Roster churn, false positive of NFC title, labor unrest make future a mystery
In a fit of pique after blowing a 20-point lead to the Chicago Bears and losing on Monday Night Football in 2006, Arizona coach Dennis Green etched himself a teensy bit of pro football immortality when his answer to a post-game question began with:
The Bears are what we thought they were.
The rest of his answer quickly went profane and semi-delirious. But in the wake of a playoff rout of the Seahawks Sunday in Chicago, his original point rings true again:
The Bears are what we thought they were: A quality, tough football team.
What about the Seahawks?
So much has happened toward so little obvious direction that anyone who says they have a handle on the Seahawks near-term future isnt going to pass a drug test.
After nearly 300 player personnel moves, the Seahawks improved to 7-9 in the regular season, 1-1 in the playoffs and have 21 players without contracts on their 53-man roster (29, counting players on injured reserve and the practice squad).
Thats a lot, especially when one of them is the decade-long starter at quarterback, but not all that unusual.
Whats unusual is that a long-simmering fight between NFL owners and the players’ union will come to a head in March, and could result in a work stoppage that threatens to eliminate, or at least shorten, the 2011 season.
While in theory a stoppage affects all teams equally, its hard to say whether its better or worse to have fewer players under contract when there is no collective bargaining agreement.
Especially when its hard to know if many of the retained guys are playoff-caliber football players.
The fact that the Seahawks made the playoffs was a false positive, owing to the flaccid nature of the NFC West. Four of their seven wins came against their divisional brothers of the lame. The best team they beat in the regular season, the Bears, improved a whole lot faster than the Seahawks did, even though coach Pete Carroll took great pride in the Seahawks uptick in the seasons final two weeks.
After the division title fell to them, the Seahawks drew to Qwest Field a New Orleans team in a year-after-Super-Bowl-win hangover. Turns out the Saints werent what we thought they were.
None of this is to say the Seahawks didnt make personnel progress. In Mike Williams, Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Marshawn Lynch and Leon Washington, the Seahawks added difference makers in the first year of Carroll and GM John Schneider. But nearly all the rest of the new players fall into the giant middle of the NFL personnel pile known as just guys.
What seems to have happened is that Seahawks management looked at the roster built by former GM Tim Ruskell and privately concluded that 2010 was something of a throwaway season. What they didnt plan on was being unable to throw it away farther than the Cardinals, Rams and 49ers threw away their seasons.
But getting rid of expensive, proven NFL vets such as T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch and Josh Wilson suggests that the bigger contracts no longer became worth carrying in a season unlikely to be competitive.
In their first year, Carroll and Schneider were given the freedom to experiment relatively free of expectations.
Roiling the roster wasnt change for changes sake, but there were minimal penalties for failing to hit on every deal. And it isnt as if tumult in the pressurized world of the NFL is necessarily odd, or bad.
Matt Hasselbeck recalled the last time he was a free agent, after the 2003 season. The Seahawks had gone through a colossal clash of egos between then-coach Mike Holmgren and then-president Bob Whitsitt, with Bob Ferguson hired to separate the two. Finally, Tod Leiweke was hired as CEO to give some direction.
Tod really wasnt like a football guy, but he was calling me and saying, Hey, I know it seems like we dont know what were doing right now, but trust me theres a good plan. Just hang in there, Hasselbeck said Monday after the team began its off-season with exit interviews. Now, its clear whos in charge. Its clear the direction thats been set. Its clear what the goals are.
The only hard part now is that were trying to improve as a team, were trying to improve in a lot of areas . . . You got to keep somebody, you got to get rid of somebody, (and) thats at all positions. So you just never know how its going to shake out.
By 2005, it shook out well enough for the Seahawks to get to their first Super Bowl.
Teammate Lawyer Milloy went through a similar disruption when he was in New England in 2000 after Bill Belichick took over for Carroll. Belichick made wholesale changes, and the Pats a year later won the Super Bowl.
When you build a team that will be good for years, its a team thats built through stability first and foremost, but its a process to get to that, Milloy said. I think Pete and Schneider understand that, and everything they did with the roster moves started to make sense (toward the end of the season). It started to feel normal. The collective group left here understanding what it takes to get to where we got.
For us to have that many transactions, more than Ive ever been a part of, and to end up being a (division) champion, its an outstanding head start to the foundation youre trying to build. Hopefully, most of the guys who ended this season will be here, and you dont have as much movement.
Its not surprising that Milloy, 37, would cheer the outcome, just as Hasselbeck, 35, cheered the vision now in place. But as two of the teams oldest players, they may not be around to celebrate when the outcome is not a false positive.
Its hard to know who will be around next season, or even if there will be a season. Just as it is wise for most pro athletes to rent and not buy, fans would do well to save forecasting skills for the weather.
Until we know whether the Seahawks are what they think they are, its more stable.