With the season a few days from completion and head coach Mike Holmgren heading into retirement, the Seattle Seahawks’ focus soon will shift to the offseason and restoring the team to playoff contention.
At that point, team president Tim Ruskell and coach-in-waiting Jim Mora will begin the evaluation process and turn their attention to the April draft.
Seattle’s upcoming draft will be one of the more important ones in recent memory.
The Seahawks are assured of a top-10 pick, and they likely will have their highest pick available since 1997, when they drafted cornerback Shawn Springs with the third overall pick and offensive tackle Walter Jones at No. 6.
At 4-11, Seattle is tied for the fifth-worst record in the league with Cleveland and Oakland.
“I think it’s as important of a draft as they have ever had,” said Rob Rang, a senior analyst for NFL Draft Scout.com
“In making that transition, if they decide they are going to just rebuild the franchise around Jim Mora’s vision, then there’s a possibility they’re going to take an offensive lineman No. 1. There’s a possibility they’re going to take a quarterback No. 1. And if they go that route then they have to be right. Otherwise, you’re going to end up drafting in the top five year after year after year.”
Plenty of talent should be available to Seattle, with several juniors eligible for the 2009 draft expected to declare when the deadline comes on Jan. 15.
More underclassmen are entering the draft for two reasons.
First, there are rumblings that the NFL will change the collective bargaining agreement to curb the amount of lucrative salaries available to rookies. That has some juniors eying next year’s draft. Second, an underwhelming senior talent pool could have some underclassmen looking for a chance to improve their draft stock this season.
The Seahawks will be looking for an impact player, someone capable of reproducing the somewhat surprising success rookie tight end John Carlson has enjoyed this season. He was selected in the second round after his draft stock took a hit in the wake of his so-so performance at the draft combine in Indianapolis. Seattle did its homework and wound up getting a diamond in the rough with Carlson, who leads rookie tight ends in receptions with 53 for 613 yards and five touchdowns. With those numbers, Carlson also has set single-season team records in receptions and yards for tight ends.
“In some ways it’s sort of a helpless feeling,” Carlson said about the draft. “But there’s still a lot of excitement there, having the opportunity just to be in position to have a chance.
“Just to be a part of this whole process is an honor, and I tried to enjoy every part of it, even though it was challenging and at times stressful. But you know, I’m thankful to be where I’m at.”
Many mock drafts have Seattle taking Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree, a big, physical playmaker who could give the Seahawks’ offense a jump-start. Crabtree has yet to declare for the draft, but he is expected to be the top receiver available.
Other mock drafts have Seattle selecting offensive tackle Michael Oher of Mississippi as an eventual replacement for Walter Jones, who’s been spectacular at left tackle, making the Pro Bowl in eight of the past nine years. But he’ll turn 35 next month, and he recently underwent microfracture knee surgery and won’t be ready until training camp.
Other needs for Seattle include defensive tackle, cornerback, safety and perhaps quarterback, depending on how Matt Hasselbeck recovers from an ailing back and if the Seahawks believe Seneca Wallace has a future as a starting quarterback.
How Seattle drafts also will depend on what moves they make in free agency. Veteran Seahawks Bobby Engram, Leroy Hill, Rocky Bernard, Maurice Morris and Ray Willis have contracts that end at the close of this season. And Seattle will have enough room under the salary cap to pursue upgrades in free agency.
How Seattle selects come April will depend on whether Ruskell believes the team needs a total overhaul or just some fine-tuning.
If it’s the latter, Rang said, they better make good use of this draft.
“It’s absolutely imperative that they get themselves some playmakers,” Rang said. “Playmakers, whether on offense or defense, that can come in and make an immediate impact and be able to take this team back to the top of the NFC West.”