Hey look, I get it, losing sucks. Teams like the Seahawks have a finite championship window. On the one hand, that’s a good thing because it means we have a good team. The Cleveland Browns don’t have a finite championship window because they suck! On the other hand, that championship window is going to close sooner or later, if it hasn’t already. For what it’s worth, I think the future still looks pretty promising, but that obviously comes with the fact that they have work to do on the player personnel side.
Before I get into the promising future, let’s take a quick look back. We’re at the end of the best 5-year run in franchise history! 56-23-1, or a .706 winning percentage. That easily bests any of the best 5-year runs in the 80’s, as well as that superb 5-year run in the Holmgren years. This includes the fact that we’ve won at least 10 games AND made the playoffs AND won at least one playoff game every season since 2012. Only the Patriots have done that, and they enjoy the luxury of having the very worst divisional opponents this side of the AFC South. On top of that, factor in 3 divisional championships, 2 Super Bowl appearances, and 1 championship, and you could say the Seahawks have been pretty hashtag-blessed in this run.
All the while, the Seahawks have remained one of the youngest teams in the NFL. Now, more and more, that’s a result of the back-end of our roster being filled with rookies, but the players at the top are still in their primes, which means we’ve got at least 2-3 more years of this championship window left to stress over!
First and foremost, we’ve got a franchise quarterback. You’re not going anywhere without a franchise quarterback. Just ask those aforementioned Cleveland Browns, or the Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, New York Jets, and so on and so forth. Even in those rare instances where a team rides its defense to a title, you’re never going to be able to achieve sustained success with that tactic. Yeah, Peyton Manning stunk in 2015 and the Broncos won it all, but you saw what happened in 2016. Due to salary cap constraints, players get poached. Due to the law of averages, a defense largely healthy one year suffers a bevy of injuries the next. I mean, go back through time of all the teams with elite defenses and crappy quarterbacks – 2002 Bucs, 2000 Ravens, 1985 Bears – did any of them repeat? The Bears didn’t make another Super Bowl until the 2006 season; the Bucs haven’t been back period; and the Ravens didn’t win it all again until the 2012 season, at which time their defense was a shell of its former self, and they were able to ride the hot hand of Joe Flacco of all people. The overwhelming majority of Super Bowl champions – and even Super Bowl participants – had either great quarterbacks, or average quarterbacks having great seasons.
Now, is there cause for concern about Russell Wilson’s 2016 season? Sure felt like a step back to me, but I don’t know how much you can learn about a season when he’s hobbled and still running for his life because of that O-Line. I think it all finally caught up to him, resulting in rushed throws, which in turn resulted in a lot of inaccurate throws. Improved offensive line play will surely result in improved quarterback play. Or, it’ll spell doom for a promising young player who looked like he was on the fast track to the Hall of Fame.
As I mentioned before, the wide receiver group is as strong as ever. Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett are great players. Jermaine Kearse unquestionably had a down year in 2016, but he nevertheless brings a lot to the table with his blocking and his rapport with Wilson and the other receivers. Paul Richardson came on like gangbusters after Lockett went down. If we’re able to incorporate him more into this offense, we haven’t had a player with his combination of speed and catch radius EVER in the Pete Carroll era. The person who comes closest is Sidney Rice in his prime, which I think this team would take in a heartbeat. When you top it off with Jimmy Graham – who I believe this team not only needs to hang onto in 2017, but should probably look to extend out another 2-3 years to make his cap hits more reasonable – this offense has the weapons in the passing game to succeed. They won’t need to hit the free agent or trade markets, nor will they need to look in the draft all that high.
Running back might be another story. When healthy, you’ve got elite talent with Rawls and Prosise, but obviously you can’t count on either of them for a full 16-game season plus playoffs. Alex Collins really started to play well towards the end of the season, so obviously I think you keep him in the mix. But, this team will most definitely have to look in the draft for another quality back to throw onto the pile.
In talking about the O-Line, Justin Britt was a pleasant surprise and lone bright spot. While there is plenty of work to do here, it’s nice to know at least ONE spot out of five is locked in.
Defensively, we’re still stacked up and down the lineup. Bennett and Avril are still making lives miserable. Frank Clark – already solid as a rookie – took a big leap forward in his second year, setting himself up for a HUGE third season, and likely a huge payday once next season concludes. Along the interior, Rubin and Reed and the return of Tony McDaniel helped us maintain our status as one of the best run defenses in the league. You never mind picking up extra talent in this group – particularly at the back end, to shore up the depth – but D-Line isn’t really the priority it has been the last couple years.
I was most impressed with our linebackers in 2016. Bobby Wagner had a so-so 2015, and responded with the best season of his career this past year. He was, in fact, the best linebacker in the entire NFL, which is no small feat. Led the league in tackles, managed 4.5 sacks for a guy who doesn’t rush the passer a ton, and was just generally always around the football. K.J. Wright continued being the most underrated defender in football, and the guy most deserving of a Pro Bowl invite
who has yet to actually make it who finally got in this year! This group didn’t see its strongside linebacker out on the field a lot, but when Mike Morgan came back from injury, he was a force, particularly in setting the edge on running plays. Just, all around, the best linebacking unit in football, period.
The secondary, while it needs some work, has the broad strokes in place. Richard Sherman didn’t have his best year (and, it sounds like half that year he was dealing with an MCL issue), but when he’s locked in on his side of the field, as you saw in the Detroit playoff game, he’s still a force to be avoided. On the opposite side, DeShawn Shead got the starting nod and really acquitted himself well. Unfortunately, they didn’t trust him enough to just leave him over there – as we saw more and more Richard Sherman following the other team’s best receiver – and I think that might’ve had something to do with our defense taking a step back. At safety, Kam was his usual dominant self when he was on the field, and Earl was Earl (again, when he was on the field). The fact that both of those guys missed some pretty extensive time this year, and the fact that our defense REALLY suffered accordingly, means this team has work to do in shoring up our depth in the secondary. Those four guys, plus Jeremy Lane, were supposed to make the secondary this team’s #1 strength. Instead, they were this team’s second-biggest weakness, when the likes of Kelcie McCray, Steven Terrell, DeAndre Elliott, and Neiko Thorpe were thrust into active duty. Bolster the unit from the bottom up and we should see a return to former glories for the secondary.
The foundation is solid, is what I’m trying to get at! Across the board, except for the O-Line. We’ve just got to figure out a way to get the complementary pieces in place to get us through the hard times. As luck would have it, 2017 presents a unique opportunity to really pump this team full of talent. The Salary Cap should be upwards of $170 million. Our dead money is currently less than $1 million. Add that to our contracts already on file, we’ve spent approximately $135 million on our 2017 roster. The best part, though? Our list of unrestricted free agents is pretty weak. The most expensive player on that list is Steven Hauschka, and we might end up looking in another direction at kicker anyway, given how poor of a season he had in 2016. Then, there’s Luke Willson, who figures to test the market and see if he can get himself a starting job somewhere. If he comes back to Seattle, it’ll likely be on a very reasonable deal. As for starter types, Mike Morgan and Tony McDaniel could be had on small deals as well. Beyond those guys, we’re talking about the bottom of the roster: McCray, Sowell, Thorpe, Marcel Reece, Tukuafu, Jeron Johnson, Brandon Williams, and Damontre Moore. So, you know, it’s not like there’s some big contract we need to take care of on our own roster.
I’m fuzzy at best as to what the free agent market is going to look like, but that’s a topic for another day. For now, let’s just bask in the glow that we’ve got a very good football team, with some very smart people running the show, and we’re really not THAT far off from competing for the top seed in the NFC and the Super Bowl.