Richard Sherman's season-ending Achilles injury creates a great deal of uncertainty for a Seattle Seahawks defense that has never played without the All-Pro cornerback since he became a starter midway through his rookie year in 2011.
It also adds more uncertainty to Sherman's future with the team.
This was already going to be a question after the team publicly discussed the possibility of trading Sherman last spring before shelving that thought when nothing materialized.
Sherman will enter this offseason with one year left on his contract. That has been when the Seahawks have preferred to extend what they consider their core players, but Sherman will be 30 years old and coming off a serious injury, so it won't be that simple.
Here's three factors that will figure to come into play:
The final season of Sherman's contract includes an $11 million salary and only $2.2 million in dead money, which would give Seattle plenty of financial incentive to move on from him.
However, Sherman was again playing at a high level before his Achilles injury. If the Seahawks were confident he could regain that form in 2018, $11 million would be a reasonable rate for one of the NFL's best cornerbacks. The Seahawks could let him play out the final year of his contract and then go from there.
But that assumes Sherman's health. You don't appear in 105 straight games like Sherman did without being incredibly determined to be available, something that will serve him well in his recovery. Still, there are no guarantees with serious injuries.
The Seahawks were more willing to deal Sherman for the right price last offseason than many people realized. One reason: Sherman was on board with it. In fact, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Sherman was the one who initiated the conversation about a trade with the organization.
Remember, this was on the heels of a tumultuous season for Sherman. He had lost his cool twice on the sidelines, first getting into a shouting match with defensive coordinator Kris Richard after a busted coverage in Week 6 and then yelling at coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell in disapproval of a playcall at the goal line in Week 15.
Sherman then doubled- and tripled-down on his criticism of that decision while referencing the disastrous ending to Super Bowl XLIX, bringing up a wound that repotrer Seth Wickersham explored in detail in an ESPN The Magazine story.
But whatever strain that those incidents might have caused -- or revealed -- in the relationship between Sherman and the organization seemed to be on the mend. He acknowledged for the first time in June that he may have crossed a line when he lost his cool, and nothing he's said or done since then has suggested any enmity toward the organization. He seems to have hit the reset button after last season.
The Seahawks would be less inclined to trade Sherman if he wasn't pushing for it, but that's only one part of the equation.
Seattle's replacement options
If Sherman is healthy and wants to remain with Seattle, moving on from him would only make sense if the Seahawks had a viable replacement. That's much easier said than done.
Among qualified cornerbacks, Sherman ranks first since his rookie season in passer rating allowed (58.3), completion percentage allowed (47.5) and interceptions (32), according to the NFL. But it's not just a matter of the exceptionally high level he has played at over his career.
It's also a matter of the Seahawks' spotty track record with cornerbacks brought in from the outside. Cary Williams has become a cautionary tale about the time it can take for cornerbacks to adjust to Seattle's style of play. Signed in free agency in 2015, Williams lost his starting job after 10 games and then was released a few weeks later. Afterward, Carroll identified the difficulty that Williams had in picking up Seattle's step-kick technique as a reason why he wasn't working out.
On their current roster, the Seahawks have question marks at cornerback beyond rookie Shaquill Griffin and nickelback Justin Coleman. DeShawn Shead would be in line to resume his starting role if healthy, but he has yet to return from offseason ACL surgery. Jeremy Lane has a $7.25 million cap charge next season, likely a prohibitive amount for a player whom Seattle has benched and traded this season only to get him back after a failed physical. Byron Maxwell -- whom Seattle is bringing back on a one-year deal, according to Schefter -- has struggled since leaving Seattle in 2015.
The circumstances will be very different than last year, but it could be another interesting offseason for Sherman and the Seahawks.