The Seattle Seahawks jumped out to a torrid start in 2020, only to look lethargic on offense in a system that had become quite predictable. The stale nature and first-round exit from the playoffs as the third seed forced head coach Pete Carroll to effectively fire offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
It took some time, and the input from quarterback Russell Wilson, but Carroll found his replacement playcaller from the coaching staff of the team that bounced him from the playoffs. Los Angeles Rams passing game coordinator Shane Waldron was hired for the job after seven seasons as an NFL assistant without actually calling plays in the NFL’s regular season.
Waldron entered the league in 2002 as an operations intern under Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots. The stay lasted until the end of the 2004 season, and Waldron left with the title of special teams quality control coach. The next three years would find Waldron at Notre Dame as a graduate assistant under Charlie Weis before a 2008 return to the Patriots as an offensive quality control coach. The Pats would make him tight ends coach in 2009, and Benjamin Watson paced his positional mates with 29-404-5 — the third-most yards and second-most touchdowns by any New England pass catcher that year.
A one-year stay in 2010 as wide receivers coach of the Hartford Colonials of the United Football League would be followed by a single season as the offensive coordinator for the Cambridge, Mass.-based Buckingham Browne & Nichols High School. The 2012-13 seasons witnessed Waldron coach tight ends for UMass, and he would transition in 2014 to the offensive line coaching gig.
All of that culminated in a return to the NFL in 2016 as an offensive quality control coach for Washington, which put Waldron on the same coaching staff as Sean McVay. When McVay went to Los Angeles in 2017, Waldron followed and was named tight ends coach for that season. In 2018, LA tabbed him its passing game coordinator, which is a key role in this dynamic system. He added quarterbacks coach in 2019 but relinquished the title a year later.
“He’s a phenomenal coach,” McVay said of Waldron in 2018, according to The Detroit News via ESPN.com. “He’s a great communicator. He’s got a rare ability to authentically and genuinely connect with not only coaches but the players and be able to correct in a manner that doesn’t make guys’ guards come up. It’s all about problem-solving and doing it together. He’s obviously done a phenomenal job, really mainly as a leader for our offense, not exclusively to just being a pass game coordinator.”
The Rams featured a balanced offense in the last four years, ranking in the top 10 for passing and rushing three times apiece. The interesting aspect of this marriage with Carroll will be how much of Waldron’s own offense will he be allowed to install.
For example, when Schottenheimer took over the job in 2018, he was given only about 30 percent of the offense to make his own after the remainder was carried over from the Darrell Bevell’s system. That’s a rather unusual situation, but it stands to reason we could see it again. Seattle set team highs in points scored last year, and Carroll has gone on the record saying he wants the offense to be more committed to a successful ground game.
Having background of playing tight end in college and coaching the position, as well as guiding offensive lines, Waldron probably is given ability this offseason to implement a new rushing system but little more. This team needs a fresh coat of paint, not a complete rebuild from the ground up.
Los Angeles has consistently been among the best teams at utilizing play-action passing under McVay and Waldron. In order to establish a believable play fake, the defense must be worried about the run. This is one area where things could get dicey in the offseason.
Creativity will play a factor, too. McVay, like Andy Reid, has done a tremendous job of masking his intentions by designing multiple attacks from the same-look personnel groupings presnap, often incorporating motions to further get the defense guessing.
Expect more freedom for Wilson calling plays at the line of scrimmage if he sees something he doesn’t like from the defense. Seattle also should emphasize more zone blocking.
Starting with running backs, 2020’s top rushers, Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde, are set to become unrestricted free agents in March. Carson is the focus and will have a market, if he so chooses to explore it, after surpassing all expectations as a seventh-round pick in 2017. It’s unlikely the Seahawks will come close to his market value in a long-term deal, but there’s always the chance he could receive a tag.
Carson had a dozen 100-yard games in 2018 and 2019 combined but failed to top 80 yards in any of his 12 appearances in 2020. He still rushed for a career-high 4.8 yards per carry, and even though Carson scored only once in the final six games, including the postseason, he still totaled nine offensive scores for the third consecutive season — and on far fewer touches.
In 2018, Seattle spent a first-round pick on running back Rashaad Penny. He has battled injuries and ineffectiveness since coming into the league. There’s a decent chance he enters the offseason as Seattle’s top back, but DeeJay Dallas will want to make his mark, too.
The Seahawks currently sit almost $14.45 million under the cap, which is subject to change due to the coronavirus pandemic. This placement has Seattle ranked 17th in most cap space among its top 51 players.
Possible veteran replacements include free agents James Conner, Le’Veon Bell, Aaron Jones, Marlon Mack, Kenyan Drake, Todd Gurley, Mark Ingram, Mike Davis, Leonard Fournette, Malcolm Brown and Adrian Peterson, or the team may turn to the NFL draft yet again for a late-round addition.
There’s obvious connections to Waldron with Gurley and Brown, but neither back will be asked to shoulder the load in a just world. Seattle could opt for a committee approach with players on the team already, or we could see the likes of role players, such as Matt Breida, Brian Hill, Jerick McKinnon, Jamaal Williams and Tevin Coleman, getting a shot in a true committee.
Offensive line woes continue to plague Seattle, but according to Pro Football Focus, the 16th-ranked 2020 version of this fivesome is the highest grade earned since Wilson become the team’s quarterback nine years ago. Starting left guard Mike Iupati and center Ethan Pocic are unrestricted free agents in March.
Iupati is 34 years old for the 2021 season and doesn’t have many options. It looked like retirement should be in the conversation he has with himself this spring.
Pocic moved back to his natural position for 2020, starting 14 games and playing well enough that he warrants a look, if the money makes sense. Pocic, 26, struggled late in the year, which will be fresh in the old memory banks. Pocic is far better suited for a zone-blocking system, which is likely to come over to some degree with Waldron from LA in contrast to offensive line coach Mike Solari’s preference for power blocking. This area will require a deeper look over the summer.
Seattle also faces free agency at fullback (Nick Bellore) and from No. 3 receiver David Moore, who proved to be a clutch asset in 2020 with defenses focusing on the two big guns ahead of him.
Tight end should be addressed in a more meaningful way than Seattle attempted with Greg Olsen in the 2020 offseason. He has since retired, and Will Dissly has been a major injury liability when given more playing time.
Fantasy football takeaway
The weapons in the passing game are present for Wilson to cook all day and night, but the words out of Carroll’s mouth paint a picture of Russ tending a microwave and not a fiery grill.
The ideal balance is run more successfully than last year — a season in which Seattle rushed the 14th fewest times — and parlay that into play-action passing down the field. The vertical gains will make up for the lessened volume, suggesting Wilson remains among the elite fantasy options at the position.
The backfield is still in too much flux to make any strong predictions, but there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic for the lead ball carrier. Penny could emerge as a fantasy favorite in draft season, provided the offseason works in his favor. Stay tuned.
Expect markedly fewer receptions for Tyler Lockett than his career-high 100 from a season ago, while DK Metcalf actually stands to benefit from healthy play-action system. The latter has more upside simply because he’s a generational talent. Lockett is a better WR2 than a No. 1.
Should the offense decide to rely more on the run, there will be fewer targets to go around, particularly for running backs, the tertiary wideout, and the tight end position, indicating we’re looking at spot plays from any of these players.
We’ll revisit this situation once the backfield shakes out with more clarity.