Matt Hasselbeck, Walter Jones and Shaun Alexander. A core offense that played an integral part in guiding the Seahawks' franchise to it's first Super Bowl. Today, Alexander is unemployed and Hasselbeck and Jones stand in street clothes, injured, watching the team struggle to 1-3. Since Alexander's release in 2007 and the injury issues at quarterback and left tackle, the Seahawks are a combined 5-15.
Hasselbeck has now missed as many games as the perennially injured Deion Branch since his trade from New England in 2006 (15). Walter Jones, having missed just three games in nine years to start his career, has been absent for nine games in the last three years. It's difficult to accept, but the Seahawks are coming towards the end of an era.
It was a strong offensive core built over some time. Jones was a 6th overall draft choice in 1997 from Florida State. The Seahawks didn't acquire Shaun Alexander until the turn of the century - a bargain 19th overall pick in the year 2000. Matt Hasselbeck arrived one year later via a trade with Green Bay. It also took some time to develop, Mike Holmgren's Seahawks failed to make the post season until 2003 when a five year window opened that ultimately led to a Super Bowl defeat and four consecutive NFC West titles.
There's still a long way to go in the 2009 season and it's perhaps premature to discuss 'what happens next'. If Seattle goes into the bye week at 3-3 with wins over Jacksonville and Arizona it's very much 'game on'. But regardless of what happens this year, for better or worse the Seahawks will have to build a new offensive core: QB, LT, RB.
Next year's draft more than any other seems, at least on paper, to be the perfect platform to begin a rebuild. Two first round picks and three picks in the first sixty-four selections gives the team a chance to stock up on young talent. However, they may find limited options if they do intend to invest in a new offensive core in 2010.
For starters, it's looking like a particularly poor year for offensive lineman. Scratch the surface a little and we face the prospect of no offensive lineman going in the top ten since 2005. Some names regularly get mentioned: Trent Williams (Oklahoma), Russell Okung (Oklahoma State) and Ciron Black (LSU). I'll actually be surprised if any go in the first round, let alone the top ten. Compare this to last year when three offensive lineman went in the top ten.
Simply put, good luck finding a long term replacement for Walter Jones in the first round of the 2010 draft. Of course, some guys might come to the fore late in the day. Athletic tackle Bryan Bulaga (Iowa) could declare as a junior (but considering he's missed time and lost weight with a thyroid problem, I expect him to stay in college). Another name to watch out for may be Bruce Campbell (Maryland) who received favorable reviews in a recent game against Clemson. It's still a thin class, though.
It's a different story at quarterback. There's certainly some potential depth, depending on which underclassmen declare. Seniors Tim Tebow (Florida), Tony Pike (Cincinnati) and Colt McCoy (Texas) could go in the first two rounds. Juniors Sam Bradford (Oklahoma), Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame) and Jake Locker (Washington) could join them. It wouldn't be completely shocking if all went relatively early.
But here's the thing - from the list above who would you give the keys to the franchise? Hasselbeck's contract expires after the 2010 season, which (at best) would give the rookie one year's development unless he re-signs. GM Tim Ruskell has traditionally favored seniors early in the draft, would he likely abandon his risk averse strategy on the most important position in football? If not, that only really offers Tebow, Pike and McCoy.
Finally, the running back position. Julius Jones is (just) on schedule for a 1000 yard season this year (currently on 251 yard through one quarter of the season). Admittedly though, this is a guy dropped as Dallas' #2 so they can draft Felix Jones in the first round and Tashard Choice later on, both in 2008. He hasn't taken the work load given to most running backs approaching 30 (Jones was 28 in August), but the Seahawks have lacked an elite playmaker at the offensive skill positions since Alexander's dramatic fall in production.
Again, the 2010 draft won't offer too many prizes at running back. Two years ago we saw a veritable feast at the position with the likes of Darren McFadden going in the top five picks, Jonathan Stewart following shortly after and a host of others (for example, Chris Johnson and Matt Forte) coming into the league with an instant bang. Last year two talented backs (Knowshon Moreno and Beanie Wells) were first round locks almost from the get-go.
Looking at the current crop, in my opinion C.J. Spiller is the most intriguing option for next year. He does everything well - runs, catches, blocks - and he's a playmaker with the ball in his hands. If the Seahawks are looking for a sparky compliment to Julius Jones, Spiller is the man. But can a team seemingly reaching a cross roads be in any kind of position to start adding Felix Jones-esque expensive compliments to it's backfield?
Indeed, the 2010 draft at this (still) early stage looks a lot stronger on the defensive side of the ball. It'll be a deep draft at defensive tackle with two stand out candidates - Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska) and Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma). It could also be strong for defensive ends - Carlos Dunlap (Florida) ranks #1 on Scout.inc's big board and Derrick Morgan (Georgia Tech) is a personal favorite. We've all heard about the two safety's - Eric Berry (Tennessee) and Taylor Mays (USC). I've been largely unimpressed with both this year but I expect both to remain first round picks.
Without doubt the Seahawks defense has seen serious investment since Tim Ruskell's arrival. This was encompassed last year when he drafted a linebacker - Aaron Curry - with the fourth overall pick instead of one of the tackles, Mark Sanchez or Michael Crabtree. Even taking that into account, I don't see any reason why Seattle would 'fight the board' if defense did in fact prove to be significantly stronger in the draft.
Therefore, it could be some time before the Seahawks have a new offensive core. The Denver Broncos are tied to Seattle for obvious reasons at the moment. Although they have endured their fair share of criticism in recent times, they were able to draft Jay Cutler (QB), Ryan Clady (OT) and Knowshon Moreno (RB) in a four year span. Cutler and Clady have become stand-out players at their respective positions, whilst I expect the same to happen to Moreno given time. Their switch of Cutler for Kyle Orton led to howls of derision at the time, but Orton looks a comfortable match for Josh McDaniels' system and has merely shown an adaption to the core offense.
In the last two years, using two first round picks could have landed Seattle Ryan Clady and Chris Johnson, or even Knowshon Moreno and Michael Oher. They may not have such a luxury in 2010 to draft quality at positions of great need. But that's the way the draft works - you can never fight the board. Although a QB, LT and RB might be the order of the day at the moment, the reality is it could take the Seahawks quite some time to find the next Hasselbeck, Jones and Alexander.