Yesterday was cathartic. It was a final stroke in a dramatic restructuring of the Seattle Seahawks defense. Seattle got younger and substantially more talented. While Mike Holmgren's vision is still recognizable in Seattle's offense, Seattle's defense is now wholly and truly new*. It's fitting that the one holdover from the Holmgren era is not a holdover at all. Ken Lucas was signed cheap and after he was cut by another team. He was a fringe benefit from a masterful negotiation with Leroy Hill.
Hill signed to a six-year, $36 million dollar contract. It's not backloaded and will never cripple Seattle. It is expensive. If Hill develops, Seattle will pay a lower-top tier salary for a top-tier linebacker. If he doesn't develop, but holds his current ability, a virtual guarantee, Seattle will pay a lower-top tier salary for a lower-top tier linebacker. Given the latter scenario, Seattle can opt out of Hill's contract after 2010. Hill is the second oldest linebacker on Seattle's roster; Hill is 26. Special teams ace Lance Laury is 27, Lofa Tatupu is 26, Will Herring turned 26 on August 28, David Hawthorne is 24 and Aaron Curry is 23.
Curry is a starter. Seattle is young at starter and in its depth. It's easy for a bad team to be young, and until the Seahawks shake off the stink of 4-12, that is what we must call them: a bad team. But a bad team can be young but clinging to its veterans for what life it has, or a bad team can be young and building a core of young talent for the future. The Seahawks defense falls into that latter, more hopeful category. Among major contributors this season, only Patrick Kerney is old: 32. Lucas, Cory Redding and Colin Cole are on the verge of old: 30, 28 and 29 respectively. Lucas and Cole are stopgaps, with Cole already less talented than his depth: Red Bryant. Lucas is probably less talented than Josh Wilson, but more skilled, and until Marcus Trufant returns, both are starters. Bryant and Wilson are 25 and 24, respectively.
If we use a player's age on week one of the NFL season, for Seattle September 13, 2009, the Seahawks starters, backups and depth break out like this.
Starters: 32, 30, 30, 29, 28, 27, 26, 26, 24, 24, 23
Backups: 35, 29, 26, 25, 24, 24, 24
Depth: 30, 27, 26, 24, 23, 22, 22
And if I use a subjective ranking of ability, and list just the top 11 defensive talents on Seattle's roster, it would look like this: Tatupu 26, Trufant 28, Brandon Mebane 24, Kerney 32, Hill 26, Curry 23, Deon Grant 30, Wilson 24, Redding 28, Darryl Tapp 25 and Bryant 25. If it runs those starters in 2010, only Patrick Kerney is past his prime. The other ten are starting-caliber and entering or within their prime. Only Grant is even pushing his decline.
But is it good? The parts have been good individually, but never great together. Until now the talent and the coaching staff were at odds. This year, they are united by the vision of one man. Seattle's defense is now Tim Ruskell's living resume. In one week, this ship sets out to sea. It will float or it will sink. It will take this season somewhere wonderful or drag us all to a watery grave. The hull, keel, masts, crew and captain were picked by Ruskell as was the sail. We are below deck, cargo. Now we await the wind.
*Two players remain from Bob Whitsitt's short time in Seattle: Jordan Babineaux and Craig Terrill. Terrill is surrounded by replacements and not long for the team. Babineaux, who joined the Seahawks as a non-drafted free agent in 2004, was adopted by Ruskell. He re-signed him in 2007 and, reading between the lines, made him a starter by announcing the safety competition and subsequently cutting Brian Russell.