Seahawks moves at tight end give a clear picture of offensive philosophy

The Seahawks made some noise late on the first day of free agency. For now, I’m more interested in a pair of moves the team (reportedly) made at tight end.

The Seahawks made a 303-pound splash when they re-signed defensive tackle Jarran Reed to two year contract, reportedly worth up to $23 million in total value. I’m more interested in a pair of smaller transactions by Seattle. Both involve tight ends, and backups at that. But there are good reasons to be intrigued by the prospect of both Jacob Hollister and Luke Willson staying at CenturyLink Field.

Trust me, we’ll be talking about Mr. Reed a lot. What fascinates me is that the Seahawks are making it very clear just how much they value the tight end position. Consider all the needs the team has. For one example, 69 percent of their defensive line snaps were hitting free agency (there’s Mr. Reed again). Yet the first player they signed in the offseason was a tight end. Granted, they got a pretty good one in Greg Olsen. He won’t put up the numbers he did in Carolina, but that’s only because Seattle has such depth at the position. Especially after the last 24 hours.

The Hawks already have the extremely good Will Dissly, of course. The only problem with Uncle Will is that he’s missed 16 games, both seasons ending with injuries. Between him and Olsen, the Seahawks have a pair of extremely effective receivers and blockers. They’ll create nasty matchups through the air, especially in the red zone, and help spring Chris Carson and his stablemates for big gains on the ground.

Obviously, two top-notch tight ends aren’t enough for the Seahawks. Seattle tendered last year’s surprise star Jacob Hollister a second-round offer Monday evening. Talk about great scouting; the Hawks rescued Hollister from New England, seeing a guy who could potentially move the chains. With all the injuries last season, all he did was finish third on the team in receptions. Not bad for a guy who was picked up in a trade so late on draft day that most reporters had already filed their wrap-ups. Hollister isn’t the best blocker, but he can certainly catch the ball.

The latest news is that Luke Willson, – yes, the god of Techno Thursday –  will be back in Seattle this season. While the team hasn’t confirmed this yet, the source seems pretty reliable, as it’s Willson himself. He saw minimal action last year, with eight catches in the same number of games. But five of those balls moved the chains, so he had several key moments for the Hawks. Add in that he’s another excellent blocker, and there’s plenty to like about the return of Luuuuke.

No, the Hawks are not likely to carry four active tight ends on game day. Considering the injury histories of Dissly and Olsen, it’s quite likely the Hawks will need that fourth tight end in rotation throughout the season, though. What this tells me is that Pete Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer expect to use the tight end more than ever this season. That, and they don’t want to be in the same spot they were in last year, and hope the guy they signed for the practice squad pans out as a starter.

Here’s why I say the Hawks have made these moves to do a bit of a reset on their offensive philosophy. In 2014, the year before Jimmy Graham arrived, Seattle targeted their tight ends 84 times. With the former Saints star on the field, the targets jumped to 122. That’s a 45 percent in increase. With Graham on the team, the targets stayed consistently high, with 120 in 2016 and 133 in 2018.

2018 saw the departure of Graham and the arrival of Dissly. Hawks tight ends were only targeted 86 times that season, almost exactly back to the pre-Graham era. Had Dissly not been injured in the fourth game of the year, Seattle would very likely have maintained that high pace. Through the first three games, Uncle Will averaged just under 40 snaps per game. He was targeted 13 times in those contests, over four times per game. That projects to 69 targets had he played the full season. It’s also reasonable to assume the Hawks would have used him even more as the season progressed, considering that he was targeted seven and eight times in his most productive 2019 games.

Seattle started relying on the tight end more frequently in 2019, with 102 targets. Remember that Jacob Hollister, the last-minute draft steal, finished third on the team in receptions. That’s despite the fact he was on the practice squad for the first five games and wasn’t even targeted in his first game. Prorate his production over 16 games and you’ll have 94 targets. That would have been seventh in the league, right behind Austin Hooper.

The offer to Hollister shows just how much the Seahawks value him. That second-round tender means another team can make an offer, but if Seattle chooses not to match the deal, they’ll receive a second-round pick for him. It isn’t very likely any team will value him that highly. Plus it will earn him a sweet $3.2 million deal. It also means Ed Dickson will be seeking employment elsewhere.

Next: Four free agent targets for Seattle

The (apparent) signing of Willson tells me Seattle is taking no chances this season. With both Dissly and Olsen being something of an injury risk, the team clearly wanted to have a reliable player ready to step in, if needed. Wilson isn’t the threat through the air as any of the other three, but he’s a far better blocker than Hollister. He doesn’t exactly have hands of stone, either. The Hawks tight end room is in the best shape since, well, probably ever.

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