The Seahawks enter the offseason again considered one of the favorites for the Super Bowl, currently listed at 15-1 to win it all next February in Minneapolis, the fifth-best odds in the NFL.
But they also enter the offseason in a seemingly more precarious state since 2012.
That spring the Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson, which proved to be the launching point of their greatest run of success as a franchise, winning 10 or more games five straight years since then and one Super Bowl.
The wheels hardly fell off in 2016 with Seattle going 10-5-1 and winning the NFC West for the third time four seasons.
But the fast track to another Super Bowl that seemed at hand after a win at New England in early November ground to a halt with a flurry of losses the rest of the way, culminating in a blowout loss to Atlanta in the divisional round.
So now, as the Seahawks get set for the offseason to pick up steam with this week's NFL combine leading into the free-agent signing period March 9, the question is how Seattle patches over the vulnerabilities that became apparent during the late-season swoon.
The Seahawks have roughly $27 million in cap space, according to OvertheCap.com, which might sound like a lot until you realize it's 22nd in the NFL and that half of the NFL has $36 million or more. In other words, a lot of teams have a lot of money to spend, and the Seahawks -- who generally try to stay out of bidding wars -- will likely again be selective in what they spend, especially considering this is considered a lackluster free agent class overall.
The Seahawks, though, have few marquee free agents of their own they need to re-sign (at this point, tight end Luke Willson looms as the biggest question), meaning Seattle should have a little room to splurge if it wants.
Most vital for Seattle will be getting some hits, if not a few home runs, in the draft April 27-29. After selecting seven players who have made the Pro Bowl from 2010-12, the Seahawks have drafted just one since -- Tyler Lockett as a return specialist.
Given that the core group can no longer be considered young, adding some premium talent to bolster the depth and add to the competition is as critical as ever.
Seattle currently is expected to have seven draft picks, which would be their fewest of the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era -- compensatory picks are not announced until the league meetings in March -- but it won't be a surprise if the Seahawks make some trades to add more.
Here's a list of the Seahawks' top five areas of need this offseason and how Seattle may be able to address each one.
1. Offensive line
Call this number one with a bullet as the offensive line was widely considered among the worst in the NFL in 2016 and the weakest link on the team. Pete Carroll preached the value of continuity in his season-ending news conference and said he is counting on vast individual improvement in the young players to result in a sizeable overall upgrade of the group in 2017. Still, expect the Seahawks to do what they can to add reinforcements via free agency and the draft.
The question is what to do. The free-agent crops aren't regarded as overly strong at tackle, maybe Seattle's biggest area of concern -- consider that many tabbed former Seahawk Russell Okung as the second-best left tackle who will be available once it became apparent this week he will be a free agent (behind Cincinnati's Andrew Whitworth, whom the Bengals appear trying to keep). The draft also is considered better in interior linemen than tackles, though many early mocks have the Seahawks taking a tackle at No 26 overall -- Alabama's Cam Robinson and Wisconsin's Ryan Ramczyk are popular picks. All of which may be why Carroll sent a message last month that the Seahawks won't get better on the offensive line next year without some of the current linemen simply getting better as well.
This might seem a strange position to rate as this much of a need considering Seattle's recent secondary tradition and the presence of one of the best corners in the game in Richard Sherman.
But this is suddenly a real spot of intrigue for Seattle with DeShawn Shead uncertain to be ready for the start of the 2017 season due to an ACL injury suffered against Atlanta and Jeremy Lane struggling more than expected in 2016, his first after signing a four-year contract worth $23 million last March.
Seattle hasn't drafted a cornerback higher than the fourth round during the Carroll/John Schneider era, and hasn't drafted any since 2012 who remain on the team. This is regarded as an especially good year in the draft for cornerbacks, though, so the Seahawks should have plenty of options (with more than a few mocks thinking Seattle could tab Washington's Kevin King in the second or third rounds).
3. Adding defensive depth
Seattle still has a core of defensive players that is the envy of the rest of the NFL -- seven starters who have all made at least one Pro Bowl who remain under contract through at least next season.
But the injury to Earl Thomas illustrated the importance of continuing to groom and maintain quality depth. Carroll also pointed specifically to linebacker as a position where the Seahawks need to assure they have players ready to push and fill in for Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, if needed. But Seattle also could use some more pass rushers and some added competition throughout the secondary.
4. Running back
One view is that the Seahawks should be fine if Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise can come back fully healthy -- and stay that way -- in 2017. But Carroll acknowledged that the spate of injuries Rawls and Prosise have suffered have to be taken into consideration when assessing the position.
Also, even when healthy in 2016 Rawls was more inconsistent than he had been in 2015. The Seahawks could look to add a veteran as insurance in free agency. But while veteran big-names such as Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles could each be available, what is more likely for Seattle might be targeting a mid-level free agent -- Buffalo's Mike Gillislee might be intriguing, for instance, depending on how the market develops.
Running back is also considered an especially strong position in the draft and the Seahawks could likely pick up a solid player in the middle rounds.
5. Receiver depth
Lockett is expected to be back for the start of the season after suffering a broken tibia and fibula in a December game against Arizona. But the Seahawks could look to bolster the depth as insurance, as well as simply add another option to a group that other than Doug Baldwin last season battled inconsistency and/or injuries throughout.
The Seahawks could also lose Luke Willson -- whose speed and big-play ability out of that position is one of his strengths -- via free agency. The good news is that this is considered a good receiver draft class, especially in its overall depth and there is no shortage of free-agent options, though the Seahawks might be more inclined to stay away from the more expensive big names and maybe wait for some bargains in the later waves of free agency.