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Position Group Preview: Health will make or break the Seahawks’ tight ends in 2020

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The lone position on offense to receive a splashy addition this offseason, the Seahawks will head into 2020 hoping their tight end group can stay healthy. The talent and upside of Seattle’s tight ends are obvious, but so too are the lingering questions of health. The two players at the top of the depth chart, as well as the former quarterback who delivered a heroic 2019 season, help to make tight end one of the more fascinating position groups ahead of this season.

Expected group

Greg Olsen, added in February on a one-year deal, is locked in. He will be joined by the tantalizing third-year Will Dissly, who passed his physical ahead of training camp and looks on track to make another incredible comeback in time for Week 1. Behind those two is where it gets interesting.

Fourth-round pick Colby Parkinson was certain to round out the group, but an offseason foot injury has landed him on the PUP list to begin camp and he could remain there for the regular season—meaning he would miss the first six games. Once he is healthy enough to be on the active roster, whether that’s later this month in time for Week 1, or mid-October, he will take his place on the 53.

Jacob Hollister, the unsung hero of the offense a year ago, would be the logical third tight end. However, his $3.259 million cap hit would weigh heavily as a third tight end who is not an exceptional blocker, nor as skilled of a receiver as the two players ahead of him. A solution could be for the Seahawks to waive Hollister during cuts and then re-sign him at a lesser rate. With Hollister unlikely to be claimed at a cap hit over $3 million, he should safely make it through.

Dissly, Olsen, and Hollister will make up the tight end group for Week 1, with Parkinson to join when his foot is recovered.

Dark horse

Though Parkinson will begin his career as a clear-cut reserve, he could make an immediate impact when he sees the field. The 6’7” tight end combines tremendously strong hands, a fantastic understanding of body positioning, and a massive catch radius to provide his quarterback with a reliable red zone target. Even in a minor role, Parkinson can put the ball in the paint at a moment’s notice and help to swing a game.

(Another dark horse candidate: Luke Willson could certainly emerge mid-to-late-season as a free agent signing, if injuries pop up at the position.)

Reason for optimism

It only seems right that a curious offseason by Seattle was kicked off with a decision to pair the oft-injured Dissly with the 35-year-old Olsen, who has a recent history of nagging foot injuries. The decision to double-down on injury-prone tight ends could backfire mightily, but if the team can get 16 games out of one of the two, it would lead to some of the steadiest tight end play Russell Wilson has ever received.

Either one of Dissly or Olsen can provide the Seahawks and Wilson with a reliable target over the middle in the short and intermediate areas, as well as up the seam. The presence of a reliable tight end rounds out a group of pass catchers, led by Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, who possess a fine balance of skill sets.

When both are healthy, Seattle will be able to up their usage of 12 personnel and other two tight end looks, and be more versatile than they have been over the previous two seasons.

The Seahawks’ decision to add Olsen has led to the team, on paper, having their best tight end group of Wilson’s career. Though not without risk, it could work out marvelously.

Where it could go wrong

It’s an easy thing to point towards, but it really stands out for the tight ends—health is going to be a massive question mark hanging over the group throughout the season. The possibility of, by mid-season, the unit being made up of Hollister, Parkinson, and Willson is not at all unlikely. Despite Hollister’s admirable performance a year ago, that’s not a position the team should be in—especially with a cap hit of $6.9 million on the books for Olsen.

Outlook

The small glimpses Seattle has gotten of Dissly over the last two seasons clearly show just how impactful a steady tight end threat underneath and up the seam can be. The third-year tight end is one of the true X factors of the offense. By bringing in Olsen, the Seahawks have at least increased their chances of getting a full season of reliable, high-end tight end play—while also opening up the possibility of running more two tight end sets with four quality pass catchers in Olsen, Dissly, Metcalf, and Lockett.

Injury questions will hang above everything but when healthy, Seattle’s tight end group is worth getting excited about.