I've never hidden my opinion of Brian Russell, but I hope I haven't sensationalized it either. I think he's a well below average, even bottom tier starting free safety, and that he is a significant part of what is keeping Seattle from an above average or even great defense. But Seattle's fortunes in 2009 do not rely on him. The Seahawks best shot is to rebound enough to make the playoffs and then make an improbable run on the back of their potentially elite run defense. The NFC West is weak enough to make a playoff berth a real possibility, and the Seahawks are built to have a great run defense, an attribute that becomes paramount in the playoffs.
Russell cannot single-handedly undo either. Shoot, if the team wins the Super Bowl, I'm sure to hear plenty of crap for bashing Russell all this time and I'll surely be rehearsing my apologies in my final conscience moments on Earth, smoking moonrocks outside the Yellowknife Pizza Hut on Old Airport Road. But he free is the starter at the position Seattle could have most easily upgraded, and that makes it embittering that the Seahawks did not.
It's not too much of a mystery why the it didn't. Seattle values Brian Russell. He's steady and assignment correct and brings a lot as a veteran presence. The Seahawks secondary performed well in 2007 and the team did not invest in improving it. Fast forward to January of 2009. The secondary is in shambles and fresh off one of the worst pass-defense seasons in franchise history. Two players are clearly most to blame: Kelly Jennings and Brian Russell. The team waits until after the draft to replace Jennings, signing Ken Lucas, and adds no one to compete with Russell. What the hell happened?
This is how Tim Ruskell operates. He's a forward-looking man. A tactical player. Setting up his pieces in their best positions and awaiting the best opportunity. Ruskell didn't see value in free agency, and the solution to a menace isn't a more expensive menace - thank you very much, Asian Flying Carp*. The team may have approached the draft looking for a replacement, but I'll never know. Seattle's best shot at a safety was in round two, but the team traded that pick to Denver for their 2010 first round pick. Not even Patrick Chung was worth passing on that opportunity, and conveniently New England had already selected him three picks earlier. Seattle then traded back into the second to acquire Max Unger. A good pick at the time, and with what we now know about Mike Wahle and what Ruskell no doubt then knew about Mike Wahle, a need pick. Seattle ate up the rest of their opportunities by trading back into the third to get Deon Butler. The team wanted Butler and the team seems to be getting what it wanted from Butler, and the only two safeties available where Rashad Johnson, who Ruskell wouldn't draft, and two tools guy that wouldn't start this season: David Bruton and Chip Vaughn. I might throw Mike Hamlin in there, but I'm pretty partial to the guy.
So you can see how Brian Russell is still Seattle's starting free safety. The team has flirted with replacements, so it's not blind, but like a confident man should, Tim Ruskell didn't panic and assume any solution was preferable to Russell, acting act to appear active. Blame was and is better focused at the 2008 NFL draft. The team had opportunities to draft Kenny Philips, Tyrell Johnson and Charles Godfrey. Godfrey is debatable. Seattle traded up in the second to draft John Carlson and taking Carlson away from the Seahawks would cause rip the space time continuum and cause superbad stuff to happen. Nevertheless, this is when Seattle could have made a move, but it didn't. So here we are, starting Brian Russell all over again, and it's going to suck this season, but it's going to be Berry, Berry nice next season.