The Seahawks could part with nine regulars in the offseason, but Richard Sherman says he expects to be in the middle of the Super Bowl hunt in 2016.

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Richard Sherman probably wouldn’t have been expected to say anything else.

But in the haze of a locker room while trying to make sense of the 31-24 playoff defeat Sunday against Carolina, the Seahawks cornerback said there was one thing he knew — that the Seahawks will be right back in the middle of the Super Bowl hunt in the 2016 season.

“One hundred percent,’’ he said when asked if he thinks the Seahawks are still a team on the rise.

“Because we are still young. I think people get confused sometimes, like our quarterback is 38 (Russell Wilson is 27). Bobby Wagner is 25. We have a young corps. I think people have been astounded by what we have been able to do in our young years. But we are far from done. Guys are just entering their prime, and we are going to be special for a long time.’’

PANTHERS 31, SEAHAWKS 24


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Still, the Seahawks of 2016 inevitably will look different.

They could have at least 17 unrestricted free agents.

That includes nine players who are starters or regulars in the rotation — left tackle Russell Okung, right guard J.R. Sweezy, receiver Jermaine Kearse, defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Ahtyba Rubin, linebacker Bruce Irvin, cornerbacks Jeremy Lane and DeShawn Shead and punter Jon Ryan.

All would be free to sign with another team starting March 9 if they have not re-signed with Seattle.

Okung is representing himself, and he is expected to test the waters.

Irvin’s contract option for 2016 was not exercised by the Seahawks in May, and he also is expected to test free agency.

Irvin sat at his locker for an extended time Sunday, saying he knew the game could be his last with Seattle. He said he didn’t want to take off his shoulder pads.

“I hope to be back,’’ Irvin said.

A few other players will be restricted free agents (meaning the Seahawks can keep them, or at least guarantee compensation, by giving them a qualifying offer), notably guard Alvin Bailey, center Patrick Lewis, fullback Derrick Coleman and running back Christine Michael.

Then there are maybe the most interesting and potentially pivotal decisions on players the Seahawks could release or trade in salary-cap moves, notably running back Marshawn Lynch and maybe strong safety Kam Chancellor.

Lynch turns 30 in April and played just seven regular-season games and one postseason game this year. The Seahawks could save $6.5 million against the cap by releasing him.

Chancellor, meanwhile, held out the first two games and returned without any resolution to his contract situation.

His contract runs through the 2017 season but the Seahawks could save $4.1 million in 2016 and $7.1 million in 2017 by releasing him. (The Seahawks made a similar move with Red Bryant after the 2013 season.)

Defensive end Michael Bennett also has been unhappy with his contract, and though he has two years remaining on the four-year, $28.5 million deal he signed in 2014, he also could again ask for a renegotiation.

Bennett said last week nothing had changed with his stance, that he thinks he has outplayed his contract.

“My position is always the same,’’ he said. “I think I’m one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL, and I could play any position. I let it unfold when it comes around.”

The results of the weekend also mean Seattle will have the 26th selection in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft.

Coach Pete Carroll echoed the thoughts of Sherman in saying the expectations will be the same going forward.

“These guys are coming back strong,’’ Carroll said. “They are already talking about coming back next time around. That’s all they know. That’s all that we are.’’

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