We have likely witnessed the end of an era for the Seahawks. Seattle missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, and the harsh realities of age, the cruel logic of the salary cap, and the inevitability of injuries all now threaten the makeup of one of the NFL’s most stable rosters. The presence of Russell Wilson certainly provides Seattle with the foundation for a quick rebuild, if that’s what they choose to do—but there’s no denying the Seahawks are going to look very different next year.
First, there were the injuries. Cornerback Richard Sherman, safety Kam Chancellor, edge rusher Cliff Avril, left tackle George Fant, running back Chris Carson, and defensive tackle (and top pick*) Malik McDowell all spent at least the last seven weeks of the season on injured reserve. This spring, Avril turns 32, and Chancellor and Sherman will both be 30—and the NFL is notoriously unkind to players who are 30 and older. Then head coach Pete Carroll dropped this bomb about Avril’s and Chancellor’s neck injuries this week:
But there’s lots of writing on the wall in other places. Overthecap.com estimates the Seahawks will be among the teams with the least cap space this offseason, which is generally a not a good sign for older, high-priced veterans:
Defensive end Michael Bennett signed a contract extension just 13 months ago. But he’ll be 33 in November, he just played through a torn plantar fascia, and he’s got no guarantees remaining on his deal, which includes a $4 million roster bonus. “I probably won’t be back next year,” Bennett admitted after Sunday’s season-ending loss to the Cardinals.
Sherman could be gone, too. He’ll be coming off a torn Achilles, and the $11 million he’s due in 2018—the final year of his deal—is not guaranteed. Safety Earl Thomas is in a similar situation with the $8.5 million he’s contracted for next year. And the Seahawks tried to trade Sherman last offseason, while Thomas was recently caught on camera pitching his future services to the Cowboys.*
The Seahawks continued to be a mess along the offensive line, and their running game was a mirage; Wilson’s 589 rushing yards somehow led the team by more than 300 yards. (That the Seahawks won nine games and were only eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday owes much to Wilson having an MVP-caliber year.) Tight end Jimmy Graham and wideout Paul Richardson are due to become unrestricted free agents, and the Seattle Times this week reported that it’s “[g]enerally considered really unlikely” Graham will return. And those are only some of the decisions general manager John Schneider will have to make on his in-house free agents.
It’s not just the players, either. Pete Carroll used Twitter to personally dismiss rumors about a possible retirement, but his staff could get a shake-up. The heat is rising around assistant head coach/offensive line coach and so-called “run-game coordinator” Tom Cable, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, and special teams coach Brian Schneider. All three have been with Carroll since at least 2011, and now might be as good a time as any for some fresh blood in the coaches’ room.
The Ringer’s Danny Kelly—a Seahawks fan—doesn’t think a full-scale rebuild is in order, and he might be right. But all of this is happening as the Rams begin their ascent and the 49ers appear to have found their franchise quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo. No matter how the Seahawks approach their upcoming decisions, they may find themselves in an unfamiliar spot: playing catch-up.
* An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Malik McDowell was a first-round pick, and that Richard Sherman had requested a trade last offseason. Though multiple reports at the time stated it, Sherman later clarified that was not true.