Pete Carroll believes in 'championship team,' but offseason challenges loom

RENTON, Wash. -- The Seattle Seahawks missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011, which means coach Pete Carroll's end-of-season news conference came earlier than he or anyone else could have imagined.

He lamented that fact Tuesday along with several of the reasons that led to it while still speaking with his typical optimism about what lies ahead for the Seahawks.

"I'm encouraged about the future and where we can go and what we can do," Carroll said. "I hope that was conveyed because I couldn't feel more optimistic about our chances to be really good again. I think there is a championship team sitting in this meeting room right here."

The Seahawks have in place the three most important figures any NFL team can have: a head coach, a quarterback and a general manager. Carroll had already shot down speculation that he may retire when he reiterated Tuesday that he's coming back. Russell Wilson is coming off one of his best seasons and is only 29. And while there could conceivably be mutual interest between John Schneider and the Green Bay Packers now that their GM job is open, there's been no indications that anything is brewing on that front.

Carroll said he doesn't expect Schneider to go anywhere.

"John and I have a big job," Carroll said. "As I always say at this time of year, there's a lot of huge decisions to be made, and we're faced with big challenges always."

The Seahawks have their work cut out for them to get back to Super Bowl contention after a 9-7 finish, which snapped a franchise-record five straight seasons with at least 10 victories.

They may have to replace several key members of their defense. That's sounding increasingly likely with two players in particular -- strong safety Kam Chancellor and defensive end Cliff Avril are both dealing with career-threatening neck injuries.

Michael Bennett, Seattle's other Pro Bowl defensive end, could be a salary-cap casualty. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson will be a free agent. A year after the Seahawks openly shopped him, cornerback Richard Sherman will be 30, entering the last year of his deal and coming off a ruptured Achilles. Even free safety Earl Thomas' future doesn't seem entirely certain, though he's coming off an All-Pro caliber season and still has tremendous value to Seattle's defense as does a healthy Sherman.

On offense, the Seahawks need to fix a running game that has been broken for two seasons. Carroll didn't leave the impression that any sweeping changes are coming to Seattle's offensive line when he talked about injuries to tailbacks more so than poor run blocking as the root cause.

Carroll mentioned the names of Chris Carson, Mike Davis, C.J. Prosise and J.D. McKissic, omitting Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls as he looked ahead to Seattle's backfield in 2018. He also said more competition is needed at that spot.

"That's going to be one that we're focused on," he said. "Because of the durability issues that we've faced for the last two seasons, it's been really trying for us. Those are tremendous candidates to be battling at it and I'm hoping that that will make a difference."

Also on Seattle's priority list will be finding some way to curb the team's penalty problem. The Seahawks set a franchise record with 148 accepted penalties, leading the league in that department for the third time in Carroll's eight seasons as Seattle's coach. He called that "probably his biggest regret" of 2017.

"We'll make a change there," Carroll said. "It has to happen."

As Carroll noted, the changing landscape of the NFC West will make for another challenge. The Los Angeles Rams overtook Seattle as division champs and look like they're built to last with a young and talented roster. The San Francisco 49ers found their quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, winning all five of the games he started to close out the season. The Arizona Cardinals will be in transition with coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer retiring, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll be any less competitive than the team that just handed Seattle its season-ending loss.

"I'm pumped up about it. I'm excited about that challenge," Carroll said. "I'm upset that we have to be facing it this early. I'd like another couple months or six weeks here would be nice, but that is not the way this one is, so we've got to go after it. Nothing is going to change other than maybe our resolve is even more than ever to go after it in a very aggressive, competitive way."