This nightmarish 2021 Seahawks season is almost over. Maybe flipping the calendar to a new year is all this team needed, and better days are ahead. Seattle looked nothing like a 5-10 team as they thoroughly dismantled a Lions team that went into Arizona and beat the high-flying Cardinals just a couple of weeks ago. Rashaad Penny was once again the star of the show, joining Shaun Alexander and Curt Warner as the only runners in Seahawks history to have 170+ yards rushing and 2+ rushing touchdowns in a game. He is averaging 7.0 yards per run the last four weeks, higher than many starting quarterbacks, including Carson Wentz, Josh Allen and Ryan Tannehill, average per pass. Russell Wilson and DK Metcalf teleported into this season after spending a large chunk of it on another planet, as they connected for 3 of Wilson’s 4 passing touchdowns.
Logically, this should be the last game where Wilson, Pete Carroll, and John Schneider are all part of the Seahawks organization. It did not feel like that sort of game. It felt much more like the type of outcome that gets ultra-positive Carroll imagining what could be next season with a healthy Wilson and perhaps a healthy Penny. It also could influence the thought process of ownership.
Remember, Jody Allen and Bert Kolde need to see enough evidence to be convinced it is worth:
Letting Carroll go a year after giving him a contract extension which would mean they would be paying him not to work for them
Taking on the responsibility and work associated with finding a new person to run football operations and/or coach the team
Being in the spotlight until the Seahawks get back to a contending team since all the focus is on Carroll now. As soon as they let him go, it is on them. Make an Urban Meyer-esque hire and you are looking the fool like Shad Khan. Keep in mind that neither Allen nor Kolde have shown a desire to be center stage.
In the case of Mike Holmgren, Jim Mora Jr., and Carroll, ownership had a clear successor they had in mind before letting the current coach go. Maybe ownership already has that person, but it has to be someone they believe in enough to overcome the inertia of all the items listed above.
Beating a two-win Lions team does not prove much. Going up 38-7 and eventually scoring over 50 points in a rainy and meaningless game where players could have easily phoned it in, could tip the scales a bit.
As a comparison, the 2009 Seahawks lost 34-7 to .500 Texans team, 24-7 to a one-win Bucs team, and 48-10 to a 9-win Packers team in their 13th, 14th, and 15th game of the season. That is what it looks like when a locker room turns its back on the coach and gives up. You have to fire your coach in that situation.
Holmgren had better luck in his last few games, but that was never about his command of the team. There was bad blood between him and ownership that had been there for years. They finally had the opportunity to show him the door and they did. Technically, Holmgren retired, but he was not going to be brought back.
It is for all these reasons that I have been saying here for a long time that if you really want Carroll to go, the best chance would be for him to decide to leave/retire. This game probably does not help that. If he speaks with Wilson after the year and it’s clear Wilson wants to leave, that might cause Carroll to reconsider his options.
The head coach hiring season is already underway and the most attractive candidates may be gone if things take too long to nail down.
Some have suggested that Carroll could step back into just being a head of football operations and give up coaching. I do not see how that makes much sense given that it would increase Carroll’s time on personnel, which is arguably where he has fallen most short.
They could also ask him to relinquish his personnel duties, like Holmgren did, and focus only on coaching. That would mostly be a PR move as even Holmgren retained a significant amount of power when Bob Ferguson came on as what was really a figurehead GM role.
If you are someone who wants Carroll gone, the best bet would just be that he has a change of heart and decides to walk away. As someone who recently did that at age 46 from a place I worked for 24 years, I can tell you it’s not as crazy it sounds.
Wilson continues to be very careful with his words. After the game, he talked about “hoping” to be back with Seattle next year. The guy has a no-trade clause. Hope needn’t play a role. The clear implication of his words and the stories his agent is feeding the press is that he wants to leave.
The most hopeful interpretation if you are a staunch supporter of Wilson over all else is that he wants to be in Seattle if they get a new coach. You then need to hope that ownership is willing to take on everything outlined earlier to placate their franchise quarterback who is coming off his worst season and is going to require a massive extension of his own soon.
The odds feel long to me that Wilson stays and Carroll and/or John Schneider go.
In order, here is my best guess at most likely outcomes:
Pete, John and Russ return for another year without change
Pete gives up personnel responsibilities, John and Russ stay
Pete and John stay, Russ is traded
Pete leaves, John stays, Russ is traded
Pete and John leave, Russ stays
I do believe both Pete and John would have to go for Russ to stay. Schneider has shown more indications that he wants to trade Wilson than Carroll. He was the one who worked out a trade with Chicago last year that Carroll vetoed. He seems likely to be the source of some of the stories around trading Wilson and expected draft haul return we have seen this season. He and Wilson’s agent, Mark Rodgers, are not exactly best pals.
I list everyone coming back as the most likely because doing nothing is always less work than making a change. Wilson has two more years on his deal, and it would not be hard to look at the injury to Wilson and some of the close losses and convince themselves it is worth one more shot.
Wilson could hold out to force a move, but that seems unlikely.
It just does not seem like Wilson has the pull necessary to force a change at the top, especially coming off the season he just had.
There were some promising developments in this game, regardless of scenario. Offensive line is the are that most needs to improve. Phil Haynes got his first start of the season as Damien Lewis had to be held out. Haynes had a key block on both of the early rushing touchdowns. His pass protection looked solid-to-very good throughout. He happens to be a player I have been high on since his rookie season, but has had trouble getting a true shot from the coaching staff.
He dealt with some injury issues, but has been healthy this whole season. He was cut after ending the preseason with one of the top three offensive line grades of all NFL linemen. Seattle signed him back to the practice squad and eventually to the active roster. I advocated for him getting a chance to play center last offseason, and the team did give him practice at that position during preseason. He could be a very intriguing option to fill the biggest void on this line.
Lewis has a start at center as well and played admirably. I prefer keeping Lewis at guard, but either would have upside potential over what we have seen at center the last two seasons.
Why Haynes has toiled on the bench while Kyle Fuller was repeatedly put in the game after awful performances is one of the bigger coaching faux pas of the season. The coaching staff belief in Fuller during the offseason was one of their worst personnel decisions as well as it directly led to passing on terrific young center options in the draft like Creed Humphrey. A tiny bit of that sting can be soothed if Haynes finally is seen for his potential and can grow into a part of the solution for this line.
Penny knows a thing or two about being forgotten on the bench and dealing with injuries. He has been nothing short of the best running back in football the last four weeks. He leads all running backs in yards over that time and now has 5 runs of 30+ yards in four weeks.
I have been steadfast in saying it would be a mistake to resign Penny, who is a free agent after this season. I still have significant concerns about spending any guaranteed money beyond next year on a player who has had major injury issues at a position that always results in injury.
I would love to have him on the team as part of the running back room, but he is running well enough that some team will look at him at their starter and offer him a contract of that level. That is a position I would prefer to just go back to the draft and get a young guy for cheap and reset the rookie contract clock.
Is it a shame that the team got so little for their investment of a first-round pick? Absolutely. Would it be twice as bad if they signed him to a large deal and he continued to be unable to stay on the field? Yep. Take solace in the fact that there is some validation of his talent and vindication for picking him so high and move on.
All that said, it has been a blast watching a back with big play ability. That has been missing for a long time. The envisioned combination of Penny and Chris Carson could have been really great this year, but it was not to be.
The dominant run game setup a number of easy passes on plays designed to look just like the running plays. Bootlegs had Gerald Everett wide open multiple times. Freddie Swain had nobody within 10 yards of him on his big catch early.
Wilson, to his credit, made the throws. It is considered heresy in some circles to say it, but I genuinely believe Wilson is at his best when paired with a strong run game. His throws while on the run and his deep passes off play action are the perfect pairing with an effective rushing attack.
I do not think it is a coincidence that Wilson was sacked 0, 1, and 2 times in the three games when Penny rushed for over 130 yards. The game where he had 2 sacks was last week when Wilson took the controversial sack on 3rd and 4 late in the game. The point is, he gets hit less and takes fewer negative plays.
If only he could embrace that instead of feel a need to put up Patrick Mahomes-level passing totals. If only Carroll could embrace it and get back to the philosophy that worked from him at USC and in Seattle. If only Schneider could invest enough in the offensive line to make it all work.
The defense did okay in this one. They get credit for holding the Lions to less than 150 yards and 7 points in the first half and getting three takeaways. The 22 second half points to backup quarterback Tim Boyle was pretty awful. Some of it may have been from defensive changes after the team went up 38-7, but it felt more like some bad pass defense and shoddy tackling.
My favorite play had to be that explosive smash in the backfield by Darrell Taylor near the goal line. That was as badass of a defensive play as we have seen from a Seahawks defender in years.
D.J. Reed picked off two passes and Ugo Amadi nearly had the first Seahawks defensive touchdown in two years.
It was a shame that Bobby Wagner got hurt right at the start. The hope is he will be okay as we wait for MRI results. It almost certainly was his last home game given he has no guaranteed money next year and is owed over $16M. It seems very unlikely the team will pay him that much.
The juxtaposition between him and his 2012 draft partner in how he is handling his likely exit from Seattle is notable. Wagner has always handled himself with total class.
Seattle ends their season with a division game in Arizona. A win there would further encourage those in control to stay the course. A blowout loss could wash away some of the positive feelings from this big win. The season is ending, but the soap opera is just beginning.