It has been a magnificent run of on-field prosperity for the Seattle Seahawks – not exactly New England Patriots-like, but superb by the standards of the rest of the NFL. They have won one Super Bowl and were an ill-fated play call at the 1-yard line from winning another. They have been an annual contender for more than half a decade.
And for most of this season, the Seahawks seemed capable of adding to that list of accomplishments, as they jockeyed for playoff positioning with the other NFC heavyweights, the notion of making another trip to the Super Bowl not entirely far-fetched.
But the narrative can change quickly in the NFL, a week-to-week league in which a franchise’s entire way of doing things can be affirmed or repudiated each Sunday. And the narrative indeed has changed in recent weeks for the Seahawks, to the point that when they take the field Sunday in Dallas, there is room to wonder if this is a last stand of sorts for the team that everyone has come to know so well in recent years.
“When you lose a couple games in a row, it’s no fun,” Coach Pete Carroll said at his news conference Wednesday. “That’s different. We rarely have been in that situation. … We’re grinding right now. We’ve got to grind our way back into a win.”
The Seahawks have lost two straight games, and even a wild-card playoff spot is far from a certainty at this point. They were overwhelmed at home Sunday by the Los Angeles Rams, 42-7, a showing that completed the passing of the torch in the NFC West.
The team that will take the field Sunday will be missing key members of the Seahawks’ core group of players. The “Legion of Boom” secondary has been decimated by injuries. Cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Kam Chancellor suffered season-ending injuries. So, too, did defensive end Cliff Avril.
That secondary and that defense, along with quarterback Russell Wilson, have been the centerpieces of the Seahawks teams that reached the playoffs the previous five seasons. There was the dominating Super Bowl triumph over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos to close the 2013 season, and the Super Bowl near miss the following season against the Patriots when Wilson threw a championship-deciding interception after the Seahawks decided that handing the football to Marshawn Lynch one yard away from consecutive titles was not the way to go.
“We’ve had the spotlight for a long time,” Sherman said following an October win over the Giants at the Meadowlands. “We’ve had the spotlight on us every game, every week. I think a lot of people just look for us to fall and look for us to fail and hope that it comes this game. And they keep watching us hoping that it’s this game or this game or this game. But we’ve had the spotlight on us for a long time. I don’t think the market necessarily matters in our case. I think we’ve turned Seattle into a big-market team. We’ve got a lot of Pro Bowlers, all-pros, a lot of jersey sales. We get a lot of media attention. So I think as small of a market theoretically as it is, we get a lot of attention.”
The focus this coming offseason will be on General Manager John Schneider and how he retools the roster. There will be tough choices to be made. Sherman will count $13.2 million against next season’s salary cap. Safety Earl Thomas is to count $10.4 million, and Chancellor $9.8 million.
There has been speculation that they could be among those to exit in a roster overhaul, possibly along with Avril and defensive end Michael Bennett. Tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson are eligible for unrestricted free agency.
“There are some decisions to be made there, obviously,” a front office executive with another NFL team said. “They’ve been very good and very consistent, and it’s always difficult to make that decision to take apart your core group and go another direction. But they’ll still be competitive. They have the quarterback in place, and they’ll still have some pieces on defense.”
There was a time when the Seahawks had the luxury of having, in Wilson, a championship-winning quarterback playing on the rookie contract of a third-round draft choice. Those days are gone. Wilson counts $23.8 million against next season’s salary cap. The flexibility to spend so freely on other parts of the team, including the defense, is not what it once was. But Schneider is highly regarded within the league. Many within the sport say that he will find the right buttons to press.
At this point, the Seahawks have a here-and-now focus. That means trying to beat the Cowboys and attempting to find a way to sneak into the NFC playoffs. Would that change the inevitability of the roster reconstruction that is about to come? Perhaps not. But it might reduce the urgency attached to it.
“We have to bounce back,” Carroll said Wednesday. “And everybody seems tuned into it and focused on it and realizing again whatever happened last week, we still would’ve had to win this week. It’s really the same scenario. Every one of these games are must games and championship opportunities. That’s how we’re facing it and they seem to realize that, too.”
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