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Seahawks weren’t going to get better by keeping everybody on defense

The Seahawks' defense struggled before Richard Sherman's injury in Week 10. (AP)

It’s the end of an era for one of the best defenses in NFL history.

But let’s be clear here: That era for the Seahawks ended well before Wednesday’s trade of Michael Bennett or the looming release of Richard Sherman.

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While those were difficult decisions, they weren’t about quieting the Seahawks’ locker room or muting the personalities of the players. It was a recognition of the very basic reality that Seattle’s once-great defense was no longer great. In fact, there were times it wasn’t very good at all, and bringing back everyone it could from last season’s team wasn’t going to make it better.

It’s tough to pinpoint the exact moment of the sunset. Was it the 24 points surrendered in the second half of a Week 3 loss to Tennessee? Or perhaps the 38 points Seattle allowed – at home no less – to the Houston Texans and their rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson?

Injuries don’t explain what happened to Seattle in those games. The attrition of a 16-game season hadn’t yet taken hold and yet there was the defense that retained so many of the stars from the unit that had allowed the fewest points in the league for four successive seasons getting picked apart – at home no less – by a rookie and needing to be bailed out by the offense.

So while it’s OK to feel sad that Bennett has been traded and Sherman appears on his way out the door, if you find yourself believing that Seattle is ruining what was a great defense, you need to get reacquainted with reality: The Seahawks defense hasn’t been great since the first half of the 2016 season, and there were times that it wasn’t even good last season, giving up the 11th-most points in the league and ranking No. 19 against the run.

More importantly, the defense was not going to get better if the Seahawks just brought back as many of their veterans as they could. General manager John Schneider didn’t just hint in that direction, he spelled out it last week when he turned slightly philosophical in discussing the transition period the Seahawks find themselves in.

“It’s kind of like a reset,” Schneider said. “How did we get here? We got here drafting players and putting them out on the field.”

That hasn’t happened for a few years now. Now, some of that is because Seattle hasn’t found the same quality of players as it did in Schneider’s first three years. But some of it has been that those first three drafts yielded such a haul of talent that there wasn’t room for many newcomers.

“It has been hard for these guys to get out there, especially on defense,” Schneider said.

That is changing now partly because of injuries to players like Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril and partly through the decisions to trade Bennett and release Sherman.

That doesn’t mean Seattle is starting from scratch. The Seahawks want to keep free safety Earl Thomas, and there’s never been a doubt about the future of linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. Cornerback Shaquill Griffin and defensive linemen Frank Clark, Jarran Reed and Naz Jones are all promising players on rookie contracts who aren’t just starters, but potential stars.

The rest of that defense is very much a work in progress. I don’t know who’s going to start at cornerback opposite Griffin, and I’m even more puzzled by how Seattle plans to replace the 8.5 sacks Bennett provided last season.

But as intimidating as that uncertainty may look right now, it also opens up the possibility that Seattle will get better.

Because if the Seahawks defense is going to be good this season – let alone work toward being great – it’s going to take a new generation of stars rather than simply holding onto as many pieces as possible.

ESPN’s Schefter: Seahawks ‘remaking the roster’ with personnel changes