Pete Carroll was hired as the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks in 2010. Coming on the heels of a nine-year run as the head coach at the University of Southern California where he led them to two national championships (and some NCAA-levied penalties that nevertheless don’t diminish the quality of work he and his teams put in) and developed a consistent pipeline of top talent for the NFL, expectations were high that Carroll would transition the Mike Holmgren era into something more successful.
Seven winning records in 10 seasons. It’s worth remembering just how high Holmgren set the bar. A four-year run from 2004-07 of annual division titles punctuated by a losing appearance in Super Bowl XL.
It was a hell of a run for Seattle under Holmgren, and asking for more seemed egregious. And yet, they received it.
Seven seasons into the Carroll era, Seattle has missed out on the playoffs just once. They won a Super Bowl. They made it to, and lost, another. They’ve won the division four out of seven years while having to contend with the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-13 who made it to three NFC Championships with another losing Super Bowl bid therein as well as the 2013-15 Arizona Cardinals who stacked up a 34-14 cumulative record over those three years. Two of their peers have risen and fell within the division, and they’ve remained above the fray.
But coming off of their worst offensive season since drafting QB Russell Wilson and their worst defensive season in the same period, questions were being asked of the Seahawks by season’s end about an upcoming transition from the last generation to...something else.
Once the season wrapped up, those questions started generating fodder from inside Seahawks HQ. In early April, we began hearing of trade talks surfacing that involved CB Richard Sherman, the unavoidable face of Seattle’s Legion of Boom defense. This came after a season of multiple sideline dustups between Sherman and Seahawks players/coaches/whomever.
Then yesterday, ESPN’s Seth Wickersham dropped a well-sourced piece that investigated the rift that Sherman had widened since that Super Bowl loss in early 2015:
Sherman is famous for loving practice, for treating it like a game, for rarely missing it even when injured. For him, it's where a mystical bond is forged and a win on Sunday becomes an almost accidental byproduct. And so, a few plays later, when Sherman picked off Wilson, it wasn't enough just to make a great play. He wanted to get inside Wilson's head, to remind the young Pro Bowler that despite his Super Bowl fame -- and endorsements that many on the defense felt they deserved -- Sherman still owned his ass.
According to witnesses, Sherman threw the ball back to Wilson and yelled, "You f---ing suck!" Another fight broke out. Sherman was cussing and yelling; Wilson seemed stunned. Pete Carroll stopped practice and would later hold a series of meetings to remind the players they needed to build each other up, not tear each other down -- and that they needed to support their quarterback, further pissing off a defense that already thought the head coach went out of his way to protect him.
At the time, of course, nobody wore the scars they do now. Nobody knew the pain of losing a Super Bowl at the 1-yard line. Nobody could have predicted the strangest storyline from the 2017 offseason: Sherman, a future Hall of Famer in his prime, open to a trade, and the Seahawks open to shipping him. Tensions lurked beneath the surface, but the Seahawks were building something special, on an ascent toward a limitless future.
The next day, the Seahawks got their Super Bowl rings. Four phrases were engraved inside. The last one read:
The release of that story prompted the expected response. “Trash.” “A bunch of nonsense.” “#fakenews.” We’re in an era of omnipresent, omnipervasive spin that begets ever more, uh, omnispin. And let’s be honest. You’ve got a ton of amped up, emotionally and chemically charged up young men being pushed to the brink physically and psychologically. Conflicts, public and private, are bound to happen (remember the Jared Cook-Austin Davis push heard not around the world?) So I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill, but it’s worth asking the question.
Is this the beginning of the end for the Seahawks’ run at the top under Carroll?
Do we look back at the 2016 season and the subsequent offseason as where things began to unravel? Or if they began unraveling earlier like say that interception to end their losing Super Bowl bid as Wickersham frames it, is this when the unraveling really starts to take hold?
You can see where this could be headed. The offensive line was atrocious last year. Need a reference? Pro Football Focus ranked the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive line, which was also abjectly horribly, 27th in the NFL. Remember that QB Jared Goff was sacked 26 times and hit 55 times in his seven starts, an average of 3.71 sacks and 7.86 QB hits per game. #notgood. The Seahawks? PFF ranked them dead last in the league. #morenotgood. The only additions? Two one-year free agent fliers in Luke Joeckel and Oday Aboushi and a second-round pick in promising interior OL Ethan Pocic. Seattle’s all but certain to have one of the worst offensive lines again this year. Think that will have an effect on that classic Seattle running attack that was 25th in rushing yards and 24th in yards per rush last year? I doubt it’s going to help QB Russell Wilson much...
And what of the defense? For all of Sherman’s antics, he remains one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Seattle boasts the best safety duo in the NFL in Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. They’re stacked at every level...but all good things must come to an end. Last year, we saw the first real dip in the defense. From 2012-15, they were the top D in the NFL in points allowed. Last year, they dropped to 3rd. Not panic mode, but could it indicate a more precipitous decline coming in 2017? And should the offense grow even weaker, could they see a similar issue as the Rams (albeit to a much, much, much, much lesser degree) where the offense grows inept to the point it makes defending other teams for a full game nearly impossible given turnovers and field position and recurring pressure?
The NFC West has been one of the best divisions if not the best division in the NFL over the last seven years, and the Seahawks, overall, have held the throne. There are enough indicators to make that less of a certainty for 2017 and beyond.
We may be in the last days of their reign. Long live the king...