1. Why reward a 31-year-old D-lineman with a three-year deal?
Because Michael Bennett did his contract unhappiness the way the Seahawks wish every veteran would. The league’s 27th-highest-paid defensive end said he wanted more cash over and over the last two years. Yet he showed up on time to training camps, played through a painful toe injury, came back this fall from knee surgery – and made two consecutive Pro Bowls. "He’s always done his thing. He's always done football the way it’s supposed to be done," coach Pete Carroll said after Seattle gave Bennett an extension with $17.5 million guaranteed. "He's always been a good team guy. He's always fought for us just as well as anybody on this team." The obvious contrast is Kam Chancellor. He also had multiple years left on his Seahawks deal, yet held out last year for 54 days, disrupted the team and didn’t return until it was 0-2. The Seahawks haven’t rewarded him. And he hasn’t played at the Pro Bowl level Bennett has. The strong safety is 28 but with a history of big injuries and a battering style that has taken its toll. He’s been the soul of Seattle’s defense for years, but his future remains in much more doubt.
2. What’s the upshot on Richard Sherman’s outbursts?
That the Seahawks appear to have punished him in some way, judging how Carroll and Sherman wouldn’t answer if they had.
That Sherman hasn’t apologized for berating Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell for passing from the 1-yard line Dec. 15 against the Rams, nor for threatening the career and media credential of Seattle radio host Jim Moore. And that while the Seahawks want to put this in the past, Sherman keeps it in the news. This past week he told the team he was done with his press conferences, then asserted at his locker he was denying the media the "privilege" of his weekly appearances at the podium. It’s been weird, to say the least, to see the most cooperative, usually cordial and insightful Sherman goes more than a bit off the rails with his coaches and the media lately. Initially I thought it was a product of his and the defense’s frustration with the offense not pulling its weight as Seattle’s Super Bowl-championship window gets endangered. Now I’m wondering if there aren’t other reasons behind Sherman being so out front with disruption. Just throwing this out there: He has two more years and $22.4 million remaining on the four-year, $56 million extension he signed with the Seahawks in May 2014. Five million of his $11.4 million salary for 2017 is guaranteed.
3. OK, whom do you root for again on Sunday? And why?
The best-case scenario for the Seahawks is New Orleans (7-8) upsetting the NFC South-champion Falcons in Atlanta. That plus a Seattle win at San Francisco would mean the Seahawks would steal the No. 2 seed in the NFC, have a first-round bye next week and be one home playoff win from the conference title game. The Falcons have the same motivation to win Sunday, so Seattle is more likely to feel the price of their Christmas Eve home loss to Arizona and play next week in the wild-card round. If Seattle beats San Francisco and Washington beats the New York Giants at home, the Seahawks will host Washington next week. If Seattle wins, Washington wins and Green Bay wins at Detroit, the Seahawks would be the three seed, the Packers the four – and Seattle and Green Bay couldn’t meet until the NFC title game, if each got that far. Given the Seahawks got bushwhacked 38-10, their worst loss in six years, a few weeks ago that latter scenario is the best Seattle can gain besides the unlikely No. 2 seed.
4. Which is the NFC’s most dangerous playoff team?
The Packers, because of how Aaron Rodgers is playing. They’ve won five in a row, and Rodgers is playing like he could win a third league most valuable player award. Put another way: Who would you rather play in the postseason right now, the Packers or the Lions? I’d give Green Bay a good chance of winning at top-seeded Dallas in round two. Thing is, if Green Bay doesn’t win the NFC North title game Sunday night at Detroit and Washington beats the Giants earlier in the day, the Packers won’t even be in the playoffs. That’s how wide open the conference is – and why the Seahawks have justifiable hope they can turn themselves around quickly to make a run through the NFC.
5. What does Pete Carroll think of college stars skipping bowl games to prepare for NFL?
Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey was the most prominent of a few top college stars that skipped his team’s bowl game to preserve himself to enter the NFL. USC’s former dynasty builder does not like it. "I understand why guys do that and I understand that there is a bit of a trend here that I’m seeing. I don’t really like it," Carroll said. "I would like guys to play for their teams and battle for their teams and finish up and finish things. I understand why a guy maybe makes a choice to secure his future more so or be safer or whatever, but I don’t agree with it. I wouldn’t want my players to do it if I was coaching in college. College coaches can’t say that maybe. But I can. And they should finish their year with their teams if they could….It will be interesting to see if those guys were in the finals if they played." Exactly. It’s a product of every bowl game but three being meaningless now, because of the College Football Playoff. Stanford was in the Sun Bowl. If the Cardinal was, say, in Washington’s place at Saturday’s national semifinal against Alabama, think he sits out? Me, neither.