The expected end to the Legion of Boom era in Seattle has seemed imminent for some time, but on Wednesday afternoon, it became clear that the Seahawks are finally committed to the dismantling of its once-great, now-aging defense. First, a cryptic tweet from Seattle defensive back Jeremy Lane prompted a report that All-Pro corner Richard Sherman does not expect to be back with the Seahawks in 2018, though the official situation remains unclear. Then, minutes later, news broke that Seattle had sent defensive end Michael Bennett and a seventh-round pick to the Eagles for a fifth-rounder and backup receiver Marcus Johnson. Combine those moves with potential career-ending injuries to defensive end Cliff Avril and safety Kam Chancellor, and it feels like the band is breaking up, as Avril put it on Wednesday. This Seahawks defense is going to look a whole lot different in 2018.
“Rebuild” is a strong word when it comes to the NFL, and it’s probably not completely applicable to a Seattle squad that won nine games last year, still has a franchise quarterback in Russell Wilson, and still features All-Pro defenders in Earl Thomas and Bobby Wagner. But it’s hard to look at what the Seahawks have done over the past few months — from firing most of the coaching staff, to opening up the trade lines for just about everyone on the team, to shipping Bennett off to Philly, and now perhaps even moving on from Sherman — and not think the Seahawks are undergoing a major organizational … let’s say reboot … as they head into next season.
The latest flurry of reports certainly made it feel like a fire sale is under way. Sherman will turn 30 this month and is coming off of a major injury, but before tearing his Achilles tendon in Week 10, he’d still been playing at an elite level at a premium position. The Bennett move is even more mystifying: The trade netted a midround pick and a developmental receiver prospect, and clears just $2.2 million in cap space — giving Seattle minimal gains in exchange for a pass rusher who was still generating consistent pressure on the quarterback in 2017. Bennett finished last season with 8.5 sacks, notched 24 quarterback hits (the 10th-best mark in the league), finished tied for seventh among 4–3 defensive ends with a total of 70 pressures, per Pro Football Focus, and ranked seventh in the NFL in disruptions, per NFL Next Gen Stats. That Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman forced Seattle to throw in one of its own picks to complete the deal, even if it was a lowly seventh-rounder, feels cruel.
The Seahawks’ overhaul has started in earnest — at least one big-money veteran contract Band-Aid has been ripped off, and more could soon follow — and the page has been turned to a new chapter of Pete Carroll’s tenure in Seattle. At the combine last week, Carroll confirmed that he views this as a franchise-altering offseason. “Sometimes you’ve got to make some tough calls,” he said. When asked about the decisions behind moving on from offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, defensive coordinator Kris Richard, assistant head coach and offensive line coach Tom Cable, and a slew of other assistants, Carroll implied the team needs an infusion of fresh ideas and, perhaps, different players. He went on about finding and recovering “some newness,” adding that he “just felt it was time” to change things up.
The Seahawks’ offseason upheaval jibes with rumors I heard going into last year: that Seattle’s front office saw the 2017 season as one last chance to go all in on an attempt to win another Super Bowl with most of the nucleus of its formerly dominant defense still intact before blowing things up and starting anew. That “win-now” scuttlebutt — which sort of flies counter to Carroll’s whole “win forever” mantra — was reinforced by the fact Seattle operated right at the tippy-top of its salary cap all year long (meaning they rolled just $547,000 in cap space over to next year, fifth least leaguewide) and made a couple of shorter-sighted moves, like sending a second-round pick and Jermaine Kearse to the Jets for a one-year rental on defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson or throwing a third-rounder Houston’s way for left tackle Duane Brown, who is under contract for one more season.
Of course, that all in approach didn’t go as planned: Injuries to Avril, Chancellor, and Sherman certainly didn’t help, nor did a terrible kicking game under Blair Walsh, the offense’s near-complete inability to protect Russell Wilson, and the total lack of a running game. Instead of contending for NFL supremacy, Seattle missed the playoffs in 2017 after five straight appearances, and now they head into this year’s draft without second- and third-round picks. And, before today’s reported moves, Seattle ranks 25th in salary cap space (just $13 million and change).
Going forward, it’s safe to assume Carroll wants his team to get younger and faster on defense, and we could see the start of a culture shift in the locker room. Over the past few years, Seattle’s defense took on the identity of Sherman, Bennett, and the team’s cadre of big-personality superstars. Going forward, that group will still be headlined by Thomas and Wagner, but they’ll need a few up-and-coming first-contract guys — perhaps promising corner Shaquill Griffin, safety Delano Hill, pass rusher Frank Clark, defensive tackle Nazair Jones, or someone in the upcoming draft class — to reenergize the squad. The NFL is cyclical (for everyone except the Patriots, I guess), and Seattle couldn’t pay its top defenders top-of-market or near-top-of-market contracts forever. The Legion of Boom era is over, and now the depth of talent that Carroll and GM John Schneider have built behind the team’s big-name players over the past few years will be put to the test.