A year ago, while researching the remarkable business/sporting career of Seahawks co-founder Herman Sarkowsky (1925-2014), I asked John Nordstrom, whose family once held a majority stake in the franchise (1974-88), this question: How long can the team remain a part of the Super Bowl conversation before parity forces a backslide that only New England has managed to avoid?
“As long as they have John Schneider and Pete Carroll,” he replied.
During their exit interviews following the divisional playoff ouster in Charlotte, several Seahawks players insisted their title window is still fully open.
“We’re still young,” said QB Russell Wilson, speaking for the group. “We’re still really, really young. That’s a scary thing.”
In the week following Wilson’s upbeat message, Bruce Irvin, the 25-year-old outside linebacker an unrestricted free agent, said he would consider giving the Seahawks a hometown discount in order to remain with club. But then his agent said, no, he wouldn’t.
Jermaine Kearse, another unrestricted free agent and the most successful postseason wide receiver in franchise history, then said he would not give the Seahawks a hometown discount under any circumstances.
“I love my hometown,” said Kearse. “But I’ve put in too much hard work to give a discount. My number one priority is to take care of my family’s future, so I will consider all opportunities.”
The 12s had hardly digested Kearse’s comments when Schneider told 710 ESPN that it was his impression Marshawn Lynch would probably retire, which Lynch is reported to have considered in the previous two off-seasons. The assumption is that Lynch is gone in any event due to age, injuries, 2016 cap hit and the emergence of Thomas Rawls.
“We recognize what he (Lynch) has done for the organization,” Schneider said. “So we are going to try to handle it as properly as we can. We want to make sure that he is in the right frame of mind and he’s making the correct decision for himself. So if he decides to play we are going to have some things to discuss in terms of our salary cap and our situation . . . But at this point it’s still too early to decide.”
Since Feb. 2, 2014, when they shellacked Denver 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seahawks have lost 18 of the 46 players (39.1 percent) who participated in that rout, including nine starters: LG James Carpenter, C Max Unger, RT Breno Giacomini, TE Zach Miller, WR Golden Tate, RDT Clint McDonald, RDE Chris Clemons, CB Walter Thurman and RCB Byron Maxwell.
Now they will likely lose a 10th starter (Lynch) and could lose a key figure in Kearse. Both scored touchdowns in XLVIII. Two other XLVIII starters, LT Russell Okung and RG J.R. Sweezy, are also unrestricted free agents. If they go, the Seahawks will have lost nearly half of their XLVIII roster in two years.
Amazing, yes. Astonishing, no. As the season ended last week, Carroll looked ahead rather than back, specifically mentioning TE Jimmy Graham, lost at midseason with an injury.
“I love that guy on our team,” Carroll said. “He’s a terrific teammate. He brings character and personality to our team. He’s a dynamic player. I can only see really cool things happening in the future. I think it’s going to be a great long-term decision that we made. We’re really happy to have him. We missed the heck out of him.”
Carroll also addressed a plan to take Wilson to the next level by personally schooling him during the off-season on NFL defenses (as well as FS Earl Thomas and CB Richard Sherman on NFL offenses).
“I think this is the right time to really broaden his awareness of what is going on in the game overall,” said Carroll, talking about a quarterback whose awareness this season resulted in him becoming the first in NFL history with 4,000-plus passing yards, 30-plus passing touchdowns and 500-plus rushing yards in the same season.
Carroll, like Wilson, is always on to the next thing, which is why the things they do usually turn out so well.
Not only was it a prodigious feat to return to the Super Bowl a year ago, the Seahawks had a third chance this season when they were good enough to beat anybody in any given game, but botched their shot largely due to a XLIX hangover in the season’s first half that resulted in failing to secure a home playoff game.
In the 22 years since NFL free agency began, no team has appeared in three consecutive Super Bowls. These six did it back-to-back, but came up short on their third bob at a ring:
|1994||Dallas||Barry Switzer||12-4||Lost NFC championship to 49ers|
|1994||Buffalo||Marv Levy||7-9||None; finished fourth in AFC East|
|1998||Green Bay||Mike Holmgren||11-5||Lost wild card game to 49ers|
|1999||Denver||Mike Shanahan||6-10||None; finished fifth in AFC West|
|2005||New England||Bill Belichick||10-6||Lost division round at Denver|
|2015||Seattle||Pete Carroll||10-6||Lost division round at Carolina|
Of the six, only New England sustained long-term success after consecutive Super Bowl appearances. The Patriots returned to the SB in 2007 and 2011 and won it last year, barely, on the Malcolm Butler interception at the goal line. New England, which missed a chance at a second consecutive Super Bowl appearance Sunday by losing the AFC title game at Denver, has won 10 or more games every season since 2002, four times winning 14 or more.
While the Patriots have been nearly the equal of the Seahawks in terms of roster turnover, they have had three constants, owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady. None of the other back-to-back Super Bowl teams enjoyed the luxury of such continuity.
Dallas came closest to a third consecutive Super Bowl in 1994, but lost the NFC championship at San Francisco after Barry Switzer replaced Jimmy Johnson. Since winning SB XXX in Switzer’s second year, the Cowboys have not advanced beyond the divisional round under five head coaches. Dallas has only three playoff wins in the past 20 years.
Buffalo never recovered from the retirement of Marv Levy (seven head coaches since he departed), nor have the Bills adequately replaced now-Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly. Since their run of four consecutive Super Bowls ended in the Bush 41 administration, the Bills have won one playoff game, none since 1995.
Green Bay didn’t fall apart after Mike Holmgren departed for Seattle in 1999, but the Packers, also stung by the retirement of DE Reggie White, didn’t become a Super Bowl-caliber team again until 2007, even with Brett Favre at quarterback.
Denver never found a decent replacement for QB John Elway, who retired in 1998, failing more often than not with Brian Griese, Jake Plummer, Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow, before successfully wooing Peyton Manning in 2013.
So four of the six teams that appeared in consecutive Super Bowls in the free agent era ultimately fizzled out either due to the loss of a head coach (Dallas, Buffalo, Green Bay) or the loss of the franchise quarterback (Denver), or both.
What fate awaits the Seahawks, who have their quarterback in Wilson, would seem to rest with owner Paul Allen. But perhaps not.
Schneider and Carroll are entering the final year of their contracts.
Schneider, responsible for acquiring more than a dozen Pro Bowlers since he joined the Seahawks in 2010, as well as hitting it big with several low-round or mid-round (Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Tyler Lockett) draft picks and undrafted free agents (Doug Baldwin, Rawls, Kearse), now can name his deal.
If a man can pay for a state-wide election, as Allen once did, he can obviously pay Schneider. But every team would pay Schneider.
While Schneider has made the Seahawks his team, he’s only in his mid-40s and likely has many big job opportunities ahead of him. One question is what Schneider would do if Carroll departed, an issue that has gained traction since the Rams moved back to Los Angeles.
The Rams have Jeff Fisher under contract for 2016, just as Carroll is under contract in Seattle next year. Should the Rams finish .500 or below next season in their first season back in Los Angeles, Fisher will have 15 (out of 21) .500 or sub-.500 seasons on his record, including seven consecutive.
If I’m Rams owner Stan Kroenke, and if I’m building a $1 billion-plus stadium and entertainment complex, the guy I’d most want to hire is Carroll, even if he is in his mid-60s.
If I’m Carroll, I’d be seriously tempted to go home and finish my career in Los Angeles. The decision wouldn’t be based on money, since his $6 million-plus annual compensation from Allen has set him up for life.
If I’m Carroll, I’d sure take John Schneider with me.
But I’m not Carroll and don’t know what may motivate him beyond 2016. His record proves he has never been afraid in more than 40 years of coaching to jump to a new challenge. In those 40 years, Carroll has been employed by 14 universities or NFL teams — one every 2.8 years. He’s been with the Seahawks for six.
Then again, perhaps Carroll is no longer inclined to take on a rebuilding project. We’ll see.
Prior to facing the Panthers last week, the Seahawks updated their transaction list, noting that in the Schneider-Carroll era the pair has collaborated to make 1,304 roster moves. 1,304! All of that churn (imagine the logistics of identifying so many prospects and weeding out so many wannabes) resulted in 119 players playing in at least one NFL game, not all of them with Seattle.
Whatever the methodology Carroll-Schneider used, it worked. They correctly identified the players to make the Seahawks Super Bowl-relevant for four consecutive seasons and will enter 2016 with a roster that, as Wilson noted, is still “very, very young and scary.”
On top of the 1,304 transactions, Allen needs to make two more by extending the contracts of Schneider and Carroll sooner rather than later. To do so, Allen will probably – and perhaps for the first time in his billionaire life — have to throw more than money at the situation. That’s the only path to emulating the New England model.