Having purged the assistant coaching staff, Pete Carroll and John Schneider embarked on the second phase of the Seahawks rebuilding project Wednesday by trading defensive end Michael Bennett to Philadelphia.
In return for an accomplished pass rusher who fought through a variety of injuries to start all 16 games this past season, along with a seven-round draft choice, the Hawks picked up a backup receiver and a fifth-round draft choice. The deal was less substantial than symbolic, a message that could be interpreted as: “We’re breaking this thing up.”
It’s fair to wonder if Carroll and Schneider are overreacting to the disappointment of missing the playoffs for the first time in six years. The 2017 Seahawks went 9-7. Had Blair Walsh converted a couple of routine field goals, the record is 11-5, which suggests the Hawks were a lot closer to the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (13-3) than the Cleveland Browns (0-16).
But the head coach sensed a state of stagnancy, and the general manager sensed a state of stagnancy, anybody who was paying attention down the stretch sensed a state of stagnancy.
The Hawks typically thrive in December. They played five games this past December, and lost three. Opponents outscored them 120-94.
Most telling was a Dec. 17 defeat to the Los Angeles Rams at CenturyLink Field. The visitors built a 34-0 halftime lead before taking mercy and settling for a 42-7 victory.
Rams running back Todd Gurley gained 152 yards on 21 rushing attempts, averaging 7.2 yards a pop. Gurley is a terrific talent, but nobody — not even a Marvel Comic superhero — takes the field in Seattle and expects to average 7.2 yards per carry.
Something was broken, and broken as severely as a ruptured dam incapable of a preventing a flood. Rather than addressing the crisis with duct tape and prayers, Carroll and Schneider concluded a comprehensive overhaul to be a more prudent long-term strategy.
First to go were the assistant coaches regarded as the brain-trust of an NFC West dynasty suddenly brought to its knees. See ya, love ya, thanks for memories. But losing 42-7, at home, to a division rival, that showed the door to Tom Cable and Darrell Bevell and Kris Richard and everybody else.
Assistant coaches are familiar with the drill. They understand their destiny as vagabonds — one year here, one year there —so firing them, while not pleasant, didn’t involve any sleepless nights for Carroll and Schneider.
Roster reconstruction is more problematic, a headache with some degree of heartache. Take Bennett, the Seahawks candidate for the 2017 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award.
Every snap he played this past season was in some degree of pain, and still managed to produce 8.5 sacks. When he wasn’t sacking the quarterback, he was creating havoc off the edge, hurrying throws and generally disrupting the rhythm of drop-back passes.
A valuable commodity, for sure, and at the age of 32, there’s still some traction on the tires. But if the idea is to tear down a listless team and put it back apart with energized kids, trading a 32-year old defensive end makes sense.
Bennett was the first mainstay of a defense, the group primarily responsible for the downtown parade celebrating the Hawks’ 2013 Lombardi Trophy, to be released. Others will follow in a different kind of parade.
Defensive end Cliff Avril and strong safety Kam Chancellor are weighing post-career, quality-of-life issues associated with serious injuries. Cornerback Richard Sherman, recuperating from the torn Achilles tendon that sidelined him in November, is making social media noise about how his departure from the Legion of Boom is imminent.
Sherman is a drama major, and the drama has been enhanced by his decision to represent himself in contract-extension negotiations. When Richard Sherman screams, I shrug and trust that cooler heads will prevail.
And yet I won’t be surprised if Sherman is the next item on the Seahawks roster-repairing To-Do list. He turns 30 this month. Defensive backs with Achilles tendon troubles, at the age of 30, are not reliable cornerstone.
It’s a cruel business, with the emphasis on the business.
Happy trails, Michael Bennett. You may have been the first defensive star dumped off the Seahawks’ world-championship team, but you won’t be the last.