The Seattle Seahawks made it as far as a team can make it without winning the Super Bowl this year, coming so close that the game was up in the air even in the final minutes. Coming off a Super Bowl-winning season, this year won't be looked at as much of a success given the bar that was set, but most people not currently reeling from the loss will point to the Seahawks as a stable, well-run team that's right where it wants to be.
And it needs to stay a stable, well-run organization for them to get back to the big game. The Seahawks are an organization that had very little real controversy or off-the-field problems this year, they're an organization that's generally without unhappy players and coaches, and they're an organization that wins. They've taken steps to keep the core of the coaching staff and roster intact in recent seasons, and whatever happens, they're always playing their style of football.
They have an identity. What's important now is that they recognize just how close they came to winning that game and don't try and change that identity in any significant way. The Seahawks are fine, and will be one of the best teams in the league next year, clearly favored in a tough NFC West if they accomplish a few tasks and keep the trend of strong offseasons going.
Following their Super Bowl victory last year, we had a post on what they had to do to keep it going. Among the things we listed were retaining guys such as Doug Baldwin and Michael Bennett (and Golden Tate, who went to the Detroit Lions and had a career year), while trying to keep the coaching staff intact. Both Baldwin and Bennett were big contributors this year, and the Seahawks did manage to keep their coaching staff largely intact thanks to the majority of coaching searches wrapping up before the Super Bowl.
This year the focus for Seattle is very similar: keep the nucleus of the roster together.
Super Bowl 49
The Seahawks had more than one chance to win
Yes, there was that call, but the Seahawks had more than one chance to put the Patriots away and claim their second straight Lombardi Trophy. Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White goes into the film room for a closer look.
Super Bowl 49
Though the least-heralded member of the "Legion of Boom" secondary, Byron Maxwell has provided the Seahawks with quality play opposite Richard Sherman. Maxwell intercepted two passes and defended 12 passes. Quarterbacks had just a 78.5 passer rating when throwing in his direction, according to Pro Football Focus.
The question for Seattle is whether it can replace Maxwell. The team successfully moved on from two starting corners to leave in past seasons -- Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond -- but the corners below Maxwell on the roster have concerns. Tharold Simon played dismally during the postseason, allowing 16 receptions, 198 yards and four touchdowns. Jeremy Lane is more reliable, but he fits best in the slot and could struggle on the boundary. The Seahawks experimented with converted safety Eric Pinkins, but he has yet to see the field. Given the present alternatives, re-signing Maxwell makes a lot of sense.
At the same time, Seattle's salary cap is going to be heavily strained over the next few years with many extensions taking up more resources. Perhaps the best avenue for the Seahawks is to let Maxwell walk and find his replacement in the draft.
When Brandon Mebane went down in November, the Seahawks shifted veteran Kevin Williams into his spot with little drop off. Williams, of course, was a member of the feared "Williams Wall" that made Minnesota's defense so menacing during the mid-2000s. Though not nearly the same caliber of pass rusher at this point in his career, he remains a viable spot starter and valuable reserve.
Mebane returns in 2015, but the Seahawks still have room for Williams if the price is right. He earned a hair over $2 million last season. The team would greatly benefit from returning him on a similar deal.
Most fans remember Malcolm Smith as the unexpected MVP of Super Bowl XLVIII. In that game, Smith recorded 10 tackles and took back a Peyton Manning pass for a touchdown.
However, Smith served as a reserve player in 2014. He served as the primary backup to starter K.J. Wright. In his limited role, Smith had 37 tackles and two forced fumbles. Though a useful piece, he is hardly indispensible to Seattle.
Smith certainly could return if he finds little interest on the open market. However, there is no reason to expect the Seahawks to extend a sizeable offer to a backup when there are much larger concerns elsewhere on the roster.
Since the Seahawks tabbed James Carpenter as their first-round pick in 2011, the former Alabama Crimson Tide has provided mixed returns. He hasn't become a mauler in the run game and he doesn't provide consistent pass protection. Still, he's a starting quality offensive lineman who won't turn 26 until March.
The market will dictate whether the Seahawks make a serious push to retain Carpenter. If a team flush with cap space such as the Oakland Raiders decides to throw money at him, then Seattle will certainly move on. However, if his price stays reasonable, the team might well keep him around.
Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner
Neither Russell Wilson nor Bobby Wagner will hit free agency in 2015. However, both just finished their third year in the NFL, the threshold under the new CBA for players to begin discussing new contracts.
And neither will come cheap. After taking his team to back-to-back Super Bowls, Wilson is due a massive pay raise. He made under $1 million in 2014, by far the lowest among any quarterback ranked in the top 20 by passer rating. His next deal projects to land more in line with those signed by Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco.
As for Wagner, he's proved himself as valuable as perhaps any middle linebacker in the league. With the top players at his position earning between $9-10 million annually, Wagner should expect to receive a massive raise on his next deal.
For Seattle, there's plenty of incentive to get these deals done before next season. If both hit free agency next year, the team can only use the franchise tag on one. More importantly, both players will have more leverage in negotiations a year from now. Instead, the Seahawks can save some money by inking new contracts now.
SB Nation presents: A look back at Super Bowl XLIX
Few teams are less predictable when it comes to the NFL Draft than the Seahawks. Their 2012 class was panned on draft day, but produced a number of star players including Wilson. General manager John Schneider prefers to accumulate picks and take more chances, a strategy that has consistently paid off for the team.
There's no guarantee that Seattle sticks with the 31st pick, but if they do, Dan Kadar of Mocking the Draft sees them taking Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams. Williams is a top-flight athlete for the position and can provide Seattle with a dynamic playmaker over the middle.
Super Bowl 50
Most teams that make it to the Super Bowl avoid losing their assistants as the added weeks allows the vacancies to fill up ahead of time. However, the Atlanta Falcons waited for the chance to snap up Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who took assistant Marquand Manuel with him. While the Seahawks' defense is fairly simple from a schematic standpoint, it takes special coaches to develop the young talent that has made it work. Replacing Quinn will prove quite the challenge.
The Seahawks have lost their most important assistant this offseason and could lose more in free agency. Still, this is a young, talented team that should be expected to compete for the title again in 2015.