If 1999 was the season Mike Holmgren became head coach of the Seahawks, then 2000 was the year the duties of his other multifaceted title kicked in: Executive vice president of football operations/general manager.
The team’s financial future had been mortgaged in previous offseasons in an attempt to save Dennis Erickson’s job as coach. It didn’t happen, but Holmgren and senior vice president Mike Reinfeldt still were left to ravage the roster in creating enough money under the salary cap so that the team could function.
“Part of this is to get (the salary cap) back in line without sacrificing winning,” Holmgren said at the beginning of the process. Well, they did get the salary cap under control, but the team also slumped to 6-10 – the worst record of Holmgren’s first nine seasons as a head coach (nine in Green Bay and two in Seattle) and the Seahawks’ worst since they finished 6-10 in 1994, which was Tom Flores’ final season as coach.
It was one step back, so the Seahawks could take another step – or two – forward.
“We don’t have a tremendous amount of room under the cap, and did not last year when I came in, because of the structure of contracts,” Holmgren said. “As a result, I had to let a couple of players go and I will probably have to release a couple more to allow us to participate in free agency and build a football team the way I would like.
“I don’t want to get in that situation again.”
Before the roster purge was complete, nine starters from 1999 were gone. Safety Darryl Williams, center Kevin Glover, guard Brian Habib, linebacker Darrin Smith and center Kevin Glover were released. So was wide receiver Mike Pritchard, because of knee problems. Wide receiver Joey Galloway was traded to the Dallas Cowboys for a pair of first-round draft choices that were used to select Shaun Alexander (in 2000) and wide receiver Koren Robinson (in 2001). Defensive end Phillip Daniels (Bears), defensive tackle Sam Adams (Ravens), tackle Grant Williams (Patriots) and kicker Todd Peterson (Chiefs) left in free agency. Running back Ahman Green also was traded (Packers). Wide receiver Sean Dawkins was released and eventually re-signed to a more cap-friendly contract.
“It’s difficult initially, because you know you’re going to have to let a couple of players go you don’t want to let go,” Holmgren said. “And you know maybe – probably – you’re going to sacrifice a win or two.”
Or three, as it turned out.
There also were changes on Holmgren’s staff, and in the front office. Steve Sidwell was hired as the defensive coordinator to replace Jim Lind, who had stepped in after longtime-Holmgren assistant Fritz Shurmur died of cancer in 1999 before ever coaching a game with the Seahawks. Gil Haskell was reunited with Holmgren as the offensive coordinator after Mike Sherman left to become head coach of the Green Bay Packers. When Mueller left to take over the football operations for the New Orleans Saints, Ted Thompson was hired as vice president of football operations. Also added were director of player personnel John Schneider, who returned last year as general manager and director of college scouting Scot McCloughan.
To underline all this change, the Seahawks also played their home games at a new venue – Husky Stadium on the University of Washington campus – because the Kingdome had been imploded on March 26 and the new stadium would be built on the same site.
All this cutting, trimming and replacing produced a jagged-edge of a season. Not to mention 10 losses, including the first two games and seven of the first nine. The Seahawks rallied to win four of their next six, but in a driving rain storm on a Saturday night at Husky Stadium – on Christmas Eve eve – they dropped their finale to the Buffalo Bills 42-23 in what would be the final game of Cortez Kennedy’s Ring of Honor career.
The Bills rolled up 579 yards of total offense, by rolling up and down the field. Doug Flutie passed for three touchdowns, while Antowain Smith ran for three scores and Peerless Price and Eric Moulds each caught passes for more than 100 yards. It would have been worse if linebacker Chad Brown had not forced and recovered a fumble at the Seahawks’ 27-yard line on the Bills’ next-to-last possession and Flutie had not taken a knee on the final two snaps of the game.
The storm clouds that night proved to be a metaphor for the season, as Brown expressed the next day while the players were cleaning out their lockers.
“You can’t let that dark cloud follow you around all the time,” he said. “You’ve got to put a move on it sometime.”
Still, there were some glimmers of brightness during this mostly cloudy season.
Despite the arrival of Alexander, Ricky Watters led the team in rushing with his third consecutive 1,000-yard season, caught 63 passes and his 1,855 combined yards matched his career high (from 1996, when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles). Despite being released and then re-signed in training camp, Dawkins also had 63 receptions. Darrell Jackson, the 15th wide receiver selected in the 2000 draft, led all NFL rookies in receptions (53), receiving yards (713) and touchdown catches (a club-high six). Jon Kitna passed for 2,658 yards and 18 TDs, but his 19 interceptions proved to be the beginning of the end in Seattle for the homegrown QB. The offense scored just 31 touchdowns and rookie kicker Rian Lindell attempted only 17 field goals.
On defense, Anthony Simmons moved to outside linebacker after starting in the middle in ’99 and led the team with 147 tackles – still the third-highest total in franchise history behind Terry Beeson (153 in 1978) and Brown (150 in 1998). But the Seahawks were outscored in every quarter, including a 40-point swing in the second and ranked last in league by allowing an average of 399.4 yards (40.8 more than the 30th-ranked Arizona Cardinals). The Seahawks also yielded more superlative efforts (26) than any defense in the league – including 11 100-yard receivers and 10 100-yard rushers.
Charlie Rogers provided a spark as he led the AFC in combined return yardage (1,992) by averaging 14 yards on punt returns and 24.7 on kickoff returns. Lindell kicked a 48-yard game-winner as time expired in a 17-15 win over the San Diego Chargers at Husky Stadium and also a 52-yarder in a three-point win over the AFC West champion Oakland Raiders.
But the bottom-line number from 2000 was 10 – as in the losses – after Holmgren did what he knew was necessary to pave the way for a better future.