Plenty of teams would be pleased with the Seattle Seahawks’ results this season.
The Seahawks weathered some major injuries to go 9-7. Russell Wilson made a case for NFL MVP. They lost five games by a touchdown or less, and three games by a field goal or less. With just a couple more breaks, the Seahawks would have made the playoffs. They’d have been dangerous in the postseason too.
But it wasn’t a typical oh-so-close unlucky 9-7 season. This Seahawks season seemed different, like the first signs of a truly great run breaking apart. Seattle won’t just run it back next season and hope for the best. The Seahawks will be drastically different. They fired offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and then offensive line coach Tom Cable, Seattle’s two most notable offensive assistants. Defensive coordinator Kris Richard would be allowed to leave for another opportunity, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said. This is a major overhaul. And you have to wonder what it means for Pete Carroll, and what’s next for him.
Make no mistake, the next coach the Seahawks hire won’t be as good as Carroll, unless they’re insanely lucky. Carroll is 79-48-1 as Seahawks coach. Frame the Seahawks’ run this way: This is the first NFL season since 2011 in which the Seahawks won’t win a playoff game. That was the season Wilson spent at the University of Wisconsin. And of course in the past few years they won the franchise’s first Super Bowl, and probably would have won a second had they given the ball to Marshawn Lynch at the 1-yard line against the Patriots. It has been a remarkable stretch, one that most franchises dream of. And yet Carroll is starting to hear questions about his future. It would seem foolish to voluntarily move on from a coach like Carroll, but usually when a team starts to get rid of its coordinators the next thing that happens is either an immediate turnaround or the head coach gets fired. It’s also conceivable that Carroll, the oldest NFL coach at age 66, might want to retire or pursue something else.
The tough question for the Seahawks is whether this remarkable run was a rare confluence of some amazing talent, or if the Seahawks can sustain this level. They had an incredible run of home-run draft picks and smart signings. Free agency chipped away at the roster. Lynch retired. Before next season kicks off, the Seahawks could lose safety Kam Chancellor and defensive end Cliff Avril to injury-forced retirements, and they might also lose or cut ties with defensive end Michael Bennett, cornerback Richard Sherman and tight end Jimmy Graham. That’s a ton of great talent that might be out the door. Not only is the coaching staff undergoing a major overhaul, the roster might too. The Seahawks got so good so fast, with many young players who commanded huge contracts, that we knew this core had an expiration date. At the very least there will be some difficult decisions coming in the offseason.
The Seahawks aren’t guaranteed to just keep rolling with a new cast. They weren’t very good before Carroll. Seattle won seven playoff games in 34 seasons before Carroll arrived, then won nine postseason games in Carroll’s first eight seasons. The Seahawks had some good seasons in the 2000s that included a Super Bowl appearance, but they weren’t an NFL power until Carroll and general manager John Schneider were hired in 2010. Building a mini-dynasty was hard, and keeping it going might be harder.
There is hope. The toughest piece for any team to acquire is a franchise quarterback, and Wilson is just 29 years old. There are other very good players in place, such as linebacker Bobby Wagner, safety Earl Thomas and receiver Doug Baldwin. However, they also traded their second-round pick (for Sheldon Richardson) and third-round pick (for Duane Brown) and currently only five teams have less projected 2018 cap space according to Spotrac. That could improve with some cuts, but not enough to totally rebuild on the fly.
Wednesday’s moves seemed like the first step in trying to squeeze one last bit out of this group, or the first signs of a rebuild. It’s possible the Seahawks reload without any major dip. Any team with Wilson should always be competitive. But for the first time in a long time, we don’t know what the Seahawks will be.
No matter what, the Seahawks team of the past few years has a spot in NFL history. What happens next will determine if there’s more to this run than just those six great years.
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