Remember when the St. Louis Rams were the team to beat in the NFC West? No team — not the Seahawks, 49ers, or Cardinals — could wrest the division crown from the Rams’ iron grip.
Led by the likes of Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Marc Bulger, Kurt Warner, Orlando Pace, Leonard Little, and Marshall Faulk, the Rams were a force to be reckoned with in an otherwise weak division.
And then it all blew up.
Seemingly overnight, the Rams got very, very old.
Their rock of a left tackle, Pace, became an injury-prone question mark year in and year out.
Faulk ran out of gas and retired.
Bruce and Holt both dropped from their lofty perches as two of the game’s best wideouts. Each would see a reduced role in the team’s offense before moving on to different clubs.
Warner moved on, paving the way for Bulger. Bulger, in turn, took the reins of the St. Louis offense and proved consistently inconsistent.
The defense fell apart.
Coaches came and went.
It was a carousel of problems for the former Superbowl champs as they went from contender to cellar-dwellar over the course of a matter of months.
And their biggest issue? That came in failing to acknowledge their own demise.
Rather than attempt to rebuild their franchise from the ground up, the Rams instead opted to patch holes with stopgap veterans through free agency. They frivolously invested money in the wrong players, handicapping their payroll in the process, and stalling their team’s growth when all was said and done.
Five years after the Rams first relinquished the division crown to the rival Seahawks, it is Seattle that is now experiencing a similar fall from grace.
Beset by a litany of obstacles since their last NFC West title in 2007, the Seahawks have witnessed key players go down to injury, seen former superstars run out of town, made bad decisions in trades and free agency, and, like the Rams, have complicated matters by ignoring all the warning signs.
There’s Matt Hasselbeck, who has spent most of the past two seasons nursing a chronically ailing back, missing significant game time in the process. The quarterback has been absent from 11 contests since the start of 2008, all due to injury.
Hasselbeck’s pain has only been amplified by a decaying offensive line that has been hampered by injuries of their own. At certain points in each of the past two years, the team has entered ballgames with backups starting at every single position in the offensive trench.
The biggest loss on the O-line comes in the form of left tackle Walter Jones, a future Hall of Famer who was on the downside of his career three years ago. Jones was placed on injured reserve just one week ago and may have played his last game as a Seahawk.
Injuries have also plagued the secondary (cornerback Marcus Trufant spent the first six weeks of 2009 on the PUP list), the linebacking corps (Pro Bowler Lofa Tatupu is out for the remainder of the year, and starter Leroy Hill missed time in the early going), the defensive line (DE Patrick Kerney played in just seven games in 2008), and the receivers (nine different wideouts saw playing time for the team in 2008).
Free agency and the draft have been two other areas of concern for the once-proud ballclub.
It began when left guard Steve Hutchinson was lost to the Minnesota Vikings in the 2006 offseason. One of the cogs in the team’s Superbowl season in ’05, Hutchinson’s departure left a gaping hole on the offensive line.
From that point forward, a laundry list of questionable signings were brought in to try and help the team return to prominence.
Nate Burleson, Julius Jones, Mike Wahle, Brian Russell, Deon Grant, and TJ Duckett are among the veteran signees that have underwhelmed during their tenure with the Seahawks. Another acquired veteran, receiver Deion Branch, was obtained in a trade for draft picks with the New England Patriots.
Among draft selections, Darryl Tapp, Lawrence Jackson, Baraka Atkins, Kelly Jennings, Josh Wilson, Chris Spencer, and Rob Sims have all failed to live up to expectations in their brief careers.
Additionally, the Seahawks have failed to seriously acknowledge any of the positions of greatest need on their roster in recent draft. Offensive tackle, tailback, and quarterback are three areas where the club could drastically improve themselves with high draft choices. Instead they overdraft at positions of strength, or tend to swing and miss (see Sims, Rob) when selecting a player at a critical need spot.
Ultimately, this run of failure will cost general manager Tim Ruskell his job. With an open checkbook bestowed upon the franchise by billionaire owner Paul Allen, the organization can simply stall no longer.
As evidenced by their intradivision foes the Rams, resisting the need to rebuild can be a painfully costly process that can cripple a franchise for years. Rather than make the same mistakes as their conference counterpart, the time has come for the front office to consider blowing up their decaying roster and start anew.
As far as the Seahawks are concerned, it’s rebuilding time.