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The Big Question: What are the ramifications for the Seahawks if they underperform in 2021?

NFL: New York Giants at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks have enjoyed a level of consistent winning never before seen in franchise history. Seattle’s only clearly subpar season under Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson was missing the playoffs at 9-7 in the 2017 season, and that disappointment prompted major changes within the coaching staff and a mini-rebuild of sorts that produced three subsequent seasons of at least 10 wins.

But if the early years of Carroll and Wilson produced two Super Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl title, what the Seahawks have lacked since 2015 is a deep postseason run. Their three playoff wins over the past six seasons have come against fairly mediocre opposition, and they have scarcely played with a lead in any of their Divisional Round matchups. Albeit in front of zero fans, they experienced their first home playoff loss of the Wilson and Carroll era against the Los Angeles Rams in a rather feeble offensive performance.

What has made this offseason different from many of the previous early postseason exits is the much publicized (and perhaps overblown) drama concerning Russell Wilson’s future with the team. The trade rumors have been put to bed for now but when the 2021 season is over he’ll have only two years left on his existing deal. These should be Wilson’s prime years — at least as a passer, as I think his days as a consistent read-option threat are close to over.

Then there’s Pete Carroll and John Schneider, who turned a talent-depraved mess into a Super Bowl champion in just a few years. Carroll’s contract is good through 2025 and Schneider’s through 2027, so in theory their jobs are safe for as long as they want to keep it. At no point in time has either of their positions been under threat and there’s never been a season so catastrophic to make a strong case for their firings.

So with just two months to go before a new regular season kicks off, there’s one big question posed in the headline that really doesn’t have a clear-cut answer: What will happen if the Seahawks underperform? Or maybe more specifically, what will happen to the trio of Wilson/Carroll/Schneider if the team underperforms?

And when I mean “underperform” I am working on the assumption that there won’t be an avalanche of injuries as was the case for last year’s 49ers team. If Seattle is in that class of perennial playoff teams in with a shout of making the Super Bowl, then missing the playoffs entirely or barely making it and getting bounced in the Wild Card round again would constitute a failure in my eyes.

By no means is it easy to go to the Super Bowl as often as the New England Patriots managed, but it is a bit disappointing that Seattle has been shut out of even Conference Championship weekend for six seasons and counting. Meanwhile, all of Seattle’s NFC West rivals have appeared in a Conference Championship and two of them went to the Super Bowl. The Green Bay Packers played in the NFC CG three times (albeit three losses), while the Kansas City Chiefs have just wrapped up their third consecutive AFC CG. Perhaps Kansas City may go the way of the Seahawks and peak early in Patrick Mahomes’ career, but time will tell on that one.

Anyway, I posed this question to the Twitter world and got a wide variety of responses with no semblance of consensus opinion.

By the way, the Trail Blazers situation reference in the last tweet concerns the firing of head coach Terry Stotts after Portland’s (really awful) first-round NBA playoff exit, and the total circus that was the hiring process and eventual selection of Chauncey Billups. That hire has come under heavy scrutiny given Billups was accused of sexual assault in the late 1990s and while he was never arrested or charged he did settle a civil suit in 2000. It’s better to go to Blazers Edge for more in-depth coverage of the Billups hire, but it’s notable from a pure sports perspective that ownership decided to change coaches despite having the NBA’s longest active postseason berth streak and a 2019 Conference Finals appearance.

Getting back to the Seahawks, I think the tweet from @PowellLatasha aligns more closely with my thoughts. The process in which any underachievement occurs — and no one here other than lurking opposition trolls is rooting for that — will largely determine what happens in the 2022 offseason.

If Russell Wilson struggles in a new offense and/or shows considerable regression as a passer to the point of being a liability, then the unthinkable may be a little more thinkable given his contract and age. It sounds overly dramatic and still highly unlikely but it’s not completely impossible. If Wilson is his usual excellent self but the team around him isn’t good enough, poor coaching decisions cost the team games, etc., then the microscope will be under Schneider and (more heavily) Carroll. The issue for those who at least want Carroll gone is that firing him one year into his new deal means paying out the rest of his contract*. That doesn’t mean the Seahawks’ higher-ups wouldn’t just pay Carroll to not coach; Jim Mora was canned a year into his four-year deal and he was paid about $12 million to not coach.

* If Carroll retires then he won’t get his remaining salary, but as long as I still see him vigorously chewing gum I don’t see retirement coming any time soon.

For optimism on the 2021 squad: The Seahawks have improved in DVOA rankings for four straight seasons and ended 2020 at 5th overall. You have to go back to 2011 for the last time the Conference Championship quartet did not feature at least two teams ranked top-5 in DVOA. If you’re still a DVOA believer then Seattle is on the right path back to the top, they just need the postseason wins to show for it.

The Seahawks’ stability at QB/HC/GM has been justified through its continued success, but nothing lasts forever and I believe we’ve reached a point in time where a shake-up is now a distinct possibility if 2021 doesn’t go according to plan. Any downward regression indicates they’re further away from a Super Bowl than really they’ve ever been with Wilson, and it’d be exceedingly harder to argue they’re just a piece or two away from being true contenders.

But this negative, worst case hypothetical and not necessarily how the season will play out. It shouldn’t play out that way. We should be gearing up for another 10+ win regular season and another playoff appearance. It’s just a matter of whether they are going to be both healthy enough and good enough to stay a little longer in January than we’ve seen in more recent times.