Pete Carroll and John Schneider have raised expectations so high that missing a third straight Super Bowl appearance was considered a stunning failure last season — especially after the Seahawks had recovered from a poor start and put together a dominant second half of the season.
Not even record-setting performances from both the offense and defense could make anyone feel any better after the Seahawks let themselves be ramrodded by the Panthers in the playoffs.
The fact is, though, there’s a reason no team has gone to the Super Bowl three straight times in the salary-cap era or that the only team in the 16-game era to do it (Buffalo) lost every title game (four straight) or that the only other team to reach three straight, Miami, did it in 14-game seasons.
Football is a game of attrition. The more games they play, the more players they lose.
Since Russell Wilson arrived in 2012 and kick-started this era of constant contention, the Seahawks have played more games than anyone. Their 74 are one more than New England and two more than Denver, the teams that followed Seattle’s title with championships of their own and are the only clubs with better winning percentages than Seattle over that term.
That kind of achievement is debilitating to a team. Two straight Super Bowl seasons took it out of the Hawks, who entered last season banged up all across the secondary and then lost Marshawn Lynch, whose body finally succumbed after years of operating in Beast Mode.
“We had two years of going to the wire, and you just beat your body up to a certain degree playing that long,” Richard Sherman said last week. “This year we got two, three extra weeks off. That does a lot for the mentality and the body — just let your body rest.
“You always want to make it to the Super Bowl and win it, but there was a silver lining of sorts for us not making last year — letting guys rest their bodies and their minds, because that’s a lot of football on your body. Guys got to heal, guys got to sit back and enjoy their families for a second and come back renewed.”
As much as some have lamented the personnel losses Seattle has suffered over the past two or three years — departures that have occurred largely due to the team’s success — the reality is turnover keeps a team fresh.
Since they won Super Bowl XLVIII in February 2014, the Seahawks have said goodbye to (among others) Golden Tate, Chris Clemons, Red Bryant, Sidney Rice, Clinton McDonald, Breno Giacomini, Brandon Browner, Walter Thurmond, Percy Harvin, Max Unger, Byron Maxwell, James Carpenter, Malcolm Smith, Zach Miller, Bruce Irvin, Brandon Mebane, J.R. Sweezy, Russell Okung and Lynch.
Some of those players commanded more money than Seattle wanted to pay them. Others, though, were wearing down and needed to be replaced (or already had been).
In the past three offseasons, the Seahawks have supplanted pretty much all of those guys. Tate, Rice and Harvin gave way to Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett; Miller’s spot has been filled by Jimmy Graham and Nick Vannett; Clemons, Bryant, McDonald and Mebane have turned into Frank Clark, Jordan Hill, Ahtyba Rubin and Jarran Reed; Thurmond and Maxwell have been swapped for Jeremy Lane, DeShawn Shead and others; Lynch has been replaced by Thomas Rawls and a couple of rookies; and the entire offensive line has been turned over.
The only position that has not been replenished yet is linebacker, but the team has enough options — Mike Morgan, Cassius Marsh, Kevin Pierre-Louis — for now.
Even with Clemons and Browner returning this year (roster spots not assured), the Seahawks have added a lot of fresh legs to replace the ones that walked away.
They have a couple of key injuries lingering — Rawls and Graham — but otherwise seem healthy and raring to go as they finish offseason work with a minicamp this week.
The Hawks say this offseason feels like 2013, when they were coming off that last-minute playoff loss in Atlanta. The similarities are certainly there, as we wrote immediately after the playoff loss in Carolina. And oddsmakers still consider them one of the favorites to win it all.
Assuming they fix their offensive line fairly quickly, there’s no reason they shouldn’t get back to the Super Bowl. After all, they’re well-rested and have added plenty of fresh legs.