Seahawks in re-build (Part One): Learning lessons from visions of the past

Many people like to engage in the timeless debate on how to truly build a championship team. You'll often hear spurious references to 'building in the trenches' or suggestions of losing now in order to win for the future by getting a high draft pick.

In reality, there's no definite blue print to creating a team capable of competing year after year. The easiest way is to find a young franchise quarterback, but they don't exactly grow on trees. The least you can have is a vision and that's certainly something the Seahawks haven't been lacking over the last few years.

Whether the latest vision under Pete Carroll and John Schneider provides long and sustained success remains to be seen. The road to success is being paved, nonetheless. It'll take time though, because they arrived at a franchise in need of some major re-tooling.

In writing Seahawks Draft Blog for the last three years, one thing I've noticed among fans in general (this isn't limited to Seattle) is the strong desire to fill every need during an off-season.

First, we pick our favorites from the free agency group - and they tend to be the same handful that every team's fans select. Then the draft provides a second opportunity to sift through the prospects available and find a way - unrealistically - to enter a season with close to a faultless roster.

There was some evidence of that thinking in the approach taken by former GM Tim Ruskell. Although there were strict policies on which players were deemed worthy of being drafted, essentially there was a lot of band-aiding. Free agency was treated almost like a coupe de grace - an opportunity to blow away existing needs and shape focus during the draft.

Areas of need would have a cheque book thrust in their direction. Secondary struggling? Throw money at Deon Grant and Brian Russell. Problems at receiver? Let's get a former Super Bowl MVP and spend a first round pick in the process. Mike Holmgren needs a tight end? We'll spend two valuable picks trading up to draft John Carlson.

Seemingly those days are in the past under Carroll and Schneider. They've been patient in all cases, which is somewhat surprising given their aggressive pursuit of Charlie Whitehurst which was, lest we forget, one of their first acts.

Free agent splashes appear to be a thing of the past and despite owning three first round picks the last two years, they've all been invested without any headlines. Solid, not spectacular - which you feel is what they wanted. Needs filled, but not reached for and at no extra cost.

Given the opportunity to spend some stock in a big name like Brandon Marshall or Vincent Jackson, they flirted with the prospect, but also stepped back because the price wasn't right.

The early signs of acknowledgement perhaps that this is a rebuild? I'm not convinced Ruskell ever saw it as such, when maybe an eye to the future was needed with so many key pieces of the equation approaching the end of their careers?

I'm not one who doesn't appreciate the good work Ruskell did - it was not all bad. Certainly his policies had a lasting impact on pushing the Seahawks to the Super Bowl. When the time came to rebuild, however, Ruskell was intent on re-stocking. While players such as Matt Hasselbeck and Walter Jones aged, replacements were not forthcoming when they should've been a priority.

Holes were created unnecessarily and inadequately replaced. I don't want to dwell on the Steve Hutchinson saga, but the handling of the situation was made all the more confusing to me when Seattle strongly courted Kris Dielman at a similar cost a year after Hutchinson's departure.

Likewise the trading of Julian Peterson just to create room to draft Aaron Curry was a move difficult to advocate. The linebacker position received specialist treatment when the team had a gaping void at both quarterback and left tackle for the long term, while Patrick Kerney was approaching retirement and the team lacked playmakers on offense.

Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman (who visited Seattle), a plethora of offensive lineman, Brian Orakpo and Michael Crabtree were all bypassed for Curry - a player deemed by many to be a safe, can't miss pick. Others cringed at the prospect of a $60m linebacker, especially one whose NFL stats the past two years (5.5 sacks, 134 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, seven passes deflected) are eerily similar to the man he replaced (Peterson's stat line for 2009/10 - 5.5 sacks, 159 tackles, 5 forced fumbles, nine passes deflected).

Aspects of Ruskell's vision - the emphasis on character and production in particular - were nothing but sound at least on paper. To some degree, they were also too restrictive. The draft room toasted the college career of Lawrence Jackson at USC, enough to make him a surprise first round pick. He fit the bill in every way.

They liked Jackson so much, they were prepared to wait on John Carlson and initiate the bold trade including 2nd and 3rd round picks to get the Notre Dame tight end early in round two.

Looking back, it's painful to think that the 3rd round pick was eventually turned into Ray Rice by Baltimore. Perhaps more galling is the knowledge that DeSean Jackson (who was available with both of Seattle's first two picks as it turns out) would never have passed the Ruskell test as an underclassman with attitude concerns.

Jackson has since made two Pro-Bowls, has 3124 receiving yards in three seasons and 24 total touchdowns. Not to mention, he's clearly one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL.

All the while his namesake in Seattle was last year traded by his former college coach for a late round pick.

When the Seahawks parted ways with Ruskell and appointed Pete Carroll to his current position, they invested in a brand new vision. If anything, this game plan would be more complex. Alongside GM John Schneider, Carroll hasn't just sought out a particular character in his players or tried to fit pieces into the necessary scheme. This is a broad canvas.

It includes a mental approach to the profession, an attitude replicated between coaches, players, staff and even the fans. It's reliant on people buying into the system and becoming part of the family, all the while knowing that the latest batch of cuts is probably just around the corner.

As seen with Jeremy Bates, that's not restricted to the players either.

From a personnel point of view it's equally unorthodox. Carroll and Schneider played the role of Billy Beane better than Brad Pitt had any hope of matching when they fit unwanted pieces such as Chris Clemons, Mike Williams, Leon Washington and Red Bryant into a system and found a degree of production.

And while a division title and playoff victory should be deemed a success in year one, it'll quickly be forgotten if it's followed by a regression from what was, in reality, still a losing 7-9 season in a weak NFC West.

In part two I'll look at the way Carroll and Schneider have approached recruitment and why their policy to date of letting the draft come to them and not striving to fill every need should be applauded - for now.

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