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State of the Franchise: Don't sleep on Seahawks in crowded NFC

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Where does every NFL franchise stand heading into 2019? Adam Rank will set the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.

Members of the Seattle Seahawks organization, Seahawks fans around the world and those who were just intimidated into reading this by looking at photos of D.K. Metcalf flexing:

The Seattle Seahawks are in a period of transition. The Legion of Boom has been disbanded, while Russell Wilson will be working without Doug Baldwin for the first time in his NFL career. And yet, they are also in the midst of a period of great prosperity, having reached the playoffs in seven of the past nine seasons, including back-to-back Super Bowl appearances and one Lombardi Trophy. Well, I'm here to tell you that glory for Seattle lies not just in the past -- but also in the near future.

How the Seahawks got here

Let's take a quick look at the ups and downs of 2018:

The highs:

-- Making the playoffs. Seattle fell short of the postseason in 2017 after finishing 9-7. Among the analysts on NFL.com, only Gregg Rosenthal had the Seahawks making the playoffs in 2018. (Rosey possesses all of that football knowledge -- and the ability to rock a beard like an in-his-prime Rick Rude?) The way the Seahawks clinched their postseason berth was rather stunning, too: They knocked off the high-flying Kansas City Chiefs on "Sunday Night Football." And it's not like the Chiefs were mailing it in, either. The stakes were raised for them, too, as they were still jockeying for favorable playoff positioning.

-- WR Tyler Lockett had a breakout year. In a league where passing is king, Seattle kept pounding the rock like your friend who still insists on calling instead of texting; only the Ravens (547) logged more rushing attempts than the Seahawks (534). That said, when Russell Wilson and Co. did cut loose and take to the air, they were quite good at it -- and a big reason for this was Lockett, who had a breakout season in Year 4 with 10 receiving touchdowns. Yes, that's more touchdowns than some big-name receivers managed in 2018, like Michael Thomas, Larry Fitzgerald and Julio Jones. Wilson had a perfect passer rating when targeting Lockett, according to Next Gen Stats. That's incredible.

The lows:

-- Richard Sherman's departure. The veteran cornerback was the front man of the Legion of Boom, the group that defined the most successful run in Seahawks history. A former fifth-round pick who became a superstar (and "Madden" cover model), Sherman was released during the offseason preceding the 2018 season. The team apparently hoped it could bring back Sherman on a less costly deal, but he signed with the rival San Francisco 49ers instead. Sherman's defection preceded the exits of Earl Thomas (who missed 12 games after suffering a leg fracture) and Kam Chancellor (who spent all of 2018 on the reserve/physically unable to perform list) this offseason; Thomas was like the one remaining member of the original band. It would be like if Mark Hoppus ever left Blink 182 and was replaced by somebody else.

-- Losing a winnable playoff game in Dallas. Seattle's 24-22 defeat to the Cowboys made this playoff trip the first one-and-done outing since the Pete Carroll era began in 2010. While the season was still a success on a macro level, a win over the Cowboys in the Wild Card Round would've led to a rematch with the Rams, with whom Seattle was very competitive in the regular season.

2019 VIPs

Head coach: Pete Carroll. As we were all reminded when Carroll removed his shirt during a combine meeting with famously muscular receiver D.K. Metcalf, who would go on to be drafted by Seattle in Round 2: Never question the enthusiasm of the 67-year-old coach, who has the same energy level as some of his (much) younger counterparts around the division. Seriously, the rest of the NFC West head coaches (33-year-old Sean McVay, 39-year-old Kliff Kingsbury and 39-year-old Kyle Shanahan) look like the cast of "Twilight" -- and then here comes Carroll, the silver-fox owner of the only Super Bowl ring between the four of them. So show some respect.

In 2010 and '11, Carroll's first two years on the job, the Seahawks mounted back-to-back 7-9 campaigns (though, of course, they still reached the playoffs in 2010). Since then, they've recorded seven consecutive winning seasons and reached the playoffs in six of those years. So they're doing pretty well in that regard. Ultimately, I'd put Carroll in the top five of current NFL coaches.

Quarterback: Russell Wilson. Wilson is on the cusp of being regarded as the best quarterback in the NFL. Kind of like the way Daniel Bryan was about to be recognized as the best wrestler in the world in the lead-up to "WrestleMania 30." Wilson threw 35 touchdown passes last year, tied for third in the league with Matt Ryan. His 8.2 % touchdown rate trailed only Patrick Mahomes' figure of 8.6 %.

And the good news is, after a brief period in which headlines about trading Russell Wilson somehow became a thing, the Seahawks made him the highest-paid player in football, locking him up through 2023. To announce it, Wilson made a sleepy Twitter announcement from bed, with his wife, Ciara, by his side. There was a certain level of cheesiness to it, but I'm going to allow it. You do you, Russell.

Projected 2019 MVP: Russell Wilson, quarterback. Wilson is the obvious answer here. But don't sleep on linebacker Bobby Wagner, coming off yet another stellar season as a pro. He and Wilson are the only two members of the Seahawks' 2012 draft class still with the team. Wagner has made three straight Pro Bowls and All-Pro teams. And he should be motivated, whether the Seahawks help him fulfill his goal of becoming the NFL's highest-paid linebacker or he enters the final year of his contract looking for a payday next offseason.

2019 breakout star: Tre Flowers, cornerback. The 2018 fifth-round pick was really good against short-yardage throws; he allowed a passer rating of 51.4 on short yardage, the second-lowest total in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. He's going to be the leader of the reformed Legion of Boom.

New faces to know: The Seahawks entered April with just four picks in the 2019 NFL Draft. Through some deft maneuvering, they walked away from the event with 11 dudes. The headliner was aforementioned second-rounder D.K. Metcalf, the receiver who captured the imagination of many when he presented a physique that looked similar to that of Dave Bautista in his prime -- and it turns out he's a pretty good football player, too! But don't look to him to directly replace Doug Baldwin, as Metcalf projects more to the outside. The guy who could end up filling Baldwin's shoes in the slot (if they don't kick Lockett inside, like they did last year when Baldwin missed time) is fourth-rounder Gary Jennings. The talented rookie from West Virginia led draft-eligible Big 12 receivers in slot yards per route run last year, according to Pro Football Focus. The Seahawks are likely hoping DE L.J. Collier, their first-round selection, will replace Frank Clark, who was traded to Kansas City but led Seattle in sacks with 13.0 last season. The club also signed former Lions first-rounder Ziggy Ansah to a one-year deal to help offset some of the deficiencies on the defensive line.

The 2019 roadmap

The competitive urgency index is: HIGH. You would need to be an obtuse hot-take curator to suggest Carroll is on the hot seat. He'll never have to purchase a cup of coffee in that town again. But when you have a top-five coach and QB, you need to win some games. The expectation of Seahawks fans should be for the team to make another run at the Super Bowl.

Will the Seahawks be able to ...

Fix the offensive line? Thanks to their love of running the ball, they posted a league-low 427 pass attempts -- but they still managed to rank eighth in sacks allowed, with 51. And this is with Russell Wilson -- one of the best at evading pressure -- at quarterback. Seeing that he gets sacked as much as he does is like going to Gordon Ramsay's house for dinner and being served Chef Boyardee from a can. It doesn't quite translate. (Not that I would say anything, because he'd just end up yelling at me. But it would be weird.) Veteran signee Mike Iupati is now in the mix, and left tackle Duane Brown sees big things ahead for this group.

Replace Doug Baldwin? Even though the Seahawks do run the ball a lot, Baldwin was one of the best route runners in the NFL, a guy on par with some of the best in recent years, like Antonio Brown and Steve Smith. And Wilson went to him far more than he did anyone else in his career thus far; since Wilson entered the NFL in 2012, Baldwin amassed 637 targets, or 361 more than the next closest guy on the Seahawks (Lockett with 276). Finding someone to absorb his workload might seem easy compared to replacing the leadership Baldwin provided.

Make up for the loss of Frank Clark? The Seahawks made waves when they traded Clark to Kansas City. As the folks at PFF pointed out, the trade helped pick-needy Seattle build draft capital, while the Chiefs ended up handing Clark, who had been hit with the franchise tag by the Seahawks, a five-year, $105.5 million deal. Of course, now there's only one player on the roster who recorded more than 3.0 sacks for Seattle last year (Jarran Reed, who had 10.5). Can Collier, Ansah, Rasheem Green (last year's third-round pick) or someone else step up and fill the void?

Three key dates:

-- Week 2 at the Steelers. The Seahawks tend to run into trouble on the road early in the season; consider that they've lost their first road game of the year for the last five years, and they've only won their second road game twice (in 2014 and '16). And don't forget that after last season's Week 2 loss in Chicago dropped them to 0-2, the 'Hawks weren't able to climb above .500 until Week 8. Coming out of this one with a W would be huge.

-- Week 5 vs. the Rams. The Seahawks were swept by the Rams last year -- but they only lost by a combined seven points. This is the chance for Seattle to make a statement against the reigning NFC champs.

-- Week 12 at Eagles. The Seahawks will be coming off a bye to go on the road against a team they could be matched up against in the playoffs.

One storyline people are overlooking: Chris Carson was pretty great last year. The Seahawks drafted Rashaad Penny out of San Diego State in the first round of last year's draft, so you would think the team would have had huge plans for him. But Carroll doesn't let draft pedigree dictate usage; everyone needs to compete. Carson, a seventh-round pick in 2017, ended up rushing for 1,151 yards and nine touchdowns on 247 carries, while Penny tallied 85 attempts and just 419 yards. What's most impressive: Carson gained 831 yards after contact, fifth most among running backs last season, according to PFF.

One storyline people are overthinking: You can't win with a quarterback who makes big money. This is a dumb narrative that needs to be shot into the sky. Five of the eight playoff teams in 2018 (the Patriots, Colts, Chargers, Seahawks and Saints) were led by veteran quarterbacks drawing significant paychecks. Yes, Wilson's relatively affordable rookie contract allowed Seattle to spend elsewhere in the first phase of his career. Yes, he will now count for $26.3 million against the cap in 2019, according to Over The Cap. But it's not as much of a problem if you draft well, which the Seahawks have done. Heck, they went 39-24-1 in the years after Wilson signed his second contract, before the 2015 season.

Remembering Paul Allen. I would be remiss if I didn't take a moment to consider the legacy of the Seahawks' owner, who passed away midseason at age 65 from complications of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Back in 1997, the Seahawks, then owned by Ken Behring, were set to move to Los Angeles -- moving trucks were already headed to Rams Park in Anaheim, left vacant by the Rams' move to St. Louis. Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, stepped in to purchase the team after the public voted to help finance what was to become CenturyLink Field. To put it simply, Allen saved football in Seattle and turned what was once a doormat NFL franchise into one of the most envied teams in the league.

For 2019 to be a successful season, the Seahawks MUST ...

-- Beat the Rams at least once. Both games were competitive last year, and could have easily swung in Seattle's favor.

-- Reach the playoffs again. Seattle can't go backwards one year after reaching the postseason as a "rebuilding" team.

-- Make a serious run. As I mentioned earlier, last season, Seattle marked the first one-and-done playoff appearance in the Carroll era. Yes, there are three other teams in the NFC that would be in my top-five power rankings of the entire league (Rams, Bears, Saints) -- but the Seahawks are certainly in that conversation. They can't let this opportunity pass them by.

In closing

For a team that has won as much as they have recently, the Seahawks sure do seem to sort of fly under the radar, as teams like the Rams get all of the attention. Let them have their moment. But make no mistake, the Seahawks need to be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @adamrank.

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