As the Seattle Seahawks prepare to kick off the Pete Carroll era, key injuries and some mind-boggling moves have killed much of the optimism and it is difficult to know what to expect.
The offensive line is the biggest concern, with line coach Alex Gibbs abandoning the team on the eve of the season and No. 1 left tackle Russell Okung still out with a high ankle sprain.
Not what anyone expected back in April, when Gibbs was gushing about Okung after the team had drafted him sixth overall.
Whether it’s Tyler Polumbus or Chester Pitts, the guy who starts at left tackle against the San Francisco 49ers will be a guy who has never started there for the Seahawks. And he’ll be playing next to Mike Gibson, who is making his first NFL start.
This is the same scenario the Seahawks lived through for all of the 2009 season, when they went through four left tackles and three left guards.
On top of that problem, Carroll and general manager John Schneider have made a bunch of last-minute changes to the roster, so six guys are learning the Seattle systems on the fly.
Although Schneider claimed the Hawks are a better team after trading Josh Wilson, cutting receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, keeping Deion Branch and Julius Jones and making a few other questionable moves, there’s no way that is true.
How can you be better when you keep an injury-prone receiver while dumping your top pass catcher? How can you be better when you have six cornerbacks on your team but the guy you traded is better than five of them?
How can you be better when seven of your 10 offensive linemen were not on your team last year, meaning they have worked together for just a few months, weeks or even days? How can you be better when your linebackers can’t stay healthy?
No, those moves did not make the Seahawks better. They just made them different.
Heck, the Seahawks were moving so fast with their moves last weekend that they didn’t realize the major mistake they had made at safety after cutting Jordan Babineaux and leaving themselves with a 36-year-old and two rookies.
So, the next day, they brought back Babineaux and cut Craig Terrill, leaving themselves short instead at defensive tackle, which had been one of their best positions until they lopped Kevin Vickerson and Terrill and brought in Junior Siavii.
The moves by Carroll and Schneider leave a lot of people shaking their heads in confusion, because they aren’t necessarily all moves for the future and they certainly aren’t all moves that will help the team win this year.
So what are Carroll and Schneider doing? Trying to win now or building for the future or riding the fence in between or just throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks?
One thing is clear: This is an evaluation season, and you can expect the team to change even more as soon as it is completed. So don’t go out and buy any jerseys with player names on them.
Carroll and Schneider would never admit it, but winning is secondary this year to installing their schemes and seeing which players fit them. If they somehow made the playoffs this year, it would be a major bonus.
As Schneider said in an online chat with The Seattle Times in April, “We want to be able to continue to put ourselves in a position to acquire good talent and be able to have a great feel for our roster.
"Next year will be better once we have a better feel for our roster. It takes a while to get to know your team.”
Especially when you keep churning players just before the season starts.
Considering the extremely unsettled nature of this club, it is somewhat surprising they have not traded quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and simply installed Charlie Whitehurst as the starter.
After all, they just traded Wilson, a good, young starting cornerback just entering his prime, for nothing more than a mid-round pick. And they cut their best receiver outright, getting nothing in return while owing him over $6 million this season.
Meanwhile, counter to their spoken goal of improving the team, they have retained the injury-riddled Branch at $5.5 million and the one-dimensional Jones at a lower salary.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether Branch and Jones are on the team next year, when the Seahawks will change significantly again.
So, what can we expect after this year?
Hasselbeck will be a free agent, which means Whitehurst might take over at quarterback. Or the Hawks might draft a quarterback.
At running back, Leon Washington is in the final year of his contract. Jones and Justin Forsett are signed through 2011, but the Hawks almost surely will draft a running back next April.
At receiver, Branch still has two seasons left on the six-year, $39 million deal he signed in 2006. He is scheduled to make about $6 million next year, and the odds look great of him sticking around to collect it...even if he breaks a leg this year.
As injury-riddled as he has been on the field, he has been completely bullet proof off it. Some things simply will never make sense in life, and Branch remaining on the team the last two years is one of them.
Mike Williams is working on a one-year deal, and Carroll and Schneider surely are hoping he earns a longer contract. Ben Obomanu also is on a one-year deal.
Deon Butler and Golden Tate are the only receivers who seem certain to have futures in Seattle beyond this year. Butler is signed through 2012, Tate through 2013.
Tight end John Carlson, perhaps the best player on offense, is signed through 2011. Ifhe has a great year, the Hawks would surely consider extending his deal...if there is no lockout by the owners.
Once again, the offensive line will see much upheaval in 2011. The only guys who seem sure to remain are Okung and Max Unger. Chris Spencer, Chester Pitts and Ben Hamilton all will be free agents.
Sean Locklear won’t be back. He was reportedly shopped this week and then reportedly took a $2.25 million pay cut to stay, while wiping out the final two years of his contract.
Recently acquired Stacy Andrews could replace Locklear. Andrews is under contract through 2014, but his pay escalates from $1.15 million this year to $4.75 million in 2011, $5.6 million in 2012, $7 million in 2013 and $6.75 million in the final year.
He won’t stick around with those numbers, but the Hawks could rework the contract if they like him, or even keep him next year and redo the deal after that.
The defense is a little more settled, with key guys like Lofa Tatupu, Marcus Trufant, Earl Thomas and Aaron Curry signed long term. Of course, those guys need to prove they are worth keeping.
The defensive line could be in flux next year, though. Brandon Mebane figures to be perhaps the highest priority among the team’s own free agents.
Colin Cole is signed through 2013, but the front office might not want to pay him $13.2 million over the final three years.
Chris Clemons is making $1.2 million this year and has reasonable salaries of $2.3 million and $3 million through the end of his contract in 2013. He also has about $6 million in incentives.
Like most of the team, he’s on a one-year tryout to see whether he’s worth keeping in 2011.
Red Bryant is signed through 2011, which gives the coaches plenty of time to see how he fares in his new super-end role.
At linebacker, Tatupu and Curry need to start earning their money this year. Tatupu is signed through 2015 at reasonable salaries (capping at $5.5 million), but he has to stay healthy.
Curry is signed through 2014, but he has a $5 million roster bonus due next offseason, in addition to a $5 million salary.
If he is a total failure this year, it’s not hard to see the Seahawks cutting ties. If he’s only marginally helpful, they could ask him to redo his contract, as they have with Leroy Hill, Locklear, Jones, and Babineaux this year.
Hill already had the rest of his contract wiped out while reducing his 2010 pay, and he likely will be let go after this season.
David Hawthorne will be a restricted free agent next year, so he figures to be back. However, if he builds on his 2009 season, he could become a sticky contract situation.
The secondary could be set for several years if rookies Walter Thurmond and Kam Chancellor progress enough this season.
Thurmond should supplant Kelly Jennings at some point; Jennings is a free agent next year anyway.
Lawyer Milloy, 36, could return next year, but the Hawks obviously hope Chancellor can be the future strong safety.
Olindo Mare is a free agent after this season, so the Seahawks will have to investigate the kicker market in 2011. But they previously locked up stud punter Jon Ryan through 2015.
The only guys we would lock in for the 2011 roster are: Whitehurst, Forsett, Tate, Carlson, Okung, Unger, Tatupu, Hawthorne, Trufant, Thurmond and Thomas.
So, after Carroll and Schneider turned over 27 of the 53 positions this year, they might do it again next year.
Go Outside The Press Box to check out 10 key questions about this season's Seahawks.
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