RENTON - With a season that included an unexpected playoff run and his team's first NFC West title in three years, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said first-year coach Pete Carroll brought the fun back to football.
“I think our team came together,” Hasselbeck said. “The most important thing for me last offseason was just knowing that we were trying to win now. That we were trying to be good this year and every year, not just in some distant year in the future – that was important to me.
“So the fact that we were able to accomplish that to a small extent this year, yeah, that mattered. I think just that feeling of winning again, and the excitement that we felt from our fans, from the crowd, it just makes it so much more fun and it reminded me of how it used to be.”
Now Hasselbeck will see if Carroll brings him back for an encore.
The 35-year-old quarterback heads a list of 27 potential unrestricted free agents for Seattle this offseason. The names include nine of the Seahawks’ 22 starters, including offensive linemen Sean Locklear and Chris Spencer, defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, cornerback Kelly Jennings, kicker Olindo Mare and return man Leon Washington.
Seattle already got the process started by signing receivers Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu to three-year extensions.
Now Hasselbeck, who reiterated he’d like to stay in Seattle, is hoping to get something done sooner rather than later.
“It’s just how it is,” he said. “And I’m not stressed about anything. There’s nothing I can do about anything right now, just sit back and wait. The only X-factor here is I don’t exactly know how it works, so if the lockout does come March 4, I don’t know when the time to sign free agents would be. My hope is that we could maybe do something before then, but again that’s not up to me. And I’m just going to go be a dad for a little bit.”
Adding uncertainty to the free agency period is the distinct possibility of a lockout imposed by NFL owners once the league’s collective bargaining agreement expires in March. Players are attempting to figure out what that means in terms of their day-to-day lives if that occurs, including paying for their own health insurance, rehabbing injuries away from the team’s facility and getting together with other players away from team headquarters to continue to work on routes and other football-related drills without coaching supervision.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen,” said defensive end Raheem Brock, who also becomes a free agent. “Hopefully they figure it out sometime soon, especially before the season starts. I can’t imagine life without football, but we’ll wait and see what happens.”
Players such as Williams and running back Marshawn Lynch will use the offseason to continue to perfect their skills and build on this year’s performance.
Williams said he’d like to lose a few pounds and get more explosive. He plans on splitting time between here and his usual training spot in Georgia. After a two-year absence from the league, the former USC star had a breakout performance, leading the team with 64 receptions for 751 yards and two touchdowns during the regular season.
“I’m really looking at this year as a start,” he said. “I’ll go back and start from scratch and try to get even lighter. And really I’m comfortable with the offense. I know what the position demands, and I’m really just looking forward to pushing myself and having a better year than this year.”
Lynch said he’s eager to see how he’ll do after having an offseason and training camp under his belt heading into the 2011 season, after joining the Seahawks mid-year.
“I think coming in fresh with everybody and being able to be on the same page at the same time starting with it, I think it will be good for me,” Lynch said.
And rookies such as Russell Okung now have a full season to look back on as a gauge for what they have to be ready for next season.
Okung suffered high ankle sprains to both legs during his rookie year, playing in 10 regular-season games. He showed an impressive agility in pass blocking and a mean streak in drive-blocking in the run game. Now Seattle coaches are just looking for more consistency from the first-round draft pick from Oklahoma State.
“My rookie season was obviously tough,” he said. “I had two ankle injuries and didn’t have the rookie season I thought I was definitely going to have. But as a team, we fought back and we did something that’s never been done around here before, so I’m excited for the future.”