The Seattle Seahawks as we’ve come to know them, the most interesting and polarizing NFL team of the 2010s, are no more.
It’s been a slow process that began two years ago with Marshawn Lynch literally hanging up his cleats during Super Bowl 50, but the football world heard the death rattle Wednesday, with news of defensive end Michael Bennett’s trade, and ominous smoke around the future of All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman.
After Lynch’s departure, the Seahawks saw linebacker Bruce Irvin leave in free agency, then career-threatening neck injuries for defensive end Cliff Avril and safety Kam Chancellor last year. News emerged Wednesday afternoon that Sherman had been saying his goodbyes to teammates this week, and that broke moments before Bennett, who had very publicly been on the trading block, was sent to Philadelphia (along with a seventh-round pick) for a fifth-rounder and receiver Marcus Johnson.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have tried to prepare their fans for this eventuality, with their most recent attempts coming at last week’s combine.
“Every offseason we approach it the same way: to compete as hard as we can to figure out the best ways to put our guys in the right positions, to do the right things, to make the right choices, to stay abreast at what’s going on in the league,” Carroll said. “And sometimes you’ve got to make some tough calls to get that done and put it in the right order. I really feel confident that we’ve done that. But there is a lot of work here, a lot of stuff to get better on before we figure all that out.”
Said Schneider: “You don’t want to miss any opportunity and that’s how we built this thing and that’s how we’re going to continue to build it. Now, do we have some challenges this year? Absolutely. We’re pretty disappointed the way the season ended. We went 9-7 and you would have thought that we won two games. It’s a pit that sits in your stomach and really fuels you. We’re excited about the challenges ahead because we feel like we want to get rolling on this thing.”
What should be particularly troubling for 12s is the seemingly few opportunities the Seahawks will have to rebuild quickly. First, a look at the landscape in the NFC West:
• The 49ers have one of the league’s best offensive play-callers as their head coach, paired with one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. And they’re coming off a December in which they beat three playoff-bound teams in consecutive weeks.
• The Rams have the reigning Coach of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and just traded for a cornerback (Marcus Peters) who has created 24 turnovers in his first three seasons.
• The Cardinals have a first-year head coach and no quarterback to speak of. But they have as talented a roster today, sans quarterback, as the Seahawks do.
And where is Seattle’s capital to build through either free agency or the draft? Including rollover, the Seahawks have $177.747 million to spend in 2018. Only four teams have less (though that comes before a possible Sherman release, which would free up $11 million).
If the Seahawks plan to build through the draft, they don’t have many chances there, either. Seattle owns just two of the first 120 picks: Nos. 18 and 120. That’s one first and one fourth in the first four rounds.
“So it’s kind of a fun challenge now,” said Schneider of his draft situation, apparently employing one of the lesser-used definitions of “fun.”
To be sure, the cupboard is not bare, and the Seahawks are not totally hitting the reset button in 2018. They still have one of the best players in the league at the most important position in sports, which accounts for a lot, even if Russell Wilson is currently participating in a spring training charade. Seattle reportedly wants to extend Earl Thomas, and though the Seahawks did not tag Sheldon Richardson, a deal can still be worked out.
But the Seahawks are still left with a poor offensive line that they’ve tried—and failed—to build for as long as they’ve been dominant. And even those remaining pieces will have to get acclimated to new coordinators on either side of the ball.
At the combine, Schneider recalled how the team built its success by playing their top players now, right away then. He listed off Sherman, Thomas, Byron Maxwell, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright all being thrown into the fire immediately. Then he began to lament, as many in his generation do, the players coming in today who evidently have a different perspective.
“You are getting to the point where we are interviewing these guys at the combine, or you are at the school interviewing them, and they are thinking to themselves, ‘Wow, I get to play with Kam Chancellor?’ No, you get to compete with Kam Chancellor.
“That’s the mindset we have to get back to. They are a little bit in awe, you know. You know, they were in eighth grade.”
This Seahawks core has been known to some of the 2018 draft prospects since middle school. But the team taking CenturyLink Field next fall will be harder to recognize.
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