SEATTLE — The Seattle Seahawks are hiring Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald as their next head coach and giving him a six-year contract, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Wednesday.
Macdonald, 36, becomes the NFL’s youngest head coach and brings to Seattle a reputation as one of the league’s top defensive minds, having led the Ravens to No. 1 in points allowed, sacks and takeaways in 2023 — his second season as Baltimore’s D-coordinator. Macdonald will replace longtime coach Pete Carroll after the Seahawks announced earlier this month that Carroll, 72, would not return as the coach in 2024. Carroll remains with the Seahawks as an adviser.
Taking a closer look, Seahawks reporter Brady Henderson answers some of the big questions surrounding the hire, national reporter Dan Graziano dishes on what he’s hearing about Macdonald and NFL draft analyst Matt Miller spins it forward to the draft. Finally, front office analyst Mike Tannenbaum grades the Seahawks’ hire.
What makes Macdonald a good fit in Seattle, and why did the Seahawks go this direction?
Henderson: The Seahawks aren’t going to get back to their glory days of a decade ago unless they can get by the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams, NFC West foes coached by brilliant offensive minds that have had Seattle’s number of late. San Francisco has been the far superior team talent-wise in recent seasons, but both division rivals have had a major edge over Seattle in terms of offensive scheme.
That presented a central question in the Seahawks’ coaching search: Should they hire an offensive coach who will keep up in scoring with Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, or a defensive coach who will help stop them?
Who knows which would have been the choice had Lions OC Ben Johnson still been in play, but with Johnson opting to stay in Detroit, Macdonald felt like an easy call. After all, he coordinated what has arguably been the NFL’s best defense over the past two seasons and without a doubt the top unit in 2023.
Baltimore became the first team in NFL history to allow the fewest points (16.5 per game), total the most sacks (60) and record the most takeaways (31) in the same season, per ESPN Stats & Information.
And perhaps most encouraging for the Seahawks is what that defense did to San Francisco in Baltimore’s 33-19 win over the 49ers on Christmas night. The Ravens had five interceptions of Brock Purdy, whose 7.1 QBR in that game was his worst over two NFL seasons.
How can Macdonald improve this struggling defense?
Henderson: Macdonald can help here by bringing in an upgraded scheme and getting more out his players than Seattle’s previous defensive coaches did. It has been a bottom-tier unit the past two seasons, particularly against the run. And while the Seahawks were undermanned up front in 2022, their entire defense underachieved in 2023 after an offseason overhaul of their front seven, as well as the additions of cornerback Devon Witherspoon and safety Julian Love on the back end.
It was a much different story in Baltimore, where several Ravens defenders took major jumps and had career seasons. That includes former Seahawks edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney, who posted the fifth-best pass rush win rate and tied his career-high with 9.5 sacks. Defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (13 sacks) and safety Geno Stone (seven interceptions) are two other examples of players breaking out.
All three will be free agents, as will inside linebacker Patrick Queen and edge player Kyle Van Noy. Queen and Madubuike may be too expensive for the Seahawks, given that they’re currently projected to be about $4 million over the cap before subtractions or restructures. But the others could end up more in Seattle’s price range.
And even if Macdonald doesn’t bring several players from Baltimore’s defense to Seattle, the Seahawks have to be excited about what he can do with Witherspoon, a versatile cornerback who made the Pro Bowl after an excellent rookie season.
What does Macdonald’s hiring mean for Geno Smith’s future and the quarterback situation?
Henderson: Smith has felt like less than a lock to remain in place after his up-and-down 2023, particularly since Carroll was fired. Carroll was one of Smith’s biggest supporters in the organization and had final say over personnel decisions.
That power now belongs to general manager John Schneider, and while he will ultimately decide what to do with Smith and the QB situation, he will weigh input from his new head coach. It’s worth noting in that regard that Smith’s worst performance as a Seahawk came in the blowout loss to Baltimore in November, when he posted his lowest Total QBR (12.1) in 35 starts with Seattle.
Smith has two years and $47.5 million remaining on the three-year, $75 million deal he signed last March after making the Pro Bowl and winning NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2022. That includes a $12.7 million base salary for next season that will become fully guaranteed if he’s still on the roster on Feb. 16. His strong finish to 2023 may have put the questions about his future in Seattle on hold, especially since the Seahawks don’t have a top-10 pick (they pick at No. 16) or a second-rounder. But if Schneider and Macdonald decide to move on from Smith this offseason, Feb. 16 is a logical deadline to cut him, though not necessarily to trade him.
What are you hearing around the league on the hire?
Graziano: There had been a building expectation over the past week or so that Seattle would target Macdonald, and it seems that was the case. While the Seahawks were impressed with other candidates, most people I talked to believe one of the reasons they moved on from Carroll was his seeming inability to adjust his defenses to consistently compete with those Shanahan and McVay offenses twice a season in their division, as Brady mentioned. Macdonald’s Ravens stifled Shanahan’s 49ers (not to mention the Seahawks) this season.
Seattle, which had the oldest coach in the league in Carroll, decided to go hard the other way and hire a promising young leader in Macdonald. He seems universally well-regarded around the NFL for the complexity, creativity and effectiveness of his defensive schemes.
As one front office member told me, “Don’t forget, that was his defense that won Michigan the national title this year.” (Macdonald was Michigan’s defensive coordinator in 2021 and led the installation of the scheme that the Wolverines now use.) Ravens players talked in recent weeks about how much he cares, and Macdonald seems to be the kind of coach who gets the best out of each individual player. This is a hire that’s going to receive a lot of praise from many different corners of the league.
Which defensive prospect could be a fit for Macdonald in the middle of Round 1?
Miller: I like the fit for Texas defensive tackle Byron Murphy II at No. 16 overall. Macdonald goes to Seattle fresh off molding Ravens interior pass-rusher Madubuike into one of the best defensive tackles in the league. And while the Seahawks have lockdown talents in the secondary and good youth at defensive end, they don’t have an interior playmaker. Murphy has outstanding quickness and strength, and he has experience playing on and inside of the tackle in college.
A top-20 player on my board, Murphy — who had five sacks in 2023 — gives MacDonald his new version of Madubuike. In fact, that’s my pro player comp for the 6-foot-1, 308-pound standout. It’s a perfect pairing in Seattle.
How would you grade this hire?
Tannenbaum: A. Macdonald is innovative, poised and insightful beyond his years, and we’ve seen his defensive scheme work well both in the NFL and college. I see limitless upside here for Seattle.