11/12/2018

What went wrong for the Seahawks, and where do they go from here?

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What went wrong for the Seahawks, and where do they go from here?

A long offseason — maybe the most important of the Peter Carroll/John Schneider era — awaits. Decisions will be made that will likely determine if Seattle proves to be a one-and-done Super Bowl champion or a team that like the Brady-era Patriots can win multiple titles.

A long offseason — maybe the most important of the Peter Carroll/John Schneider era — awaits. Decisions will be made that will likely determine if Seattle proves to be a one-and-done Super Bowl champion or a team that like the Brady-era Patriots can win multiple titles.

A long offseason — maybe the most important of the Peter Carroll/John Schneider era — awaits. Decisions will be made that will likely determine if Seattle proves to be a one-and-done Super Bowl champion or a team that like the Brady-era Patriots can win multiple titles.

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The Seahawks couldn’t play the “no respect’’ card entering the 2017 season.

Despite what appeared to be a steady decline since winning the Super Bowl following the 2013 season — a Super Bowl loss the following year, then consecutive defeats in the division round, the second one more decisive than the first — Seattle was a consensus pick to win the NFC West in 2017 and one of the betting favorites to get to the Super Bowl.

Consider that VegasInsider.com had Seattle at 8-1 to win the Super Bowl the week the season opened, behind only the New England Patriots.

That none of the projected success happened means this season has to be judged harshly, even acknowledging the impact of injuries to key players.

Windows for potential greatness don’t stay open forever and the legacy of this season is likely to be one of a wasted opportunity. That may be the best-case scenario for how this season is viewed later, the worst being as the beginning of the end.

“We should still be playing,’’ Seahawks coach Pete Carroll acknowledged during his season wrapup news conference this week. “But we didn’t get the job done to get that done and so what’s important is what are we going to do now.’’

A long offseason — maybe the most important of the Carroll/John Schneider era — awaits. Decisions will be made that will likely determine if Seattle proves to be a one-and-done Super Bowl champion or a team that like the Brady-era Patriots can win multiple titles with vastly different rosters surrounding a franchise quarterback.

As we watch what happens, here’s a position-by-position review of the season that was and a look at some of the tough calls that await.

QUARTERBACK

2017 in a nutshell: Russell Wilson tied a team record with 34 touchdown passes, accounted for all but one of the team’s offensive touchdowns, became just the fifth quarterback in the NFL since 1970 to lead his team in rushing, and yet somehow still left people wondering if he shouldn’t have done more.

Most perplexing was Wilson’s slow starts married with fast finishes. He threw just eight touchdown passes in the first half and set an NFL record with 19 in the fourth quarter. One thought on the difference: Wilson gets more assertive standing in the pocket and throwing it quickly and into tight windows as the games get more desperate and there’s less to lose.

The big question: Is there any reason to wonder about Wilson’s long-term future with the franchise? There are just two years left on Wilson’s contract, each coming with cap hits of more than $23 million that will take up roughly 13 percent of the team’s total cap allotment, each by far the highest of his career. That means the Seahawks may be just 12 months away from again facing the prospect of Wilson entering a free-agent year. What happens over the next 12 months figures to go a long way toward determining how solid the Wilson-Seahawks relationship is.

Season grade: B. Is that too low for a player who spent much of the year as an NFL MVP candidate and had little support from a consistent running game? Well, it’s also the fate of a franchise QB to be judged against exceedingly high expectations. Seattle needed Wilson to be a little better a little earlier more often in 2017.

The Seahawks went through a seemingly never-ending rotation of running backs. (Seattle Times photos)
The Seahawks went through a seemingly never-ending rotation of running backs. (Seattle Times photos)

RUNNING BACK

2017 in a nutshell: The tailback merry-go-round of 2016 lessened only slightly in 2017, though it didn’t do much good. The positive spin, one posited by Carroll this week, is that all may have been fine if Chris Carson had stayed healthy. That Seattle’s hopes were dependent on a rookie seventh-round pick speaks to the disappointing seasons of Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls, who combined for just 336 yards on 115 carries. Mike Davis provided a nice spark in the final months. C.J. Prosise did basically nothing in his second year and probably has just one season left before patience runs out completely. J.D. McKissic was a solid dual-threat but remains best in a situational role.

The big question: Will the Seahawks look to add a top-flight running back? Seattle undoubtedly has to add bodies as Lacy and Rawls are likely gone. And while Carson flashed ability when he played, Seattle’s recent run of injuries means the Seahawks shouldn’t count on one player to carry the load. An early draft pick on a running back, or a dip into free agency for one, wouldn’t be a surprise.

Season grade: D. Carson, Davis and McKissic would grade higher individually. But the group combined for fewer than 1,000 yards and only one rushing touchdown. You can debate the importance of establishing the run all you want. But Carroll wants to play football that way and Seattle has to get better running it in 2018.

TIGHT END

2017 in a nutshell: Jimmy Graham set a team record for tight ends with 10 touchdown receptions but otherwise didn’t make the impact the team hoped. Luke Willson and Nick Vannett were serviceable in complementary roles.

The big question: Will Graham be back? All signs seem to point to no as the 31-year-old will likely want to enter free agency for the first time in his career, and the Seahawks wouldn’t seem likely to make the kind of offer — or slap a franchise tag on him — that would prevent that from happening. Willson can also be a free agent. If Graham departs, Seattle will have to add at least one tight end.

Season grade: C-plus: The touchdowns were nice, but Graham too often seemed invisible.

[ Stone | Jimmy Graham: The star who never was » ]

RECEIVERS

2017 in a nutshell: Doug Baldwin’s stats dipped this year — 94 receptions in 2016 to 75 this year — but through no fault of his own, and Paul Richardson had his best season (44 catches for 703 yards). But Tyler Lockett seemed to take a while to find a groove after the broken leg of 2016 and the Seahawks seemed to miss Jermaine Kearse as neither Tanner McEvoy nor Amara Darboh did much in the fourth receiver role.

The big question: Will the Seahawks keep Richardson? Richardson will be a free agent and his big-play ability could make him highly sought. Seattle’s might let him hit free agency and see what happens.

Season grade: B-minus. If there was a quibble, it was consistency. Granted, that could be said of the entire offense. But the Seahawks seemed to need one more impact receiver, and a bigger one as well, to complement the starting trio, who are all 6-feet or less. The Jacksonville game highlighted Seattle’s need for a big receiver.

Seahawks offensive line and assistant head coach Tom Cable talks with his unit. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
Seahawks offensive line and assistant head coach Tom Cable talks with his unit. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)

OFFENSIVE LINE

2017 in a nutshell: Maybe the most-reviled position group in recent Seattle sports history spent most of the year giving its critics ammo, with 2016 first-round pick Germain Ifedi at the top of the anger list due to an NFL-high 20 penalties. The Seahawks tried to fix the line with a blockbuster midseason trade for former Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown. But injuries to Brown and left guard Luke Joeckel helped slow the progress. Justin Britt generally graded out well at center and rookie Ethan Pocic showed promise at right guard

The big question: Will there be big changes with the offensive line? Maybe not. Twitter-maligned offensive-line coach Tom Cable remains with the team with no evidence he’s going anywhere. And the line itself may remain largely intact — all but tackle Luke Joeckel of the starting five at the end of the year are under contract. Seattle won’t have a lot of cap room to make a huge splash in free agency and just one pick in the first three rounds. Carroll sent strong signals that the team may bring back most of this year’s group and hope that having Brown for an entire season and more experience playing together will solidify things. Seattle may not have much choice.

Season grade: D. At times, the line seems a too-convenient target of blame for all that ails the Seattle offense. But much of the criticism is also deserved. The blowout home loss to the Rams was all-too-revealing of how far the line has to go.

DEFENSIVE LINE

2017 in a nutshell: A preseason trade for Sheldon Richardson had many stating the Seattle line could be among the best in the NFL. But as became a common tale for the entire defense, injuries got in the way as Cliff Avril’s career likely ended in the fourth game and Michael Bennett played through foot and knee issues. Frank Clark, while generally playing well, also battled broken bones on each hand and Dion Jordan also missed a few games (though his emergence was one of the brightest spots of the season). Richardson also admitted he needed some time to adjust to Seattle’s scheme. And we won’t even mention Malik McDowell, last season’s top draft pick who did not play.

The big question: Will Bennett return? Bennett’s contract for 2018 — $5 .2 million in dead money and only $2 million in possible savings — made it seem a given he’d be back until rumblings began a few weeks ago that the team could consider trading or releasing him. Bennett is 32 and battling chronic injuries and Carroll’s comment that he thought Bennett’s play was impacted by some of the off-field stuff that happened this year seemed telling. The Seahawks might decide to get younger, even if the cap savings are minimal. Given all of that, Bennett’s trade value wouldn’t seem to be much, making a release a more likely option.

Season grade: B

LINEBACKERS

2017 in a nutshell: Other than when injured, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright were at the top of their game. Wagner set a franchise record with a sixth straight season of 100 or more tackles. And when healthy, Michael Wilhoite was serviceable at strongside linebacker. Injuries, though, exposed that the team still needs to improve its depth.

The big question: Will Seattle look to add to the linebacking corps? Seattle has not drafted a linebacker since Kevin Pierre-Louis in the fourth round in 2014. But that might change this year as the Seahawks saw a vast dropoff when Wagner and Wright were injured and might try to add a potential impact player behind them. Wright will also be entering the final year of his contract.

Season grade: A-minus. Wagner played at a Defensive Player of the Year level when healthy, and Wright’s value was obvious in the game he missed.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

2017 in a nutshell: It was a strange and star-crossed season for the Legion of Boom as safety Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman suffered season-ending injuries — and in Chancellor’s case potentially career-ending. Safety Earl Thomas appeared to be setting the stage for his eventual departure, while Jeremy Lane was traded and then forced to come back and one-time LOB fixture Byron Maxwell returned.

Oh, and rookie Shaquill Griffin proved as advertised while Seattle got a steal in nickelback Justin Coleman — who made Lane a reserve — and free agent Bradley McDougald proved to be a good signing, starting nine games as an injury replacement.

The big question: Will the trio of Chancellor, Sherman and Thomas ever play together again? Sadly, probably not. Chancellor may be forced to retire and the team could have a decision to make soon on what to do with him since his base salary of $6.8 million for 2018 becomes guaranteed if he is on the roster Feb. 9. Sherman has one year left on his deal and the Achilles injury complicates his future. He could well come back and play out his contract and show he’s healthy and then take it from there. Thomas also has just one year left on his contract and there is a possibility he could have played his last game as a Seahawk.

Season grade: B-minus. Injuries obviously hit this spot more than any other. But when healthy this was still a good group, and the replacements might have been better than expected.

Seahawks kicker Blair Walsh watches his final field goal attempt miss, as the Seattle Seahawks lose 26-24 to the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
Seahawks kicker Blair Walsh watches his final field goal attempt miss, as the Seattle Seahawks lose 26-24 to the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)

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2017 in a nutshell: Kicker Blair Walsh was such a disappointment that he is already a former Seahawk. and the coverage teams had some uncommon breakdowns at key times. There were some good individual performances from the likes of Coleman, Lane and Neiko Thorpe, but main returner Tyler Lockett was too often held in check.

The big question: Will Seattle start over at kicker and punter? The Seahawks have already signed free agent kicker Jason Myers as it begins the search to replace Walsh. More intriguing is if the team might release Ryan and save $2 million against the cap. The news that former Vikings punter Jeff Locke visited this week indicates Seattle is thinking about it.

Season grade: D. In theory, the decision not to re-sign Stephen Hauschka and go with Walsh made sense. It saved roughly $2 million and Hauschka had missed some big kicks down the stretch in 2016. But on the field it was a disaster and for all else that went wrong this season, reliable field goal kicking alone might have meant 11 or 12 wins.

COACHING

2017 in a nutshell: A team regarded as a Super Bowl contender didn’t make the playoffs, and while there are some valid reasons out of the control of a coach, the reality is that this was the most-underachieving team in the Carroll era. And for the first time since 2012 it enters an offseason not regarded as being on par with the best in the NFC.

The big question: Will there be significant changes to the coaching staff? None has become apparent, and it’s possible that any changes will be among position coaches rather than coordinators. While a vocal segment of the fan base is clamoring for significant turnover, Carroll may consider more that Seattle was a couple field goals away from winning 10 or more games for a sixth straight year, something only eight teams have done. That would be evidence that while improvement is needed, not everything is broken, especially in a league designed to bring everyone back to the middle.

Season grade: C. While acknowledging Carroll has led the Seahawks to their best run in team history, Carroll himself admitted there were too many issues that plagued this team from start to finish this year that never got fixed — namely, slow starts and penalties. Those need to change for the Seahawks to again reach the expectations that Carroll created.

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