One of the most hotly debated subjects when it comes to the Seahawks is the quality of the receiver depth. Seattle's stats haven't been and will never be outstanding from a counting point of view -- the Seahawks throw the ball less than any other team in the NFL and as a result the most prolific season for a receiver during the Pete Carroll era was Doug Baldwin's 66-catch, 825 yard, three touchdown performance in 2014. He came in 42nd in the league in catches.
Going back further, Golden Tate led the Seahawks in 2013 (64-898-5), Sidney Rice in 2012 (50-748-7), Doug Baldwin in 2011 (51-788-5) and Big Mike Williams in 2010 (65-751-2). As we all know well by now, this is a low-volume passing offense that asks its receivers to block well on the outside, win contested catches on the outside and in traffic, and pick up yards after the catch all over the field. Seattle started out the 2014 season with a relatively low yards per attempt number but it steadily creeped up after Percy Harvin was traded and ended up a respectable 7.7 YPA. I would guess it goes up again back over 8.0 in 2015.
So, we all know, for the most part, the attributes that the Seahawks look for in receivers -- speed, toughness, blocking, winning at the catch point, and competitiveness. 2015 will be an interesting year in this position group because the Seahawks will have a chance to really improve there in free agency and the Draft.
On the roster
WR Doug Baldwin 5'10, 189
WR Jermaine Kearse 6'1, 215
WR Kevin Norwood 6'2, 200
WR Chris Matthews 6'5, 218
WR Ricardo Lockette 6'2, 211
WR Douglas McNeil 6'4, 200
WR David Gilreath 5'9, 170
WR B.J. Daniels 5'11, 217
WR Kevin Smith, 5'11, 208
WR Paul Richardson 6'1, 183 [PUP]
Doug Baldwin is the Seahawks primary slot receiver and he gets some time outside at the Z and X positions. He'll be back in 2015 barring a trade, which seems unlikely. Jermaine Kearse is Seattle's de facto #1 because he mostly plays outside. Kearse had some huge plays for the Hawks this year again, but also had a few forgettable moments where he either missed passes or failed to win at the catch point. He's a restricted free agent and I'm guessing the Hawks will put a 2nd round tender on him -- the same thing they did with Doug Baldwin -- and go from there. Long story short, Baldwin and Kearse should be back in 2015 at or near the top of the depth chart.
After that, the picture gets a lot more blurry.
Kevin Norwood stands to gain ground and a lot of playing time if he can put together a solid offseason. He looked really good in training camp as a rookie and I think he has a shot to take a really big jump from year one, where he had 9 catches for 102 yards. He's sure handed, comes back to the ball well, has a huge catch radius, and seems to be physical and tough. I'm not sure yet how sudden he can be off the line, how strong he is through his routes, and how well he'll attack the football in traffic and on jump balls in the endzone. Training camp will help with that.
My guess is that Norwood will be the #3 receiver, maybe #4 if the Hawks sign an outside free agent. He'll feature into the offense more in 2015, that I feel pretty confident about, and could even start taking away some of Kearse's snaps on go-routes up the sideline. My hope is that he can develop into a more effective blocker than Kearse.
Chris Matthews showcased some of the potential he has as an outside, redzone type of weapon when he caught five passes in the Super Bowl. He can high point the ball naturally -- he times it, uses subtle pushoffs and body positioning to get himself to the best angle to catch it, and importantly, he uses his hands to reach up and grab the ball when it's high above the defender (instead of waiting for it to land in his breadbasket).
I would entertain caution in getting too excited about his potential based on one game, but the fact that he won several jump balls on the outside is very encouraging, because those throws are Russell Wilson's specialty. If you can combine timing, length, and the ability to subtly create separation at the top of your route, you have a shot to contribute in a role on this offense. It helps his cause a lot that he's really dove in head first to the special teams aspect of ball, and that gives him a great chance to make the roster next year. He's still only 25 too, even after spending several years in the CFL, so there's room to grow.
On roughly the same level, I'd put Ricardo Lockette, whose value as a gunner seemed to diminish as the year went on, for some reason. Perhaps teams started doubling him more and he wasn't able to get past the first couple lines of defense to really blow up returners. Either way, his value as a receiver was about what you'd expect of a #4/#5 guy -- he finished with 11 catches for 195 yards, which is a nice 17.7 yards per catch -- but he didn't really separate himself from the group in that area. Serviceable would be the word I'd use, and his speed obviously is his most defining trait. Going forward I would guess he'll be on the bubble next year, competing for a spot (which he might win) with rookies and any free agents. It's easy to forget that Lockette is going to be 29 next season and has been in the league for four seasons. I don't know if you can expect he'll make a big jump in effectiveness, but weirder things have happened. He obviously has value as a special teamer.
Douglas McNeil is a guy that should be interesting to watch once training camp rolls around. He balled out in the Arena League, was a touchdown making machine in that league, so it will be fun to see how that translates here. From things I've heard, he's been very impressive in practice and the team is excited about his upside. I'd put him in the Sidney Rice category of player -- hopefully a guy that can use his length to make passes in traffic and take the top off a defense once in a while. He is probably raw in his route running precision but if his AFL highlight video tells you anything, it's that he can catch passes with defenders draped on him. He apparently ran a 4.47 at some point, so he has some speed.
Watch the catch at the 45 second mark. He has the ability to make some circus style stuff.
David Gilreath is a 5'10, 170 pound receiver that has been with eight NFL teams in his four-year career -- the Colts (2011), Rams (2011), Bills (2011), Steelers (2012), Buccaneers (2012), back to the Steelers (2013), Raiders (2014), and now your Seattle Seahawks (2014-present). He was a punt and kick return specialist at Wisconsin from 2007-2010, so that may have been the impetus to bring him aboard. Regardless, he lasted on the Seahawks' injured reserve all year, was not released with an injury settlement, so perhaps the team is high on him. He got hurt in camp last year so he didn't get a shot to really show much.
Gilreath was a thing in Pittsburgh shortly -- he caught four passes for 78 yards in a preseason game in 2012 and landed on the active roster for a short while that year, and knowing their ability to scout receivers, it's of some interest to me going forward. He's obviously got speed (clocked at 4.42 coming out), and agility, and could be an insurance policy in the kick return/punt return game.
Probably one of the most interesting storylines to follow over the offseason will be B.J. Daniels' supposed switch to receiver. John Schneider mentioned his name as one of two guys he's very excited to see next year at that position (along with Norwood), so I don't know if the move will be permanent or just a look in order to get him more involved, or what, but it's intriguing. It's especially intriguing if he can become a reliable return man and emergency QB.
From what we know of Daniels, he's a "playmaker" type with the ball in his hands, has good athleticism and size (215+ pounds), and obviously knows the Seahawks' system well. His experience as quarterback could translate nicely to receiver because he is so ingrained with where everyone needs to be in a certain play and can read the defense pre-snap to know where open spots are going to be. Seattle uses a very heavy option-route scheme, so his knowledge and "Football IQ" should come in handy.
Finally, Kevin Smith, who spent the season as a street free agent but was recently re-signed, is an intriguing name to watch. He's a great athlete, blocks well, and has some real potential in the Seahawks system with a little more time under his belt. I was pretty impressed with him during training camp last year, and he strikes me as a practice squad type of player for the 2015 season.
Finally, of course, there's Paul Richardson, who is in a kind of purgatory as a guy that's likely to start the season on the PUP list, and, worst case scenario, miss all of 2015 rehabbing his knee. He looked really good in limited action in 2014 and had come on strong at the end of the year as the #3 receiver in the Seahawks system. I think he has the ability to become a difference maker once he's back -- perhaps not a star or Pro Bowl type, but a guy that makes plays in Seattle's offense. The question though, is: when will he be back. I'm not holding my breath on 2015 to be totally honest. Even if he gets back on the field, it often takes up to a year to re-gain full explosiveness in the lower body. Anything he can bring in 2015 is a big bonus in my book.
Potential free agents
Kenny went into a lot of detail on this subject so I'm not going to repeat a ton of what he said, but my overall feeling on the subject is that the Seahawks won't be spending big in that area in the primary free agent market. I don't think they'll go after Dez Bryant, although that would be awesome, and Demaryius Thomas, Randall Cobb, and Jeremy Maclin will likely be too expensive. I'm not a fan of bringing in Torrey Smith, Michael Crabtree, or Kenny Britt. I don't think that any top-tier free agent receivers will want to come to the team that throws the fewest passes in the NFL, and I just think that the smart play is to hit the draft to build a core of receivers around Russell Wilson long term.
There are a few guys that might be interesting -- Cecil Shorts, Leonard Hankerson, maybe Hakeem Nicks, but only on one-year "prove-it" deals that are team friendly and could provide a little bit of depth for the Hawks.
Potential cap casualties
That said, I think one route the Seahawks may try to go down is the secondary free agent market -- cap casualties. There are a few guys out there that could or may be on the outs with their respective teams that would not only be of interest to the Seahawks, but may have interest in Seattle as well.
WR Brandon Marshall 6'5, 220
WR Larry Fitzgerald 6'3, 215
WR Andre Johnson 6'3, 230
WR Vincent Jackson 6'5, 230
WR Marques Colston 6'4, 225
WR Mike Wallace 6'0, 200
Brandon Marshall is apparently on the outs in Chicago, maybe, and if he were released I would think the Seahawks would go after him in free agency. There are reports that he was a huge locker room distraction so they'd obviously have to do their homework on that, but he's a guy that would seemingly fit perfectly into Seattle's offense as a redzone and downfield, sideline threat. I'm personally a huge fan of Marshall and think his unique personality and history would fit in well with Pete Carroll and the Seahawks' locker room, but that's just a guess on my part. Marshall will be 31 and had a career low in catches after missing several games to injury in 2013, but could still be a very powerful weapon for the right team.
Larry Fitzgerald will likely work out something with the Cardinals that keeps him in the desert, but if he were to somehow make it onto the open market I have to think the Seahawks would go after him. He's not only one of the best receivers in the game, talent wise, he's known to be one of the best guys from a personality standpoint and seems like he'd be okay in a low-volume offense as long as he's doing what the team wants him to do. He'd obviously be a big time weapon in the Seahawks' offense, has probably the best hands in the NFL, is a tough, physical blocker, and is getting to that point in his career where he'd like to win a championship. Arizona is probably going to be good again in 2015 so he may just elect to stay there, but he'd obviously be at or near the top of my list if he were to become a free agent.
Andre Johnson is pretty much in the same boat. He tried to force the Texans' hands last year and his $16.5M cap hit in 2015 almost certainly means something will have to happen in Houston. He may be willing to take a paycut, but with no real quarterback on the roster, it's more likely he looks to catch on with a contender in free agency, and he'd fit nicely in Seattle if he were to be released. A trade-and-contract-renegotiation is an option too, but I am not so sure the Seahawks would do something like this.
Vincent Jackson is due $9.8M in 2015 and it's being reported that he'll be asked to take a pay cut. I've always thought that if teams have the balls to ask a player to take a paycut, the also have to be ready to release them outright if the player refuses. I'm guessing this will happen in Tampa, where the Bucs are likely going to be rolling with a rookie quarterback (either Jamies Winston or Marcus Mariota). With the emergence of Mike Evans in that offense, Jackson becomes somewhat expendable, especially at his price. His numbers have dipped the last few years but I'd definitely be interested in going after him in free agency if he decides to refuse the paycut entirely. We all remember the pass from Russell Wilson to Jackson in the Pro Bowl back in 2012, and that connection would be a fun one to watch if he does come onto the open market.
Marques Colston and Mike Wallace are two more guys that could perhaps find themselves on the outs on their respective teams, but they're a little less interesting to me. Colston's effectiveness has waned the last couple years and Wallace will likely want more than the Seahawks are willing to give up. If Wallace wanted a one-year "prove it" deal I wouldn't necessarily be against it.