Retrospective: The Seattle Seahawks
The identity of the Seattle Seahawks has vastly changed over the duration of the past couple of years, and I’m sad.
Asking “why” may be the ensuing question among many readers, considering the team is coming off of a playoff appearance in 2018 and locked up its franchise quarterback in Russell Wilson for the foreseeable future.
Arriving at that point though involved some roster turnover along the way and with that a necessity to say goodbye to some faces that have come to be synonymous with Seahawks football.
Earlier this month Seattle released both wide-receiver Doug Baldwin and strong safety Kam Chancellor, after each of them failed their physicals with the team. Aside from their releases, free safety Earl Thomas III departed from the franchise that drafted him for greener pastures in Baltimore, a highly anticipated move considering Thomas’ very public outcry that he was destined to play elsewhere since Seattle wasn’t going to extend him.
The current holdovers from the Seahawks earlier run of success now remains with just Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner, though Wagner looks to be joining the rest of the gang soon in exiting northwest football as he is set to enter free agency himself next off-season.
To circle back to my earlier point of being saddened by these departures and the prospective exit of Wagner, should he wind up playing elsewhere in 2020, is representative of the conclusion of what was a dominant brand of football in Seattle.
Between 2010 and 2012, a core was developed in Seattle with players that would culminate in delivering the team’s first, and to this point, only title.
That core truly burst onto the scene in 2012, after going 11-5 and falling just short to the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round. However, you knew watching that team that something special was developing.
With homegrown talent in the secondary composed of the likes of Richard Sherman and the aforementioned Chancellor and Thomas, as well as a linebacker and defensive-line unit made up of a mix including young and savvy veterans like Wagner, K.J. Wright, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, the defense was shaping up to instill fear among opposing offenses. The “Legion of Boom” was born.
Offensively, the team was led by the young Wilson, who didn’t arrive with the same notoriety like fellow members of his draft class in Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III did, but played with the poise of a veteran in the most tense-filled of situations. Wilson was able to adopt a game manager role early on because he had the bruising Marshawn Lynch in the backfield to aid him. Lynch’s violent running style complemented Wilson’s mobile style of play and together they provided the balance opposite the Legion of Boom to embed Seattle as a powerhouse elite among NFL franchises.
The manifestation of Seattle from 2012 to 2013 was noticeably apparent as the defense was downright DOMINANT. The unit steamrolled to a 13-3 record, while leading the league in points allowed, yards allowed and takeaways, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since the 1985 Chicago Bears did it.
Bulldozing through 2013, Seattle clinched the NFC West, as well as the number 1 seed in the NFC, enroot to knocking off the New Orleans Saints and reigning NFC Champion & division rival San Francisco 49ers for an opportunity to play the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVII.
In a matchup that featured both top-seeded teams of each conference playing for the crown, Seattle ran roughshod through Denver, in a lop-sided 43-8 victory. The Seattle Seahawks finally won the big one.
The reigning champions entered 2014 equally as dominant as they were in 2013 and found themselves atop the NFC again, cruising to a 12-4 record and ultimately on their way again to the Super Bowl. This time around though, the path to the Lombardi Trophy went through the New England Patriots.
With New England only up by 4 points and Seattle a single yard away from taking the lead with a mere :27 seconds left on the clock, the play calling in Seattle failed the team in winning the title for a second consecutive season. Passing on 2nd down, Russell Wilson was intercepted by Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, ultimately securing the victory for the New England.
The core that was built only a few seasons earlier would not return to another Super Bowl together because as that game ended, so too did the dominance of Seattle Seahawks football.
The ensuing two seasons in 2015 and 2016 would see Seattle’s seasons end with divisional rounds exits to the Panthers and Falcons. It was following the 2015 season in which running-back Marshawn Lynch made the decision to retire, becoming the first key member of the Seahawks original core to depart. He ultimately returned to the playing field following a season away from the game, but only to play for his hometown Oakland Raiders, who acquired him for a late round pick from Seattle.
The team missed the playoffs entirely in 2017 and from there began the process of letting go of the pieces that were critical to the most successful era of Seahawks football.
Homegrown and all-pro talent Richard Sherman was released in March of 2018, while veteran pass-rusher Michael Bennett was dealt to the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. Just a couple of months later in May of 2018, the franchise cut ties with Cliff Avril under a failed physical designation.
Going into 2018, key cornerstones of the defense that comprised a run to two Super Bowl appearances and several more playoff berths would be playing elsewhere. The team identity which was alluded to earlier was evolving though, as Russell Wilson’s play was coming to the forefront of the successes Seattle enjoyed, rather than the accomplishments of a stellar defensive unit.
Beginning in 2017, Wilson’s play elevated to a level of elite status, in which he was incredibly valuable to an offense that would have faltered without him. Even though the team missed the playoffs that season, Wilson turned into a different type of player because of the ability he displayed.
Without a strong running game, shaky offensive line and a defense that paled in comparisons to the ones the franchise employed in years prior to that, Wilson was a critical cog in the passing and running game, as he was responsible for 97% of all Seattle’s offensive scores in some shape or form, per Fandsided’s Dan Salem. That’s an awfully incredible statistic to take into account when you consider the kind of burden Wilson was bearing in carrying that team.
In 2018, Wilson’s elite level of play presided again, as he set franchise bests in touchdowns (35) and passer rating (110.9). That kind of play of was a key component in Seattle finishing the year 10-6 and clinching a wild-card berth, although the team did fall short in wild card round to the Dallas Cowboys.
Entering the offseason following that wild card exit at the hands of the Cowboys, Seattle made more tough decisions with regards to the roster going forward. That included the departures of the previously mentioned Earl Thomas, who missed most of 2018 anyway, after breaking his leg in a week 4 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals. Moreover, the franchise cut ties with Chancellor and Baldwin in lieu of the two suffering career-threatening injuries and failed physicals with the team. With that, the last original, remaining core members of Seahawks football now include Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner.
Understandably though, Wilson is now the face of Seattle. The franchise recognized him as just that when they made him the highest paid NFL player after signing him to a four-year, $140 million dollar extension to remain in Seattle through 2023 season.
His play over the past couple of seasons has warranted the hefty financial commitment, but also ensures that the team will be now be predicated primarily around Wilson’s skillset. Wilson enters 2019 in serious MVP conversation, so there will be no shortage of critics across the league if he plays below that expectation.
Taking a step back though, it is remarkable to consider just how successful the players mentioned throughout this piece were in delivering an exciting brand of football to the city of Seattle. A combination of drafted players and veteran acquisitions over the period of 2012 to 2016 resulted in a run of five straight playoff appearances, two Super Bowl appearances and winning the only Lombardi Trophy the city has ever seen. Additionally, the likes of Wilson, Baldwin, Lynch, Sherman, Thomas, Chancellor, Wagner, among the rest, combined for a countless number of pro bowl appearances and sustained, individual successes.
Some may say that this team should have won more, or that they weren’t as good as I’m giving them credit for, but I know this is for certain.
It is hard to win in the NFL. It is hard to continually hit on draft picks in the NFL that deliver above average production. It is hard to acquire players from other teams and expect them to play at the same level, or higher, in new systems. Seattle checked the boxes on all three though and it culminated in winning a championship. That’s a lot more than most other teams fighting to just be relevant can say.