The Seahawks are in the latter stages of their spectacular run of success under the current nucleus. But this is a team that needs new blood and new stars — if not to rebuild immediately around a new nucleus, then certainly to transition to it.
This is a crucial juncture for the Seahawks’ ongoing run of success, one that seems to be receding before our very eyes.
A team that once was a monument of contentment, narrated to a chorus of Kumbaya — before Richard Sherman sarcastically dismissed that term last year in a foreshadowing of future problems — the Seahawks are dealing with the seeming disenchantment of their star cornerback, a key player on the field and in the locker room.
Whether that’s an isolated situation or indicative of wider-spread issues is a matter of conjecture. I lean toward the former characterization, despite the overreaction in some quarters to the absence this week of six starters from voluntary workouts.
They are “voluntary” for a reason, and the NFL Players Association has worked hard to remove any negative connotations from skipping them.
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Yet on top of the ongoing Sherman saga, it does seem curious to see players such as Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril stay away (the latter two doing noble work building schools in Haiti).
But aside even from the issue of team morale, the Seahawks are a franchise that any objective observer would rate as being in the latter stages of their spectacular run of success under the current nucleus. And that makes next week’s NFL draft a crucial moment in the evolution of the ballclub.
This is a team that needs new blood, new stars, fresh ears — if not to rebuild immediately around a new nucleus, then certainly to transition to it in the rapidly arriving future. You could argue whether coach Pete Carroll’s message of positivity is ringing hollow after so many seasons — seven years for veterans such as Thomas and Chancellor, which is three years after full-term college players would move on and give way to a new group of impressionable minds.
What you can’t argue is that the NFL is a cold, unforgiving place that chews up and spits out players. The game is so violent, the hits so punishing, that the peaks of even the great ones are relatively short-lived. The Seahawks’ brilliant core is getting long in the tooth by football standards, and so the vital process of replenishing the cupboard becomes paramount.
That is not to say the Seahawks will not be a contender this year, even a Super Bowl contender. Their elite players still have enough juice to lead them back to the playoffs, particularly in what shapes up to be another lackluster NFC West. Get to the postseason, and anything can happen (including a second-round exit the past two years, following two runs to the Super Bowl).
But Seattle’s ever-popular “window of success” is inexorably closing, and the chore now is to reverse that direction. How successfully they do that will determine if this cycle of prosperity, unprecedented in team history — six playoff berths, four division titles, two NFC championships and a Super Bowl crown in the seven years of Carroll and general manager John Schneider — will continue, or begin to recede.
Of course, no one has sustained his team’s success in this era more brilliantly than New England’s Bill Belichick, who keeps churning the roster and winning anyway, with just one constant (besides himself) — quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots have 14 consecutive years of double-digit victories in the regular season, with eight division titles in a row. In a 16-season span from 2001-16, the Patriots have reached seven Super Bowls and won five.
They will be the standard by which all teams judge the longevity of their achievements in the free-agency era. For the Seahawks to follow New England’s path, they must unearth the next generation of stalwarts to build around their franchise quarterback, Russell Wilson.
Though the Patriots did it largely with a revolving door of talent, the Seahawks opted to lock up their key players for the long term. That compromised their salary cap (and thus depth) but was a defendable strategy to keep together a team that fans were strongly attached to, and which had proven success.
But again, that clock keeps tick, tick, ticking.
It was a remarkable three-year draft run that helped get the Seahawks where they are today, in a good way — Thomas (first round) and Chancellor (fifth round) in 2010; K.J. Wright (fourth round), Sherman (fifth round) and Doug Baldwin (undrafted free agent) in 2011; and Bobby Wagner (second round) and Wilson (third round) in 2012 — all sandwiched around the trade for Marshawn Lynch in the middle of the 2010 season. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril came as free agents in 2013.
Starting next Thursday, the Seahawks will continue their search for the new foundation. The stakes are higher than ever.