by Curtis Crabtree
RENTON - The Seattle Seahawks didn't expect to be in this position.
They were expecting to be studying film of the San Francisco 49ers and preparing for a third meeting with their division rivals in the NFC Championship game.
But a frenzied rally from 20 points down in the fourth quarter only to have a K Matt Bryant field goal in the closing seconds ended Seattle's season with a 30-28 defeat at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
"I didn't plan on being off this early," WR Doug Baldwin said.
It marks the end to an impressive maturation process for the Seahawks this season from a young team with talent to a team that began to see that talent realized. It's a strong building block for the future as they have found their quarterback in QB Russell Wilson and have very few key players up for free agency.
The Seahawks only have 13 players from their active roster headed for free agency and only a couple big names are on the list.
LB Leroy Hill and CB Marcus Trufant have been the longest-tenured Seahawks and will once again be facing an off-season of uncertainty as to whether they wil be back.
Trufant was released by Seattle last off-season before being re-signed before training camp. It seems unlikely the veteran will return next season with the young depth at the position.
Hill had a solid season for Seattle and is very good at setting the edge in the run game. Yet, Seattle may look to get cheaper at that position with many young players due to have their contracts up in the next couple seasons.
DT Alan Branch will be an unrestricted free agent after spending his last two seasons in Seattle. Branch expressed a sincere desire to be back with the Seahawks next season.
"I love the team here. I would love to be back here. I have developed great friendships with the guys, especially in the D-line room, but throughout the team. I didn’t really have as many friends as I do on this team on any team I had in Arizona. I think it’s a special group," Branch said.
"Hopefully they want me here and the whole money situation gets settled. But if not there won’t be a better group of guys than this, I’m sure."
DT Jason Jones provided the only consistent interior pass rush this season for Seattle before landing on injured reserve. He was on a one-year contract after leaving Tennessee last season.
K Steven Hauschka will be an unrestricted free agent for the first time this off-season.
LS Clint Gresham, S Chris Maragos and DT Clinton McDonald will be restricted free agents, meaning, if tendered, other teams can sign them to offer sheets but the Seahawks would have the right to match any offer.
Other unrestricted free agents include: WR Deon Butler, DE Patrick Chukwurah, K Ryan Longwell, TE Cameron Morrah and T Frank Omiyale.