The end arrived suddenly.
This year in which the Seahawks made 284 transactions concluded with a team meeting Monday at noon. Afterward, players packed the contents of their lockers into cardboard boxes, the disappointment of Sunday’s season-ending loss in Chicago mixed with the knowledge that this playoff run had exceeded most expectations for the Seahawks.
“A lot of us are still in shock,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “We were in Chicago (Sunday), trying to win a game, and we putzed around for 30 minutes, and just messed up our opportunity.
“It’s just kind of an abrupt end to the season, which is probably like that for everyone.”
That conclusion is clouded by the uncertain future both for the Seahawks specifically and the NFL in general. Of the 53 players on Seattle’s active roster for Sunday’s game, 21 are unsigned for next season, a total that includes Hasselbeck, three of Seattle’s five starting offensive linemen and three starters on defense.
“It’s just how it is,” Hasselbeck said of his contract status. “I’m not stressed about anything. There’s nothing I can do about anything right now. The only X factor here is I don’t exactly know how it works.”
No one does right now with the possibility of a work stoppage on the horizon. The collective-bargaining agreement between the owners and players is scheduled to expire in March. Hasselbeck said coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider informed the team that if a lockout occurs, it would begin March 4. In the event of a lockout, free agency would not begin as scheduled, and while the draft would still be held in April, all other offseason transactions would wait until a resolution to the labor impasse is reached.
The number of potential Seahawks free agents are reminiscent of the situation after the 2004 season when Seattle had 17 players headed toward unrestricted free agency, including Hasselbeck, Walter Jones and Shaun Alexander.
There was one critical difference, though: Bob Whitsitt had been fired as the president in early 2005, which left a great deal of uncertainty concerning decision-making.
“We didn’t know who was steering the ship, who was in charge,” Hasselbeck said.
There is no doubt now, with Carroll and Schneider beginning the second year of their administration.
“It’s clear who’s in charge,” Hasselbeck said. “It’s clear the direction that has been set. It’s clear what the goals are for the future. I think the only hard part now is we’re trying to improve as a team, and we’re trying to improve in a lot of areas … and so you just never know how it’s going to shake out.”
Seattle still has a chance to re-sign Hasselbeck as it did in February 2004, right before he was scheduled to become a free agent.
“My hope is we could maybe do something before then, but again, that’s not up to me,” Hasselbeck said.
The Seahawks’ team meeting Monday was the first step into the offseason. Individual exit interviews and physical exams continue through Tuesday. For six months, Seattle’s players have had a schedule structured around this team. Now, it’s over.
“It’s strange,” said defensive tackle Craig Terrill, also unsigned for next season. “It’s kind of like the last day of school. Obviously, the NFL is an ever-changing thing so you hope to get to play with the guys again that you’ve been playing hard with for the last six months.”
And while the emptiness of Sunday’s playoff loss in Chicago still hung heavy in the locker room, it couldn’t eclipse the accomplishments of the previous two weeks when the team won its way into the playoffs in its final regular-season game, then beat the defending Super Bowl champion Saints.
“This is a team that’s going places,” safety Lawyer Milloy said. “When you have a new coach, when you have new players, it’s a process. We took a big step in that process to being a very good team, not only in the near future but to be dominant, especially in our division, for a while.”
Now, the Seahawks will begin wrestling with the decisions of who is coming back.