The cover of the 2004 Seattle Seahawks media guide celebrated five 2003 Pro Bowlers – offensive tackle Walter Jones, guard Steve Hutchinson, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, running back Shaun Alexander and receiver/special teams whiz Alex Bannister.
The 2005 guide will sport a new look, from the cover down to the roster. Four of those cover boys are unrestricted free agents (all but Hutchinson). The Seahawks have 16 unrestricted free agents – including seven offensive and three defensive starters in Saturday’s season-ending 27-20 loss to St. Louis at Qwest Field.
That list doesn’t include punters Tom Rouen, who was injured most of the season, and Ken Walter, who filled in late. Nor does it include five restricted free agents, a list that includes defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, who started Saturday, and safety Terreal Bierria, who lost his starting position to promising rookie Michael Boulware.
The Seahawks, who won the NFC West but went one-and-done in the playoffs for the third time in coach Mike Holmgren’s six years, had a rollercoaster season. The offseason could be just as eventful as the team maps out its strategy for 2005.
Many are wondering about Holmgren’s future. His record in Seattle is 50-49, including playoffs. His first and sixth teams were identical – 9-7 division champs, losers at home in the opening round of the playoffs. He’s had two losing campaigns and four winning seasons, topped by a 10-6 mark in 2003.
Holmgren was about 15 seconds into his opening post-game remark when he touched on his offseason goals.
“Our challenge as an organization and team is to make every attempt to keep our young players on defense and continue to coach and develop them,” he said. “They are a talented group that got a lot of experience this year, good and bad. The second thing is to keep our core together on offense.”
The marquee free agents on offense are Hasselbeck, Jones and Alexander, who drew national attention with his huge statistics and a self-diagnosed back wound in the final regular season game.
Hasselbeck had another solid season, surpassing 3,000 yards for the third straight year. Jones is bound for his fifth Pro Bowl. Alexander is among the elite at his position, but his public grousing after falling a yard short of a rushing title didn’t endear him to his superiors. And as much as Holmgren likes a pass-run balance, his offenses first revolve around the quarterback.
“Everybody knows I love Seattle, I really do,” the mercurial Alexander said. “I love coach Holmgren and Matt and I have become really close this year. I really hope all of us get to come back again and this time we’ll finish the job.”
Center Robbie Tobeck, guard Chris Gray and tackles Jones and Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack, four-fifths of Saturday’s starting line, are free agents. So is steady tight end Itula Mili.
“I know there are a lot of questions unanswered,” Tobeck said. “I’m one of the guys that doesn’t have a job right now. I’m sure the team will do the right things and hopefully we’ll get as many of our guys back as we can and keep this thing going.”
Cornerback Ken Lucas and productive end Chike Okeafor are the primary free agents on defense. Okeafor, who had 53 tackles and 8.5 sacks during the regular season, added two sacks against the Rams. Lucas intercepted six passes this season.
No matter who lines up next year, the team’s priority is to succeed in the playoffs. Seattle has only three playoff wins in franchise history and they’ve lost six straight since 1984.
Seattle remains mired in mediocrity, finishing between 6 and 10 regular-season wins every year since a 2-14 record in 1992.
Asked if Seattle made progress this season, Hamlin responded, “Must not be in the right direction because we lost in the first round last year and we lost in the first round again this year. I don’t think anyone in here is settling for just making the playoffs.”
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