Although they haven't officially been eliminated from wild card contention, after losing their sixth game in seven tries on Monday night in Washington, the Seahawks won't be playing in the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
With coach Pete Carroll on the sidelines and veteran leaders such as Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner on the field, Seattle won't pack it in for 2021. The team will be keep battling with hopes of finishing the season on a strong note even if postseason aspirations have already been dashed.
But while Wilson, Wagner, and others will be gunning for wins, the Seahawks as an organization must begin evaluating for the future over the final six games. General manager John Schneider, Carroll, and others involved in the team building aspect of the operation need to get extended looks at young players who may factor into the franchise's plans in 2022 and beyond.
Inevitably, this means several veterans will be phased out of starting roles or see a dramatic reduction in playing time. Seattle has already kick-started this process, as evidenced by defensive end Carlos Dunlap playing only four snaps against Washington on Monday, and he shouldn't be the only one feeling a squeeze in regard to playing time in favor of younger alternatives in coming weeks.
In particular, the Seahawks have a lot of long-term question marks on the offensive side of the football to address. Wilson's future undoubtedly will remain a hot topic given the drama his camp cooked up last spring, but quarterback is far from the only position clouded by uncertainty heading towards the offseason.
First and foremost, Seattle needs to figure out how to proceed at both tackle positions as well as center for an offensive line that hasn't met expectations this year.
The decision not to extend left tackle Duane Brown turned out to be a wise one by Schneider, as the 36-year old has allowed seven sacks and played like a shell of his former self. Across from him, Brandon Shell hasn't been able to replicate his solid play from a year ago while battling numerous injuries. Both players will be unrestricted free agents in March and an argument can be made neither should be retained.
But if the Seahawks want to consider going that route, they need to see what they have in rookies Stone Forsythe and Jake Curhan. Can either one of those players eventually develop into a starter-caliber tackle? The organization won't be able to find out with them standing on the sidelines and at some point, they are going to have to see the field at Brown and Shell's expense. It's possible that could be done by rotating them in for a few series a game
Meanwhile at the pivot position, neither Ethan Pocic nor Kyle Fuller have played well enough to warrant consideration to start in 2022. Unfortunately, after opting not to draft Creed Humphrey in April, the team doesn't have any other viable alternatives to give a look aside from former CFL standout Dakoda Shepley, who was claimed off waivers in September.
Unless the Seahawks decide to give Shepley a shot, Pocic will likely start at center for the remainder of the season and regardless of what they choose to do, the team should be starting from scratch after mystifyingly neglecting the position last offseason.
Seattle also finds itself at a crossroads at running back. Chris Carson has been the engine that drives the rushing attack for the past four seasons, but staying healthy has been problematic and after undergoing neck surgery, it's possible he has played his last down in the NFL. Former first-round pick Rashaad Penny has been little more than a magnificent bust, failing to hit 900 rushing yards in four seasons due to a bevy of injuries. Alex Collins, who has started in Carson's place the past seven games, will be an unrestricted free agent.
Collins has played well enough in spurts to justify re-signing him on a cheap one-year deal next spring. But for the rest of this season, it would behoove the Seahawks to see what they have in their younger backs on the roster with 2022 in mind.
In his second season out of Miami, DeeJay Dallas has shown flashes of ability as a runner and receiver, though his pass protection has been questionable at best. He played more snaps than Collins on Monday, suggesting he could see a larger role in the final six weeks. Once he comes back from a calf injury, a bigger, stronger Travis Homer could see more playing time as well after performing well in limited action so far this season.
The wild card in Seattle's running back room remains undrafted rookie Josh Johnson, who made his NFL debut playing on special teams against Washington. Two years ago, he emerged as one of the nation's most productive runners at Louisiana Monroe and he runs with a punishing, physical style Carroll covets out of the backfield. On top of it, he's a reliable receiver who also performed well in pass protection in the preseason.
With the playoffs out of reach, giving an intriguing player like Johnson an extended audition to prove himself against top-flight NFL competition would make a lot of sense. If he plays well, the Seahawks could uncover a dark horse starting option for next season.
In terms of needs, receiver remains set for the future with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett under contract in 2022. But the final six games will be crucial for the development of second-round pick Dee Eskridge, who has yet to carve out a significant role in Seattle's offense in large part due to missing seven games with a severe concussion.
Since returning to action three weeks ago, Eskridge has played 29 total offensive snaps, catching three passes for six yards. The speedy receiver has largely been a non-factor in his rookie season and offensive coordinator Shane Waldron has to find ways to get him involved down the stretch to see where he fits into the offense's plans beyond this year. He also should continue to get looks as a kick and punt returner.
At tight end, Gerald Everett and Will Dissly are both scheduled to hit free agency in March, leaving only Colby Parkinson under contract for next year. The former Stanford standout enjoyed a strong training camp before breaking his foot and since being activated to the roster, he's barely been used in the passing game, catching two passes for a measly seven yards.
At 6-foot-7, Parkinson presents a matchup nightmare size-wise and has enough speed to beat linebackers and safeties in coverage down the seam. At worst, he should be a prioritized red zone weapon for Wilson, but the coaching staff hasn't made much of an effort to get him involved. If he's going to be a factor next year, now would be a good time to see what he can provide the passing game with more opportunities.
Defensively, the Seahawks have already been a bit ahead of the curve in regard to unleashing younger players in important starting roles. Jordyn Brooks and Darrell Taylor, first and second-round picks from the 2020 class, have both logged over 300 defensive snaps and played well in spurts. Brooks ranks second on the team with 113 combined tackles, while Taylor leads the team with 5.0 sacks.
Before going down with a season-ending torn patellar tendon, Seattle also had elevated rookie cornerback Tre Brown into the starting lineup. The fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma played quite well, allowing eight receptions on 17 targets for 75 yards and no touchdowns.
If there's one player who deserves the chance to start and showcase his skill set over the final six weeks, it's criminally underutilized defensive end Alton Robinson. Despite producing 4.0 sacks as a rookie last year, he's only played 29 percent of Seattle's defensive snaps with the team instead rolling with Dunlap and Benson Mayowa, who have combined to produce 1.5 sacks through 11 games.
Still with two years left under contract on his rookie deal, Robinson has shown enough upside when given the opportunity to suggest he could become a quality rotational rusher or even a starter. At this stage, keeping him on the sideline in favor of underperforming, aging veterans like Dunlap and Mayowa has to be viewed as malpractice and he should be getting a 50-plus percent snap workload from here on out.
As a disappointing season on all fronts slowly winds down, the Seahawks have little left to play for in regard to the standings. But the next six weeks will be crucial from an evaluation standpoint and how the coaching staff handles incorporating young players into the mix will have a strong bearing on roster decisions made this offseason and the overall outlook for the franchise.