Following another 7-9 season, the Seattle Seahawks find themselves at a crossroads.
While the team's second-half surge briefly had them flirting with a wild-card spot, it still wasn't enough to get the team back to the postseason in Year Two under Pete Carroll.
While it certainly seems possible for the Hawks to make the playoffs next year, what happens over the next few weeks and months will be critical. In order for the team to progress to bigger and better things, the following suggestions could help make the leap that much easier.
Yes, this is a tad obvious for starters.
The man who at least on the surface carried the Seahawks to relevancy this past season will get paid this offseason.
The question is by who?
Inking him to a long-term deal is not without risks. But without him, the Hawks are at square one with their running game, with Leon Washington and Justin Forsett serving as the potential alternatives. While it may be worthwhile to spend a draft pick as a change of pace, ultimately the team needs "The Beast" back in uniform.
Pay the man.
At the center of it all, Red Bryant is a larger than life figure the Seahawks need to keep in Seattle.
Perhaps this year's Steve Largent Award winner may not appear much in the stat sheet each week, but he is a glue guy that inspires teammates on both sides of the ball.
Showing love to quality guys like Bryant, drafted by the organization before Pete Carroll came on board, would be a positive sign that the team is willing to reward loyalty especially after seeing so many veterans pre-dating Carroll's arrival cut loose.
For as good as Red Bryant and Chris Clemons can be in stuffing the run, it's been painfully clear the better part of this season that the Seahawks can't get to opposing QBs.
For this defense to be truly elite, pressure needs to be swift and relentless from front to back. On the back end, the pass coverage has progressed nicely with three Pro Bowlers (Earl Thomas, Brandon Browner and Kam Chancellor), but the coverage sacks alone that they help provide won't cut it long term.
The fact of the matter is the Hawks need someone who can get in the backfield consistently and keep opposing passers on edge. Sports Illustrated's Wes Bunting has hinted as much with his coverage during the Senior Bowl in listing one particular player at the top of his list for the Hawks for this year's draft.
This unit still leaves much to be desired. While KJ Wright was a nice find in last year's draft, the remaining pieces are a mixed bag at best.
Do you re-sign veteran David Hawthorne and/or Leroy Hill?
Both players have made solid contributions for the 'Hawks, yet in an era of "What have you done lately?" it's hard to put a price on retaining them.
I'm not entirely sure I would throw a ton of money at them, either, but I still feel the team needs to make at least one an offer and look to the draft once again to fill the gaps.
Overall it's vexing, but the trio from this past season simply doesn't inspire much excitement in pursuit or pass coverage if we look ahead to next year. On the surface, it may not be one of the most important moves, but it could be one of the most difficult.
Clipboard Jesus needs to go. His contract is up and to pay him anything more than the league minimum is being generous and arguably foolish.
Moving forward, Tarvaris Jackson needs someone to either push him or surpass him next season for the 'Hawks to push beyond .500. Either through the draft or through free agency, something needs to be done.
The question is how far will Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider go to get this solved?
This one is not just for Pete, but also for offensive line coach Tom Cable.
For a time this season, it seemed like this unit would finally make some headway after a rough start, but then the injury bug struck taking down key cogs Russell Okung, James Carpenter and John Moffitt. If the Hawks have any plans for playing next January, this crew needs to be in tip top shape from Week 1.
Durability cannot be a question next season—plain and simple. Hopefully a full offseason of proper conditioning will have this unit ready.
It's hard to say whether the Hawks have too much of a good thing here, but next season the team needs a little more quality versus quantity. Youngsters like Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate have been able to impress this season, but next year expectations will be higher.
Meanwhile, injuries and pass schemes have limited the effectiveness of key veteran signees like Sidney Rice and Zach Miller. Both Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will need to find a way to get a better return on investment from each of these players in their second year in Seattle.
Speaking of earning a paycheck—Mike Williams, please come back. If not, the Hawks might just move on without you.