This season, the Seattle Seahawks captured their fifth NFC West crown since coach Pete Carroll took over in 2010 and earned their eighth playoff trip in the past nine years. The Carroll era has produced an incredible, unprecedented run of success for the Seahawks’ franchise that includes two Super Bowl appearances and the franchise’s lone championship. Quarterback Russell Wilson is the face of the franchise right now, but the story of Wilson’s career and Carroll’s amazing run in Seattle is impossible to tell without mentioning the Legion of Boom, the Seahawks’ legendary collection of brash, dominant secondary players, who headlined one of the most impressive defensive units in NFL history. Other talent-laden secondary groups have come and gone, but none have had the type of run that Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and Brandon Browner sustained during the height of the league’s passing boom in the mid-2010s.
Two years ago, Thomas, the last member of the iconic group, departed from the Seahawks, but Seattle continued to jostle with the NFC’s best squads. This season, however, Seattle’s LOB legacy looked truly extinct; the Seahawks had one of the league’s worst defenses to begin the year. But that unit retooled itself in the second half, and enters the playoffs looking—once again—like a defense worth fearing. How Seattle’s defense has transformed through the past decade to where it is today is a story line that is as lengthy as it is entertaining.
The Seahawks’ current secondary doesn’t resemble the LOB very much. Nonetheless, its current members are well aware of the shadow they’re playing in. The group boasts at least one standout member whose energy, leadership, and immense talent resembles that of the old Legion of Boom: Jamal Adams. When Seattle acquired Adams from the Jets last offseason in exchange for two first-round picks, a third-round pick, and former starting safety Bradley McDougald, Adams acknowledged the precedent the LOB set for premier secondary play. But the then-24-year-old used his introductory press conference to indicate he was forging his own path.
“First off, I want to say that I respect every guy that was in the Legion of Boom,” Adams told reporters in late July. “I used to watch those guys and used to be inspired by the energy and the love and the passion that they played with. And I always had that passion and energy, so I admired it from afar.”
He added: “I have so much respect for those guys. But, you know, again, their chapter is over with. And we have to, as a defensive group—and as a defensive back group—we have to create our own legacy, right?”
Through the first half of the 2020 NFL season, the Seahawks secondary was, in fact, poised to be remembered. But for all the wrong reasons. Almost midway through October, Seattle was 5-0, but its defense was allowing 471 yards per game, on track to break the league record for most total yards allowed in a single season. They were giving up almost 30 points per game, too. Without offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer unleashing Wilson this season—and the quarterback playing at an MVP level through the first half of the campaign—the Seahawks’ record would have looked much worse.
There were obvious factors contributing to the poor play of the Seahawks defense early this year. Adams sat out Week 4 through Week 8 while nursing a groin injury, and he was just one of several injuries that defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.’s secondary managed, especially during the early portion of the season. Additionally, Seattle’s nonexistent pass rush ranked among the worst in the league and struggled to generate any type of pressure from within its front seven.
“I think the early part of the season it was just a lot of things that needed to happen that hadn’t happened yet,” veteran linebacker Bobby Wagner told reporters in late December, reflecting on the defense’s rough start. “Whether it was us having time to jell together, us having the guys out there playing with one another for a long period of time.”
Since the Seahawks’ 44-34 loss to the Bills in Week 9—the most points ever allowed in Carroll’s tenure—their defense has performed an unlikely turnaround. Seattle has not allowed more than 23 points in a game since and has held opponents to fewer than 20 points five times. The Seahawks allowed 207.9 passing yards per game from Week 10 on—150 yards fewer than they relinquished through their first eight contests. As Wilson and the offense’s play cratered, the defense found its form. Across their first eight games, Seattle’s defense contributed minus-96.02 expected added points; across the final eight, it accounted for 6.54 EPA.
Seattle defense DVOA— Aaron Schatz (@FO_ASchatz) December 28, 2020
Weeks 1-10: 8.2% (22)
Weeks 11-16: -10.8% (9)
Seattle offense DVOA
Weeks 1-10: 19.8% (3)
Weeks 11-16: 4.5% (11)
The defense’s effort helped lead the team to six victories across the past seven games, good enough to capture the NFC West’s crown. This is a familiar recipe of success for Seattle. But before we consider whether or not the Seahawks’ current squad is capable of living up to the heights of past rosters, let’s take a look at the winning foundation that the LOB era put in place.
April 22-24, 2010: Seahawks draft Earl Thomas 14th overall, cornerback Walter Thurmond in the fourth round (no. 111 overall), and Kam Chancellor in the fifth round (no. 133)
January 2011: Seahawks sign former CFL cornerback Brandon Browner to a three-year, $1.25 million contract
April 30, 2011: Seattle drafts K.J. Wright in the fourth round (no. 99), Richard Sherman in the fifth round (no. 154), Byron Maxwell in the sixth round (no. 173), and Malcolm Smith in the seventh round (no. 242)
In two seasons, Carroll and general manager John Schneider laid the foundation for a great defense, nailing a plethora of draft picks that stoked the team’s success through the next six years.
October 30, 2011: LOB’s core four members make their first joint start, Sherman calls A.J. Green “overrated”
Sherman made his first career start after an injury to regular starting CB Marcus Trufant, joining Browner, Thomas, and Chancellor in the lineup. Sherman, then a rookie, went up against Bengals star receiver A.J. Green, a fellow rookie whom the Seahawks “held” to four catches for 63 yards and one touchdown. Cincinnati won 34-12, but Sherman snagged his first career pick and also won the war of words after the game, telling reporters, “[Green is] probably one of the most overrated receivers out there. He wasn’t anything special. [Andy] Dalton is a good quarterback. He makes good decisions. But A.J. Green is just a lot of noise-talking and bad routes.”
April 26-27, 2012: The Seahawks draft Bruce Irvin no. 15 overall, Bobby Wagner in the second round (no. 47 overall), and Russell Wilson in the third round (no. 75)
August 2, 2012: The Legion of Boom nickname is born
Chancellor joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Bob and Groz radio show, noting that during that offseason, Chancellor “changed my diet up, just eating a lot cleaner, just eating chicken, fish, vegetables, fruit, trying to stay light to where I can run fast, but also still have a little weight to keep that boom.” A fan suggested the moniker on Twitter (no relation to electronic group the Crystal Method’s 2004 album bearing the same name).
“Legion is like a vast army,” Chancellor later told reporters in January 2015. “We went with Legion of Boom and it kind of fits the description of our unit, our brotherhood of love, trust, honesty, respect. I think all those elements right there create the power in our group. It creates the talent and brings out the talent. It brings out everything in our group.”
September 24, 2012: Seahawks beat Packers on “Fail Mary”
In one of the most controversial finishes of the past decade—and in the middle of the NFL’s referee lockout—the Seahawks beat the Packers on the final play of a Monday Night Football game. Russell Wilson flung a pass intended for receiver Golden Tate that both Tate and Packers defensive back M.D. Jennings appeared to get a hold of. One ref ruled the play a touchdown. The other deemed it an interception. The ruling was simultaneous possession, giving Tate claim to the ball and clinching a 14-12 Seattle victory. The NFL eventually ruled that an offensive pass interference penalty should have been called, though. Next year, Richard Sherman hired the replacement ref who made the call, Lance Easley, to manage a celebrity softball game. So, no harm, no foul.
8 years ago today: The "Fail Mary" happened.— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) September 24, 2020
This was wild.pic.twitter.com/BwVqfcfXv2
October 14, 2012: “U mad bro?”
Sherman retained his starting spot opposite of Browner in 2012, and he continued building off his dominant rookie campaign. In Week 6, the Seahawks beat the Patriots 24-23, and Sherman picked off Tom Brady during the third quarter. He and Brady exchanged words, and following the win, Sherman took his trash talking to Twitter, composing a series of since-deleted tweets that, according to NFL.com, read:
“Brady sure looks like a man who turned the 12th Man against us.”
“He told me and Earl to see him after the game when they win….. I found him after….”
“U mad bro?”
October 25, 2012: Sherman dubs himself “Optimus Prime” ahead of facing “Megatron”
Though the 2020 Seahawks defense may be good, it’ll never live up to the Legion of Boom when it comes to trash talk. Ahead of facing the Lions and star receiver Calvin Johnson, whose nickname was “Megatron,” Sherman changed his Twitter name to “Optimus Prime.” Johnson said he would “definitely use it as motivation” and “if that’s who he wants to be, that’s cool.” Sherman and Seattle limited Johnson to three catches for 46 yards, but Detroit won 28-24.
January 6, 2013: Seahawks win first postseason game of the LOB era, beating Washington 24-14
The Seahawks rallied back from a 14-point first-half deficit to score 24 consecutive points behind rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. The third-round passer outdueled Washington’s Robert Griffin III, who was intercepted by Earl Thomas in the first half prior to suffering a career-altering knee injury late in the contest.
March 7, 2013: “I’m better at life than you”
Richard Sherman joined ESPN’s First Take to chat with Stephen A. Smith and now-former host Skip Bayless. And Sherman didn’t shy away from making sure that Bayless, specifically, gave him the respect he desired.
“Skip, whenever you refer to me, whenever you speak to me, whenever you address me, address me as ‘All-Pro Stanford Graduate,’ because those are some accomplishments you can aspire to, [but] you will never accomplish.”
April 22, 2013: Seahawks re-sign Kam Chancellor to a four-year, $28 million deal
December 18, 2013: Brandon Browner indefinitely suspended for violating league PED rules
Browner was considered a repeat offender for using performance-enhancing drugs. The ruling caused Browner to miss the final three months of Seattle’s season.
January 19, 2014: Richard Sherman sounds off after game-clinching pass deflection in NFC championship vs. 49ers
This might be the definitive moment of the Legion of Boom era. Richard Sherman batted away Colin Kaepernick’s pass intended for Michael Crabtree with just over 20 seconds left in the NFC championship game. Malcolm Smith snagged it, sealing a 23-17 victory. As the Seahawks celebrated their impending NFC title, Sherman attempted to shake Crabtree’s hand. The wideout wanted no part.
"WHEN YOU TRY ME WITH A SORRY RECEIVER LIKE CRABTREE, THAT'S THE RESULT YOU GONNA GET!"— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 19, 2020
Six years ago today, Richard Sherman let Michael Crabtree know he was not the one to be tested ♂️
(via @nflthrowback) pic.twitter.com/aayVtyLP0b
And then he reached the postgame interview with Fox’s Erin Andrews, who asked Sherman to take her through the interception. He obliged, delivering arguably the most memorable quote of his Seahawks tenure.
“Well, I’m the best corner in the game,” Sherman said, amped at the result. “When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re gonna get!”
February 2, 2014: Seahawks rout Broncos, 43-8, to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl title
Seattle’s trouncing of the Peyton Manning–led Broncos—who entered the game having set single-season NFL records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55)—was a jaw-dropping confirmation of the Seahawks defense’s elite status. Seattle took a 22-0 lead into halftime and was up 36-0 before the Broncos finally got on the board. The Seahawks put together a complete performance with their defense, special teams, and offense all contributing scores. It was an utter beatdown. LOB’s fingerprints were all over it.
March 14, 2014: Brandon Browner agrees to three-year, $17 million deal with the Patriots
The Seahawks captured a Super Bowl without Browner playing in any postseason games while he served his suspension. Walter Thurmond started in Browner’s place at cornerback opposite Richard Sherman, and he played well enough for Seattle to pass on paying Browner to return. Ten days before signing with the Patriots, Browner had his indefinite PED suspension reduced to four games, and he landed with Bill Belichick in New England.
April 28, 2014: Seahawks re-sign Earl Thomas a four-year, $40 million contract
A month after watching Browner move on, Seattle retained Thomas, who was named to consecutive All-Pro teams.
January 10, 2015: Kam Chancellor makes leaping field goal block, records pick-six in Seahawks’ divisional-round win against Panthers
If you ever needed a reminder of Chancellor’s dominance, play this clip. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound safety dominated this Seahawks playoff victory over the Panthers. His field goal block was nullified by a penalty, but his 90-yard pick-six off Cam Newton sealed the deal in one of the most memorable individual defensive performances in the past decade.
January 18, 2015: Seahawks pull off incredible comeback to beat Packers in OT and win second consecutive NFC title
The Seahawks were down 16-0 at halftime and trailing by 12 points when Green Bay punted back to them with just four minutes left. Russell Wilson directed a quick touchdown drive and then the Packers fumbled the ensuing onside kick, giving Seattle the ball back with two minutes to go. It took only four plays before Marshawn Lynch scored a 24-yard touchdown run and Wilson converted a two-point try to give Seattle a 22-19 lead. The Packers managed to force overtime, but Seattle received the ball and needed only six plays to set up Wilson’s game-winning touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse.
February 1, 2015: Seahawks lose Super Bowl to Patriots in heart-breaking fashion
Brady got his revenge on Sherman in Super Bowl XLIX. The Seahawks entered the fourth quarter with a 10-point lead, but the Patriots overtook them with just over two minutes to go. Jermaine Kearse’s incredible catch is long forgotten because of what happened next: Seattle failed to score from New England’s 1-yard line as Wilson was intercepted by Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler to seal the result, capping one of the most dramatic finishes in Super Bowl history.
27. BUTLER DID IT— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) August 9, 2019
Feb. 5, 2015
With :26 left, CB Malcolm Butler picks off Russell Wilson in the end zone to give Patriots the victory over Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX.
Factoid: Butler, an undrafted rookie, was only in the game because Kyle Arrington had played a poor first half. pic.twitter.com/sALAEMAgNr
September 2015: Kam Chancellor holds out, misses first two games of 2015 season
If Browner’s departure represented the cracks that eventually broke up the Legion of Boom, then Chancellor’s 2015 holdout following Seattle’s Super Bowl defeat signaled that the dam was about to burst. One year into his four-year deal, Chancellor sought a new contract. “He knows where we’re coming from,” Carroll told 710 ESPN Seattle at the time. “And we know where he’s coming from.”
Chancellor held out each of Seattle’s first two games, which were both losses. He returned in Week 3, and the Seahawks went on to finish the season with a 10-6 record thanks to the league’s best scoring defense.
April 17, 2016: Brandon Browner re-signs with Seahawks
The Seahawks signed Browner to a one-year deal to bring the original LOB gang back together. Carroll intended on deploying Browner, who’d been released by the Saints after spending one season in New Orleans, in an altered role, but Browner never got to see his new role come to fruition; he was released after Seattle’s third preseason game.
December 4, 2016: Earl Thomas suffers broken tibia
During a Week 13 blowout win against the Panthers, Thomas suffered a broken tibia on a collision with Kam Chancellor. Thomas openly weighed retirement after sustaining the injury, tweeting as much. “He’s got a serious recovery that he’s got to go through,” Carroll said. “And it’s going to take awhile.”
August 1, 2017: Kam Chancellor signs a three-year, $36 million contract extension
After his holdout attempt in 2015 didn’t lead to a new contract, Chancellor got his wish two years later.
November 9, 2017: Richard Sherman ruptures Achilles, ruled out for season
For the second season in a row, the LOB lost a prominent face. Sherman’s season ended after he got entangled with Cardinals wideout John Brown and ruptured his Achilles during a Week 10 win. “It’s been bothering me all season,” Sherman said. “So it was one of them things you just have to play through as long as you can, but when it goes, it goes.”
November 18, 2017: Kam Chancellor placed on injured reserve with neck injury
A little more than a week after Sherman was ruled out for the year, Chancellor joined him on the injury list due to a lingering neck injury, believed to be sustained in the same Week 10 game when Sherman was injured. “Let’s just wait and see,” Carroll heeded. “We’re working through it. We’ve met on it and we’re hanging together and just trying to talk our way through it and not have to do anything any faster than we have to and we’re just [gonna] wait and see.”
March 9, 2018: Seahawks release Richard Sherman
The first major domino of the offseason and the end of the LOB era was the departure of Sherman, who spent the first seven years of his NFL career with the Seahawks. The most recognized face of the defense departed without a proper send-off, but he left behind a legacy that is as large as they come.
March 10, 2018: Sherman signs with the 49ers
It didn’t take long for Sherman, then 29 years old, to find a new home. Just one day after Seattle released him, Sherman joined the team’s bitter rival, agreeing to a three-year, $39 million deal with the 49ers, a pact that Sherman personally negotiated.
July 1, 2018: Kam Chancellor hints at retirement
Chancellor’s neck ailment turned out to be serious, and months after sustaining the injury, he shared an update on Twitter noting that “I always prayed to God and told myself that I would play this game of football until the wheels fall off.” The word “retire” is never used, but Chancellor all but indicated he was stepping away from football in a lengthy post, and hasn’t returned to the field since.
July 16, 2018: Earl Thomas begins holdout—“If you don’t want me let’s make a trade happen”
The Seahawks appeared closer to rebuilding than competing entering the 2018 season, and Earl Thomas didn’t appear keen on being a part of it without seeing some more money tossed his way.
Thomas was entering the final year of a four-year extension, and expressed his wishes on Instagram—“Extend …. If you don’t want me let’s make a trade happen,” he wrote—before later taking to The Players’ Tribune to explain “what’s actually going on.” This became a monthslong saga ahead of the season.
September 5, 2018: Earl Thomas ends holdout
Thomas didn’t get a new deal, but reported back to the Seahawks after missing training camp and all of the preseason. He again took to Instagram, writing that he’d “worked my whole life for this. I’ve never let me teammates, city or fans down as long as I’ve lived and don’t plan on starting this weekend (sic). With that being said, the disrespect has been well noted and will not be forgotten. Father Time may have an undefeated record but best believe I plan on taking him into triple overtime when it comes to my career.”
September 30, 2018: Earl Thomas flips off Seahawks bench while being carted off with a broken leg
Only a few weeks after ending his holdout, Thomas suffered a season-ending leg fracture in a Week 4 victory against the Cardinals. As Thomas was carted away, he used his final moments wearing a Seattle uniform to give the bird to his team’s sideline:
Is this how the #Seahawks career of Earl Thomas will end?— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 30, 2018
This was pointed to the #Seahawks bench by the way. Since he got hit on the job and they refused to give him a proper contract. pic.twitter.com/XfPVm57BMJ
March 13, 2019: Earl Thomas signs four-year, $55 million deal with Ravens
Thomas didn’t re-sign with the Seahawks. As a free agent, he initially intended to sign a one-year deal with the Chiefs, and was scheduled to fly out to Kansas City when the Ravens made a more lucrative deal to the veteran safety. As a result, Thomas wound up signing with Baltimore, joining on a four-year deal after spurning a verbal agreement he had in place with the Chiefs.
Former Seahawks’ S Earl Thomas intends to sign a four-year, $55 million deal that includes $32 million fully guaranteed at signing with the Baltimore Ravens, league source tells ESPN. Deal includes $22 million in first nine months.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 13, 2019
Thomas tweeted out a thank you to the fans of Seattle for his time. He was the last of the original LOB core members to depart:
Thank you Seattle for the love and memories that my family and I will never forget... ❤️☔️— Earl Thomas (@Earl_Thomas) March 13, 2019
October 20, 2019: Earl Thomas gets revenge and the Ravens beat Seahawks, 30-16, in Seattle
In the second quarter, Baltimore cornerback Marcus Peters returned an interception for a 67-yard touchdown, and Thomas took a moment to chirp at the Seattle sideline. “You knew I was going to say something,” Thomas told reporters. “I definitely said what I had to say.”
January 3, 2020: Richard Sherman named All-Pro
Sherman defied the odds with the 49ers. He bet on himself after a potentially career-changing injury, and earned his fourth career All-Pro honor when he was named to the 2019 second team. Sherman finished the season with three picks and 11 passes defended across 15 regular-season games. San Francisco reached the Super Bowl, but was defeated by the Chiefs.
August 23, 2020: Ravens release Earl Thomas after fighting teammate Chuck Clark at practice
The Ravens cut Thomas following a practice fight with fellow safety Chuck Clark. The Ravens noted that Thomas’s behavior “adversely affected” the team.
We have terminated S Earl Thomas’ contract for personal conduct that has adversely affected the Baltimore Ravens.— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) August 23, 2020
September 16, 2020: 49ers place Richard Sherman on IR
A calf strain kept Sherman out for a significant portion of the 2020 season. San Francisco activated him in late November, and he appeared in five total games, recording one interception and one pass defense.
Not many NFL teams enter a new era and remain competitive, but the Seahawks are doing just that this season. Their 12-4 record marks the team’s first 12-win campaign since 2014, when the LOB was at its peak. Seattle’s current collection of defensive backs might not be the LOB, but it is carrying crucial momentum heading into the postseason. And considering the Seahawks will face offensive mastermind Sean McVay’s Rams in the wild-card round, that’s a very welcome development. This unit doesn’t have to be the LOB in order to be successful. Wagner, who’s been a mainstay through all of Seattle’s success and transition, testified to that when reflecting on the Seahawks’ recent success last month.
“I think what you’re seeing is the product of [jelling],” Wagner said. “Us being able to be on the field at the same time, getting guys healthy, everybody being able to play and learn from one another.”
When the Seahawks clinched the NFC West title after a Week 16 victory against the Rams, Adams took that notion a step further, cigar in hand—albeit improperly lit.
“They’ve got to start putting some respect on this defense’s name,” Adams said. “This defense is playing lights out. To me, we’re the best defense in the league. You can quote that. You can do what you want to do with it, but at the end of the day, I believe in these guys. I believe in this coaching staff.”