Paul Allen: "Good to see you John, I know we have been talking about the offensive side of building this team, and I still have some unanswered questions about the offense, but let's touch on the defense today. I was very impressed with their performance versus Carolina. Sounds like you and Pete are seeing the fruits of your hard work on that side of the ball."
John Schneider: "Thanks Paul. Good to see you too. Yes, the defense is even further ahead than we expected. We have been fortunate this year in that we have stayed healthy and we have upgraded the defense in terms of talent, depth and speed. It's also a testament to Pete and Gus doing a helluva job coaching and working with our staff to identify players that fit our scheme and culture so well. In our three drafts, we have drafted heavily on the defensive side of the ball, something like 2:1, while calling on you (smiles) to cut checks to sign young, yet proven, free agents on offense. So we are spending more than 60% of your budget on the offense, yet have been using over 65% of our draft picks on defense."
Paul Allen: "But you want to see the draft picks and finances swing more toward a 50-50 in the future correct?"
John Schneider: "Yes, at Green Bay we studied the most successful teams in the NFL, and they spent their money equally on both sides of the ball, even though the quarterback typically is one of the highest paid players on the team. Elite pass rushers and disruptive defensive lineman are obviously expensive as well. But yes, we want to move toward 50-50 in the future."
Paul Allen: "Let's talk about the secondary, do we need to add to this group, which looks amazing, in the draft in 2013?"
John Schneider: "Well, I think our four starters will be the same in 2013, but you can never have enough corners, and we would like to add a talented safety to add depth in case Earl went down, and play in our sub packages. We still like Walter Thurmond and we hope he can stay healthy and take over the role Marcus Trufant is playing this year. Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane are good cornerback depth that can play in the slot and outside. These guys also bring speed to our special teams.
In the modern passing NFL a lot of teams are carrying six corners now. If we see a corner in the draft, we won't hesitate to take one anywhere in the draft - although probably not in the early rounds unless we saw an amazing talent fall down the board. If none of our nickel corners emerge, we would like to add a slot corner in the middle rounds; he doesn't have to be as big as Richard Sherman or Brandon Browner - but we want him to play with the same attitude and mindset, and be able to blitz."
Paul Allen: "What about safety?"
John Schneider: "We liked Winston Guy in the draft, and we like Jeron Johnson - both are more strong safety types. Chris Maragos is the backup free safety, but if we can upgrade this position depth-wise, we won't hesitate to do it in the draft. Safety play is becoming more and more critical matching up against hybrid players and offenses trending in the NFL; like New England coming to town this week."
Paul Allen: "Can we afford to keep all these guys?"
John Schneider: "Well, Earl is making good money already as he was part of the 2010 Old CBA. Kam Chancellor is a free agent in 2014, and so is Browner. Richard Sherman is a free agent in 2015, along with Earl Thomas. We can use the franchise tag if necessary - but we will likely only be able to keep three of the four. Sherman and Chancellor are going to get large raises; they are making less than $600k per year. Earl will get a raise. We'll see if we can keep the entire band together, but we need to keep drafting and developing cheaper depth in the secondary as they may need to step up to fill a hole someday. We also will need to cut budget on the offensive side of the ball to create money to pay this secondary. We have a plan in place to do this in the next few years."
Paul Allen: "Ok, what about linebacker? It looks like Wagner is the real deal."
John Schneider: "We have a nice situation at linebacker. K.J. is in his second year and Bobby is obviously a rookie. We would like to draft Leroy's replacement in 2013, and we still may be able to keep Leroy next year on another one year deal. Budget permitting of course. Bobby is already playing in the nickel, something that KJ didn't do a rookie, so the nickel defense could feature Bobby and KJ, with the rookie weakside backer playing base defense as a rookie.
We can then decide which two of the three to keep on the field in nickel in 2014. We also still control Mike Morgan for another year and Malcolm Smith and Heath Farwell for two more years. We really like Farwell on special teams and Heath and Leroy are the only linebackers getting paid over $1M per year, but if we need to rely on even cheaper talent to squeeze another million out of the budget to play on special teams in the future, we can do that too."
Paul Allen: "What round for the linebacker in 2013?"
John Schneider: "I would say anywhere from Round 2 to Round 4 for a weakside linebacker, and as you know, we like all our backers to be able to play two positions -- Bobby can play all three spots and K.J. can play MIKE as well. Pete wants a guy with speed. 4.4 speed. 232-237 pound type. He doesn't have to be as big as K.J. - Pete likes a bigger SAM and faster WILL - but he has to have speed and long arms. Bobby is only 6 feet tall, but has 33 inch arms. Someone who can run and hit, blitz, and cover.
Back to the budget thing - this is one of the lowest cost linebacker groups in the NFL and will be a bargain for the next two years, which frees up money to give extensions to our secondary, so it all works together."
Paul Allen: "On the defensive line, looks like our extension to Chris Clemons was good move, he is playing lights out."
John Schneider: "Yes, Clemons still has gas left in the tank, and we control him for two-and-a-half more years. We also have the franchise tag in our bag, with no players on offense needing the tag. This is why locking up Max Unger was such a priority.
If we need to use the franchise tag to keep Jason Jones we can, but he may not be worthy of the tag, and he likes playing here - so we hope to get something long-term worked out. Jones is making over $4M this year, and so is Alan Branch. Neither of these players are under our control in 2013, so it may be hard to keep them both in 2013, unless they give us a discount. If we can work out something with Jason Jones, we may be able to draft a big player to replace Branch on early downs. Branch wasn't an ideal fit in Arizona's 3-4 defense - they like Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett and Dan Williams better for obvious reasons.
Jason Jones was not an ideal fit in Tennessee's 4-3 defense. He is not an ideal 4-3 Defensive End, and he is undersized for a Defensive Tackle. There are some guys in the draft that may not be ideal fits on a 4-3 or a 3-4 - but fit our scheme perfectly and we may be able to find good value. That is what is so cool about Pete's scheme. You never know how the draft may fall of course. Obviously, we have Bruce Irvin, Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant locked up long term. We have another option year of control on Clinton McDonald, and we have Jaye Howard and Greg Scruggs for three more years."
Paul Allen: "We are spending a lot of money on the defensive line. I see here that Red, Mebane, Branch, Jones, and Clemons all make over $4M per year - this is the most expensive position group by far."
John Schneider: "Big, fast guys are very rare. We have to be able to stop the run and get after the quarterback. We feel like we are going to spend money and draft picks on DL year after year. In 2013 if we see a LEO that we like or a talented Tackle - we will consider it."
Paul Allen: "I understand. Well, tell Pete, great job. I know you work hard and I am very pleased and you should be happy with the product on the field. Coaching, scouting - I really mean this - great job, and I know the fans at CenturyLink get behind this defense like nothing else."
John Schneider: "Thanks Paul, we couldn't do it without you, of course."
Paul Allen: "Great... now... let's talk quarterback..."