Photo courtesy of The Daily Herald

Photo courtesy of The Daily Herald

Lesions of Boom: A 2018 Seattle Seahawks Season Preview

The Seattle Seahawks are transforming as quickly and dramatically as the city itself. That’s not a good thing.

During the Seattle Seahawks’ back-to-back Super Bowl peak of 2013–14 and 2014–15, the squad ran opponents off the field with an elite ferocity. Nobody could throw on the Legion of Boom with Richard Sherman locking down half the field, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril terrorizing QBs with their pass rush, and Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor seemingly covering every inch of the field as the league’s best safety combo. And when Marshawn Lynch was Beast Moding through defenders, it allowed Russell Wilson to pick apart secondaries with ease. But beyond the on-the-field power, the team also had something incredibly rare in professional sports: a distinct personality—an identity that resonated on a national level beyond the Xs and Os.

The world became fully aware of those Seahawks during Sherman’s trash-talk tirade after the title-year NFC Championship Game. Over the next year, the team became almost as known for brashness as for wins. Sherman boasted anywhere there was an open microphone, but also used his platform to speak out against problems with the NFL’s power structure. Bennett and Doug Baldwin amplified their voices for social messages they believed in. After feeling misconstrued by the press, the colorful Lynch became a media fascination for not talking. In the strict world of football culture—where having opinions or interests outside of football are often considered “distractions”—the Seahawks felt like a truly progressive team. Some might say the “distractions” eventually led to the team not repeating as Super Bowl champs, but really oh my God, why are you passing? Give Marshawn Lynch the ball!

That era of Seahawks football is over. The Legion of Boom is dead and so is the identity it carved out. That soul may have been dwindling since Lynch’s departure, but the 2018 offseason saw the Seahawks snuff it out with definitive force. The unceremonious cut of Sherman and trade of Bennett to start the offseason seemed to indicate an intentional culture change for the organization.

From a pure talent perspective, one really has to be drinking the Kool-Aid to feel that the infusion of new talent surpasses the influx of those who left. Just to run through the heart of that departure list: Avril, Bennett, Sherman, Jimmy Graham, Sheldon Richardson, and Chancellor. Sure, one could argue some of those guys were on the decline and no longer justified their salary-cap numbers, or maybe the team needed an infusion of fresh blood to mix up the stagnant chemistry. But that’s six guys with All-Pro talent who are no longer on the roster. Hot take: That is bad.

The best thing the Seahawks have going is the three-headed veteran core of Wilson, Baldwin, and linebacker Bobby Wagner. They provide a high-floor level of leadership and talent on both sides of the ball. They’re proven winners who believe they can prevail every time they step on the field, which is more than a lot of franchises can claim. (Late addition: It looks like Earl Thomas is reporting to the team! This is very good, seeing as he is likewise very good.)

Maybe there will be improvement in the margins. While no world-beater, free agent guard DJ Fluker could solidify some of the interior O-line and bump the unit from abysmal to bad with the help of new offensive line coach Mike Solari (there’s nowhere to go but up!). Could wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Jaron Brown exceed the production hole left by the departing Paul Richardson? Sure, that’s possible. Will currently injured tight end addition Ed Dickson be able to fill the void of Graham and Luke Wilson? Hard no on that one.

The one clear bright spot of the Seahawks’ off-season came via special teams. Blair Walsh was a very ungood kicker last year for the Seahawks (maybe don’t bring in a guy who literally won you a playoff game for missing a gimmie FG for the opposing team?), so ex-Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski is probably an upgrade, even if he missed all last year with a back injury. But the real excitement comes at punter (a sentence that’s never been typed before). Beloved punter Jon Ryan has left Seattle, but rookie punter Michael Dickson was the standout star of the Hawks’ preseason thanks to a series of absolutely ridiculous precision and coffin-corner punters. He could be a real weapon, but it’s not the best sign when the player fans are most universally excited about is the punter.

It’s early, but the early impact potential of the Seahawks’ 2018 draft class is hard to grasp. The Seahawks reached for 1st round running back Rashaad Penny, and while he’ll be the backup to returning-from-injury Chris Carson, he’s yet to show the flashes that suggest he’ll be worth the price in draft capital paid. The most exciting new prospect in Seattle (outside of Dickson) is 5th-round linebacker Shaquem Griffin, who led the team with 18 tackles this preseason. Despite being a left-hand amputee, Shaquem (the brother of Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin) flies around the field with his pure athleticism, and is a likely Week 1 starter because linebacker K.J. Wright is out after undergoing knee surgery.

It’s not only the roster that’s been overhauled. So has Pete Carroll’s coaching staff. Widely loathed offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is finally gone, replaced by Brian Schottenheimer(who is probably an upgrade despite his last successful year as an OC coming with the 2010 Jets). Defensive coordinator Kris Richard is also out, replaced by Ken Norton Jr., who was the Seahawks’ linebackers coach during the Super Bowl years. Thankfully, terrible offensive line coach (and noted accumulator of domestic-abuse allegations) Tom Cable finally got axed (although the Seahawks hired him and kept him on staff for six seasons after his violent history had gone public, so that’s fun).

While the Seahawks’ offseason was defined by subtraction, the rest of the NFC West looks fearsome. Coming off an 11-5 division championship season, the Rams attempted to build a superteam in the offseason, adding All-Pros Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, and Aqib Talib to Wade Phillips’ already loaded defensive unit. The 49ers’ future looks bright with head coach and offensive wizard Kyle Shanahan having a full season with QB Jimmy Garoppolo, who—by the way—has still yet to lose a game as an NFL starter (7-0). The Cardinals could very well be terrible, but even they managed to bring in a QB of the future with serious upside (UCLA draftee Josh Rosen).

A return to the playoffs doesn’t look super-promising, as the rest of the NFC looks ultra-deep with strong returning playoff teams and squads like the 49ers, Packers (healthy Aaron Rodgers), or even the Bears (the new home of defensive star Khalil Mack) poised to make the leap.

It’s hard to not see the way the Seahawks’ drastic change this offseason mirrors that of their city over the past few years.

Things are changing so quick it’s hard to keep up with, as beloved spots that defined our character get snuffed out and replaced with something new (good luck finding a casual fan who can name three of the six starters at defensive line or safety).

There’s also the feeling that the truly progressive thinking that once defined this team and our city has its lip-service limits. The Seahawks could tolerate players speaking out about racial issues and police violence so long as the results were playoff football, much as the city can talk up addressing the homeless crisis until a solution might affect corporate bottom lines. It’s easier to have a safe, sanitized poster boy like Wilson—one whose personality isn’t really a personality but a brand. Who can argue against a hardworking dude who visits children’s hospitals and smiles through corny, squeaky-clean commercials? He’s like the sleek newness of gentrification personified (please, ignore the issues like snake-oil concussion-curing water).

Peak Legion of Boom was the polarizing force for a certain brand of ire in the pre-Colin Kaepernick kneeling era. And, it should be pointed out, the Seahawks decided against bringing in Kaepernick to be Wilson’s backup in June 2017—despite his skill set being an ideal, and Carroll saying “He’s a starter in this league,” and the Hawks’ backup QB spot being so in-flux still that the team just traded a sixth-round pick to land Brett frickin’ Hundley (who has a 3-7 career record with more interceptions than touchdowns).

This probably wouldn’t feel so pointed if owner Paul Allen weren’t donating six figures to support Republicans in the mid-term elections and Carroll bringing in poorly coded men’s-rights pseudo-intellectual Jordan Peterson to talk to the team. It’s not just moving away from the identity that guys like Sherman and Bennett fostered, it’s aggressively standing in opposition to it.

The Seahawks are still Seattle’s team. But the 2018 Seahawks look like they might be the team for 2018 Seattle. There’s upside there, but if you’re realistically looking at the trends, it seems far more likely that things bottom out before they get better.

ssommerfeld@seattleweekly.com

UPDATE (9/5): Shortly after publcation, saftey Earl Thomas reported to the team. The copy has been adjusted to include that fact.

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