RENTON, Wash. (AP) — In the moments after seeing the season end in the first round of the playoffs, Pete Carroll was already looking ahead to what the future could bring.
The oldest coach in the league isn’t planning on slowing down and for good reason. The Seattle Seahawks have remodeled their foundation and head into the offseason with an unexpected amount of excitement about what’s next.
“What has happened during the course of this season has been a tremendous amount of progress that we’ve made,” Carroll said. “We’ve made so much growth and there’s so much yet to occur here in the next turnaround.”
Seattle’s season ended with a 41-23 wild-card round loss Saturday to San Francisco, but even being in the playoffs was among the biggest surprises in the NFL this season. After trading quarterback Russell Wilson to Denver and releasing linebacker Bobby Wagner, the Seahawks were expected to be doormats.
Instead, Carroll and his crew won just enough to sneak into the postseason while relying on a bevy of younger players that will eventually form the core pieces to Seattle’s future.
The Seahawks also believe they solved their quarterback situation in the short term with Geno Smith’s performance, although the sides must find common ground on a contract that makes sense moving forward.
The task for Seattle this offseason will be improving its talent on the line of scrimmage and solve some of the defensive issues that cost the team games during the regular season, all of which may help close the gap with the 49ers in the NFC West.
“As long as we’re consistent on our approach and what we do, I think guys can really grow and guys can figure out what we have to do,” Seattle safety Quandre Diggs said. “I just think guys gotta understand you can’t come back the same player you was this year. You’ve got to be better.”
All the attention Smith’s redemptive season received is likely to include a continued future in Seattle.
Smith will be an unrestricted free agent, but it will be an upset if he gets to free agency when the new league year begins. Seattle wants Smith back and that could come through a multiyear deal or potentially the franchise tag if the sides can’t come to an agreement.
Smith’s final month of the regular season included some shaky moments, but his overall performance was a revelation. Smith set franchise records for yards, completions, and led the NFL in completion percentage.
Smith has never been able to cash in with a big deal during his career and this could be the one time it happens. And it seems a priority for Seattle to stabilize the position as backup Drew Lock is also an unrestricted free agent.
“I think our quarterback position is great, but he is going to be a free agent, so we have work to do,” Carroll said. “We never got a chance to see Drew, but I’ve seen a lot of him, and I like what he does too. I think our quarterback situation, if we can get (Smith) signed, is a great situation going forward.”
The 2022 draft for Seattle could eventually be looked back upon as having a similar impact as the 2012 draft. The Seahawks turned to their youth and they thrived. Running back Kenneth Walker III might be the offensive rookie of the year after rushing for more than 1,000 yards. Cornerback Tariq Woolen is in the conversation for defensive rookie of the year after tying for the NFL lead with six interceptions. Offensive tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas were the first set of rookie tackles to start the first 15 games of a season since 1970. Coby Bryant was Seattle’s starting nickel cornerback and Boye Mafe had three sacks in limited playing time.
The Seahawks were even getting contributions from seventh-round wide receiver Dareke Young by the end of the season. The bountiful class has the chance to be the foundation for Seattle’s future.
“From when I first got here to now it’s crazy because I made a lot of steps and I beat a lot of odds and beat a lot of expectations,” Woolen said. “People thought I was going to be an experiment, and I still got a lot of stuff to work on.”
Seattle will have some key questions to answer in free agency, but very few will be at the skill positions. Among the key unrestricted free agents will be defensive lineman Poona Ford, center Austin Blythe, guard Phil Haynes, linebacker Cody Barton, kicker Jason Myers, running back Rashaad Penny and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin. Safety Ryan Neal is also a restricted free agent.
Seattle holds an absolute bounty of draft picks during the first two days of the draft, which sets the stage for another influx of young talent to go along with what appears to be a highly successful 2022 draft.
It took Seattle three draft classes when Carroll and general manager John Schneider first arrived to overhaul the Seahawks into Super Bowl contenders and they could be on the same path again. Seattle will have two first-round picks, including No. 5 overall, and will have three picks in the top 40.
There may still be drama around the quarterback this offseason, but that will be more to do with the structure of the deal it tries to reach with Smith.
Expect Seattle to also focus heavily on the line of scrimmage. Seattle was dominated on the interior of both the offensive and defensive lines at times this season. An overhaul of those spots might be the most significant roster turnover of position groups this offseason.