Are the Seahawks still ‘in the middle of it’?

logo-playoffsAre the Seahawks “in the middle of it” or coming to the end of it? That is the big question after three straight disappointing playoff seasons.

Pete Carroll, of course, says the Super Bowl window is still open. Just as he said after the XLIX debacle in 2015 and after the near blowout in Carolina last year, he reiterated Saturday night that the Hawks “are right in the middle of it.” But are they?

All of this team’s best players are signed for another year, but Carroll’s club has been on a steady slide ever since the ridiculous decision to throw the ball from the 1 vs. the Patriots. In 2015, Kam Chancellor’s holdout fractured the defense and the offensive line had trouble against good fronts — a big reason they were nearly blown out by Carolina in the divisional playoffs. In 2016, injuries and attitude problems messed up the defense and the offensive line was even worse than it had been in 2015– the main reason they were blown out by Atlanta.

This team is not the aging crew Mike Holmgren had left after his Seahawks’ five-year playoff run in the mid-2000s; but, as constituted, Carroll’s club is not a strong contender anymore.

Oddly, Carroll said it feels like they are just getting started — apparently like the 2013 loss in Atlanta, which catapulted them to two Super Bowl appearances. It certainly doesn’t feel like that, though, does it? It feels like this team has lost its edge and needs a major attitude adjustment, along with some serious personnel fixes.

In what easily could have been a statement covering each of the past two seasons, Chancellor said, “We didn’t stay together the whole game. We believed, but we didn’t stay together from an attitude standpoint. We got too caught up in things they were doing, and it kind of took away our energy and drained our energy from us.”

Chancellor said the defense’s tendency to get caught up in skirmishes with opposing players cost the Seahawks throughout the season. The game in Atlanta was very contentious, with Michael Bennett, Jeremy Lane, K.J. Wright and other defenders mixing it up with the feisty Falcons throughout. Chancellor called fighting “wasted energy” and said “that’s what we need to cut out of our game.”

Bennett and Richard Sherman both played the entire season with major chips on their shoulders — sometimes to the detriment of themselves and the team. Just more of that “wasted energy.”

Some think Kris Richard is in over his head as defensive coordinator and doesn’t command as much respect from players as Dan Quinn and Gus Bradley did. To be clear, this is Carroll’s defense and the DC merely runs it for the coach. But it is certainly worth wondering whether the turnover at that position has caught up to the Hawks. Either way, Carroll needs to address some of the attitude issues and get that crew playing together again.

Meanwhile, John Schneider faces the most important offseason of his tenure. He absolutely has to fix the offensive line — bringing in at least two legitimate starting options — and he needs to address depth problems at running back and in the secondary while also trying to improve the interior pass rush. On top of that, he and Carroll must decide the futures of Chancellor and Jimmy Graham, who both are signed only through 2017.

Considering Chancellor’s lessening impact on the field and the baffling way Darrell Bevell uses Graham, it would make sense to try to trade both players while they still have value. But it would be stunning if the Seahawks did that. They love both players and figure to offer them new contracts.

As we wrote a couple of weeks ago, doing that would leave the Hawks enough money for one big new contract or a couple of mid-sized deals. Offensive line, anyone?

Schneider also has to hit big in the draft — adding to a young cadre of players led by 2014 picks Justin Britt and Paul Richardson, 2015 picks Tyler Lockett, Frank Clark and Mark Glowinski and 2016 picks Germain Ifedi and Jarran Reed.

Schneider needs to draft some good offensive linemen, the best defensive playmaker he can find and another running back. He also has to fix the secondary, finding upgrades for Steven Terrell and Lane, and consider drafting possible replacements for Chancellor and Earl Thomas, who both might begin considering retirement in the next year or two.

This entire offseason will set the foundation for 2018 and 2019. If Carroll is right and the Hawks are still “in the middle of it,” they have a lot of work to do to prove it.

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