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How the Seahawks reached the verge of losing their Hall of Fame QB — and maybe his coach too

·6 min read
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  • Seattle Seahawks
    Seattle Seahawks
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Russell Wilson
    Russell Wilson
    American football quarterback
  • Pete Carroll
    Pete Carroll
    American football player and coach

For the past nine seasons, the Seattle Seahawks have been synonymous with winning.

The Pete Carroll-Russell Wilson-John Schneider triumvirate won 107 games between 2012-2020, which included nine playoff wins, two Super Bowl appearances and one championship. Those accolades are second to the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady Patriots, who won 119 games during that span, appeared in four Super Bowls and won three of them.

All that work looks to be crumbling as the Seahawks currently sit last in the NFC West at 3-8 with no first-round draft pick, a broken offense and (seemingly) on the brink of losing Wilson. Carroll himself described the recent offensive stagnation as “a mystery” after the Seahawks lost to the first-place Arizona Cardinals, 23-13, a week after being shut out by the Green Bay Packers.

How did we get here? How did a buzzsaw of a team with a superstar quarterback, innovative head coach and a talented roster get to the brink of collapse? As with most types of erosion, it’s something that has been happening slowly over time and never corrected despite obvious signs of wear and tear, and need.

How did it come to this for the Seattle Seahawks? (Atay Bulut/Yahoo Sports)
How did it come to this for the Seattle Seahawks? (Atay Bulut/Yahoo Sports)

From draft genius to draft blunders

The most obvious place to start is the NFL draft, the tool the best teams use to stay good. Schneider and Carroll built the foundation of their mini-dynasty behind three consecutive home-run drafts. The Seahawks took a whopping 16 starters from 2010-2012, including Legion of Boom stars Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman as well as other defensive studs like Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Malcolm Smith and Bruce Irvin. All seven of those players played integral roles in the rise of the dominant Seattle defense. The biggest pick, though, was Wilson in the third round of the 2012 draft that effectively ignited the team’s rise for the past decade.

Seattle's draft hits dramatically stalled after those three classes. The Seahawks failed to fortify their roster as they did in years past, and only seven of Seattle’s past 72 picks either still play for the team and/or are starters/major contributors. It doesn’t help that the team has had just four first-round picks since 2013 and missed on all of them. Seattle won’t have a 2022 first-round pick, either, after trading that and the team’s 2021 pick to the Jets for safety Jamal Adams.

Those eight years of bad drafting left a team devoid of depth and reliant on trades, free agency and unproven players. The Seahawks rode the coattails of Schneider’s early draft success and slowly lost their core players over time. Wilson papered over a lot of issues with his incredible play under center, but 2021 is the first sign that the once rock-solid infrastructure is almost gone.

Seattle’s point differential of plus-6.32 points per game ranked second behind the Patriots between 2012-2020. This year, it ranks 20th at minus-1.5 points per game. The offense finished top 10 in points averaged during Wilson’s past eight seasons. This year: 25th in the league. The defense, the hallmark of Carroll’s teams during the Legion of Boom years, has dropped from allowing the fewest points and yards per game between 2012-2016 to some of the highest marks between 2017-2021.

It doesn’t help, too, that the offensive woes never improved during Wilson’s career. Seattle allowed a top-10 adjusted sack rate every year between 2013-2020, per Football Outsiders, and currently rank second after Week 12. Wilson is also the most-sacked quarterback since 2012 with 416 sacks — 70 more than the second-most in Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.

All of those mistakes pile up and culminate in the season the Seahawks are having now, and it will likely end with at least one of the three architects of Seattle’s rise leaving the Emerald City.

Pete Carroll, not Russell Wilson, should be the first one to go

The odds-on favorite to move on from the Seahawks is Wilson, whose displeasure with the organization boiled over this past offseason and couldn’t have improved throughout the year. He'd command a high price from suitors, which would in turn aid Seattle's efforts to find his replacement and bolster the rest of the roster. But Carroll and Schneider might not get the choice in their future, either, if the team can’t find a way out of the hole it slowly dug for itself over the past eight years.

Carroll’s exit should come before Wilson’s. The 70-year-old coach seems resigned to failure while the rest of his contemporaries in the division quickly rise. He looks lost among the young, innovative coaches around him. The youth of Rams coach Sean McVay (35), 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan (41) and Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury (42) has created one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. And the Seahawks look ill-equipped to combat it.

It doesn't seeem like Russell Wilson will be a Seahawk much longer. Pete Carroll should probably join him in leaving. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
It doesn't seeem like Russell Wilson will be a Seahawk much longer. Pete Carroll should probably join him in leaving. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Part of that is Carroll’s fault. He remains an advocate of a run-heavy approach on offense, but that works only if your team is good enough to move the ball on the ground. Seattle owned a solid rushing attack up until the 2019 season but has since been unable to establish the run, which in turn created a one-dimensional offense that funneled through Wilson. When Wilson failed, so did the team, and it has never been more obvious since the second half of the 2020 season through this year when Wilson injured his finger. Seattle couldn’t even beat the Colt McCoy-led Cardinals that didn’t have Kyler Murray or superstar receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

“I’m just not any good at [losing]. I’m just not prepared for this,” an exasperated Carroll said after the Week 11 loss. “I’m struggling to do a good job of coaching when you get your butt kicked week in and week out. It’s new territory and I’m competing in every way I can think of, but it’s just unfamiliar."

What comes next remains uncertain. The easiest solution is to hit the detonator, move on from Carroll, rebuild the team by trading Wilson for a bevy of draft picks and hope the next regime can quickly find its footing in a competitive division. That’s a hard pill to swallow for a team that has won so much over the past decade.

The other option is to push through what some would describe as an off-year and hope the fluke of a season won’t extend into 2022. It could be tough to fill the gaps on the team without another first-round pick and just six selections in the 2022 draft as well as 25 impending free agents. Seattle will have an estimated $54 million in salary-cap space, but the team’s history of free-agent signings hasn’t been great over the years.

The future of Seattle hinges on the team’s final six games this season. A late-season push could quell the frustrations of the organization, and the Seahawks have one of the easiest remaining schedules. But the team’s recent struggles would indicate the demise of one of the winningest teams of the 21st century.