NFL offseason power rankings: No. 21 Seattle Seahawks move onto Mike Macdonald era

Preview focus: It's a season of transition in Seattle, but that's not necessarily a bad thing

The Seattle Seahawks are No. 21 in Yahoo Sports' 2024 offseason power rankings. (Taylor Wilhelm/Yahoo Sports)
The Seattle Seahawks are No. 21 in Yahoo Sports' 2024 offseason power rankings. (Taylor Wilhelm/Yahoo Sports)

Like Super Bowl XLIX, Bill Belichick got the best of Pete Carroll again.

Carroll's split with the Seattle Seahawks was overshadowed this offseason by Belichick being let go by the New England Patriots, but Carroll deserved flowers too. He won 137 regular-season games as head coach of the Seahawks. He took Seattle to two Super Bowls, winning one. That was the first Super Bowl title in franchise history. Only three coaches have won a college national championship and a Super Bowl: Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer and Carroll.

Carroll wanted to stay. Seahawks ownership was ready for a change. It surprised nearly everyone.

"I did not see this coming," former Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said on his podcast. "I did not see them letting Pete go.

"It was a situation where I expected them to let Pete coach as long as he wanted to, and be around as long as he wanted to. He instilled an incredible culture in Seattle."

It was a seismic event because, like Belichick and the Patriots, the Seahawks hadn't experienced much success before Carroll. They had seven playoff wins and no championships before Carroll, and 10 playoff wins and one title with him.

“We weren’t anything. And then we were something," Carroll said, via the Tacoma News Tribune. “We made something special."

Carroll defined the Seahawks for more than a decade. It will be jarring to see someone else leading them.

Mike Macdonald will have a hard time replacing Carroll, but he was an exciting hire. He had two very good seasons running the Baltimore Ravens' defense and players rave about his football mind. At age 36, Macdonald has a youthful energy (Carroll is 72, though energy was never a problem for him). Carroll was great, but perhaps it was just time for a change. Macdonald seems like a worthy successor.

"I don't think anybody does it like him," former Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen said of Macdonald last season, according to the Ravens' site. "Nobody cares like him. Nobody will do what he does. He will not rest until he has everything right.

"Whoever gets him, if he leaves, they're getting the best candidate out there. The guy is all around just the best person I've ever been around, coach-wise, person-wise."

The Seahawks are coming off a disappointing season. They missed the playoffs. A Week 17 home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers kept the Seahawks out of the postseason and likely cost Carroll his job. It became even clearer that they were not able to compete with the San Francisco 49ers after two ugly losses to them. They're 0-5 against the 49ers the last two seasons, counting playoffs, and four of the losses were by double digits.

The talent is there to be better, and that's a reason Carroll is no longer coach.

The Seahawks have a fantastic trio of receivers, DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. They have two young and highly drafted running backs, a relic of the Carroll era, in Kenneth Walker III and Zach Charbonnet. The offensive line took a step back last season due to injuries but had made strides in 2022. The defense was poor last season but there are some good players on that side.

If Macdonald gets the Seahawks back to the playoffs in his first season, it's probably because Geno Smith played more like he did in 2022 than last season. Smith was a revelation in 2022, a 32-year-old journeyman without much NFL success who led the league in completion percentage and threw for 4,282 yards and 30 touchdowns. He got a three-year, $75 million contract from Seattle and then came back to earth a bit in 2023. The Seahawks brought him back for another season but he'll have to play much better to last into 2025.

A lot has changed for the Seahawks in a short time. Russell Wilson, who led the team to two straight Super Bowls, was traded two offseasons ago. Carroll was fired this year. The stars from the height of Carroll's time with the Seahawks are long gone. But Carroll and those players set a new bar for the franchise. It might have been the right time to make a change, but Carroll's standard remains for Macdonald to live up to.

The Seahawks didn't have a major roster upheaval despite a new coaching staff. The offseason could have gotten interesting if they moved on from Geno Smith one season into his extension, but they didn't. They signed safety Rayshawn Jenkins and linebackers Jerome Baker and Tyrel Dodson, and they'll help the defense. The big money was spent on defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who was probably overpaid at $64.5 million over three years but is still a solid player whose versatility should play well in Mike Macdonald's scheme. Tight end Noah Fant also got a healthy deal at two years, $21 million to stay. The big loss in free agency was guard Damien Lewis, who got $53 million over four years with the Panthers. Defensive tackle Byron Murphy II was a high-upside first-round draft pick and a good Macdonald fit at No. 16 overall, and third-round pick Christian Haynes could help the offensive line right away.

Grade: C

Geno Smith signed a three-year, $75 million deal last year, but as last season ended there was no promise of him being on the roster for 2024. The Seahawks could have cut Smith before mid-February, when his $12.7 million salary for this season became fully guaranteed. Smith eventually restructured his contract and remained the team's quarterback, but the uncertainty speaks to how tentative his hold on the job is.

The Seahawks traded for Sam Howell, who started for Washington in 2023 but turned it over way too often to be the Commanders' long-term answer. Seattle traded a third- and fifth-round pick to Washington for Howell, a fourth- and sixth-round pick. That move was another signal that Smith needs to play better than last season, when his passer rating dropped from 100.9 to 92.1. Smith's decision-making led to more mistakes, though offensive line injuries might have played a big part in that. He had some good moments, but he was just a little off across the board. Smith could rebound, but if he doesn't, we could see Howell before the end of the season and then Seattle would have to figure out its future at quarterback next offseason.

The betting market isn't bullish on the Seahawks. Seattle went 9-8 last season but their win total at BetMGM is just 7.5. The Seahawks have won more than 7.5 games in 11 of the past 12 seasons. Seattle is +200 to make the playoffs. It's fairly common for the NFL Coach of the Year to be a rookie head coach who gives life to a team and makes the playoffs. With that in mind, Mike Macdonald's odds to win NFL Coach of the Year are 20-to-1.

From Yahoo's Scott Pianowski: "Geno Smith lost a lot of believers during the 2023 season, but I'm not ready to write him off. The Seattle offensive line fell apart in the season opener, which held back the offense for weeks. Smith played better in the second half and ended the season above code in most efficiency metrics — YPA, completion percentage, sack and interception avoidance, QB rating. His touchdown rate was an eyelash under the league mean, and that's probably more back luck than anything.

"There are tools for Smith to succeed here — three capable receivers, and exciting new coordinator Ryan Grubb. Smith makes sense as an inexpensive upside QB2 for your bench, or a possible starter for those who play in Superflex formats."

Mike Macdonald's Ravens defense was perhaps the NFL's best last season. The Ravens led the NFL in points allowed (280), sacks (60) and passer rating allowed (74.8). That's why Macdonald drew head coaching attention and landed the Seahawks' job. The key to Macdonald's scheme is versatility and disguise. He wants to keep quarterbacks guessing and holding the ball too long. The Ravens' defense generally looked the same before the snap but changed constantly after the snap, which was possible because players were taught to execute different roles and be adaptable. (Ted Nguyen of The Athletic had a thorough breakdown of Macdonald's approach.)

Macdonald's scheme was obviously sound, based on the Ravens' success, but it's also complicated. The Ravens did a good job picking it up his first season there (third in points allowed in 2022, tied for fifth in sacks), so perhaps the Seahawks will be quick to adjust as well. The Seahawks were bad on defense last season, but there is some talent on that side. Cornerback Devon Witherspoon in particular looks like a future star, and the defensive line is deep. How well they pick up Macdonald's scheme will determine their level of improvement this season.

Mike Macdonald's most important hire was a bold one. He hired Grubb as his offensive coordinator, plucking him from the University of Washington. Grubb has no NFL experience as a player or coach. However, the Huskies' offensive production with Grubb calling plays was hard to ignore.

Last season, Michael Penix Jr. had 4,903 passing yards, a school record. The Huskies had three 50-point games and put up 36 points per game. Washington averaged 462.1 yards per game. It's fair to wonder how much of the success was due to the talent on hand — Washington had seven offensive players drafted into the NFL including three first-round picks, including Penix — and how much was the scheme.

Seattle won't share what Grubb's offense will look like as he transitions it to the NFL, but he has said play action will be "a big part of our offense," running backs will be a bigger part of the passing game and the quarterback will focus on getting the ball out fast. It won't be a pass-heavy offense like Washington, but Geno Smith will presumably have many chances to throw the ball.

“I think that there is a really good marriage there with some of the skill set that Geno has,” Grubb said.

It doesn't take a wild fantasy to envision the Seahawks being really good. All it would take is Geno Smith playing like he did in 2022, with the help of a tremendous cast of skill position players around him. Offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb has some fresh ideas, and DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and Jaxon Smith-Njigba could all have big years. Smith-Njigba, a 2023 first-round pick, didn't have a huge rookie season but he could break out in a big way with a new scheme. Mike Macdonald is a defensive guru and if his new players pick up the scheme quickly, perhaps that side of the ball improves tremendously. It's not like Seattle has been bad lately: The Seahawks were a playoff team two seasons ago and 9-8 last season. If Macdonald and his staff were the right hires, a two- or three-win improvement has to be in the realm of possibility.

For all of the hoopla surrounding Mike Macdonald and his defensive acumen, he's still a rookie head coach taking over for the greatest coach in Seahawks history. And his offensive coordinator never spent a day in the NFL before he was hired. It could be a year of transition. Macdonald's scheme isn't easy and Seattle doesn't have the Ravens' talent to execute it. Geno Smith is a huge question mark after his regression and if we see Sam Howell this season, it's not a good sign. The offensive line played a big part in Smith's underwhelming 2023 season and could be a problem again. There's a lot to like about the fit with the Seahawks and Macdonald but there are many paths to it turning sour as well, especially in his first season.

Seattle is another team that could move up the rankings very quickly. Nothing against Pete Carroll, but maybe a talented roster just needed a new voice. It wouldn't be surprising if Mike Macdonald is a big hit. From 2017-2022, four of six NFL Coach of the Year winners were rookie head coaches, and first-time head coach DeMeco Ryans almost won the award last season. Macdonald could find himself in that conversation by season's end. It's hard to depend on instant success from a mostly unproven staff, especially with the questions about Geno Smith. But there are also reasons for optimism. The transition from Carroll to a new era might not be that rough.