When Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren announced in January that he was coming back for one final season before taking a sabbatical, neither Holmgren nor the team had any idea misfortune was about to befall them.
Now that it has, the 2-10 Seahawks find themselves in an odd predicament where the past is standing in the way of the future.
Holmgren has already said that he will not begin playing younger players in these final meaningless games because it would be unfair to the veterans and the players who legitimately won their spots.
“We’re trying to finish up here strong, and win some down the stretch,” Holmgren said last week. “To do that, you play with the guys who should be playing. If there’s an injury or something, (then) you can go with the younger guy and take a look (at him). But really, once you start doing that, you are really planning for next year, and I don’t think that’s real fair to the guys who are still going really hard this year.”
It is also unfair to Holmgren to force him to end his last season with the Seahawks in such an anticlimactic fashion. But in the NFL, what’s fair and what’s not do not matter.
In these final four games, the Seahawks have a chance to evaluate their young players and learn just what they have and don’t have.
The receiver question
No position has slipped more this season, or been more riddled by injuries, than the receivers.
Bobby Engram, 35 years old and displeased with how the team handled his contract situation, seems unlikely to be brought back. With Deion Branch’s salary climbing to $5 million next season, there is a chance that he will not return. And Koren Robinson, an in-season fill-in because of injuries, also has an uncertain future in Seattle.
In these final four games, the Seahawks could discover if Courtney Taylor, who struggled earlier this season as a starter, is capable of being one of the team’s receivers in the future. They could also get a look at Michael Bumpus, who showed some promise as a punt returner and possession receiver earlier this season.
The mix-and-match approach with the veterans would allow president Tim Ruskell to get a head start on deciding his draft strategy. Does he need to take Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree with the Seahawks’ first-round pick, which could be among the top five selections? Or should he use that pick on another position?
Passing and pass protection
It is no secret that left tackle Walter Jones is on the backside of a stellar career.
By limiting his playing time, not only could it preserve Jones’ health for next season, it would give coach-in-waiting Jim Mora a chance to find out if Jones’ eventual replacement is already on the team.
Sean Locklear, the starter at right tackle, could be up to the challenge of playing on the left side. Also, it would give Ray Willis more time to at right tackle, which would help his development.
If Locklear shows he can’t handle the left tackle position, Ruskell might have to consider drafting a left tackle – say, Mississippi’s Michael Oher or Virginia’s Eugene Monroe – with the first-round pick and go after a receiver in the second or third round.
If the Seahawks adopted this mentality, they would have to decide what to do with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. With Jones out and with inexperienced wide receivers getting more time, it might not be worthwhile to risk having the banged-up Hasselbeck continue to start.
Like Jones, the down time could help Hasselbeck get his back healthy for next season and permit Seneca Wallace and Charlie Frye to show their value to the team.
Other areas to examine
The secondary, which played so well last season, has regressed dramatically. If history is any indication, Ruskell is likely to make changes where something is obviously broken. Why not give Jamar Adams or Kevin Hobbs a bigger role to see exactly what they have to offer in a game situation?
The most obvious substitution is rookie kicker Brandon Coutu, for whom Ruskell has devoted a roster spot the entire season. It seems clear that Coutu is the kicker of the future, so why not have him, and not veteran Orlindo Mare, kicking from now on?
Of course the Seahawks don’t have to go all-in on the process.
They could do it slowly, playing some of the youngsters for a quarter or even a half, depending on how they perform. They don’t have to make wholesale substitutions to their starting lineup that would reek of capitulation.
Understandably, Holmgren has loyalty to guys like Engram, Jones, Hasselbeck and even Robinson, players who helped make his career. That loyalty is commendable, and it is the reason players respect his authority and decision-making.
But Holmgren won’t be coaching the Seahawks next season, and Ruskell’s loyalty is to the organization and its future success.
There are difficult decisions to be made. With a quarter of the season left to be played, the Seahawks have to decide which is more important – four games or the future.
BY THE NUMBERS
Where Seattle ranks among the 32 NFL teams: Average yards per game (257.3) Average passing yards allowed per game (265.2) First downs allowed (249) Average yards allowed per game (386.7) Number of victories (two, tied with Kansas City and St. Louis, and ahead of 1-10-1 Cincinnati and 0-12 Detroit).
New England (7-5) at Seattle (2-10), 1:05 p.m., Channel. 7, 710-AM, 97.3-FM