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Seeing Parallels to 2011, Pete Carroll Preaches Continuity As Seahawks Begin Critical Offseason

Coming off a 10-loss season, fans should expect significant changes in Seattle over the next few months. At the same time, Carroll believes building the roster through continuity remains important and hopes to retain many of the team's impending free agents as they look to make a similar jump to the 2011 team from a decade ago.

In 12 years roaming the sidelines for the Seahawks, coach Pete Carroll has failed to lead his team to the postseason a grand total of three times. The first of those three instances came back in 2011, his second year with the franchise when the organization remained in the midst of a major roster overhaul.

After shocking the entire league and upsetting the Saints in the wild card round despite winning the NFC West with a 7-9 record, Carroll and general manager John Schneider executed dozens of transactions in the offseason. Among those moves, they let veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck walk and replaced him with journeyman Tarvaris Jackson. They also began mixing in several promising, yet unproven youngsters into the starting lineup, including linebacker K.J. Wright and cornerback Richard Sherman.

Those choices didn't lead to improved success in the win column, however. Even with Marshawn Lynch pacing the ground game, the Seahawks lost three of their first four games and finished the first half with a 2-6 record. Despite a flurry of wins in the second half, they still finished with a 7-9 record identical to the year before and no playoff berth this time around. They finished 23rd in the NFL in scoring.

But despite failing to qualify for the postseason, Carroll entered the following offseason with lofty expectations for his team heading into the future. He saw a championship-caliber team materializing right in front of his eyes with Lynch, Sherman, safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, and Wright emerging as stars and leaders in the locker room.

Sure enough, spearheaded by the arrival of quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Seahawks indeed took a huge step forward the next season as Carroll anticipated and even won a playoff game. One year later, Carroll and his players were hoisting a Lombardi Trophy at MetLife Stadium.

With Seattle failing to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017 this season, Carroll has been persistently questioned about what went wrong for a team that entered training camp with Super Bowl aspirations. Though obviously disappointed by a dismal 7-10 record and last place finish in the NFC West, after winning their final two games on the schedule, he sees some parallels between this year's team and the 2011 squad as the franchise enters a crucial offseason.

"We were able to see the team that we can become over the course of this year. We didn’t get other things done, but we did see that," Carroll told reporters on Monday. "I told them today, I remember telling Kam [Chancellor] and [Richard Sherman] and those guys when they were in here years ago that in this room right now is the nucleus of a championship team that we’ll add to and we’ll bring in and support, but the guys in this room are the guys that are going to make this happen. That’s what it feels like, and we should be excited about it. I am. I’m excited about the chance of coming back and playing cleaner, sharper, more physical football than we did this year more consistently."

When comparing the seven-win 2011 and 2021 teams, it's worth noting there are clear, stark differences between them. One team had a franchise quarterback in Wilson under center, while the other one did not. One team had multiple high-priced All-Pro talents on defense, while the other one was largely filled with replaceable veterans. One team had the core of a 12-4 division championship team returning, while the other one had only a handful of players back from the previous playoff team.

From those perspectives, Carroll's comparison doesn't hold much water. But that doesn't mean he's completely off base either.

While the Seahawks finished with an identical 7-9 record compared to his first season at the helm in 2011, a strong second half spearheaded by rising young players set the stage for future playoff success.

While the Seahawks finished with an identical 7-9 record compared to his first season at the helm in 2011, a strong second half spearheaded by rising young players set the stage for future playoff success.

Much like the 2011 team - which rattled off five wins during their last eight games - this years carnation of the Seahawks ended the season riding a wave of momentum, winning four of its final six games. The two games they lost during that stretch easily could have been wins with a few more bounces falling their way and better execution.

Improved play from Wilson, who missed three games recovering from right middle finger surgery and didn't play well in the first three games after he returned to action, played a big part in Seattle's strong finish. But the team also received contributions in all three phases from numerous young players, particularly on offense in the final two games when they scored a combined 89 points in victories over Detroit and Arizona.

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Finally healthy and able to showcase his immense talents, Rashaad Penny put an exclamation point on a phenomenal final month, rushing for 364 yards and three touchdowns in those last two games alone. Opening holes for him up front, undrafted rookie Jake Curhan continued to improve and third-year guard Phil Haynes performed well starting one game apiece at both guard spots. Receiver Freddie Swain caught three passes for 90 yards and a touchdown, averaging 30 yards per catch.

Defensively, Cody Barton stepped in for an injured Wagner and racked up 19 tackles, a tackle for loss, and a pass breakup in his first extended NFL action at middle linebacker. Beside him, Jordyn Brooks broke Wagner's single-season tackles record and Darrell Taylor wrapped up his de facto rookie season with 6.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hits.

Even on special teams, as Carroll cited specifically, undrafted rookie running back Josh Johnson blew up kick returner Greg Dortch, firing up teammates on the sideline.

"Such positive opportunities for those guys to show themselves, and they played well too. In that situation, they could have not done well, but they did well," Carroll said. "It was just great that guys got those opportunities... All of those things are good signals for these guys [moving forward]. I’m really happy for them that they got the chance to show something before the season was over.”

Aside from Haynes, who will become a restricted free agent in March and could easily return to Seattle, all of the aforementioned young players will be either exclusive rights free agents or under club control in 2022. A number of them, including Curhan, could be full-time starters next season and provide much-needed building blocks for contending in the future.

Aside from the youth, what else gives Carroll such optimism? While his DNA is wired to see the glass half full, Wilson, Adams, and running back Chris Carson will all be back fully healthy. Other key veterans such as defensive end Carlos Dunlap and receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf remain signed through at least 2022. The Seahawks also should have cornerback Tre Brown back from injury and receive far greater production from receiver Dee Eskridge, who was dogged by his own injuries as a rookie.

Considering that nucleus of veterans and intriguing young players, Carroll believes the key for the Seahawks rebounding from a last place finish and jumping right back into contention for an NFC West title and more centers around the team's ability to retain several of their own unrestricted free agents.

While this may seem like a strange strategy for a team coming off a losing season, Seattle does have several quality players set to hit the market who would be difficult to replace. Starting free safety Quandre Diggs, who made the Pro Bowl each of the past two seasons, should be a top priority to re-sign. Cornerbacks D.J. Reed and Sidney Jones surfaced as viable starters, while tackle Duane Brown looks like he still has quality football left in him. Penny and tight end Gerald Everett both could warrant new deals as well to further bolster the team's skill positions.

"I want to make sure that all of the guys that are with us, that we get our team back together, which is the effort through free agency," Carroll stated. "We want to make sure that we’re able to reconnect with our guys and get them back on the roster so we can build with continuity. That is the important part."

Keeping all of those players won't be easy or cheap. But per OverTheCap.com, the Seahawks have an estimated $52 million in cap space available heading towards free agency. This should allow Carroll and Schneider ample flexibility to retain the players they want back while also adding a few pieces around Wilson and the rest of the returning core of players on the roster.

Although Carroll didn't delve much into the subject on Monday, he indicated addressing Seattle's inconsistent pass rush would be near the top of the team's wish list. If they can add a quality rusher or two to the mix with Dunlap and Taylor while bringing back most of their top free agents to build around Wilson, he doesn't see any reason why the franchise can't dramatically improve its record and jump right back into the fray as a contender in the NFC next year.

"With attending to the issues that we had, we should clean those things and we should be good. We have a very challenging division, and we’re going to have to be really good. Like I said before, if you make it through this division, you should have chance to win the whole thing. That’s what we’re aiming at.”