Though the Seahawks currently sit in the NFC West cellar with a dismal 2-4 record, there are still 11 games left to play on the schedule. As coach Pete Carroll loves to say, the story of the 2021 season has yet to be written and time remains for the team to turn things around.
"As it is always the case, postponing judgement is a powerful tool if you have it and that’s what we have to do," Carroll told reporters on Monday. "We have to take it one game at a time just like we know how to do, but we have to stay really focused and postpone what the story is going to be. We know that is the truth but it’s hard to do, so that’s what we are going to go about doing. It’s a challenge, I have to lead the charge, and I’m going to kick ass on that.”
There's no question about it, however. Dealing with life without quarterback Russell Wilson, who underwent surgery on his right middle finger two weeks ago and is currently on injured reserve, Seattle has dug itself quite a hole to crawl out of in one of the NFL's best divisions and faces a tall task trying to work back into postseason contention. Historically, since the 16-game schedule came into existence in 1978, only 28 of the 261 teams that have started a season with a 2-4 record have made the playoffs. That's 8.8 percent of the time.
Interestingly, Carroll and the Seahawks have been able to overcome such slim odds as recently as 2015. The team started off 2-4 before rattling off eight wins in the final 10 games to earn a wild card berth and eventually advance to the Divisional Round of the postseason.
That year, the Seahawks got off to a slow start in large part due to a holdout by star safety Kam Chancellor, who sat out the first two games of the season seeking a new contract. Replaced by undrafted rookie Dion Bailey and Kelcie McCray, his absence was felt in back-to-back losses to the Rams and Packers to open the season.
After Chancellor returned in Week 3, Seattle righted the ship with consecutive wins at home against lowly Chicago and Detroit. But the defense didn't play up to its usual standards in losses to Cincinnati and Carolina the following two weeks, and suddenly, the team found its playoff hopes in peril.
But after a devastating prime time loss to the Cardinals in Week 7 dropped them to 4-5, the Seahawks rattled off five consecutive wins to clinch a wild card behind a scintillating stretch of play from quarterback Russell Wilson and receiver Doug Baldwin. A Week 17 blowout redemption win against Arizona ensured a fourth straight season of 10 or more wins.
Could this year's Seahawks go on a similar run? Nothing can be ruled out, especially if Wilson returns on the early end of his timeline, but aside from the fact they share the same Week 9 bye, the parallels seem to stop there when comparing that team to the current Seattle squad. The biggest reason? The talent gap is a stark one due to poor drafting and free agent whiffs, particularly this past offseason.
Facing a salary cap crunch like the rest of the NFL, general manager John Schneider and esteemed cap guru Matt Thomas didn't have much flexibility going into a new league year to bolster the roster around Wilson. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap was released to free up room, the team allowed starting cornerback Shaquill Griffin to depart for Jacksonville in free agency, and defensive tackle Jarran Reed eventually received a pink slip for refusing to take a pay cut.
Through six games, in a harsh reality for the franchise, it's difficult to find an offseason move made by Schneider that has panned out as hoped for the Seahawks.
In free agency, Seattle's three most notable signings were tight end Gerald Everett, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, and defensive end Kerry Hyder, who were all added on affordable one or two-year contracts. Schneider also dealt a fifth-round pick to Las Vegas for veteran guard Gabe Jackson to fortify the offensive line and brought back Al Woods as a replacement for Reed.
So far, a strong argument can be made Woods, a 34-year old defensive tackle who didn't even play in 2020, has been the most consistent and impactful player from that group. He's started all six games, producing modest numbers with 15 tackles, a sack, and three quarterback hits.
Reuniting with offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, Everett has flashed at times, but has caught just 10 receptions for 117 yards in four games and had to sit out two games on the reserve/COVID-19 list. While he's made positive contributions starting five games, Hyder has yet to register a sack and has only four quarterback hits. Witherspoon didn't even make it out of training camp before being jettisoned to Pittsburgh, leaving the team with a disastrous situation at cornerback.
Jackson, who many viewed as the biggest splash move made by Seattle this spring to appease a frustrated Wilson, hasn't yet allowed a sack in pass protection. However, Pro Football Focus has charged him with 10 pressures allowed and he hasn't been near as effective in the run blocking department, receiving lower than a 60.0 grade in four of the six games. He's been a serviceable starter, but it's debatable whether or not he has been the upgrade the organization envisioned when they traded for him.
Even players Schneider re-signed who were on last year's NFC West title team haven't lived up to expectations. Brought back on a team-friendly two-year deal, running back Chris Carson has missed the past two games with a neck issue and currently is on injured reserve with no timetable for return. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap has yet to record a sack in six games and has played three games this year without registering any statistics.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks were already hamstrung with just three draft picks in April and the trio of players selected with those picks - Dee Eskridge, Tre Brown, and Stone Forsythe - have dressed a combined four games. Eskridge hasn't played since Week 1 due to a concussion, Brown opened the year on injured reserve before making his debut on Sunday in Pittsburgh, and Forsythe has been a healthy scratch four times in favor of undrafted rookie Jake Curhan.
Though there's plenty of time for players such as Everett and Eskridge to emerge as viable contributors on offense, at this stage, the execution of Schneider's offseason plan can't be viewed as anything other than a colossal failure. Add in the fact former first-round picks Rashaad Penny and L.J. Collier haven't done anything except spend time on injured reserve or sit out games as healthy scratches and one of the league's most renowned front offices seems to have lost its way.
Always optimistic, Carroll won't allow the Seahawks to give up and his ability to galvanize a locker room cannot be overlooked. Though it hasn't always been the case in more recent history, he has a proven track record of getting his teams to play their best football in the second half of the season. Winning the next two games to get back to .500 would work wonders towards improving the team's postseason hopes, as teams with a 4-4 record since the inception of 16-game seasons have made the playoffs 31 percent of the time per Pro Football Reference.
From there, assuming Wilson returns after the bye, Seattle has several winnable games coming up on the second half schedule. It's possible players such as Everett, Eskridge, and Brown will emerge as key contributors down the stretch and help them get back to double-digit wins for the eighth time in 10 seasons. Once you're in the playoffs, as the Buccaneers proved last year, anything can happen in January.
But given the underwhelming production from free agent signings and draft picks, the fact Wilson will miss at least two more games recovering from surgery, and the fact the "Legion of Boom" isn't returning to save a dreadful defense, it's going to be much tougher for the Seahawks to go on a lengthy winning streak as they did in 2015 to vault back into playoff contention. Without such a turnaround, seismic changes could be coming next offseason for the franchise.