The bad news is the Seattle Seahawks have a lot to figure out if they want to make a Super Bowl run in 2019, but the good news is they aren't as far away from achieving that goal as some would have you believe.
Following a long, drawn-out saga with All-Pro safety Earl Thomas -- one that featured the Dallas Cowboys being used as leverage, another fractured leg and the subsequent middle finger on his way to the Baltimore Ravens in free agency -- the Seahawks are now free to focus on who will be on the roster for 2019. No matter how they slice it, replacing the production of Thomas won't be easy, but they're also not strangers to the attempt when you consider Thomas' recent injury history. To help aid a secondary that is also without another All-Pro in Kam Chancellor, and a season removed from Richard Sherman being shown the exit, the Seahawks will depend on linebacker Bobby Wagner and the defensive front more than ever.
Currently stuck on a seesaw of bad versus good, though, that's the same front that no longer includes defensive end Frank Clark and defensive tackle Jarran Reed has been suspended six games to start the season. Still, all things considered, locking down quarterback Russell Wilson to a historic contract in and of itself keeps them in playoff contention for years to come, and there's more than an offensive weapon or two outside of Wilson that should take strides forward this coming season and help reduce the defensive snap count.
If the Seahawks can answer the more prevailing questions along with a few that aren't so glaring, there's no reason they shouldn't see one or more of the following predictions come true.
1. L.J. Collier breaks out with eight sacks in 2019
Yes, this is a lot to ask of a rookie pass rusher, but it's possible Collier can pull it off. The first-round pick is being dropped into a situation wherein Clark is out of Seattle and Reed won't return until mid-October, putting the onus on the former first-team All-Big 12 talent to produce right out of the gate. He'll get assistance on the opposite edge with a capable Ziggy Ansah, and if second-year defensive lineman Poona Ford levels up at the 3-tech role -- and it does appear he will -- Collier will have space to operate in a one-on-one capacity.
Learning how to rush the passer at the pro level is one of the more difficult tasks of an incoming prospect but, by all accounts, Collier wants all the smoke -- nearing a return to practice from an ankle sprain -- and that's music to the ears of a Seahawks team that's about to throw him into the fire.
2. Poona Ford becomes a top NFC interior lineman
Assuming Collier can satisfy my first bold prediction, and Ansah handles business on the opposite edge, Ford will be in a position to feast early and often in 2019. Peeking at his stat line from 2018 won't floor you, but circumstances were different during his rookie season with the Seahawks. The former first-team Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year can both clog up run lanes and enjoy his fair share of backfield disruptions, bolstered by the possibility of not being double-teamed this coming season.
Ford has outright dominated in Seahawks' training camp and looks ready to take the next step in his young NFL career.
3. D.K. Metcalf hits the ground running in his rookie season
No Doug Baldwin = no problem? Maybe. The Seahawks are keenly aware of what they lost when Baldwin retired this offseason, and they hope the decision to select Metcalf with the 64th-overall pick in April will help fill the void, at the very least. The good news for the rookie wideout is he won't be tasked with doing it all on his own, thanks to the proven game-breaking talent of Tyler Lockett. With the latter using his speed to take the top off of opposing defenses, Metcalf will have room to work underneath, where he can truly display his route-running and put his muscular 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame to good use.
For Metcalf, who will also have the uber-mobile Russell Wilson drawing the attention of linebackers, it's a match made in heaven.
4. Russell Wilson throws for 4,500 yards and 40 touchdowns
There's a reason the Seahawks signed Wilson to a four-year, $140 million contract with $107 million guaranteed, making him the highest-paid player in NFL history. It's because Wilson is a dynamo both in and out of the pocket, with an ability to make big plays as both a quarterback and as a pseudo-halfback in space. The problem for the Seahawks, however, remains a consistent inability to protect him when he's looking to stay put, but the bottom line is Wilson makes plays no matter what. He's accounted for a large part of the Seahawks offensive production over the years, and Lockett and Metcalf should draw coverage that allows him to work that much more effectively.
Wilson has never passed for 40 touchdowns -- believe it or not -- and only broke the 4,000-yard passing mark twice in his NFL career. With pressure to prove there will be no falloff following the extension, and with the Seahawks also wanting to bounceback after having been dismissed by the Dallas Cowboys in the latest NFC Wild Card game; Wilson has all the motivation (and surrounding talent) he needs to rack up career-best numbers.
5. Seahawks overtake Rams as NFC West champs
This won't be easy, for those that actually needed to read it in word form. The Los Angeles Rams were a well-oiled machine in 2018 and didn't see their train derailed until they hit the immovable force of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. To add insult to injury, the Seahawks were swept by the Rams last season, but that's where you should point your attention, though -- the final score of both contests. Sure, the Rams defeated their rival from the Pacific Northwest, but by a combined seven points, and that indicates the Seahawks can run with the high-powered Rams on any day of the week.
Head coach Pete Carroll has seen all the tricks Rams head coach Sean McVay will throw at him, and the Seattle roster has a bit more offensive firepower this time around. The defense will be the biggest question mark, but if players like Ford, Collier and a newly-signed Ansah can help Wagner dominate -- it'll take the pressure off of the secondary to defend Jared Goff's connection to his favorite targets.
From 2013 through 2016, the Seahawks were the crown jewel of the NFC West, winning the division three out of those four seasons. They've played second fiddle ever since, and although the Rams aren't taking a step back, the Seahawks might've taken a step or two forward.