A lot of people say that there are no true 'rebuilds' in the NFL anymore and that may be partially true. Teams build towards the future while trying to compete now and this means you see a team with many key veterans with a few young players sprinkled in here and there to develop. By and large though, you don't see many teams sell off all their major veteran players and start from scratch. This inventory liquidation style of management is pretty rare in this era of the NFL, but what the Seahawks are doing is probably as close to a complete rebuild as you're going to see anymore.
I've mentioned it before but I'll say it again (and John Boyle confirmed it on Twitter yesterday too) -- there are now 16 (17 now that Jennings re-signed) players on the Seahawks roster of 89 that were here before John Schneider and Pete Carroll took control of the team. Many of the team's starting players from just over one year ago are now gone -- most notably Matt Hasselbeck and Lofa Tatupu but also Chris Spencer, Sean Locklear, Julius Jones, Nate Burleson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Rob Sims, Ray Willis, Lawrence Jackson, Josh Wilson, and Deon Grant, and I'm sure I'm missing others. Jordan Babineaux looks unlikely to be back.
Furthermore -- John Carlson is a trade candidate in his contract year. Marcus Trufant is a contract-restructuring candidate. Deon Butler will probably start the season on the PUP list and could even be cut. This number, 16, could get smaller in the coming days and weeks.
So what does it mean for Seahawks fans? Well, let's not sugarcoat it. You're looking at a roster with the average age of 24.5 (tip of the cap to Davis Hsu). That number will go up after the final cuts (skewed because of UDFA rookies) but the point is that you're going to see a lot of very young and inexperienced players on the field. The Hawks are going to take some bumps along the way this year and there are going to be some games that aren't pretty. But, frankly, that's what you'd expect with a team that's rebuilding. If you don't think this is a rebuild then that's fine, but if that's so I don't really know what you would classify a rebuild when you're talking about 85% turnover in a year.
I look at it like this -- because the Hawks are in a weak division they're going to have the chance to contend for the NFC West again. However, they're not going to be elite by any stretch of the imagination. They'll have a chance to gel and possibly surprise some people. The Hawks won some games no one expected them to last year and I'm confident that will happen again in 2011. But, they'll probably lose some games they're expected to win. It's anyone's guess as to how many wins they get and I'm not even going to try and guess, but I'm not going to be holding my breath for a return to the playoffs.
That doesn't mean I don't think they're going to get better. I think by the end of the year you're going to see a team that is much improved from last season and showing a lot of potential (where that leaves them in the standings, I don't know). They have some holes on their roster but there are a lot of young, exciting players to watch. I think schemes implemented last year are going to start to catch on and have some success. I think players are going to start to get on the same page. When you have a glut of leadership the new Matt Hasselbecks and Lofa Tatupus are going to emerge.
I think you're going to start to see John Schneider and Pete Carroll's personnel vision become more apparent. You're going to start to figure out what the hell this 4-3 under is capable of. You're going to see why they have brought in about forty different defensive backs in the past season. You're going to see why they have drafted three offensive linemen out of their top five Draft picks in the last two years. You're going to get a better idea of what kind of offense Pete really wants to run.
I've tried to say it here before and I'll continue to say it going forward -- a rebuild doesn't happen in one year. Last year's team is not what Pete and John have in mind. They inherited a terrible roster, cut some fat (Housh, for example), brought in some good young players in the draft, but still didn't have anything that resembled the team they were trying to build. So they brought in some band-aids. Chester Pitts, Ben Hamilton, and Brandon Stokley come to mind. They retained some guys that they needed to fill a starting lineup -- Craig Terrill, Chris Spencer, Jordan Babineaux, even Lawyer Milloy. These players are all now gone and the Hawks are committed to the "their guys."
It's now year two though, and we're going to get a chance to see what Pete and John's guys are capable of. We're going to start to get an impression of how they choose their personnel. I'm not going to make judgements, because I know it takes probably closer to four or five years to completely reload, but you're not going to see many band-aids on the 2011 roster. Except maybe at quarterback. But that's a can of worms I'm not going to open right now.
I saw this brought up on the commentary yesterday (Thomas mentioned it, I believe) and on Twitter (@joeyoly brought it up) a little bit as well, but this roster-rebuild is a little bit reminiscent of what the Buccaneers did in 2009 (and they're one of the exceptions to the "no such thing as a true rebuild" rule). Jon Gruden and the BucsGM were fired, the franchise hired a new coach and GM, cleaned house, --dropping Jeff Garcia, Micheal Spurlock, Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard, and a few other key veterans-- and went with a younger and inexperienced team. They chose to develop these guys, build for the future, and went 3-13. They now, two years later, have one of the most talented and exciting young teams and a franchise QB. Obviously that's a pretty big piece of the puzzle, but otherwise the Seahawks are on a good track.
Hopefully we won't see 3-13. But don't kid yourselves, this is a total, house-cleaning, rebuild. And I'm pretty stoked about it.