As the Seahawks come off their best offensive performance of the season and prepare to take on the reigning Super Bowl champs, people are trying to figure out which team is the real Seattle Seahawks—the club that was blown out 74-10 by Oakland and the Giants or the one that bookended those blowouts with a 58-28 season sweep of Arizona.
Don’t bother trying to figure it out. You won’t know for at least another year.
Plenty of people have said they love what Pete Carroll is building in Seattle. But is he really building anything this year?
Sure, the Seahawks are 5-4 and in first place in the NFC Worst, and Carroll might be able to eke out a division title like Mike Holmgren did in his first year.
But it’s impossible to say Carroll is building something when most of the offensive players are unsigned beyond this year and the defense figures to change, too.
Carroll and general manager John Schneider have made over 200 moves this year, and the Seahawks have the most new players of any team in the league.
And they’re far from finished. This is just a feeling-out year as Carroll gets used to the NFL and figures out which players fit his system and might be worth keeping in 2011.
Carroll and Schneider have intentionally set up the roster so they will have plenty of salary-cap space if indeed the salary cap returns in 2011 (pending a new CBA). They already have dumped or renegotiated the big salaries of guys like T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch, Julius Jones, Sean Locklear and Leroy Hill. And they have only about half the roster under contract for next season.
So, really, this season is kind of a standalone event. The team we see next year might be very different than the one we’re seeing now.
As Matt Hasselbeck comes off his best game since 2007, there has been much needless speculation this week about the quarterback’s future. That decision won’t be made until this season is over (the bet here is that the 35-year-old will return as the starter in 2011).
But Hasselbeck is just one of several offensive players who will be free agents next year, with leading receiver Mike Williams and six of the top nine linemen on the list, too.
If Williams keeps it up, he will create a market for himself around the NFL (although it’s hard to imagine him going somewhere else).
Linemen Chris Spencer, Ben Hamilton, Sean Locklear, Chester Pitts, Tyler Polumbus and Ray Willis will all be free agents, too. And the Seahawks might decide not to pay Stacy Andrews $4.75 million.
The fact that the Hawks have not been able to start their best five guys together at all this year means there will be no continuity next year anyway, so they can reshuffle as much as they need to in order to get the best linemen and see if they can start building the kind of line Holmgren was able to put together for his playoff teams.
Russell Okung will be the anchor of that line, and Max Unger should be a key part, too. But the rest of the unit is full of question marks.
Beyond Okung and Unger, the core offensive players who seem certain to return are John Carlson, Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, Deon Butler and Golden Tate. Otherwise, who knows what the offense will look like in 2011?
The defense doesn’t have nearly as many pending free agents, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a lot of change on that side, too—we’re talking about a unit that is ranked 28th in pass defense and has slipped against the run without Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant.
After Holmgren’s Seahawks made the playoffs in 1999, it took him four more years to get back. Carroll and Schneider seem to have gotten a better jump on remaking the team than Holmgren did in 1999, but—with so many questions beyond this year—it’s hard to tell how long it might take to put it all together.
This team has no identity this year and might not have one until well into next season either.
Three and Out: The Saints Game
**The expected return of Reggie Bush for the Saints is a big topic nationally, and plenty will be said about the reunion of Bush and Pete Carroll. But there’s another Saints running back making a little reunion, too, as Julius Jones will face the team that cut him earlier this season.
Jones was picked up by the Saints to fill in while Bush and Pierre Thomas were out, and Jones has rushed for 122 yards on 23 carries in part-time duty over the last four games.
**The Seahawks have given up a league-high 18 plays of 30 yards or more this season, and Drew Brees has to be licking his chops. The Saints, meanwhile, have given up only five, so don’t expect a repeat of the big offensive explosion the Seahawks had against Arizona last week. The Cardinals, by the way, have given up 17 plays of 30 yards or more—four to the Seahawks last week.
**If the Seahawks somehow manage to pull off the major upset in New Orleans, you can basically call the NFC West theirs. That would put them at 6-4 with four of their final six games at home—and tons of confidence after having beaten the high-powered Saints. It would be a watershed win, but it won’t happen.