It was a familiar scene taking place at an unfamiliar time on the NFL calendar. As they do at the conclusion of every season, Seahawks players cleaned out their lockers and packed up their belongings on Monday, exchanged jerseys or signatures on helmets or simply a hug or a handshake before beginning their offseason. What made this particular Monday unusual for the Seahawks is that, for the first time since 2011, it took place following the last game of the regular season.
Dating back to the 2012 season, the Seahawks have advanced to at least the Divisional Round of the playoffs every year, going to the Super Bowl twice, meaning that for the past five years, this has either been the Monday before a Wild Card game or the Monday of a bye week. But after finishing the 2017 season with a 9-7 record, the Seahawks' season came to an end with Sunday's loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
"It's a tough pill to swallow, definitely a sour taste in your mouth," tight end Luke Willson said. "I think I speak for everyone that we had a lot more potential."
Added linebacker K.J. Wright, "Coming into the week, we knew it was a possibility, but it's just now hitting me that we've got to watch football this weekend. This season is going to be a big learning experience. We learned a lot, had some good times, had some bad times, and we've just got to get to the root of it and see what we can do to improve going forward."
Wright, one of the few players left on Seattle's roster who was part of the last Seahawks team to miss the postseason, says falling short of the playoffs feels different this time because, "We weren't a good football team then. We didn't know how to win, we were extremely young. But this, it just feels bad because we're a quality team. We have experienced guys, we have tons of Pro Bowlers and a great franchise quarterback, so we don't want to be in this position when the team is so talented. It feels much, much worse this time, because in 2011, we had no business being in the playoffs."
Receiver Doug Baldwin, who like Wright was a rookie on that 2011 team, still sees plenty of potential on Seattle's roster going forward, but said this year was, "just frustrating because we have so much talent on this team and we're capable of doing much more than we did this year, and we didn't do it. That's why if feels different (than 2011). My first year was kind of figuring out, who are we? What's our identity? Then kind of establishing that as we went forward with core players, a core mindset, a core standard. It's the same things, it's just that for whatever reason, it didn't come to fruition."
A number of factors contributed to the Seahawks falling short of the postseason, ranging from injuries, particularly on defense, to inconsistent play on offense to the inability to have success in the running game. But more than anything, players said they just fell short of being their best too often this year.
"It was a bit of a rollercoaster ride," Willson said. "It's tough to place your finger on one thing. At the end of the day, it's just disappointing. Everyone's disappointed, because the locker room we had we thought was special, but it didn't work out. We just didn't really put a ton of full games together. We showed moments. The Philly game we showed what we were capable of, but for some reason we just kind of hit or miss."
Defensive end Frank Clark had a similar assessment, saying, "That was the story of our season. In this league, you can't be up and down. You've got to come with your A game every week, when you play half the season on your A game and half not, the result is you're going to be sitting at home watching, and that's what we're doing."
Yet even if the Seahawks didn't accomplish their goals in 2017, they're still confident about the future.
"I believe this is a championship-caliber team; I just believe we didn't meet our expectations," Clark said.
Some level of roster turnover is inevitable, because that happens on every team every offseason, but players don't think one year of missing the postseason signals the end of an era.
"I don't think it's an end of an era; I think it's just beginning," quarterback Russell Wilson said.
Asked why, Wilson replied, "I have great confidence in myself, I have great confidence in the guys we have in this locker room, the guys we'll choose to be in this locker room down the road. I think it's just beginning."
Wright agreed with his quarterback, saying, "Just because we didn't make the playoffs, it doesn't mean we have to change everything completely. We're going to be fine. I trust coach (Pete) Carroll, I trust John Schneider to put together a good football team, draft well, get good free agents to help us get back to winning the NFC West."
But no matter what the Seahawks can accomplish in 2018 and beyond, players understand the business side of the sport means it won't be the same exact group of players taking the field when offseason workouts begin in the spring as the one that was on the field Sunday, which is why this locker cleanout day can be an emotional one for players.
"It's always hard, because you spend so much time with everybody in this organization, but you know there's always change," defensive end Michael Bennett said. "This is a revolving door in the NFL, there's always somebody coming in, somebody going out, and you never know what coaches are going to be back, what players are going to be back, so the time you have with them, you just want to cherish every moment. That's what you try to do. You want to take the wins with you, but the thing you want to take most from the NFL is the relationships. Whether it's coaches or players or training staff or media staff, you end building a lot of great relationships."
After missing the postseason for the first time since 2011, the Seahawks cleaned out their lockers on New Year's Day at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center.