It has been a bit of a down season for the NFL, with more lows than highs. New England again look like the team to beat, the referees are spoiling the game with ticky-tacky flags for belly rolls and questionable PI calls on both sides of the ball and seemingly throwing flags whenever a player pleads with them to do so – this is one comparison to soccer I do not want to see in the NFL.
The Falcons, Packers and Cowboys have been three shining lights, with entertaining offensive play and putting some new player’s names on the map. The NFC Championship featuring Rodgers and Ryan will be potentially more entertaining than Tom Brady walking away with another Superbowl MVP.
And what of the West? The Seahawks win the division again, but this time it has not been easy as the division on the whole is in a slump. The 49ers and Rams are now in a reboot with new coaches on their way, and the Arizona Cardinals for all their talent ended with a losing record. Indeed the Seahawks looked like also-rans in the playoffs, dispatching an out of form Lions team at home before finding the more elite Falcons too much on the road.
It’s easy to find positives from the Seahawks, all of their elite players are under contract for next season, some may need their contracts re-negotiating for pay but the Seahawks cap has space this off season and is flexible. As fans we have been spoiled the last 5 years, all of them giving us playoff football, 1 Superbowl, 2 NFC Championships and a chance for injuries to heal for the next 8 months.
So why is it I still feel short changed by the team? It could be because I foolishly let my sports team affect my mood, by supporting a dodgy soccer team in West Ham United I have basically consigned myself to having nothing to look forward to but English Cricket for the next 8 months! But what I actually can’t stop thinking is that the Seattle Seahawks have more problems than the team is willing to admit to.
In the 2014 season the Seahawks dominated the league, it could be argued that the same happened in 2015 with the exception of one last minute play in the Superbowl, but for the purposes of this analysis, let’s focus on the winning season.
Since that Superbowl run Russell Wilson and indeed the rest of the superstars of the side have been awarded their second expensive contracts. This of course leaves much less cap space for the rest of the team. Up until these last 3 years – I am including the current unfinished season – the Superbowl was won by a team playing a quarterback on a relatively low paid contract on 6 of the 10 occasions. Tom Brady’s 2005 win saw him paid $5.5million, Eli Manning signed his bumper deal after his 2008 win and Aaron Rodger similarly got his big deal in 2013. The remain 4 Superbowl’s were won by Peyton Manning, Ben Rothlisburger, Drew Brees and the this time much richer Eli Manning. This demonstrates that a team does not necessarily need to have a large amount of cap space to put around a quarterback to be successful, but if you don’t having an elite quarterback certainly helps.
Russell Wilson is on the cusp of becoming elite, the second half of the 2015 season demonstrating exactly what he is capable of. However the contracts of Wilson, Sherman, Thomas and friends have seen Pete Carroll and John Schneider have to make a decision to neglect the offensive line group in terms of cap space. They are last in the league in terms of paying the group and the next team up – the New York Giants – pays their linemen double what the Seahawks pay. When Jamarcus Webb was cut earlier this season it removed 20% of the salary allocated to the entire offensive line at just over $2million.
This neglect of the position group makes it harder to run and protect the quarterback and has also been a huge part of the team’s struggles in the red zone.
In 2014 the Seattle Seahawks won the Superbowl with the highest paid offensive line in the league. Russell Okung and James Carpenter were player on pre Collective Bargaining Agreement round one contracts and Max Unger – the last lineman to be resigned by the Seahawks was one of the league’s best paid centres. The young Wilson was well protected.
After the 2014 win the Seahawks knew that players would come calling for more money, and some difficult decisions needed to be made. Since then top players have been lost in free agency by the team including receiver Golden Tate, the whole starting offensive line, Bruce Irvin, Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane, and Byron Maxwell.
Since the loss of these players the team has been somewhat of a revolving door for free agents and rookies as they try to replace some incredible talents. There have been hits and misses such as attempting to replace Byron Maxwell with free agent Cary Williams and rookie Tharold Simon before finding they had the perfect player all along in Deshawn Shead.
Overall the Seahawks have drafted 28 players between 2013 and 2015, and just 9 of them remain on the roster.
The one player I believe all Seahawks fans would like back on the roster if given the choice would be running back Marshawn Lynch. Lynch was the focal point of the offence throughout the most successful years and with him now retired that responsibility is directly on the shoulders of Wilson. The running game in Seattle now is a question, it has shown potential in Thomas Rawls and CJ Prosise, but until one of them completes a season, the position must be a question mark.
The issues with the Special teams remain a mystery to me – seemingly every single play is called back for a penalty. There are drinking games based on this phenomenon which must lead to hospitalisation of the participants! Most recently this became a huge problem when a 79 yard return by Devin Hester was called back for holding and left the Seahawks floundering by their own goal line, ultimately resulting in a safety for the other team. Just as the Seahawks looked like going up 17-7 the score became 10-9 and shortly after 10-12 and 10-19, it got a little out of hand as things were looking good.
In the 2014 season Seattle special teams were just a matter of a few yards away from setting a league record for least return yards conceded by a team in a season. This year ill-discipline has cost the team almost as many yards in penalties as it has in actual yards run.
It is this point that brings me to my final observation which is team discipline. The players are looking like real sore losers and it’s frustrating to see let alone hear about all week in the media. The team has been guilty of stupid penalties for scrapping during an opposition’s kneel down plays, as well as fighting among themselves on the side lines. Passion and a huge desire to be the best is great to see in this team but there comes a point when it is simply damaging.
Having spent 1200 words venting my frustrations with a loss to what is actually an excellent team, I must say that there are so many positives to focus on in this team. All of the starting players are under contract which makes improving on this year’s roster a much easier task. They are in what should remain a relatively simple division to stay competitive, although the Arizona Cardinals will be after revenge. Talk of a dynasty may be in the rear mirror now but the side is young and remains hungry.