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Originally published January 19, 2013 at 7:23 PM | Page modified January 20, 2013 at 3:55 PM

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Looking ahead for Seahawks: Looking up?

The season ended suddenly, the only consolation coming from a belief that the run of success was only beginning.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Offseason agenda

Seattle's list of pending free agents isn't insignificant, but it's nowhere near as long as it usually is after a season.

Potential unrestricted free agents

DL Alan Branch

LB Leroy Hill

CB Marcus Trufant

K Steven Hauschka

DL Jason Jones

OT Frank Omiyale

Unrestricted free agents

DL Clinton McDonald

LS Clint Gresham

S Chris Maragos

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The season ended suddenly, the only consolation coming from a belief that the run of success was only beginning.

A young star quarterback will do that for both a team and a city. Pair him with a stingy defense and it's enough to fan the expectations for next season even amid the ashes of a playoff loss.

And that's about where the Seattle Seahawks hope the parallels to Dan Marino's Dolphins end. Miami won 12 games in 1983 when its defense allowed the fewest points in the league, advanced to the Super Bowl the next year when Marino set a season passing record. Marino never got that far again.

That comparison is not placed here as a forecast for what lies ahead for Seattle, but a cautionary tale about a league where nothing is guaranteed.

Not even for a team like Seattle, which has one of the youngest rosters in the NFL, all but two starters under contract through at least next season and 10 draft choices to start building around a nucleus that now includes a quarterback in Russell Wilson.

"Everything is lined up for us," coach Pete Carroll said Monday.

Getting good is tough enough in the NFL. Staying that way is even harder, requiring a team to swim upstream in a league where one-third of the teams that make the playoffs one year aren't back in the postseason the next. That's not an estimate, either, but a verifiable fact. There have been at least four new playoff teams every season going back to 1990 when the current postseason structure was put in place.

Now, there's no reason to think the Seahawks will do anything but improve next year. Just look at the trajectory of both Wilson and his team this season, and then consider the reality that not only are the majority of players on this roster under contract through 2013 or beyond, but they're at an age where it's realistic to expect they'll only get better.

Only two full-time starters are unsigned for 2013: defensive tackle Alan Branch and linebacker Leroy Hill. Kicker Steven Hauschka is also an unrestricted free agent, but that about summarizes the most pressing uncertainties on Seattle's roster.

So what could prevent this team from not returning next season even better?

"Not competing," Carroll said. "If we don't compete in the offseason. If they don't come back in great shape, that will send a big message."

And that's where the draft picks come in.

Seattle has 10 of them, starting with the No. 25 overall selection in the first round. The exact array of draft picks hasn't been announced, but Seattle acquired what is believed to be a mid-round pick from the Raiders as part of the 2011 trade for Aaron Curry in addition to a late-round pick from Buffalo for Tarvaris Jackson and a late-round choice from New Orleans for linebacker Barrett Ruud.

"We're not going to draft a bunch of guys that can't make it," Carroll said. "We're going to draft a bunch of guys who can make it if they're fortunate to break their way through this roster."

It's reminiscent of the approach Carroll took at USC, where he made top-10 recruiting classes both an annual occurrence for the Trojans and a spur to motivate the players already in the program.

"When we signed our class, the first thing we did was show the highlight films of those guys to the guys that were on the team," Carroll said, "so they knew who was coming in. The games were on. That's how you do it."

Carroll said Seattle's rookies will get the first look during the team's offseason training. The coach also believes this Seahawks team has come a long way from where it stood three years ago, when Seattle didn't come out of training camp with 53 players it wanted to keep.

"I think what's going to be hard is for the 10 guys that get drafted to make this team," Carroll said. "That's what I think the challenge is. That's how much I believe in these guys. I think they're going to come back raring to go."

That's what Carroll and his coaches will be watching this offseason because, while this Seahawks team looks like it has nowhere to go but up, success can be a fickle thing in the NFL.

"I think we're stepping into a great time for us," Carroll said. "It will all come down to how we play next year, though."

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @dannyoneil

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