Now the real work begins for Seahawks
ERIC D. WILLIAMS; The News Tribune
Renton – T.J. Houshmandzadeh says he doesn’t have memories from this season – just thoughts.
“Memories to me are good,” the veteran receiver said after his first season with the Seattle Seahawks. “And you try to forget the bad ones, so they’re just thoughts.”
For most of the Seattle players – they cleaned out their lockers on Monday and completed exit interviews with their position coaches – there’s a lot they would like to forget from the recently completed 5-11 campaign, the Seahawks’ second straight losing season.
Now the real work begins, as Seattle’s search for a new president/general manager to run the team accelerates. Team CEO Tod Leiweke also must determine if Seahawks head coach Jim Mora proved enough in his first season to be given another season to turn things turned around.
Seattle has 17 players headed to free agency. They include receiver Nate Burleson, offensive guard Rob Sims, defensive end Darryl Tapp and kicker Olindo Mare, impact players all.
Seattle also must decide what to do with aging veterans who are scheduled to make a considerable amount of money next season, including wide receiver Deion Branch, defensive end Patrick Kerney, offensive tackle Walter Jones and safety Deon Grant.
And the Seahawks have to determine if veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is still part of the solution that returns the team to respectability.
With two of the top 14 picks in the first round, and three of the first 40 picks in the draft, the Seahawks need to evaluate where their needs are in terms of adding talent to an aging roster.
Those decisions and many others will await the new head of football operations when that person is hired to get this struggling franchise headed in a winning direction.
Meet the new boss
Many of the team’s offseason moves will have to wait until the organization hires a person to run its football operations. Currently, only a speculative list of prospective candidates has been leaked to the media. When former president and general manager Tim Ruskell stepped down more than a month ago, Leiweke said publicly that the team would take a few weeks to perform an in-house audit of the organization.
But with the season over, free agents such as Rob Sims are a bit impatient to know where they stand with the team.
“The GM upstairs (Ruskell), I think he genuinely thinks he wants me to be around and be a Seahawk for the rest of my career,” Sims said. “And I think we were close to maybe … start talking about that, and he resigned.
“So I’m hoping the next guy that comes in, when he turns on the film he’s like ‘Hey, we’ve got to keep 67,’ ” Sims said. “ ‘He’s a good player.’ If not, we’ll see. But I’m hoping that’s what happens.”
Burleson, who has a player option in his contract that makes him a free agent this offseason, said he’s hopeful the new general manager won’t make major personnel changes, allowing the Seahawks to build on some things they established during Mora’s first season.
Further, Burleson doesn’t think the roster needs a major overhaul, but understands losing brings with it the possibility of major changes.
“I don’t like it when teams get rid of a lot of guys,” Burleson said. “Because then you have to start over with a new group, and you have to build the camaraderie and the chemistry, and that’s not easy to build that stuff up. It’s easier to fight with a guy who you’ve failed with before, not a stranger.”
The Mora dilemma
Mora promised to return the Seahawks to a playoff-caliber team in his first season, and with an infusion of energy and enthusiasm set out to make it happen on the field. But ultimately, injuries, aging players at cornerstone positions and a failure to execute the team’s new schemes on offense and defense led to a disappointing 5-11 finish.
Now Mora, who was hand-picked by Ruskell to replace Mike Holmgren, faces questions about whether he’ll be allowed to finish the job he was asked to do after Holmgren’s retirement last year.
When asked about his future with the franchise, Mora declined to answer talk about whether he’ll be back.
“I’m trying to win every football game that I ever go out and play,” Mora said about his game-day approach after Sunday’s loss to the Tennessee Titans. “If I’m fortunate enough to continue coaching, then that’s what I will continue to do because I’ve had a lot of success with that attitude.”
His players weren’t afraid to take up his cause, perhaps to reinforce the notion that he hasn’t totally lost the locker room.
“Obviously I think highly of him and I’m biased toward him,” veteran safety Lawyer Milloy said. “I think everybody in (the) league deserves at least two years to get it right. You want to see if guys are still responding to him in a positive way, and I think it was evident today (Sunday) that guys were.”
Will they stay, or will they go?
Burleson leads a group of 17 players from the Seahawks in this year’s free agency class. Most say they would like to return to Seattle, despite the team’s struggles. However, it’s likely not all of them will be back, as the team looks to continue to change the culture in the locker room to fit Mora’s vision.
That number includes five players who could be restricted free agents come March. If a new collective bargaining agreement for the league is not reached by then, the NFL service requirement for unrestricted free agency would increase from four seasons to six, which means Sims, Chris Spencer, Lance Laury, Jon Ryan and Darryl Tapp would become restricted free agents.
“It’s like, ‘Why does this have to happen in my year,’ ” Sims said. “A couple years ago I’d be singing a totally different tune right now. It is frustrating, but hopefully they get all that mess straightened out.”
For now, Burleson remains steadfast that he would like to stay with the Seahawks for the rest of his career.
“Unless something drastic happens, I’m pretty much 100 percent wanting to return here,” Burleson said. “I don’t think there’s anything that can shock me enough to say, ‘You know what, I don’t want to be a Seattle Seahawk.’ Obviously I’ll be watching, keeping my ears open. But I don’t think anything drastic will happen that will make me not want to put on a Seattle Seahawk jersey this year.”
Placekicker Mare also said he wants to return. He finished another successful season with the Seahawks by making his final 21 consecutive field goal attempts and getting named as a Pro Bowl alternate.
“That’s the goal,” Mare said. “I mean, who doesn’t want to be someplace where they’re successful. Obviously it’s not completely up to us, but I think we’ve expressed that’s what we want to do.”
Hey, big boys
Seattle has two of the top 14 picks in April’s NFL draft. Their own pick will be No. 6. They also acquired Denver’s 2010 first-rounder in a draft day trade last year. That turns out to be No. 14 overall after the Broncos finished with an 8-8 record this season. The Seahawks gave up their second-round pick in 2009, No. 37 overall, so the Broncos could draft cornerback Alphonso Smith from Wake Forest.
Overall, the Seahawks have three of the first 40 picks in the draft to fill whatever needs they fail to fill in free agency.
The offensive and defensive lines likely will be priorities for the Seahawks. Seattle struggled with injuries and inconsistency along the offensive line this season.
The Seahawks remain uncertain whether Jones, long the cornerstone of their offense, will be back after another season of rehabilitation on the injured reserve after he could not return from microfracture knee surgery a year ago.
Defensively, the Seahawks again struggled to generate an adequate pass rush, finishing tied for 26th in the league in sacks with 28.
Seattle also needs to add some explosive playmakers on offense after the team struggled to consistently score points. The Seahawks averaged 17.5 points a game in the 2009 season, finishing 25th in the league.
With the way Seattle finished the season, losing the last four games for the first time since 1992, players such as Houshmandzadeh understand that some players might not return next year.
“Changes need to be made, and so hopefully they make the right ones,” he said.
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437