By John Boyle Herald Columnist
As Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll finished giving his postgame speech to the newly crowned Super Bowl champions, Red Bryant stepped to the center of the circle.
“‘What’s next?’ on three,” the veteran defensive end shouted.
“What’s next?” the entire room responded.
Even as the Seahawks celebrated the first Super Bowl victory in franchise history after having pummeled the Denver Broncos 43-8 at MetLife Stadium, they already were thinking about their future, which is both bright and uncertain. Make no mistake, the Seahawks have been enjoying their first week as champions, but nobody is content to win a single Super Bowl and fade away.
“The important thing when you leave this game of football is your legacy,” receiver Doug Baldwin said. “We’ve accomplished one goal, but if you want to be the best of the best, you’ve got to do it multiple times. We’ve already said it, we’re going to win this one, then what’s next is winning another one, so we’re on that one.”
Of course every champion in every sport expects to build off its success, not take a step back. However, unlike, say, last year’s Baltimore Ravens, who won a title with a roster full of veterans, many of whom did not return for the 2013 season, these Seahawks seem well positioned to stay good for years. When the Seahawks beat the Broncos last weekend, they didn’t just show convincingly that they were the best team in football, they also did it as the youngest Super Bowl champion in NFL history. And with that accomplishment comes an unavoidable question.
Is this the beginning of a dynasty?
“If we stay together — we’re young, we’re talented — we feel like we can keep doing this and doing this and doing this,” middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “To be a dynasty, you’ve got to win more than one.”
On the surface, the Seahawks look like they could be the team to beat for years to come. Their quarterback is young and still improving, their historically good defense should return most of its key players and there aren’t a ton of free agents on either side of the ball. If any team is ready to do what the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers did in the past, winning multiple Super Bowls in a short time span, it’s the Seahawks. But — and this is a big but — the NFL is set up specifically to keep dynasties from happening. When the Steelers and 49ers enjoyed their dominant runs, the NFL did not yet have a salary cap, and even the ’90s Cowboys started their run before the cap came into place in 1994.
Since then, the NFL has, for the most part, created the parity it was hoping for when it put a cap in place, though the New England Patriots did win three titles in four years from 2002-2005, showing that sustained dominance is still possible.
And while Seahawks general manager John Schneider readily will admit that the Seahawks have tough choices ahead, the team is indeed a rare Super Bowl champion that is set up well for long-term success. While staying on top represents a new challenge for Schneider and Carroll, the way they got on top shows why they can continue to succeed.
Carroll and Schneider turned the Seahawks into champions in four years not only because between them they did a tremendous job finding and developing talent, but also because they weren’t afraid to make tough decisions. No starting job nor roster spot is safe in Carroll’s “always compete” world, and while a couple of years ago that meant letting a veteran go to replace him with a younger/bigger/faster player, now it will mean knowing when a productive player has to become expendable in order to keep the most important players.
If the Seahawks are to keep their top two free agents, receiver Golden Tate and defensive end Michael Bennett, and if they’re going to lock up safety Earl Thomas and/or cornerback Richard Sherman to long-term deals before their two best defensive players are eligible for free agency, they’re going to have to free up money elsewhere. But don’t think the Seahawks are just now realizing that. Schneider knew that the advantage his team had by having such bargains at key positions like quarterback and cornerback wouldn’t last forever and he has been planning ahead.
“We are looking two to three years ahead so last year we knew we were going to have some things coming and how to handle certain players and to know just where we are headed,” Schneider said. “We put different models together. (VP of football administration) Matt Thomas does a phenomenal job with it. Figure out the best way to navigate it. They are really good problems to have.”
Keeping the likes of Bennett and Tate, or paying Thomas and Sherman will mean change elsewhere. And this is where an important distinction comes into play. The Seahawks can stay good for a long time, but they can’t stay the same team forever. They may be in the Super Bowl in five years with Wilson leading the way, but a good portion of the rest of that team would inevitably be different. Even if the Seahawks repeat as champs next year, they’d be doing so without somebody who helped them to this one, somebody you may hate to see go, whether it’s defensive end Chris Clemons, receiver Sidney Rice, tight end Zach Miller, or even Bryant, the captain of this year’s defense.
But unless Schneider, the GM who has nailed so many picks, particularly in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, suddenly forgets how to evaluate talent, the Seahawks can continue to thrive by replacing a couple of those high-price veterans with players on rookie deals every year. Currently, the Seahawks are spending big on their defensive line because they have bargains in the secondary and at linebacker. Eventually they’ll need to get younger on the line to pay the likes of Sherman and Thomas, but there’s little reason to think the Seahawks can’t continue to draft well to do just that.
On the other side of the ball, maybe the Seahawks have to let veteran linemen like Breno Giacomini and Paul McQuistan go, but they would do so believing in the young players they developed this year like Michael Bowie and Alvin Bailey, a seventh-round pick and an undrafted rookie who could both be big parts of Seattle’s future.
Becoming a dynasty in today’s NFL is no easy task, but if any team can do it, it could be these Seahawks.
“Obviously we’ve done something great, but this is not the end of it,” Thomas said. “We’re going to keep striving to get better and we’re going to try to stay on top as long as possible.”
Staying on top is Seattle’s newest challenge, but the Seahawks, from their young and talented roster to a front office adept at finding talent to a coaching staff that has shown it can develop it, look like a team capable of doing just that.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.