blair, S
64 - DK Metcalf, WR
120 - Gary Jennings, WR
131 - Ugo Amadi, DB
143 - Ben Burr-Kirven, LB
204 - Travis Homer, RB
(John Schneider is a madman)
Ye gods. Over the course of eight trades, Seattle went from having four picks in the 2019 draft to making 11 selections. And the picks the team made:
a) made sense, and
b) presented some very real value.
So who did the Seahawks draft, and what can they do?
First-round pick L.J. Collier was Schneider’s choice to replace the pass rushing Clark left behind. He’s not a can’t-miss prospect, but he’s a versatile defensive lineman whose college profile looks a lot like Trey Flowers’.
The Seahawks’ first pick of the second round was safety Marquise Blair, a free-roaming centerfielder who, as a rookie, will be tasked with replacing 80 percent of the punch Earl Thomas once brought to Washington state.
Then came the guys who can boost the Seattle offense. If Wilson was happy enough with his extension that he bought each of his offensive linemen $12,000 in Amazon stock as a thank you for (checks stats) only allowing him to be sacked 51 times last year, he should be prepping to buy his coach and GM a distribution center this May.
The Seahawks traded up to snag potential first-rounder D.K. Metcalf by using a pair of picks acquired in trades down earlier in the draft. The Metcalf pick coincided with reports Baldwin’s career might be over due to injury, which only served to hype up the selection of Ole Miss’ building-sized deep threat with 4.3-second 40 speed.
Then Gary Jennings Jr., an uber-productive slot receiver from West Virginia who advanced stats rate as the biggest steal at wideout this spring (and who once played youth basketball for noted hardwood head coach Russell Wilson). Both will be counted on to replace the production Baldwin leaves behind now that he’s been released after failing an offseason physical.
Two Seattle icons.— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) May 9, 2019
Thank you for everything, @KamChancellor and @DougBaldwinJr. pic.twitter.com/k27vjOMTjU
Four spots later, Seattle picked up Wake Forest’s Phil Haynes, a 322-pound guard who also played tackle against FBS defenses in an All-ACC career. With Ethan Pocic failing to live up to his potential, D.J. Fluker playing like Pro Football Focus’s 69th-best guard, and Mike Iupati only signed through 2019, the Day 3 rookie could find his way into the lineup sooner rather than later.
In the middle of that came a linebacker, Utah’s Cody Barton. He can help the Seahawks forget they got so desperate at the position they twice signed a player — Mychal Kendricks — who’s facing a significant jail sentence after pleading guilty to insider trading.
Two more defenders followed Haynes — Oregon defensive back Ugo Amadi, who can handle duties at both corner and safety, and Ben Burr-Kirven, who was one of the NFL’s most prolific tacklers over four seasons at Washington. Burr-Kirven is small for the position, but he plays like a rabid wolverine and adds an extra layer of security in the second level. Both players have their warts, but in Rounds 4 and 5 they present good value at positions of definite need.
Even the team’s Round 6 and 7 picks — Travis Homer, Demarcus Christmas, and John Ursua — were productive college players who could stick on the depth chart. Ursua, a wideout from Hawaii who averaged more than 103 receiving yards and a touchdown per game, could be another weapon to reward Wilson’s consistency in Seattle.
Through trades, the Seahawks turned their first-round pick (No. 21) into six players at this year’s draft, five of which are highly likely to make their 2019 53-man roster. The Cardinals, on the other hand, turned 2018’s No. 10 pick into:
Here's what the Cardinals turned Josh Rosen into:— Dan Kadar (@MockingTheDraft) April 28, 2019
62 - Andy Isabaella, WR
A 2020 5th round pick
If you’re wondering how Seattle has remained a power in the NFC West for so long, look no further. Carroll and Schneider put together a virtuoso performance to transform their team through draft season. Now the Seahawks are ready to rebuild without suffering through a Cardinals-esque decline.
And they weren’t done! A seventh-round pick pried project tight end Jacob Hollister from the Patriots — although if the position-needy Pats are willing to part with him, that’s probably not a great sign.
More help could be on the way as well. Edge rusher Ezekiel Ansah visited the club this week and could wind up signing in Seattle. The oft-injured defensive end is a risk, but when healthy he can replace Clark’s production at a fraction of the price on what will likely be a prove-it one-year deal. It’s a big if, but a full-strength Ansah would be a major boon for a defense that needs a pass rushing marvel as well as a veteran presence in the locker room.
In one two-week span, Seattle made sure its quarterback stayed on board, then surrounded him with high-ceiling players who could keep him happy for years to come. History suggests the bulk of the team’s 11 2019 draft picks will fail to stick around on the roster beyond 2020, but a few big hits is all that’s needed to sustain a proud tradition of success under Wilson.
The Seahawks made the playoffs in 2018 despite losing big chunks of talent. Now they’re reloaded for 2019 — and that should scare the rest of the NFC.