This article is part of our Team Previews series.
STATE OF THE FRANCHISEIt's true, one is the loneliest number. One yard away from back-to-back Super Bowl titles, the Seahawks ... oh, you know the rest.
The Seahawks quickly moved on from their one-yard debacle, trading for Jimmy Graham a month later. A tight end in name only, Graham has the potential to transform into a juggernaut an offense that lacked downfield explosiveness and too often stalled in the red zone last season. The 6-foot-7 Graham gives the offense a big-bodied receiver it has sorely needed, and his mere presence alters defensive gameplans.
Last season, defenses often lined up without a deep safety, opting to stack the box against running back Marshawn Lynch. Wideout Jermaine Kearse's game-winning touchdown catch in the NFC championship was the exception to the rule against zero coverage, though. Risking an open deep middle this season is a less attractive option against Graham, who should make defenses pay for selling out against the run.
Theoretically, that should create more space for Lynch, who led the league in touchdowns last season (17) and finished fifth in scrimmage yards (1,673). After dealing with back spasms throughout last year, health could be his most important factor as he enters his age-29 season, which could be his last.
Health is also the key for the defense, which last year became the second team in NFL history to lead the league in fewest points allowed, fewest yards allowed and fewest passing yards allowed in consecutive seasons (1969-70 Vikings).
All-Pros Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor (second team) played the Super Bowl with significant injuries, though only Thomas is expected to be limited entering training camp. More significant, the defensive line needs better health this year after injuries ended nose tackle Brandon Mebane's season in Week 9 and whittled away depth, forcing Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril to play more snaps than preferred. The defense really suffered without Bobby Wagner, who had 104 tackles in just 11 games.
Undoubtedly, the biggest wild card is the offensive line, which lost two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger in the Graham trade and guard James Carpenter in free agency. The Seahawks, perhaps surprisingly, did not add significant offensive line pieces this offseason, apparently believing they can make up for in scheme what they lack in talent. That, with Lynch's league-leading broken-tackle rate and QB Russell Wilson's deception in the read-option, worked last year for the zone-blocking run game – the Seahawks rushed for the third-most yards in 30 years –- but pass protection told another story as Wilson was sacked 42 times (sixth) and constantly under pressure.
If the offensive line comes up aces (or just unsuited Ace-2), the Seahawks actually could be better than the previous two seasons and become the third team in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl three consecutive years.
Key AcquisitionsJimmy Graham – TE, Saints
Likely will be used more as a wideout than a tight end.
Ahtyba Rubin – DT, Browns
High-motor run-stuffer adds needed depth to the defensive line.
Tyler Lockett – WR, Kansas State (ROUND 3, 69th Overall)
The lightning-quick KR/PR solves return-game problems.
Frank Clark – DE, Michigan (ROUND 2, 63rd Overall)
Could be good value after domestic violence case caused draft stock to slip.
Key LossesMax Unger – C, Saints
The Jimmy Graham trade cost the team its best offensive lineman.
James Carpenter – G, Jets
The 2011 first-round pick moved on after an inconsistent stay in Seattle.
TEAM NOTESWHAT DOES Jimmy Graham MEAN FOR THE OFFENSE?
If nothing else, the Seahawks won't have to throw a goal-line slant to a No. 4 wideout. That's huge – Seattle was 29th in goal-to-go TD efficiency last season – but Graham, of course, means much more. The athletic freak will be used to create mismatches all over the field, running fade routes lined up wide, crossing routes from the slot and seam routes from in tight, taking advantage of defensive backs with his size and linebackers with 4.56 speed. Graham should also solve Russell Wilson's struggles on 21-to-30-yard passes (20th in completion percentage) and over the middle (29th in attempts). No longer can defenses exclusively stack the box against Marshawn Lynch – unless they want Graham one-on-one against a cornerback. At the goal line, Graham's 38.5-inch vertical and gigantic hands mean a lot of jump balls from Wilson. Graham's yards could slip with fewer targets in Seattle, but his red-zone use should mean a chance at double-digit touchdowns again.
BEAST MODE IS BACK – BUT FOR HOW LONG?
Lynch's will-he-won't-he retirement dance was put off another year after he signed a two-year extension in March. However, there are signs this could be his last year, not the least of which is an $11.5 million cap hit in 2016 for what would be a 30-year-old heavy-mileage back. That likely won't impact his use this season, though the addition of Jimmy Graham could. Defenses simply can't move a safety down as much this season. In similar situations last year (with three-plus WR), Lynch averaged 5.3 yards per carry. Graham, though, likely will poach goal-line touches from Lynch, who scored a league-high 11 touchdowns inside the 10-yard line last season on 26 attempts (second).
SEAHAWKS DEFENSE: HEALTH WANTED
New defensive coordinator Kris Richard, Seattle's third in the last four years, will look to help the unit become the first since the 1953-57 Browns to lead the league in fewest points allowed four consecutive seasons. Better health will help. The defensive line was thin to begin with last year, but numerous injuries crushed its depth, forcing Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril to play a combined 358 more snaps than in 2013. The Seahawks had an inconsistent pass rush, which evaporated in the Super Bowl when Avril was lost to a concussion. With Brandon Mebane, Jordan Hill (5.5 sacks) and Cassius Marsh returning from season-ending injuries and the additions of free-agent Ahtyba Rubin and rookie Frank Clark, the line will be more equipped this year. The Legion of Boom should be healthy for the season, as well, with only Earl Thomas questionable for training camp.
VALUE METERRising:Russell Wilson improved his fantasy stock with his legs last season. This season, it could be thanks to his arm after the trade for Jimmy Graham.
Declining:Marshawn Lynch might have one more year in him at an elite level, but he likely will cede goal-line opportunities to Graham.
Sleeper: The 6-5 Chris Matthews showed his potential in his Super Bowl coming-out party. He could have a regular role in the offense this year.
Supersleeper:Tyler Lockett will be used mainly as a returner, but perhaps his speed will be put to use in the passing game.
IDP WATCHBobby Wagner - LB
Racked up 104 tackles in 11 games last season. What could he do in a full season?
Earl Thomas -
Posted 195 tackles the last two years, but is coming off surgery for a separated shoulder.
Richard Sherman - CB
An NFL-high 24 interceptions the last four years, which is nine more than the next closest player despite fewer targets than any player in the top 5.