I hate it when the season is over and the long wait for the next game begins. My immediate course of action is to dive into the off season and start looking at the team as a project for the coming season. Cap space, Free Agents, roster structure, and draft options are filling the void left by the end of the season.
In the past few years the picture was very clear: this is what we have, this is what we need and this is what we can get....
The picture of the desired end product was pretty clear and I could concentrate on the details.
Not so this year.
I still look at everything In the same way. I understand the situation, the decisions facing this team and the available options. The one thing I cannot be sure about is to what end? What is it that we are trying to create for 2016?
Somehow, without embarking on a conscious endeavor to do it, the team has changed drastically to a point where the road ahead is no longer as crystal clear as it was after the last 3 seasons.
In a nut shell, after the 2012 season we wanted the same with better pass rush, after 2013 we wanted the same with minimal drop, after 2014 we wanted the same with a new OL and better third down and redzone weapons.
This time, there are 3 observations that trouble me with what/who we are today and what do we want to be for 2016. It is no longer "we know who we are, we know what we want to be and we only have a little to do here and there to get it done."
Here they are:
1. The ground is ready:
Having players at the end of their contracts is a constant fact of life in the NFL. We have not escaped it. Still, it may just be my subjective feeling but I feel like we really have a lot of roster uncertainty for 2016. We actually had only 31 players out of 53 on the 2015 roster under contract for 2016 when we ended the season. ERFAs, RFAs and 7 starters that are FA as we speak. I do not remember us being in such a spot in the last 3 years. It feels like an overwhelming puzzle to solve with our limited cap space. Those decisions will reshape this team either way. Those we keep, those we let go and those we bring in will have a big impact on who this team will be in 2016. If a change is coming, the ground is ready to make it by those decisions.
2. We are not the bullies winning the game as we get off the bus:
JS acknowledged this transformation in his interview and Brian Nemhauser (hawkblogger) wrote a wonderful article about it: "Seahawks In Search of Toughness" - http://www.hawkblogger.com/2016/01/seahawks-in-search-of-toughness.html#more
Remember the days when Mebane was the "lil guy" between Red and Branch? The 6-8 Breno or the 340 pound Carp manhandling Jason Smith? The angry look on Clem's face or BB abusing receivers at the LOS? ALL GONE.
Remember the Legion of BOOM? They got their nickname because BB packed a punch, Earl was a heat-seeking missile and Kam was shaking off fragments of Vernon Davis that stuck to his shoulder pads. They are Love Our Brother now, one of the best secondaries in football but they are quite BOOMLESS.
Avril is a better player than Clem, so is Bennett. They get the job done, they bring on the pressure, they get the QB off his spot, they are very fast and disruptive. They do not scare you like Clem and Branch did, or even McDonald. They are better football players but not as physical. The only truly physical player on the OL is...Sweezy. Our receivers are tough as nails, they are the best group we had in the past 3 years, they can take whatever you can dish and rise to play the next snap but none of them has a Tate vibe. They will outplay you but they will not out-muscle anybody.
The last great symbol of the physical Seahawks has just played his last game for us and the next big run by a RB will not be registered as a seismic event. Rawls may be as productive or even better but he does not bring the Beast Mode vibe.
This is who we are right now. We may be playing the best football of any Seahawks team ever but we are not as physical as the teams that started this era.
3. We have already changed - for better or worse:
For reasons that you all know too well we had to shift the focus of our offense from the smash-mouth run-first team where the Center was calling protection and the QB handled the ball to the RB, to a QB-centric offense who functions best playing a quick passing game from script and building everything else off that passing game. We have been forced into it but it worked better than any of us dared to hope. Before this season, a lot of NFL analysts doubted RW's capability of running a "modern" NFL offense from the pocket. In 2015 we have learned that he can excel at it and carry this offense on his back to be the 4th best in the NFL.
If you want to know how far this team has changed I have a question for you:
Facing a quality opponent like say the Cardinals, 3 minutes to the end of the game, the scoreboard is 27-24 for the visiting team and the trailing team has the ball at their 30 yards line, would you like the Seahawks' offense for the comeback win or the Seahawks defense to defend the lead?
If your answer is not immediate and ridiculously obvious, that is how far we have changed. The smart call is still to be in the lead but until this year you'd pick the Seahawks defense to face the challenge when it mattered automatically.
If we are changing, the ground is set to continue with it seamlessly by reshaping the roster to match it. We are no longer the physical terror we used to be but we are the most balanced and effective team we have ever been in this era. What does that say regarding the road ahead?
Are we going to concentrate our efforts to restock the roster with physical players to be that smash-mouth, run-first, win getting off the bus team we used to be?
Are we going to bring in the players that can support and enhance the new QB-centric pocket-passing offense that has come to life during the season?
Mean and Nasty run graders or savvy and technically polished pocket protectors? Size and power or route running and great hands? Covering TE's or hitting them to a bloody pulp? Moving the QB off his spot or plating him head first into the ground? More pass rush up the middle or proud to be the best against the run?
The past 2 SBs were won by a nasty physical smash mouth team and by a QB-centric pocket offense. Being one or the other can get you all the way. There is no "one way" to get it done. We have the basic talent we need to be very good at either way but for the life of me I can't decide which way this team will go.
Fortunately, someone else is getting paid the big bucks to make that call and take all the steps needed in that direction. That someone (or some ones) are still holding their cards close to their chests. They talk about regaining our bully status and about taking RW to QB University in the off season. We'll need to wait and see where they are heading by the small steps they take along the way.
I'm fine either way but I have this nagging feeling that they need to go either way but they cannot go both ways. They need to commit to one identity and get the pieces they need to be really great at it. Until they do, I do not know what to plan and hope for.
Where do you think they will be going?