First off, I should state for the record that I am not a pessimist by nature. I do not naturally focus on mistakes, problems, or the potential for disaster. I'm generally optimistic, looking at the positives (while not necessarily expecting them) and hoping for the best. And the Seahawks' 2010 season provided plenty of moments of validation for an optimistic Seahawks fan. After all, there were so many questions... Could Pete Carroll motivate NFL players the same way he did college players? Who was this John Schneider guy and what can we reasonably expect from a rookie GM? What on earth are we doing with Mike Williams, a guy who was a phenomenal bust and who ate himself out of the league 2 years ago?
As it turned out, Carroll's players loved playing for him and played hard, Schneider showed a nose for talent and a remarkable ability to work well with Carroll (which is a nice change for a Seahawks fan... a GM and HC that work together), and Williams turned out to be our best receiver. And there were plenty of other positives to note: Russell Okung's solid play when healthy, the acquisitions of Marshawn Lynch and Brandon Stokley, the career resurrections of Chris Clemons, Raheem Brock, and Red Bryant, the development of Ben Obomanu, Earl Thomas' promising rookie season, the amazing victory over the Saints in the Wild Card round of the postseason, etc.
But not everything was sunshine and puppies this year for the Seahawks. There was a lack of quality depth at nearly every position, which resulted in some ugly Seahawk football when starters went down (for example, Seattle's run defense falling apart when Red Bryant went on IR). 11 different offensive line combinations were tried over the course of the season. The playmaking promise of 2nd round pick Golden Tate never materialized. And perhaps the most frustrating thing about the 2010 Seahawks for fans was that the losses were never close - counting the loss in the Divisional Round of the playoffs to the Bears, the Seahawks lost 10 games by an average of 20 points per game.
Even with all of those issues just mentioned, I think there are three things that top the list of gaffes for the 2010 Seahawks:
3. The mishandling of the LG position
When Rob Sims was traded, I bought into the rationale behind the trade. I thought, "Okay, Gibbs didn't think he was a fit, he was going to be a FA after the season, we've brought in Ben Hamilton to fill his spot and act as a mentor to Okung, and we got a pick out of it, too! Awesome!"
Ugh. Okay. Obviously, hindsight is 20/20, but for this move to pay off, several things needed to happen. Gibbs had to get a guy he liked for LG, and that guy had to still have some gas in the tank. Whoops. Hamilton looked done from the moment he stepped on the field. Well, at least he could mentor Okung, right? Perhaps, if dueling injuries to Hamilton and Okung hadn't prevented them from hardly playing a down next to each other (they shared the field for a whopping 2 regular season games).
The Seahawks eventually played 4 different guys at LG, trying to fill the hole created by the Sims trade: Ben Hamilton, Mike Gibson, Chester Pitts (another old Gibbs vet in decline), and Tyler Polumbus. The results were predictably uneven, at best. In the end, Seahawk fans are left to wonder if the O-line would have been more stable if Sims had been retained. Sims performed solidly in Detroit, and there's no word whether he jacked up his LT's ankles by rolling up on them (a disturbing trend for his replacements in Seattle).
So yeah, I was completely wrong to be optimistic about the Sims trade, but the biggest reason I'm so down on it now is due to #2...
2. Carroll's gaffe in finding an offensive coordinator and an offensive line coach that could work together.
For all the questions about whether Carroll could be successful in his return to life as an NFL coach, an even bigger question was how he would assemble his coaching staff. Early returns looked fantastic. He brought in Jeremy Bates as his offensive coordinator, a young up-and-comer who worked with Carroll at USC and who was highly touted for his involvement with the Broncos when Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall were putting up some impressive numbers. But that was nothing compared to his biggest hiring coup: convincing zone-blocking guru Alex Gibbs to come out of retirement to become the Seahawks' offensive line coach. The pairing was supposed to lead to a new and exciting Seahawks offense. But it would never materialize.
Gibbs retired just a week before the start of the regular season, and the team claimed that his retirement was due to fatigue. It was a believable claim at the time. Gibbs had retired from jobs before due to fatigue, and he was no spring chicken at 69 years old. There were a few hushed rumors that Gibbs was perhaps unhappy with the players brought in to run his zone blocking system, or that he had clashed with other staff members, but there was little evidence to support the rumors. Art Valero was brought in to replace Gibbs, and while the Seahawks O-line did a passable job of pass protection, the run game remained abysmal.
After the season ended, Jeremy Bates was fired and with his departure, questions arose again over whether staff clashes led to Gibbs' retirement. Ben Hamilton suggested that "personnel disputes and butting heads" were the primary reasons. Paired with Carroll's claim that Bates was let go for "a philosophical issue," it's hard not to conclude that there was friction in the offensive coaching staff.
In the end, a year after Carroll made two big splashes with his coaching choices on the offensive side of the ball, both guys are gone and the team is starting over. And that leads to the top mistake made in 2010 by the Seahawks, which also deals with the offense.
1. The failure to address the future of the QB position.
At the end of the 2009 season, the Seahawks' QB position was a massive question mark. They had a veteran in Matt Hasselbeck whose best years were behind him. Though he could still deliver a great performance from time to time, he was unable to string several solid games together as his tendency to turn the ball over and his history of injuries became bigger concerns. Behind Hasselbeck, the team had a backup QB (Seneca Wallace) in whom few fans had confidence. In short, it was clear that Hasselbeck was at an age and a point in his career where rebuilding a team around him seemed ill-advised, and that Wallace was not the answer as the future franchise QB.
So the team traded Wallace away to Cleveland for a late-round pick in 2011. A little over a week later, the team traded for Charlie Whitehurst, a 3rd string QB for the Chargers who reportedly had all the physical tools that Jeremy Bates' offensive system valued. The price was steep - a 3rd round pick in 2011 and an exchange of 2010 2nd round picks with San Diego (a 20 spot difference). Detractors of the trade pointed to Whitehurst's inexperience and the cost of the trade. Proponents pointed to Whitehurst's potential and how the trade would be a steal if Whitehurst could become a bonafide starting QB.
One thing both sides agreed on, however, was that the value given up for Whitehurst and the 2-year deal he signed with Seattle suggested that he was not brought in to simply carry a clipboard. He was brought in to challenge Hasselbeck for the starting job, in keeping with Carroll's theme of competition. Unfortunately, this competition never happened. It might have been that Whitehurst couldn't beat Hasselbeck out in practice (which is the most likely scenario). It could have been that Carroll was hesitant to bench the face of the team and the only QB in Seahawks history to take the team to a Super Bowl. It might have been that the rest of the NFC West was so bad that the Seahawks were never out of the division title race, forcing Carroll to abandon any plans to get Whitehurst regular season experience, and instead going with the experienced veteran as long as possible.
Whatever the reason, Whitehurst was given few opportunities to gain real game experience in 2010. He started the game against the Giants after Hasselbeck was injured, and the results were predictable for a first-time starter against a fearsome defense. Whitehurst's showing in sub duty against the Buccaneers was forgettable, as well. However, he showed some flashes of ability in late action against the Falcons and performed decently (though not great) against the Rams in the final regular season game. In the end, Whitehurst's supporters and critics both gained ammunition for further debate over his ability to become the team's starting QB in the future.
Meanwhile, Hasselbeck performed just as he had in the 2008 and 2009 seasons. He had a couple of good games, but plenty of bad ones. He continued his trend of pressing too much when the team fell behind, forcing throws that ended up as picks and turning the ball over at an alarming rate (especially in a 4-game stretch near the end of the season when he turned the ball over 13 times). But when it looked like Hasselbeck's career as the Seahawks starter might be finished, he was handed the reins in the team's home playoff game against New Orleans. He responded with what was quite likely the best game of his career, throwing 4 TDs, 1 pick that wasn't his fault, and converting crucial 3rd downs like clockwork. He followed that game with a solid performance against Chicago in the Divisional Round, a game which could have been a win had his receivers managed to get more separation and not drop so many passes. For many fans, Hasselbeck's final two games completely made up for his poor performances for long stretches earlier in the season. And it put at least a seed of doubt in the minds of many fans who had already declared Hasselbeck ready for the scrap heap.
So, going into the offseason, preparing for the 2011 season, the team is in essentially the same position they were going into the 2010 season. They've got a veteran (1 year older now) whose best years are behind him, but who can still occasionally put up a great game. And they've got a backup with potential, but a ton of questions as well. The biggest on-field question for any NFL team is the leader (almost always the QB), and the teams who have success year in and year out have that position solved. Carroll needed to at least start to address that situation in his first year with the Seahawks, but the team is in exactly the same situation as it was a year ago. And for that reason, the QB situation earns my "biggest mistake of 2010" award.