The Seattle Seahawks have every reason to be excited during this offseason. They finished the season with a 16-3 record, never lost a game by more than 7, and were on the winning side of one of the most lopsided Super Bowl victories ever against a team that had just put together one of the most impressive offensive performances in the history of the NFL, if not the most impressive. On top of the Super Bowl victory, Seattle was able to retain all three of their “Legion Of Boom” superstars in Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, and Earl Thomas. From the surface, it looks as if Seattle has locked up their superstars and is ready to coast to another Super Bowl victory in 2015, right? Not so quick, many more things have happened throughout the 2014 offseason within the Seahawks organization, and throughout the NFL as a whole, that could make their road to Super Bowl XLIX a lot harder than what is being portrayed on the surface.
While the Seahawks did manage to retain most of their biggest contributors (I say most because Russell Wilson has yet to sign a contract extension), they also have some question marks heading into the new season. First, the defense has been the overwhelming strong suit of the Seattle blueprint for success. Now while their defense was the best in the NFL, their offense ranked 16th in overall yards and 26th in passing. Their best receiver was Golden Tate with 898 yards and 5 TDs and they lost him in free agency. Sidney Rice, while somewhat irrelevant as of late, was also released and recently retired. Marshawn Lynch brought Seattle to the 4th best rushing offense in the game, but he isn’t getting any younger and is currently holding out of training camp for a bigger contract that Seattle is most likely unwilling to give. So, outside of Russell Wilson, the Hawks no longer have their leading receiver, lost a proven veteran in Rice, and their star running back is nowhere to be found for the time being. This obviously doesn’t give any overwhelming reason for panic in the Emerald City (unless Lynch misses extended time, he is a huge part of their success), but it does mean that new playmakers will have to step up, and their defense may be relied on even more heavily than they usually are.
If I were to say that Seattle’s defense was in trouble, I would get thrown to the wolves, so let me just say that some things have happened that could end up proving to make things a little bit more difficult for the reigning champs. Any knowledgeable sports fan realizes that depth plays a huge part in how successful any given team is. This is true in basketball, baseball, soccer, and probably most important in football. Linemen and linebackers are constantly switching in and out of the game, and if teams have the luxury, corners are shifted around to keep fresh legs.
While retaining their “stars” has been taken care of, Seattle has lost two of their key defensive line contributors and two large-role cornerbacks since their Super Bowl victory. Red Bryant was, quite literally, a huge factor in the run stopping defense, and Chris Clemons, although not as effective as he had been in the past, was still a veteran with multiple double digit sack seasons to his name. The plethora of capable linemen that Seattle had allowed them to use simple 3 to 4 man rushes and still put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which in turn helped the secondary a great deal. It is well documented and proven that the longer the quarterback has to throw the ball, the more likely he is in completing a pass, and with the losses of these two key contributors on the defensive front it will make it much harder to successfully replicate their 3 to 4 man pass rushes. This dilemma may put even more pressure on the secondary to cover their assignments for a little bit longer, which has been proven to be quite detrimental in certain circumstances.
Not only did the defensive line lose some strong players, but the secondary has taken a hit as well. Walter Thurmond, who started to look more and more impressive as the season progressed, signed with the New York Giants during the free agency period and will be sorely missed by the LOB. On top of that, Brandon Browner has left Seattle for a job to play alongside Darrelle Revis with the New England Patriots. Browner had seemed to lose a little bit of his mojo this past season with some PED allegations and a down year in on-field performance, but he has still been a major factor in the Seattle secondary for the past 3 years to say the least. These two losses will either require other players to step up or put even more pressure on the three main LOB superstars in Chancellor, Sherman, and Thomas.
Losing 4 key contributors on defense would make it tough on any team, and although the Seahawks still have many great defensive players beyond their three most notable (Bobby Wagner, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett), they have definitely lost a great deal of veteran depth and will be relying on unproven guys to develop rather than already knowing what they have in that regard.
While losing some key contributors on both sides of the ball definitely stings the most, the Seahawks may have a couple more things to worry about. The NFC West isn’t getting any easier and has arguably gotten even tougher with both the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams inching closer and closer to realistically competing with the San Francisco 49ers and Seahawks. The Rams finished off their damage of the RG3 trade selecting Greg Robinson at number 2 in the draft, adding Aaron Donald to an already ridiculous front line, and picking up potential play-makers in Tre Mason, Lamarcus Joyner and Michael Sam, all standout players on their respective college teams. The Cardinals barely missed the playoffs last season even though they held a 10-6 record, a record almost always good enough to make it into postseason contention; they seem to have the arrow pointing up under second year head coach Bruce Arians. The 49ers are still the 49ers, but they added Antoine Bethea, Stevie Johnson, and Ohio State standout Carlos Hyde during their regularly busy offseason. They also managed to re-sign Anquan Boldin and Colin Kaepernick, so as hard as this is to fathom, they may be an even more dangerous team than in the last couple years. From the looks of it, all three of Seattle’s division rivals have improved this offseason; we will obviously have to play the waiting game to see how it all turns out, but the NFC West seems to have strengthened its grip as the NFL’s toughest division.
Living in the Pacific Northwest, this may not have been the smartest column to write, but I pride myself on calling it how I see it no matter what the team. This is not to say that I am predicting the Seahawks have a terrible season by any means, I actually still think they are very capable of winning back to back Super Bowls. They are extremely well coached, have a great system in place, the loudest fans in football, and most importantly, every one of their players seems to have bought into Pete Carroll’s philosophy (Marshawn Lynch pending). Seattle did pick up an extremely underrated wide receiver in Paul Richardson out of Colorado in the draft to potentially replace Golden Tate, and they have always been known for their “next man up” philosophy, and up to this date that hasn’t failed them. It just seems to me like everything that could have gone right last year did and there is never a sure thing in the NFL. With that being said, I would still put Seattle as a top 3 team entering the season, and I can’t wait to see them battle it out in the NFC West. To me, this is the year where the Legion Of Boom can really make a statement to the rest of the league as to just how dominant their core really is, or they can show us how depth and good fortune helped them out in a major way last year. This is the joy of the NFL folks, and we will just have to wait and see how it plays out.