The Morning After: Reality Bites for 3-7 Seahawks

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If the company formerly known as Facebook really wants to get their metaverse concept off the ground, Seattle would be a perfect testing ground. Seahawks and Huskies fans would love nothing more than to escape the reality of cheering for two moribund football teams and the atmospheric river of darkness and doom that has dominated our past few months. The Seahawks lost again on Sunday, but anyone saying it was a new low or the end of an era has not been paying attention to the rest of the season. The Seahawks did not play any worse than they did in their other losses and the pattern of problems has been pretty consistent. What has changed has been fan and media perception and their progress through the stages of grief. As someone who reached acceptance way back in week three, I will offer some perspective on where we are relative to previous franchise nadirs, and give some odds about what will happen next.

1991 – Chuck Knox and Dave Krieg leave

Just four years after winning the franchises first division title (1988), Seahawks head coach Chuck Knox chose to leave the Seahawks. He had coached for nine seasons, and brought the team their first four playoff appearances. He had enjoyed Hall of Fame talent in the form of Steve Largent and Kenny Easley, as well as great players like Curt Warner, Jacob Green, and John L. Williams.

Quarterback Dave Krieg and Knox were forever linked as their Seattle careers started and ended together. Krieg was an imperfect quarterback who was small of stature and has small hands that led to him setting the NFL record for most fumbles to that point in history. He was also a brilliant improvisational player who found ways to make spectacular plays out of near disasters.

The team’s records had not been particularly good or bad when Knox and Krieg left. They had not won more than nine games or lost more than seven games in five seasons. They were mired in mediocrity.

Team President and GM, Tom Flores, used their first round pick on an “anti-Krieg” quarterback named Dan McGwire in 1991. Perhaps sensing the coming transition and a rising tension with the front office, Knox walked away and went on to coach with the Rams for three seasons, where his teams finished last each year.

Flores chose not to retain Krieg. Largent retired. Flores took over as coach. The following season was the worst the franchise has endured. Despite a Hall of Fame talent in Cortez Kennedy having his best season in leading a terrific defense and being awarded Defensive Player of the Year, the offense was eye-gougingly awful. Even with quality players like Chris Warren and John L. Williams, the team could not overcome the play of quarterbacks like Stan Gelbaugh and finished 2-14.

To make matters worse, the Seahawks winning their second game against the Denver Broncos in overtime late in the year, cost the team the first pick in the draft since they had earlier beaten the 2-14 New England Patriots. That meant they lost the chance to draft Drew Bledsoe and instead wound up with Rick Mirer.

That started the worst stretch in franchise history as the team would lose at least 10 games for three straight years and finish last in the division each time. Flores was fired after the 1994 season. Randy Mueller was hired as GM and Dennis Erickson was hired as coach. The human skid mark known as Ken Behring attempted to move the team to Los Angeles after the 1995 season. Many believed he had intentionally put a bad product on the field to weaken the Seattle-areas affection for the team and make a move possible.

1998 – Playoff drought dooms Dennis Erickson, Paul Allen makes first hire

Mueller and Erickson had done a pretty decent job of digging the Seahawks out of the pit created by Flores. Mueller drafted Joey Galloway, Shawn Springs, Walter Jones, Anthony Simmons, and Ahman Green. He had also signed free agent Chad Brown and Warren Moon and Ricky Watters and found Jon Kitna.

Erickson led the team to a top ten finish in total offense (3rd) and defense (8th) in 1997, and top ten finishes in points scored (10th) and points allowed (10th) in 1998, but could only manage a .500 record across both seasons. He was famously denied a playoff birth in the final game of his career when Vinny Testeverde’s helmet was mistaken for the football as it crossed the goal line, which eventually led to the formal use of instant replay.

That meant a full decade of football in Seattle without a playoff game. When Seahawks fans talk about the 90s, this is what they mean. They did not finish better than 3rd in their division for ten seasons. Their records were mostly mediocre, winning seven or eight games. It was the worst possible place to be in the NFL. Never bad enough to get the top pick and never good enough to really contend.

Paul Allen bought the team from asshat Behring in 1997. He gave Erickson one season to figure it out, and when he missed the playoffs, Allen went out and hired Mike Holmgren in 1999.

Holmgren ended the playoff drought in his first season, winning the franchises second division title. Holmgren inherited some talent, largely on defense with guys like Brown and Springs and Phillip Daniels, but also Jones and Galloway on offense.

Holmgren made a bold statement in his first season as it related to Galloway, who wanted a new contract. Galloway held out until the eighth game of the season. He was later traded by Holmgren to Dallas for two first round picks. One of those picks was used on future MVP Shaun Alexander. The other was used to take Koren Robinson, but also gave Seattle an extra first round pick for the second consecutive year that they used on an offensive linemen named Steve Hutchinson.

Those two drafts, along with the bold decision to acquire Matt Hasselbeck from Green Bay, and the commitment to developing him under Holmgren’s watchful eye, led to the first truly golden era of Seahawks football.

Seattle went to the playoffs five straight years, including four straight division titles, and made their first Super Bowl in 2005.

2008 – Mike Holmgren retires

As much success as the Seahawks had enjoyed during Holmgren’s tenure, there was always tension with the front office. He had sparred with Allen’s top executive in Bob Whitsitt early on, and later with folks like Bert Kolde and had a bitter feud with general manager Tim Ruskell.

The bottom fell out when Hasselbeck was injured an missed more than half the season, and the accumulation of terrible drafts from Ruskell created a talent vacuum. From 2006 to 2008, the best player the Seahawks drafted was Darryl Tapp. None of the players selected made a Pro Bowl. None were even quality starters. It may be the worst stretch of drafting in franchise history.

Ruskell was an atrocious GM. His drafts were full of low ceiling guys as he attempted to mitigate draft risk by finding “high floor” players. He also infamously went back on his word to Holmgren that they would franchise Hutchinson after the Super Bowl, and chose to apply a Transition tag instead, which directly led to Hutchinson negotiating the poison pill contract that led him away from Seattle and dramatically weakened what had been the strength of the team.

Holmgren chose to walk away after the team went 4-12 in 2008, but he might have been fired if he had tried to stay. There was a lot of dysfunction between coach and front office and ownership. Jim Mora Jr. had been retained for years as the heir apparent.

2009 – Jim Mora Jr fired after one season, Pete Carroll and John Schneider hired

Mora Jr. and Ruskell teamed up to produce a shit show of a season together that neither survived. It was a team whose best players were aging. Their quarterback was 34. Lofa Tatupu and LeRoy Hill were in their late 20s. Marcus Trufant was nearly 30. They even had a defensive back named Jamar Adams. Spooky.

They were bad on both sides of the ball, finishing 25th in points allowed and points scored, while also being older and having precious little young talent coming up due to years of bad drafting.

Only three position players from that roster that participated in the Super Bowl a few years later: Max Unger, Red Bryant, and Brandon Mebane.

Pete Carroll and John Schneider inherited one of the oldest and least talented rosters in the NFL. They had a quarterback on the wrong side of 30, a bad offensive and defensive line, and a leaky secondary. The best thing they inherited was arguably Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn who had been with Mora Jr as a assistants the year prior.

It took a tremendous amount of leadership for Allen to fire Mora Jr. after just one season. That rarely happens in the NFL. Owners do not like to pay coaches or players who do not work for them. Tod Leiweke helped prioritize a harmonious front office and coaching partnership.

Carroll and Schneider were fast friends and were the most tight-knit of any coach and GM the franchise has seen. They turned over the roster at breathtaking speed, and benefitted from a pair of early first round picks in their first season that turned into their starting left tackle in Russell Okung and their cornerstone free safety in Earl Thomas.

They did find their new franchise quarterback until their third year. Instead, they created the strongest roster in the league that just needed a quality quarterback to take it to the next level.

2021 – ???

There are many parallels between this moment and past transition in Seahawks history. It may be the differences that are more instructive. It is unclear what the owner’s plan is for the team or point of view on current performance. We simply do not know enough about Jody Allen. We also do not have the dysfunction or tension between the head coach, the front office and the ownership group.

By most accounts, Carroll is well liked and respected by the executives. Both Carroll and Schneider were just given new contracts last year. Past coaching turnover has happened when there was a rift at the top. I am not sure there is one here.

Carroll, like Knox, could choose to walk away. Even then, part of Knox’s calculus had to be the encroachment of Flores and the plans the team had to move on from Krieg.

That was the only time, in the moments detailed above, that the team changed coach and quarterback at the same time. Holmgren stayed with Kitna for a couple of years before going to Hasselbeck. Carroll kept Hasselbeck for one season before bringing in Tarvaris Jackson and then Russell Wilson.

We have yet to see a coach and/or GM in Seattle oversee the rise of a franchise quarterback and then the rise of a second. Coach and quarterback have always been inextricably linked.

For all the fans screaming that Carroll is the problem and it is time for him to go, there is increasing evidence that 32-year-old Wilson may not be improving or even sustaining his level of play with age. Both coach and quarterback have major question marks. So does the general manager.

This roster is not as old and decrepit as the 2009 squad. Although, the serious injury to Tre Brown is a major hit to the young nucleus the team was developing in the secondary. Jordyn Brooks took a step forward in Green Bay and ten steps back against Arizona.

I see some interesting similarities to the 1998 transition where the team had a sparkling young talent at receiver who they turned into two first round picks, which helped stockpile talent on the line and the backfield. That roster, though, had more rising young talent than this one. There is no Springs or Jones here entering the primes of their career.

Most fans must intuitively understand that this team needs an infusion of young blue chip talent, and that the most likely place to get blue chip talent is in the first half of the first round of the draft. Seeing as how the Seahawks have no first round picks next year, they have the option to leave that gap unaddressed or find a way to obtain an early pick (or more).

The only players on this roster that could fetch an early first would be Wilson or D.K. Metcalf. I don’t think you could get two firsts for Metcalf, and I don’t see the point of trading a young blue chip player for the hope of getting another young blue chip player, unless it was to get a better positional value like a QB you love.

If a team offered you two firsts for Metcalf, I think you would need to at least consider it. If another team offered you three firsts for Wilson, I think you would have to consider it. Metcalf can be part of the next Super Bowl run here, but he is also about to get paid a lot of money.

It is not clear to me this team would be better off over the next 3-5 years with Metcalf and Wilson than they would be with five first round picks.

The quality of players available in the draft always matters, as does who is making the picks. One could argue Schneider has never made a bad pick in the first half of the first round.

People who argue the team must keep Wilson point to the dearth of quality quarterbacks in the next two drafts. They seem to leave out the notion that there are great pass rushers and some very good offensive linemen. There is also a blind spot for how teams are built. You do not need to address every position in year one of a rebuild.

In fact, there is a ton of value in adding the quarterback last. That maximizes the window where you can have a rookie quarterback contract surrounded with expensive talent elsewhere on the roster. If the team has Cam Newton or some other veteran for a couple of years, it dos not mean there is no plan to replace the franchise quarterback.

Draft experts and general managers also regularly overlook quarterback talent. None of us can say for sure there isn’t going to be a quality QB available in the next couple of years. Whether the team keeps Wilson or not, they absolutely must start drafting a QB every year until they find one with potential.

Carroll is showing signs of exhaustion. He does not seem like a guy who is excited to start over in Seattle. He is probably the last person who wants to move on from Wilson. Reportedly, he was the one who rejected the Bears offer of three firsts last year. That non-deal will be a fascinating one to revisit as Justin Fields and Mac Jones continue their careers.

Does Carroll really want to lose his quarterback and have to change his OC again? Shame (his new name in my world) Waldron is a deer in headlights who has already been hit by multiple cars. He has done nothing to minimize Wilson’s flaws or amplify his strengths. Much the opposite.

Wilson will forever be a polarizing figure in Seattle Seahawks lore. He is undoubtedly the best QB to ever play in Seattle, and was a key part of the team’s first Lombardi Trophy. Unlike Hasselbeck, who was the first Seahawks Super Bowl quarterback, many fans are uncomfortable or just plain angered by discussion of his flaws.

Nobody thought Hasselbeck was perfect, even though he was beloved. Wilson’s penchant for taking sacks, eschewing the sure yards on shorter routes, being uncomfortable with quick passes, and career long mediocre play on 3rd downs are real challenges for any coach.

There is this notion that another coach will somehow unlock a new level of play from Wilson. What parts of Wilson’s game have appreciably improved since he came into the league? The most notable one to me was when Brian Schottenheimer helped curtail his tendency to twirl blindly backwards to try and buy time that often resulted in disastrous sacks of 15-20 yards. He has had three offensive coordinators with different approaches.

The idea that another coach is going to come in and get more out of him at age 33, 34, or 35 seems super hopeful. People talk about coaches who excel in the short game and simple throws. Those are not things Wilson does naturally. People point to the career of Aaron Rodgers and how he dipped and then returned to MVP form after a new coach. A key word there is “return.” Rodgers had been an MVP and the best player on a Super Bowl team before. Wilson has not.

Rodgers also excels on 3rd downs, diagnosing defenses, and making short-to-intermediate throws that many NFL offenses revolve around. Wilson does not.

If Wilson was happy to stay in Seattle and allow the team to build an effective run game for him to meld with his explosive passing, I would prefer to keep him here.

That seems unlikely. It feels like the roster is in enough trouble that the team needs first round picks more than it needs established veterans.

I am not sure Carroll will want to return even if the front office would allow him to after this season. That would leave Schneider.

It would be his first chance to own personnel decisions and pick his own coach. How many of these questionable drafts were his responsibility versus Carroll’s is almost impossible to ascertain. It is also unclear whether he would want to stick around for that process.

Finally, the type of coaches they will want to bring in may insist on final say over personnel, and that could push Schneider out the door.

Given everything I know right now, I would keep Schneider as the one constant. Even if Carroll somehow stayed, I believe Wilson would want out and Carroll would not have enough goodwill in the organization to survive the transition to a new franchise quarterback.

If Carroll chooses to go, Wilson could be placated by being given some authority in picking the new head coach, the way he was with the new OC last offseason. It would take a lot of chutzpah for new coach to trade a former Pro Bowl QB right away, so it would have to be Schneider who would make that move.

Those are the complicated power dynamics we are dealing with here. Individual decisions will have a ripple effect that we cannot predict.

I am personally open to any and all change as long as there is change. Status quo is the greatest enemy here. My preference is to stockpile early picks and have Schneider make those choices. We are a long way from finding out what actually happens.

What is certain is transitions have happened before and will happen again. We will learn a lot about ownership in the coming months. It is clear that good ownership leads to good results, and vice versa. One might say that changing coach and quarterback led to dark days in the 90s, but there was the worst possible ownership in place at the time hiring terrible coaches and GMs and secretly hoping to tear the team from the city.

Jody Allen and Bert Kolde take center stage from here on out. There will be questions asked of them that will reveal how they think and what they value. They will start feeling pressure that they have never felt. Paul Allen’s absence will be palpable in ways it has not since he passed away.

Even in the worst moments, the franchise climbed back. One could argue the franchise has been the better for ever downturn. It will be hard to top this era, but there is every reason to hope they will rise again.

Founder, Editor & Lead Writer
  1. I could see Schneider being ready to move on from Wilson/Mark Rodgers, and start over at that position.
    Rebuilds can be exciting… if you have the resources.
    It’s really unfortunate that this upcoming draft is so lacking in high end talent.
    It’s not just the QB position, it’s every position.
    This draft could make 2013 look good.

  2. Thank you Brian. Going back a little earlier, the transition from Patera to McCormick/Knox was a little more like the Erickson to Holmgren switch too. Patera had grabbed some serious defensive talent that simply hadn’t quite gelled, but Knox inherited a defense with Kenny Easley, Dave Brown, Jacob Green, and Joe Nash. Adding Curt Warner and replacing a declining Jim Zorn with Dave Krieg were small changes to make.

    Bobby Wagner is playing good not great. Jamal Adams at his best in this system seems good not great. Metcalf right now is simply good, without a quarterback to feed him. Lockett too. It could easily get much worse but I do think I approve of the full blowup.

    There’s lots of room for debate. Rob Staton, whom I respect a lot, is pretty vocal in saying keep Russell and get rid of everyone else. But if Russell banged the table for Waldron, which it seems he did, it’s not clear that getting his approval for other hires would be a good thing.

  3. I’m ready to cash in on Russell’s current trade value. Sell high. And I say this with full understanding how hard it is to find a “franchise QB” and the outrage followed by apathy it would generate from the fan base. But I think we’ve had enough years now to see that the reason this team went to the Superbowl x2 was the monstrous defense and Lynch. As those pieces have fallen away, the mediocre-to-collapsing version of Seahawks we have today has emerged.

    And yeah, it’s obvious Carroll needs to go. I think he might retire because I don’t think he has a plan to fix this mess. Seems obvious from the press conf yesterday. I think Doug Pederson would be someone worth calling. Maybe Chris Petersen as well.

  4. We won’t be able to get low first round picks for Wilson because he can hand out a list of who he’d agree to be traded to and you can bet it won’t be a crap team.

    That leaves Wagner and Metcalf as our best trade bait. Maybe Lockett.

    That’s when you realize how few stars we really have on this team.

    So the question is, what can Jax, Detroit, the Jets or Houston really give us for those guys?

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