Seahawks-Bears: 5 things to watch for now that Drew Lock, Ken Walker are ruled out
Seaside Joe 1260, 8/17/22: Genomagic, the curious case of Poona Ford, and Noah Fant is reading your tweets
Tuesday brought two pieces of Seahawks news that crashed down our high expectations for an exciting preseason football game on Thursday: First, Ken Walker III was missing from practice with what we later learned is a hernia injury that puts his Week 1 status in doubt. Next, Drew Lock was ruled out against the Chicago Bears after testing positive for Covid.
While Walker may have been limited to a series or two and only a handful of touches, like in the first preseason game, even the prospect of him playing against the Chicago Bears is a more exciting exhibition element than most. The bigger letdown of course is delaying Lock’s first preseason start and an answer in the quarterback competition by a week.
Prior to Tuesday evening, I stuck to the belief that Lock would start against the Bears and then Pete Carroll would announce a starter the following week. Now instead Lock will make most likely his final argument to be an NFL starter (ever) on August 26 against Dan Quinn’s defense on the Dallas Cowboys.
And Geno Smith will make his final argument on Thursday against a Chicago defense that current Seahawks assistant Sean Desai was the defensive coordinator for in 2021.
Is that the best that Seattle fans can hope for when they tune in for the Seahawks’ second preseason game of the year? An opportunity for Geno to showcase something that perhaps we haven’t seen over the past nine years?
It’s going to have to be.
Here’s what I would recommend to follow on Thursday, as the entire NFL world that wants to watch a football game tomorrow will be tuning into ESPN (or Fox, if you’re in Seattle) for Justin Fields against…Geno Smith.
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So is Geno Smith now Ryan Fitzpatrick?
When Smith makes his second preseason start tomorrow, it will be seven years and one week from the date that IK Enemkpali single-handedly ended the New York Jets quarterback competition of 2015. The showdown was not too dissimilar from the one that Smith is being measured in seven years later, but now he’s playing the role of the “veteran” rather than the “still-young second round pick who keeps trying to find his it-factor.”
Now instead of the competition being ended by a fight with a camp body, Seattle’s quarterback face off is in doubt because of Lock’s fight with his own body.
For what it’s worth, Ryan Fitzpatrick responded to “winning” that quarterback competition by posting career-bests in passing yards, touchdowns, sack percentage (an NFL-best 3.3%) and the Jets went a surprising 10-6. They only missed the playoffs when Fitzpatrick threw three fourth quarter interceptions against his former team, the Bills, in a Week 17 loss.
The Seahawks play the New York Jets in Week 17 this year.
As to Geno Smith playing in this game against the Bears, I find it hard to muster up an ounce of intrigue given that we are only five days removed from his start against the Steelers in which he looked exactly like the quarterback we’ve come to expect. And with a probable switch to Jacob Eason in the second half, my mind directs more towards his awful performance in the mock game than it does let me wander around a fantasyland where he becomes the quarterback that Huskies fans were hoping for in 2019.
As incredibly strange as it would be to see a potential starter playing an entire preseason game, I can’t help but think that Pete Carroll has concerns that Eason would make it difficult to evaluate Seattle’s other offensive components in the second half. Eason isn’t a backup quarterback and he’s not even a third string quarterback (like, for example, Easton Stick on the Chargers)…he’s an on-again, off-again practice squad quarterback.
His reps on Thursday will be interesting to watch at first, but not for good reasons. (I hope I’m wrong.)
Where is Noah Fant at in the pecking order?
There was a moment on Saturday night in which Geno Smith made his best or second-best pass of the game but tight end Noah Fant was not able to keep his feet in bounds. Worse yet, it wasn’t necessarily an issue of trying and failing, it appeared as though Fant hadn’t even gone through the thought process of attempting to stay in bounds.
I made a reply to this tweet that said the play was potentially indicative of why a fourth-year “starting” tight end is playing the entire first half of a preseason game. I know that because Fant is a recent first round pick and only 24 that many Seahawks fans want to give him the benefit of the doubt ad infinitum, which I can sympathize with, but it’s also reasonable to believe that even Noah Fant is disappointed in his development by now.
Or at least, he’s getting himself motivated. In a reply to my reply, Noah Fant liked a tweet by @SeahawkNerd that said, “I think the Dissly contract shows that Seattle wasn’t particularly confident in Fant from the get go.”
Fant played 20 snaps on Saturday, only four fewer than Tyler Mabry, and Dissly was given the night off. It’s clear by now that Dissly is TE1 and Fant is TE2, but it may not be a stretch to see Colby Parkinson (34 snaps) moving up the order in due time.
A lot of fans do not like it when someone criticizes a player for a mistake—which has always shocked me given that we’re watching a sport where disproportionately huge men try to physically destroy one another’s bodies yet some are afraid that a negative comment will be the end of days for a player—but what can we expect Pete Carroll to be saying about that play in meetings this week?
Coaches don’t strike me as the types who shield players from constructive criticism since it is their jobs on the line if the team doesn’t win enough. That play would have set the Seahawks up with a first down in Pittsburgh territory and instead Seattle punted two plays later.
These are never Pete’s happy moments. Will Fant redeem himself on Thursday?
What are the Seahawks going to do with Poona Ford?
I swear, I’m a nice guy, please don’t ruin my life over the following segment. I love Poona Ford too.
One of the most unheralded stories of the offseason might be Seattle quietly setting up for life without Poona Ford. I am not saying that the Seahawks are going to cut or trade Ford before the season—however, I am saying that Seattle is better prepared than ever to not have Ford when he becomes a free agent in 2023.
Or, okay, fine…at the risk of being tortured in the comments section, the Seahawks could get by without Ford (their highest-paid player in 2022) this season.
Not only did Seattle put a high priority on re-signing Al Woods, bring back Quinton Jefferson, and extend Bryan Mone, they also began hyping up third-year undrafted free agent Myles Adams. Only Boye Mafe and Tariq Woolen had more defensive snaps against the Steelers than Adams, a 2021 practice squad player who saw significant action in two contests last season.
Considering that Adams seems closer and closer to a lock each day, the numbers on the defensive line begin to get wonky: Woods, Mone, Shelby Harris, Jefferson, and Ford would seemingly all be guaranteed a spot. We haven’t heard much about Jefferson during camp, but his contract was practically ironclad for 2022.
Now run that number with Adams: Six on the defensive line and that’s without L.J. Collier.
I wouldn’t call seven a ludicrous number (it happened as recently as some points last season, but not for long) but the Seahawks are comfortable with as few as five defensive linemen and that was before Clint Hurtt’s more intentional 3-4 defense. It just doesn’t make sense to keep seven defensive linemen.
My most absolute locks then would be Woods and Mone. Then Jefferson and Harris, based on financial commitments made this year. The next showdown after that would probably come down to Collier, Ford, and Adams, but these players don’t exist in a vacuum of equal net value: it’s not Ford vs Adams.
It’s Ford+$7.9 million vs Adams+minimum salary.
Poona Ford is the highest-paid player on the team this year and a free agent in 2023. Trading him prior to the season would net $7.9 million in savings and releasing him outright would save $5.2 million. I don’t want to be killed by Seahawks fans for saying so, but is it possible that Pete Carroll got word that “If the team is going through a transition, at least make it the cheapest transition possible?”
No, this is not antithetical to contract extensions handed out to players like DK Metcalf and retaining Quandre Diggs and saying “We’re not in a rebuild.” Those are moves that make sense now and in the future. But Ford’s going to be a free agent in 2023 and if Seattle hasn’t extended him already, it could be because they expect to part with him next year. Considering the Seahawks are also potentially eyeing a separation from Gabe Jackson (the second-highest paid player on the team), I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that frugality is on the minds of some people above Pete.
The worse player is obviously Collier, but savings there are minimal.
Ford played 21 snaps against the Steelers, which doesn’t line up with the playing time divvied out to any other veteran starter on the Seahawks. Is Seattle showcasing Ford and how much will he play on Thursday against the Bears?
Other salary considerations: Jason Myers, Gabe Jackson, Nick Bellore
We should expect the first team offensive line on Thursday night and yet I don’t believe that Jackson will be among them. It looks as though Abe Lucas will win the starting right tackle job, leaving Jake Curhan free to compete/backup Phil Haynes at right guard. The only missing piece of the puzzle seems to be finding a trade partner for Gabe Jackson.
Jackson’s entire $6 million base salary is guaranteed, so cutting him results in no savings. For that reason, I do not expect a glorious return package for Jackson and instead would think that Seattle is merely hoping to save as much money as they can.
Finding a team that needs a starting guard? Easy. I bet that finding a team with $6 million is what has delayed the trade up to this point.
I haven’t yet assessed the kicking situation for all 32 teams, but if it’s like every other year, the Seahawks could get lucky and find a player who is about to be cut and costs nothing and is pretty good. Jason Myers costs $4 million (more than all but two players on the team, the two I’ve mentioned) and is not $4 million good.
Nick Bellore also doesn’t have a role that justifies his salary. His $2.15 million base salary is non-guaranteed and right now he only has a “starting role” on special teams. I think that Pete has given Bellore every opportunity to be a versatile necessity to justify the salary but he’s not a linebacker and he’s not the type of fullback who makes sense in Shane Waldron’s offense.
It may be difficult to trade Jackson and to take jump back into the kicker pool, but these are three players who I have expected to part with the team and nothing we’ve seen in camp or preseason has changed that opinion yet.
What else and who else to watch on Thursday night:
Wide Receiver Competitions
Pete said that Dee Eskridge won’t play Thursday but it is sounding likely that he’ll debut when Lock returns next Friday against the Cowboys. That keeps the spotlight on Dareke Young, Bo Melton, and Freddie Swain—back in practice this week—against the Bears. Maybe we will also see Marquise Goodwin against his former team.
Colby Parkinson red zone targets
The TE3 was popular for both Smith and Lock in the end zone on Saturday. He could be Seattle’s go-to tight end near the goal line.
Could DeeJay Dallas play RB1?
The Seahawks started Ken Walker III against the Steelers and used Travis Homer as his complement in the first half. With Walker sidelined, Pete can’t take the risk of playing Rashaad Penny so close to his own return from an injury, so shouldn’t that mean that Dallas gets his opportunity for a start? Darwin Thompson and Josh Johnson would be available for the second half and there won’t be much to see there.
Boye Mafe round two
I do not need to see much more of Mafe in the preseason. Not saying he doesn’t need the experience, but the Walker injury is another reminder that teams need to be as risk averse as possible with their core first-year players. As soon as Mafe sacks Justin Fields (first play?), take him out!
Justin Fields vs Seahawks
Fields’ first preseason start this year did not leave me any less skeptical about him becoming a good NFL quarterback. I think Seattle’s “first team defense” will have a chance to get off the field without allowing any points. On the other hand, if the Seahawks have back-to-back bad defensive drives against Chicago’s starting offense, that will be even more concerning than anything that happened in Pittsburgh.
The more exciting Bears prospects to watch on Thursday night be safety Jaquan Brisker and former Huskies cornerback Kyler Gordon, both second round picks this year. Brisker is more ready-made for the NFL and could star in this contest, while Gordon is making his preseason debut.
The cornerbacks, of course
Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant are getting much easier matchups than George Pickens this week, at least once you get past however many snaps that Darnell Mooney plays. I know that a lot of people would say that they’d rather have the entire Bears offense over the entire Seahawks offense simply because Chicago has Justin Fields. But I will be surprised if the Bears score more offensive points this year than Seattle. The Bears have the NFL’s worst offense.
The offensive line, the receivers, the running backs behind David Montgomery, the tight ends, and Fields… I don’t see this going well for Chicago.
Poona is great, he's loved by his teammates, and it's a feel-good story of UDFA made starter . He's a fan favorite and this brings money to the team.
I'm afraid he's not capable of a NT role in a 3-4, and may not fit in a big end role. Mone and Adams are both made in the mold of Woods, so the scales pend their way. I hope we get a trade partner for Ford, he can wreak havoc on a 4-3 defense.
Bellore is another fan favorite, and I'm pretty sure he'll be released (even if it's temporarily to get people onto the IR without making them lose the entire season, Dee and KW3 (or K9) seem candidates for that). He's not going to be claimed by anyone and will join the practice squad. Maybe he even retires so he can join Izzo as an assistant ST coach next year.
Jackson gives us no cap relief, unless he's traded (and even in that case, it's very little). We have a lot of depth on the right side but almost none on the left (though Haynes didn't fare bad there). A player for player with a reserve left guard just for dumping his salary elsewhere? But probably he's kept as the only really experienced player on our line.
Myers is staying, I don't see other way. He missed quite a few kicks last year, but was amazing on kickoffs (lots of behind-the-20 opponent field position), and there's no reasonably good kicker available right now.
Other player that may be less safe than one thinks is Swain, especially if someone else shines on punt returns.
The Lockless Monster (a.k.a. Thursday night Seahawks offense) isn't likely to be much fun to watch, and I worry that it will take away from the WR competition. It should be interesting to see if the OL and RBs can create some space and reinforce the good stuff we saw last weekend.
I'm starting to feel more warm and fuzzy about the largest players on the team on both sides of the line. Your observations on Poona make too much sense. Another contract for him would likely be one that overvalues his future contributions, which isn't typically a good idea for a young not-rebuilding team. We have some decent low-key trade opportunities from our D-line and Gabe Jackson that I hope we can take advantage of. But dammit, I don't want Poona to play for anyone else!