Seahawks cornerback Deandre Elliott was lifted onto a cart with an air cast on his dislocated and broken ankle. League custom is a few players from his position group and a few coaches would make their way over and give him some well wishes. Not this year. Not this team. The entire Seahawks sideline emptied and surrounded Elliott like a womb. His pain was theirs. Darreus Rogers, a player most Seahawks fans do not know and may never know, made a breathtaking grab of a pass on the team’s final drive. Veterans on most teams are barely paying attention to the fourth preseason game, let alone anything happening as time winds down. Not this year. Not this team. Doug Baldwin jumped so high, he may only now be returning to Earth. Cyril Grayon, a player competing with Rogers at the back of the roster, equalled Baldwin’s enthusiasm on the field with a leap of his own and a pump of his fist. The words have mostly been right the past few years. The frontline talent certainly has been there. Something was missing, though, that is only now coming into sharp focus when contrasted against this group: genuine, authentic, love for one another and unfettered commitment to a shared goal. There is no Kam Chancellor holdout or Marshawn Lynch-led divide. Dischord has become harmony. The last time that was true, this team was the best in football. Talent makes a team dangerous. Unity makes a talented team unstoppable.
There was little that happened in this game that will impact the season ahead. Thanks to the new cutdown rule that allowed all 90 players to remain with the team until the last snap of preseason, almost none of the starters played for either team. The most blatant roster battle of the night was for the honor of who will back up Russell Wilson. Even there, the importance of the outcome is debatable. Austin Davis was once again the more polished and professional player. He made pre-snap adjustments, rifled the ball out quickly, and avoided the facepalm-inducing immature decisions that too often accompany Trevone Boykin’s game.
Davis was easily the better quarterback across the totality of the preseason. Not only did he produce better numbers, but he did so with the third or fourth string offense surrounding him. He showed poise and moxie on the final drive that delivered what oddly felt like a meaningful game-winning touchdown that nobody will ever remember. Pete Carroll has shaped his philosophy around trying to instill an urgency and intensity to every moment, from practice stretching to Super Bowl snaps. The tension was palpable as Davis took the ball and knew the Seahawks needed to drive the length of the field to win.
It started with a short pass to promising tight end Tyrone Swoopes for six yards, followed by the beautiful grab by Rogers for 25 yards along the left sideline. Now in Oakland territory, Alex Collins ran for six yards before Davis was sacked due to a miscommunication on protection along the line. Facing a 3rd and 11 from the Oakland 45-yard line with two minutes to play, Davis once again trusted Swoopes with a short dump off that the undrafted rookie turned into a first down with some nifty running. The clock was ticking down with just under 90 seconds to play when Davis hit Tanner McEvoy for three yards. McEvoy showed some great hands and athleticism reaching down low to snag a ball near his feet, and some smarts by immediately getting out of bounds to stop the clock.
Davis looked for McEvoy again, and was rewarded with a pass interference call that brought the team to Oakland 16-yard line with a minute and fifteen seconds left. Davis wasted no time in hitting Kenny Lawler for the go-ahead touchdown on what looked like a skinny post along the left hash.
It should have been the kind of performance that wins Davis the backup job. That does not mean it will. Carroll tends to see the quarterback position differently than most. Everyone rightly praised the team for finding Wilson, but their judgment when it comes to identifying quarterback talent is nearly as suspect as their evaluation of offensive linemen. They traded a valuable draft pick for Charlie Whitehurst as one of their first big moves, let Matt Hasselbeck go in favor of Tarvaris Jackson, and paid a lot of money to Matt Flynn.
Boykin can run like Wilson. He can scramble and create time like Wilson. He can throw a nice deep ball like Wilson. It is easy to see why Carroll likes the idea of some continuity in his backup. Boykin led the team with 42 rushing yards last night, and led a touchdown drive of his own in the first half. What he did not do was show anything close to the maturity and poise that Wilson possesses, and has possessed since he entered the league as a rookie.
Maturity shows up when things breakdown for a quarterback. Does he rush a throw into coverage or take a sack to protect the ball? Does he force the ball downfield or take the sure bet right in front of him for a few yards? Boykin too often fails in these moments. Some of those habits are correctable with coaching and experience. Some are not. They are deep-seated aspects of how a player problem solves that are more instinct and impulse than conscious decision. It is the difference between refining who you are and pretending to be someone who you are not. Boykin will always be a playmaker and a gambler. If he was an accurate passer, that might be a potent cocktail. The combination of inaccuracy, immaturity under duress, and insistence on pushing the ball down field instead of taking the easy yards, creates a rubik’s cube of problems that are unlikely to ever be solved. Even as I write those words, I imagine Carroll choosing him to be their backup.
On the bright side, if the team were ever to really need a legitimate starting quarterback for an extended run, it appears Colin Kaepernick will be sitting on the shelf waiting for a call. Just because a player is named the team’s backup this weekend does not mean that player would be the answer if they needed someone to run the team for more than just a game or two. Seattle is one of the few places that would not hesitate to bring Kaepernick in if they needed his services. They just appear to prefer avoiding the distraction if they can avoid it. We can all agree in the hope that need never arises.
Kearse, Lane, and Collins trade rumors
The game was the undercard on a day when news was flying around about potential Seahawks moves to finalize their roster. Multiple reports indicated the team was trying to trade Jermaine Kearse, and was testing the market for Jeremy Lane and Alex Collins. The Collins news was the most surprising given he is sure to be cut, but there may be teams that like him enough to trade a conditional late pick so they can guarantee adding him to their roster.
Lane became expendable when the team signed Tramaine Brock and Shaquill Griffin emerged as a future star at corner. Trading Lane would clear $4M of cap space, and there are plenty of teams looking for veteran help in the secondary. The Raiders are a logical landing place given the team’s desperation for corners, the friendship between John Schneider and Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie, and the familiarity defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. has with Lane. That does not mean it will happen, but that would be a good bet.
Those chances dwindled when Elliott went down with what can be assumed is a season-ending broken ankle. Elliott is a rising talent who is best suited as a nickel corner. He gave the team depth behind Brock at that position. Without Elliott, there is not really another good option should Brock get hurt. Pierre Desir played wonderfully throughout the preseason and deserves a spot on a roster, but he is best playing outside. Neiko Thorpe is much more a special teams player than a legitimate corner.
This all matters because the team may need Lane’s cap space to complete the deal they really want. Signs continue to point to the front office trying to add an interior pass rusher to replace what Malik McDowell was supposed to do. Sheldon Richardson is the most likely candidate given we know the team already made inquiries and asked him to take a paycut. The Seahawks do not have room to add a player like Richardson without shedding some salary and/or restructuring some contracts. Lane was their biggest chess piece to play in that pursuit, and they may no longer feel comfortable taking him off their board.
Kearse is a guy who the team can feel confident moving. They have their best depth at receiver since Schneider and Carroll started here, and Kearse’s presence is slowing the growth of what may be higher ceiling players like Kasen Williams. Amara Darboh caught his first three passes as a professional and is almost certain to make the roster with the news the team is trying to move Kearse. He likely needs at least a year to develop, but showed promise making some tough catches in traffic last night. Tanner McEvoy is more valuable than Kearse on special teams and brings unique traits as a 6’6″ receiver who is a former college quarterback. Williams played well last night showing off two things he had not previously: ability to catch over the middle and run-after-the-catch. Williams also has a high ceiling on special teams.
Trading Kearse would save $2.2M in cap space, and he would be a logical guy to go back to the Jets in a deal for Richardson, along with a conditional fourth round pick. Even if the Richardson deal does not materialize, I expect the team to move on from Kearse. That would put a lot of weight on the shoulders of two players in Tyler Lockett and Paul Richardson who have not been durable.
Look for guys like Lawler and David Moore, and maybe Grayson, to make the practice squad. That would give the team additional reassurance that they have the depth at the position they need to withstand the absence of Kearse and possible durability issues with Lockett and Richardson.
Tightest roster battles
Defensive line has been a more understated group this preseason when it comes to locking down the final roster spots. David Bass has done nothing but play well and should earn a spot, barring something unexpected. Marcus Smith played well again last night and may have grabbed the final spot over Quinton Jefferson, who made a number of mistakes in the run game.
Corner has been a deep room, and they may choose to drop a defensive lineman in order to keep a guy like Desir on the squad. He played well again last night, and finished preseason as the top-rated corner across the NFL during the preseason, according to ProFootballFocus.com. If they want to keep Smith, Bass, and Desir, that could mean Thorpe is let go if Lane is not traded. That would be a surprise given Brian Schneider’s reliance on Thorpe as a key special teams member. There are some special teams stars elsewhere on the roster that could ease that pain.
J.D. McKissic is another wildcard who has proven he can contribute as a receiver, a running back, and as a returner without necessarily being starting material at any of those spots. He seemed to let slip that the team has indicated he will make the initial roster when he said in a postgame interview that he was told he could pick whatever number he wanted after the game last night which he said, “That seemed like a good sign.” Yes it does.
Expect the Seahawks to release Marcel Reece due to a contractual oddity where veteran players contracts are guaranteed for the full season if they are on the roster week one. Cutting him now and then re-signing him after week one allows the team to have more salary cap flexibility. Some think youngster Tre Madden will win that spot, but I believe the team is invested in what Reece can bring to the table.
While some of us obsess about the final few spots on the roster, which could just as easily go to players who are not currently here, the real story is about to begin. This preseason has been a compelling foreword that has made the waiting nine days for the opening chapter feel like an eternity. This group is coiled and ready to strike. They have clear weakness on the offensive line that will provide cartoonish narrative drama akin to old Batman episodes.
“Will our hero Russell Wilson escape the clutches of onrushing defensive lineman to save the day? Tune in next play to see!”
No path to the top is simple. No accomplishment worth celebrating comes without the threat of failure. This team has gathered at basecamp with plentiful supplies, a clear path in front of them, and an ageless sherpa to guide them. They are strong. They are powerful. They are ready. Are you?