It's undeniable now. With a dozen former starters exiting this month, the Seahawks have completely changed. Their recent championship era is over. If they are to win again, it will be with only remnants of their previous, title-winning core.
Their team owner acknowledged that on Wednesday:
But the first starter to exit this month says this decline away from championships in Seattle actually began two years earlier. Specifically, on the day Marshawn Lynch retired from the Seahawks.
Michael Bennett was asked by television and online sports personality Bill Simmons for The Ringer's "The Bill Simmons Podcast" this week if he and the Seahawks could feel the loss of Lynch when the thumping, one-of-a-kind running back briefly retired in February 2016 and left Seattle for good.
"Oh, yeah, man," Bennett said, on the same week he was introduced in Philadelphia as the new Eagles' three-time Pro Bowl defensive end in the wake of the Seahawks trading him. "Marshawn’s personality is so big and he’s such a... he’s one of those dudes, he's really like Nina Simone; he’s just misunderstood. People misunderstand him all the time. He’s such a great guy when it comes to doing community. He’s such a great teammate. He’s shows up to everybody’s thing. He plays hard. When he practices, he practices hard.
"So when he left, you could feel it. He was just that guy that had swag that made the Seahawks feel like a different type of team."
What Bennett is hitting on here isn't just the popularity and generosity Lynch had in and with the Seahawks' locker room from his arrival in a trade from Buffalo in 2010 through Seattle's best five-year stretch in franchise history: five straight playoff appearances, two Super Bowls and the team's only NFL championship.
Lynch was the foundation of those teams. He was the personification of their relentless, punishing, dominant style, their swagger.
Or do you already forget Lynch grabbing his crotch while taking Nestea plunges back-first across goal lines on touchdown runs? Or refusing to talk to the media? And then, when being forced to, his legendary "I'm just here so I won't get fined" performance at the NFL's mandatory media day before Super Bowl 49 in Arizona in February 2015?
But it was what Lynch did on the field that defined the Seahawks' excellence in those heyday years. Stomping through holes that weren't always there. Bulling over defenders that often were. Imposing his and the Seahawks' wills on wilting defenses late in games to seal yet another victory.
All of that has mostly disappeared from Seattle's offense in the two-plus seasons since Lynch had his first injury-plagued season for the Seahawks in 2015, and then walked away.
All of that—or at least a semblance of it—is what coach Pete Carroll says is his first priority to restore in his offense in 2018.
Thomas Rawls looked like Lynch's heir at the end of his wondrous rookie season, then he broke his ankle in December 2015. He was never the same. The Seahawks declined to give him a tender offer this month, so now Rawls is out of Seattle's plans, an unsigned free agent.
The Seahawks' running game was annually top five in the NFL when Lynch was the featured back. It was 25th in 2016 without him. The only reason Seattle improved to 23rd in rushing offense in 2017 was because of quarterback Russell Wilson's team-leading rushing yards, most of which came on scramble runs away from pressure on pass calls.
The Seahawks lost in consecutive playoffs in the divisional round to end their 2015 and '16 seasons, when Lynch was first out injured, then retired. In 2017 they didn't make the playoffs at all, for the first time in six years.
So, yes, evidence supports Bennett drawing a line directly from Lynch leaving to the Seahawks' decline.
Outspoken and opinionated, as usual—but even more show speaking on "The Bill Simmons Podcast" while his brother Martellus in a rollicking interview—Bennett said every great team, every championship team, needs a player like Lynch. "Three of four" of them, in fact, to provide the rugged, don't-give-a-fig persona that number 24 gave Seattle's best squads.
"You don’t want a whole bunch of Russell Wilsons," Bennett said, of the Seahawks' famously programmed QB. "You gotta have three or four Marshawn Lynches on your team. At any moment, you never know what they’re going to do. Whether they’re going to come to work or dropkick the coach. You know, Latrell Sprewell. You just never know."
No, Lynch never choked Carroll.
And Bennett is all for what Wilson brings to make the Seahawks.
His point is, they can't all be like Wilson to win titles.
"You can’t have a whole bunch of nice people on a sports team," Bennett said. "You need one good guy that does everything right, you know, prays and does all the stuff then goes, 'Yeah! Let’s go play!'
"Then you need some thugs. That’s just how it goes."
It took a while for the Eagles to formally introduce Bennett, weeks after Seattle traded him for wide receiver Marcus Johnson and a fifth-round draft choice. The 32-year old was vacationing in New Zealand when the Seahawks told him they were dealing him away--as he sensed to me they might back on New Year's Eve.
By the way, Bennett is not completely gone from Seattle, a city he said on the podcast he loves. His book is coming out this spring. You know, the one titled: "Things that Make White People Uncomfortable."
His tour will come to Seattle University's Connolloy Center on April 9, on the city's Capitol Hill. The event is co-sponsored by Elliott Bay Book Company.