Legion of Boom injuries, inconsistent offense helped sink Seahawks' season

SEATTLE -- The Seattle Seahawks ended their season with a 26-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Here's a recap of the season and what's next:

Season grade: Below average. The Seahawks went 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011, making this season a below-average one by their standards. For a team that had expectations of winning the NFC West for a fifth time in eight seasons under coach Pete Carroll, 2017 was a disappointment.

Season in review: Injuries on defense and a wildly inconsistent offense defined Seattle's season. Defensive end Cliff Avril, cornerback Richard Sherman and strong safety Kam Chancellor were all lost to season-ending injuries, leaving the Seahawks without three of their eight Pro Bowlers on defense. They still managed to hold Philadelphia to 10 points in an early-December victory when it looked as though the Seahawks could be poised for another late-season run. But when they were blown out at home by the Rams later in the month, it was clear that injuries had caught up to Seattle on that side of the ball. On offense, what was supposed to be a resurgent running game never came to fruition. Eddie Lacy flopped as a free-agent addition and none of Seattle's other running backs could either stay healthy or produce consistently, forcing quarterback Russell Wilson to shoulder more of the offensive load than he ever has. He became just the fifth quarterback since 1970 to lead his team in rushing. Wilson had a legitimate case for MVP, but it fizzled down the stretch along with Seattle's playoff hopes.

Biggest play of the season: Sherman had been playing through an injury to his Achilles when it finally gave out during the third quarter of Seattle's 22-16 victory at Arizona in Week 10. Sherman had been playing at a Pro Bowl level and had never missed a game in his seven-year career, so his injury put Seattle's defense in an unfamiliar situation. Byron Maxwell eventually took over at left cornerback and played as well as anyone could have reasonably expected considering he was out of a job when Seattle brought him back, but he was no Sherman. No one is.

He said it: Carroll on what he would have thought had he been told at the start of the season that Wilson would finish as the team's leading rusher: "I would not have thought that that would be possible with the guys we had coming out of camp, going into the season. I thought we were going to be really a big running team. Chris Carson was the guy we had our sights on, and there's a bunch of guys, Thomas [Rawls] and everybody we thought would have a shot. ... Fortunately, Russell's health and the marvelous offseason that he had to be prepared for it, he's taken full advantage of it, but it's not at all the way we had scripted it and wanted it to go."

Key offseason questions

Biggest draft need: Seattle's offensive line still needs an upgrade no matter where it comes from, but the Seahawks might be better off focusing on their defense in this draft. An injection of young, blue-chip talent is needed with several of Seattle's mainstays on that side of the ball either over or approaching 30 years old. Pass-rushers and defensive backs are two positions Seattle could target early.

Free-agency targets: The Seahawks turned to free agency last offseason in an attempt to improve their offensive line and could do the same thing ahead of 2018. Carolina Panthers left guard Andrew Norwell, 26, is an intriguing option. Pro Football Focus noted that he had yet to give up a sack or even a hit through Week 14. Seattle left guard Luke Joeckel has had an up-and-down season after signing a one-year deal in free agency.

Changes coming on defense? The course the Seahawks take in free agency and the draft will largely be determined by whether they dramatically overhaul their defense, a possibility that has been speculated upon in recent weeks. Sherman will be 30, coming off a serious injury and entering the final year of his contract. Michael Bennett will be 33 in November. Neck injuries could keep Chancellor and/or Avril from playing again. Earl Thomas will be eligible for an extension and is expected to seek one that makes him the league's highest-paid free safety. Even if the Seahawks extend Thomas or have him play out his current deal, their defense could look a lot different next season.

Low on draft capital: Restocking Seattle's roster won't be easy with a thinned-out collection of 2018 draft picks. The Seahawks parted with their second- and third-round selections in the trades for Sheldon Richardson and Duane Brown. They have seven picks in all, which includes two in the seventh round, and aren't projected to receive any compensatory selections. Seattle could recoup another seventh depending on the conditions of a preseason trade. Either way, the Seahawks aren't working with a ton of draft capital. General manager John Schneider will have to do some more wheeling and dealing on draft day to obtain more.