The 2016 Seattle Seahawks won't look exactly like the version of the team that held its final team meeting Monday. Offseason personnel changes are an unavoidable reality in any professional sport, and especially one with a salary cap like the NFL, but while next year's Seahawks won't be the exact same team, head coach Pete Carroll hopes to retain a large portion of the roster that earned the team's fourth straight trip to the divisional round of the playoffs.
"I really like our team," Carroll said in his year-end press conference. "Yeah, there's some stuff, there's always stuff, but I really like our team. I like the balance of it. I like the youth of it. The attitude, the mentality, the toughness.
"We like our team. We like the guys that we have. That doesn't mean that they have their jobs forever. We're going to make it competitive and they have to hold other guys off. That's how we're approaching the offseason. We're starting from that perspective. We want to keep these guys together as much as we possibly can."
Yet as much as Carroll likes his team, he knows change is inevitable. There are free agents, not all of whom can likely be retained, other players will be added in free agency, and a new draft class will come in to push for jobs. As good as Carroll and general manager John Schneider feel about the current roster, they're always looking for ways to make it better.
"It needs to be more competitive in a number of spots," Carroll said. "So that's what the draft will do. That's what putting the roster together will do. I'm not able at this time to talk to you about any individual guys because it's today, it's Monday, we don't know anything yet, how we're going to get through all of this. But we have issues, like we do every season. There's difficult decisions that we'll have to make, and we'll make them, and we'll move forward in hopes of making our roster more competitive. There's a lot of guys on this roster right now, the young guys that you don't know a lot about, that I think have a chance to really push other guys that are on our team right now. It's an exciting group of young athletes, and speed, and mentality, and stuff that will have a chance to maybe give us a boost. So that's part of it, and then the draft, and whatever else we can do there, will also fit in. Then we'll come back and try to make this the most competitive camp we've ever had, and see what that leaves us with. I think that's going to leave us with a pretty strong group. But we have some areas that we want to work on for sure."
Carroll wouldn't discuss specifics of on any free agents this early in the process, but just as Carroll said he hopes to keep the team intact, those players heading into offseason uncertainty expressed a desire to be back.
"I want to be here," said linebacker Bruce Irvin, Seattle's first pick in the 2012 draft. "That's what it is. I understand the business side of it, and if I happen to be somewhere else, I will always have a genuine appreciation John and Pete for sticking their neck out there and taking me when everybody said I was a reach and had a lot of baggage that comes with me. No matter what people said, they still made a decision to take me with pick 15. I understand the business side of it; you can't keep everybody. I will always love these guys. It's hard, but it's bigger than football. We'll always have a relationship, they'll always be my brothers… I honestly can't even imagine myself playing with anybody else. Being in a different meeting room, listening to different pregame speeches, it's crazy to me."
Jermaine Kearse, who is coming off the best season of his career, not to mention a huge game against Carolina Sunday, is also a free agent, an interesting time for a player who grew up in the area, played at Washington, then signed with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent in 2012.
"It's going to be an interesting process," Kearse said. "… When it happens, we'll assess the situation and go from there. I grew up in the state of Washington, so playing in front of my family and friends in my home town, it meant a lot to me. I definitely enjoyed it, and I would love to play here, but unfortunately there's a business side of this league, so you've got to wait for the process to happen and assess the situation."
Russell Okung, who signed a six-year deal as a rookie in 2010, is also facing free agency for the first time, where he will represent himself in negotiations without an agent.
"Either way I'm optimistic about life and moving forward," Okung said of the uncertainty. "You just take it in stride and realize it's part of the game… You just keep things in perspective and take one step at a time."
A bittersweet day at VMAC as the Seahawks players clean out their lockers for the offseason and spend their final moments together as the 2015 squad before heading off in separate directions for their Championship Offseason.