RENTON – Pete Carroll said he believes Sunday’s close loss to Atlanta in the NFC divisional playoffs would have turned out differently had the teams played at CenturyLink Field.
That sad fact was a point of emphasis as he met with his players one final time before they packed up their lockers and headed for home to start the offseason.
“We needed to get that darn playoff game at our place,” Carroll said after the game Sunday. “And that’s where the division is so important. And the Niners have done it, and they did a great job to get it. … That is our goal. We’ve got to win the NFC West and get that done, so at this time of the year, now you’re sitting over there. And it would be a little bit different.”
Winning the NFC West and starting the season as Super Bowl contenders are legitimate goals for the Seahawks as they turn their attention to the upcoming season.
The Seahawks have seven players set to become unrestricted free agents – linebacker Leroy Hill, cornerback Marcus Trufant, defensive tackle Alan Branch, defensive end Jason Jones, offensive lineman Frank Omiyale, tight end Cameron Morrah and kicker Steven Hauschka.
Projected restricted free agents for Seattle include defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, long snapper Clint Gresham and safety Chris Maragos.
Only two of Seattle’s starters – Branch and Hill – are not signed for the 2013 season.
Brian McIntyre, a NFL salary-cap specialist who works for Yahoo Sports, said the Seahawks have $13.5 million in salary cap space that they can roll over to 2013.
Based on a league-wide salary cap of $121 million next season, McIntyre projects the franchise tag number for defensive tackles to be a little more than $8 million.
Branch or Jones could be possible targets for the franchise tag, but so far Seahawks general manager John Schneider has been unwilling to pay top dollar for a defensive tackle in free agency.
“I really don’t have any say over it,” Branch said when asked about his pending free agency.
“It’s kind of hard just sitting on your hands waiting for interest to be brought in your direction or whatever. Hopefully they want me here and the whole money situation gets settled. But if not, there won’t be a better group of guys than this, I’m sure.”
One thing about this offseason is Seattle is mostly healthy.
Heading into the 2012 season, cornerback Walter Thurmond, receiver Sidney Rice, offensive linemen Russell Okung, John Moffitt and James Carpenter as well as Jones were returning from offseason surgery.
This offseason, only sack leader Chris Clemons is expected to have major surgery.
Carroll said Clemons has not had surgery to repair an anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus tear in his left knee suffered against Washington on Jan. 6.
However, Carroll said Clemons plans to meet with renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews this week, and that his knee did not suffer much trauma so he could have the surgery done relatively soon.
“There’s nobody in our building that doesn’t think that this is going to be an extraordinary offseason for this club,” Carroll said. “Knowing that all of the kids that made the team last year get to come back, and they’ve played a lot. There’s such a big jump that happens from Year 1 to Year 2.”
The Seahawks will have the No. 25 selection in the draft, and 10 picks overall. Carroll said whoever they take in the draft this year will be hard pressed to make the final roster.
“I think what’s going to be hard is for the 10 guys that get drafted to make this team,” Carroll said. “That’s what I think the challenge is. And that’s how much I believe in these guys.”
One thing Seattle doesn’t have to worry about for the first time in three seasons is the starting quarterback.
Rookie Russell Wilson showed he’s the guy, and Carroll is looking forward to watching how much the University of Wisconsin product improves.
Wilson and wife Ashton had their first anniversary Monday, and will take a week to celebrate on their belated honeymoon. After that, it’s back to work for Wilson.
“We could talk about Russell forever because there’s so much to talk about,” Carroll said. “But it’s not just his way of going about it; it’s his ability to play on game day.
“He’s got so many characteristics that are so positive. But put him out on the field on game day and he’s a baller. He’s a real football player that nothing fazes him, and he can function in any setting.”
Carroll was asked if he would accommodate backup quarterback Matt Flynn if he requested a trade during the offseason.
As many as 10 teams could be looking for a quarterback. And this year’s draft has significantly fewer prospects who can come in and play right away than the 2012 draft.
The Seahawks signed Flynn to a three-year, $19.5 million deal during the offseason, but Wilson beat him out for the starting job, and the LSU product saw just spot duty in blowout wins over Arizona and Buffalo.
“First off, Matt handled himself really well,” Carroll said. “He never accepted it. I never expected him to. I wanted him to fight the whole way. And if it made him grumpy at times or whatever it made him, that was what was going to happen. But he handled it like a real champion kid. He competed in practice on a regular basis. … As we move forward, we’re going to figure it out. We’re fortunate that we have two really good football players in the program.”
That said, Carroll also acknowledged that it would be beneficial to have another quarterback on the roster with a similar skill set in terms of running ability as Wilson.
“We’ve talked a lot about that,” Carroll said. “It would be nice to have another guy that might be able to be a factor that way. There’s some really good kids out there. We’ll see.”
UPDATE ON ASSISTANTS BEVELL, BRADLEY
Carroll confirmed that after introductory interviews, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley are expected to have more extensive interview sessions with the teams interested in them this week.
Bevell is a candidate to fill the Chicago Bears’ coaching vacancy, and met with team officials in Atlanta on Saturday. Bradley is a candidate for the Philadelphia Eagles’ head coaching vacancy, and did the same thing with Eagles officials on Saturday.
According to reports, Bevell, Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman and Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians are finalists for the Chicago job.
Bradley is scheduled to interview with Philadelphia for a second time today.
“Those guys are both great candidates for those jobs,” Carroll said. “And I have no idea what’s going to happen. … It does create uncertainty for the future, yeah, but we’ve got to figure it out. I’ve been in this situation a lot, so I’m not worried about it. But we’re very prideful at the fact that people are interested in our guys. That’s always cool. And it will also help us attract really good guys to take those spots.”
Wilson expressed concern over the possibility of Bevell moving on.
“Obviously I pray that Coach Bevell stays here, but I also pray for the best for him as well,” Wilson said. “Whatever is best for him and his family, but at the same time he really helped me develop.
“We’ve grown a tremendous relationship over the past season, and we’ve really grown a lot in terms of play calling and just in terms of me knowing what he’s going to call and expecting a call.”
Cornerback Richard Sherman said Bradley would be missed.
“It would be a tough blow to lose Gus,” Sherman said. “Obviously we have a couple of other coaches who would be happy to step up, to run the same thing that we’ve been running.
“But he’s a great coach, he’s enthusiastic, he’s energetic, he’s a players’ coach. There’s not enough verbs and nouns in the dictionary to describe all the great things about Gus Bradley.”Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks @eric_d_williams