The Seahawks figured they’d return to the VMAC on Sunday and rejoice in a victory the day before while beginning preparations for the divisional round.
Instead, they spent the day clearing out their lockers and trying to make sense of the disappointment of Saturday’s 30-20 wild-card playoff loss to the Rams that ended a once-promising season with a most inglorious thud.
“I definitely feel like we had the group to go farther than what we did,’’ said middle linebacker Bobby Wagner via Zoom. “It feels weird that we’re done. I didn’t expect that. I didn’t think that at all.’’
There was plenty of blame to go around.
The offense scored just one touchdown before a garbage-time score and was held to a season-low 278 yards while continuing a theme of late-season struggles. The only three times the Seahawks were held under 300 yards this season were the last three games of the year, against the 49ers and twice against the Rams.
And the defense — which memorably held the Rams without a touchdown in a division-clinching game Dec. 27 keyed by a goal-line stand — allowed Los Angeles to rush for 164 yards, its third-highest total of the season. That helped take the pressure off quarterback Jared Goff, who had to enter on the second series when John Wolford was injured and play 12 days after thumb surgery.
Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said later that playoff football is about “imposing your will’’ on the other team, indicating he felt the Rams had done just that.
Seahawks defensive end Carlos Dunlap said he had no choice but to agree, given the result.
“They ran the ball really good versus one of the best run defenses in the NFL,’’ Dunlap said. “So there’s no denying that they imposed their will. But I feel like there’s a lot of things we could have done better and we underperformed and underdelivered.’’
That feeling of regret over a season that didn’t end as planned hung over the team Sunday.
Veteran linebacker K.J. Wright said he was “still in shock that we lost in the first round,’’ and that he had his eyes firmly set on the Super Bowl.
“Out of all the years since we lost to New England (in the Super Bowl after the 2014 season), I thought that this year was our best chance in going,’’ Wright said. “I truly felt like we had all the pieces, we had all the confidence in the world to go back. And, 12-4, that’s a really good season. It’s just unfortunate that yesterday was just one of them days.’’
But if looking back is tough, not knowing what’s ahead for many Seahawks won’t be any easier.
Wright is among 24 Seattle players who will now be unrestricted free agents, a list that also includes key players such as Chris Carson, Shaquill Griffin, David Moore, Ethan Pocic, Jacob Hollister and Mike Iupati, as well as a number of vets who were on one-year deals such as Greg Olsen, Benson Mayowa, Bruce Irvin and Carlos Hyde.
Both Wright and Griffin said they hope to be back, but also said they had no idea what may happen.
“Hopefully everything works out,’’ Griffin said. “Hopefully I can be a Seahawk forever.’’
Said Wright, who just concluded his 10th year and has the longest tenure on the team: “I love this team, I love this city. So just make it happen.’’
But Wright said he would consider playing elsewhere if it comes to that.
Griffin also knows there’s no guarantee he’ll be back, which adds to the fact that he may not get to play with his twin brother, Shaquem, in the future. Shaquem, who has been with the Seahawks the past three years, will be a restricted free agent, and each may be presented with the possibility of having to move on.
Shaquill Griffin, one of four players who spoke to the media Sunday, said that realization hit hard Saturday night.
“I had times last night when I felt like I was going to break down and cry, just reminiscing on everything,’’ he said. “It’s been a crazy four years, an even better three years playing with my brother.’’
Dunlap also isn’t 100% sure he’ll be back, though he made clear he wants to be.
After he was acquired in October, Dunlap agreed to a restructured contract that means he has a $14.1 million cap hit in 2021. The deal moved $3 million of his 2020 salary to a bonus that he will receive if he is on the Seahawks’ roster on the fifth day of the new league year in March. The new league year, and free agency, is set to begin March 17, and the bonus means Seattle will either decide to cut Dunlap, rework his deal somehow or simply keep him for what would be the final year of his contract.
“I’d love to stay in Seattle as long as they’ll have me,’’ said Dunlap, who is 31. He said he wants to play long enough to get to 100 career sacks (he has 87.5) and reach a Super Bowl.
But the Seahawks will have to make some tough calls as they are already listed at having just $17.5 million in cap space for 2021 with just 34 players under contract, via OvertheCap.com.
As the Seahawks begin to grapple with those decisions, players now not only head home but also out of the structure of the NFL environment that included daily COVID-19 testing, something coach Pete Carroll said after the game is a concern — and something he was going to make a point to address when he talked to the team for the last time.
Sunday was mostly spent wondering what might have been.
“It’s very frustrating,’’ Wright said of seeing the season end before the conference title round for the sixth straight year. “It’s very disappointing. And we’ve got to get better and find ways to just get to those playoff moments, and just make it happen, because somebody’s got to be there. I feel like it should have been us this year.’’
Facing free agency
The end of Seattle’s season also means that players whose contracts run out at the end of the year will become unrestricted free agents. Seattle has 24 players who will now be UFAs. They will officially become UFAs when the new league year begins March 17. Until then, they can re-sign with Seattle but cannot sign with other teams. Here’s the list:
- Running back Chris Carson
- Linebacker K.J. Wright
- Cornerback Shaquill Griffin
- Tight end Greg Olsen
- Cornerback Quinton Dunbar
- Guard Mike Iupati
- Center Ethan Pocic
- Linebacker Bruce Irvin
- Tight end Jacob Hollister
- Running back Carlos Hyde
- Defensive end Benson Mayowa
- Quarterback Geno Smith
- Offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi
- Tight end Luke Willson
- Cornerback Neiko Thorpe
- Receiver Phillip Dorsett
- Receiver David Moore
- Fullback Nick Bellore
- Defensive end Branden Jackson
- Receiver Josh Gordon
- Safety Damarious Randall
- Defensive end Damontre Moore
- Defensive end Jonathan Bullard
- Safety Lano Hill
Four other players are restricted free agents, meaning if Seattle makes a qualifying tender then Seattle can either match any offers or get compensation if they leave. Those four are:
- Linebacker Shaquem Griffin
- Defensive tackle Poona Ford
- Tackle Chad Wheeler
- Guard Jordan Simmons
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