Pete Carroll and John Schneider have built a monster with Paul Allen's money.
Carroll joined Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer as the only coaches to ever win both an NCAA national title and a Super Bowl. It’s more impressive when you look back at the state of the Seahawks as an organization before he arrived. Only 13 players remain from the roster he inherited when he was hired in 2010, equaling a nearly 80 percent roster turnover in four years.
Schneider, who was whisked away from Green Bay and hired as the Seahawks’ general manager a week after Carroll took the reins as head coach, has quickly gained a reputation as having the best football mind in the game. His hiring was a surprise around the league and it has paid amazing dividends in a very short time.
PC/JS have teamed up to form a very formidable duo that isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Over their first two years together, the rebuilding Seahawks had a 14-18 overall record and one playoff win. Over the last two, the Seahawks are 24-8 with four playoff wins and the first Super Bowl title in franchise history.
Add in the best owner in football and it was a recipe for success from the start.
How did they do it?
Greatness in the Draft and Savvy Free Agent Acquisitions (and a blockbuster trade thrown in)
At the time of his hiring, Danny O’Neil of the Seattle Times said this about Schneider:
But what [Schneider] does possess is a sterling reputation for draft acumen, and after spending the past seven seasons in Green Bay, he’s well-schooled in the Packers’ approach to steering clear of the league’s free-agent spending frenzy.
In the first four drafts of the PC/JS era, the Seahawks have drafted 13 starters. Seven of those starters were drafted in the 3rd round or later (and to be fair, Russell Wilson was the lone player drafted in the 3rd round). The 2010-2012 drafts all produced at least three starters. 5th round studs Kam Chancellor (2010), Richard Sherman (2011), 6th round gem Byron Maxwell (2011), and 7th round talents Malcolm Smith (2011), and J.R. Sweezy (2012) prove the PC/JS brain trust can find extremely undervalued talent in the later rounds of the draft. Chancellor is considered one of the best safeties in the league; the fear he strikes in the middle of the field is becoming the stuff of legend. Sherman is a two-time All-Pro selection and has 20 interceptions through his first three years. Maxwell is quickly gaining recognition as one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the game. Smith was the fourth youngest player to be named Super Bowl MVP after a monster performance. Sweezy has firmly established himself as a staple on the Seahawks’ offensive line, playing a huge part in opening holes for Marshawn Lynch.
It’s a challenge hitting on players in the earlier rounds that can make a significant impact, let alone finding elite-level talent on the third day of the draft, but that is exactly what PC/JS have done consistently over the past four drafts. Many experts gave the Seahawks’ front office a less than stellar grade for their 2012 draft that produced Wilson, a franchise quarterback who arguably has the most impressive body of work over the first two years of a career in history. Bobby Wagner doesn’t get the publicity that other members of the defense get, but he has piled up 260 tackles in his first 30 games as the starting middle linebacker and has teetered on elite status. Jeremy Lane, a special team gunner who is the No. 4 cornerback on the depth chart, would probably start for most teams in the league.
The Seahawks were so deep this season that many players that were selected in the 2013 draft didn’t make much of an impact on the team’s success this year. Christine Michael, selected one pick after Eddy Lacy in the second round, was inactive for most of the season due to the team’s depth. Luke Willson (5th round) and Michael Bowie (7th round) contributed in spurts and are expected to have their roles increased next season.
Let’s not forget Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse. Both played vital roles in the passing game and are young, inexpensive talents. Both were signed as undrafted free agents—Baldwin in 2011 and Kearse in 2012.
Schneider’s mantra of building through the draft has manifested itself as a juggernaut. Seattle has widely stayed away from paying big dollars to free agents. Instead, Schneider has chosen to bring in impact, proven talent on shorter deals, such as Michael Bennett (one year, $5M) and Cliff Avril (two years, $15M) prior to the 2013 season. The pair combined for 16.5 sacks this season, adding a ridiculous amount of depth to the Seahawks’ defensive line. That’s some serious bang for your free agent bucks. Look for more free agents to flock to the Pacific Northwest on team-friendly deals in the coming years. Carroll is the most liked coach in the league, creating an environment that makes work fun and rewarding.
Schneider traded a first and seventh round pick in the 2013 draft and a mid-round pick in 2014 to the Minnesota Vikings for Percy Harvin, a player that is widely considered to be one of the most explosive players in the league. Before getting injured in 2012, he was widely considered as an MVP candidate. Everyone knows how Harvin’s first season with the Seahawks played out, but he was back on the field in the Divisional Round and made his presence widely felt in the Super Bowl on a couple of fly sweeps and a kickoff return touchdown. Just 25, he figures to be a huge part of the team’s offense moving forward, but the price was high—six years, $67M, with cap hits of $11M in 2014 and $10.5M in 2015. That’s a lot of money and draft picks that Schneider and Carroll obviously cherish, but on the surface this still looks like a trade that will pay off big for the Seahawks—risks and all.
Built for the Future
The Seahawks are the fourth youngest team in the league with an average age of 25.3 years. With the possible departures of Sidney Rice (contract restructure candidate), Chris Clemons, Red Bryant (unlikely/contract restructure candidate), Zach Miller (likely/contract restructure candidate), Brandon Browner, and (sadly) Michael Robinson, the roster will likely be younger at the beginning of next season. Depending on who you listen to, the Seahawks roughly have around $3M in current cap space. That number will grow after the front office makes some tough decisions in the coming weeks and months. Ridding themselves of Clemons’ cap hit for 2014 would save the team $7.5M. Releasing Rice, a talented but injury-prone receiver coming off a devastating ACL injury would save the team $7.3M. Bryant is probably underappreciated by many and is going nowhere, but if the team were to go in a different direction they would have $7.5M to put towards next year’s cap. $4.8M would come off the books if the team releases Miller. Some of my numbers might be a tad off, but you get the picture—the team stands to drastically improve its financial flexibility at the expense of some key veterans. Restructuring the contracts of Rice, Bryant, and Miller is not out of the question provided the front office feels they will continue to contribute moving forward. Brandon Mebane might be a candidate for a restructuring as well.
This is a painful discussion to have because it shows the business side of the game. All of the aforementioned players have played key roles in the team’s success. Letting them go is not going to be easy, but it’s a necessary evil for a team that can’t rest on its laurels and expect to repeat in Super Bowl 49.
PC/JS have some serious decisions to make in the coming weeks and months regarding the construction of the 2014 roster. Resigning Bennett, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, Clinton McDonald, Steven Hauschka, and Breno Giacomini is going to take some serious financial maneuvering. It’s probably not possible to resign all of those players, but every effort should be made to lock up as many of those players as they can. All played vital roles to the team’s success in 2013. McDonald is a guy that gets overlooked a bit, but his 5.5 sacks were second in the league among defensive tackles and despite getting most of those sacks in bunches, he was a load to handle, providing pressure all season long. Bennett will likely be highly coveted on the market this offseason and despite his genuine desire to stay in Seattle, he will seek a multi-year deal that pays him full market value. He might take a bit less to stay in Seattle, but it’s doubtful that it’s a significant discount. Tate and Baldwin are not elite receivers at this point in their careers, but they combined for 114 receptions, 1,676 yards, and 10 touchdowns and do not drop many balls. Hauschka was nearly automatic this season, leading the league in scoring while connecting on 33 of 35 field goals. Giacomini is more hustle than talent, but he gets the job done and knows the system well.
Earl Thomas, the catalyst for the most feared defense in the NFL will likely be extended this offseason as well. With some serious dollars coming off the cap, money is still tight. Many of the team’s best players are underpaid because they are still on their rookie contracts. At some point, the front office has to find a way to crunch the numbers and make all of this work and they will. This is a team that many teams would love to have, but some of our key players are going to leave and it’s going to be painful. Color me unimpressed with our supposed salary cap worries.
Despite this, the Seahawks will likely be deeper in 2014. Another PC/JS draft is on the horizon and history tells us that they will find hidden gems and a couple solid contributors (if not stars) in this year’s class. We can only judge them on what they have done over the past four years and there is every reason to be excited for April.
The 12th Man is Stronger than Ever
I heard quite a few jokes about Seahawks fans this year. Apparently, 95 percent of us began watching the Seahawks this year. I guess those people missed the memo about the fact that 12’s have sold out Seahawks Stadium/Qwest/CenturyLink Field every home game since 2003—a span of 176 consecutive games. The Seahawks have had success since then, but they have also experienced a 4-12, 5-11 and a couple of 7-9 seasons during that stretch. Loyalty has never been higher and with a Super Bowl win under our belt, the fan base will understandably grow. It truly feels like the relationship the Seahawks have with their fans is unique. Seattle can be a fair weather city when it comes to our sports teams as we are finding out with the Mariners. The difference between the two teams is a connection with the fans, coupled with the Seahawks sustained ability to put a competitive team on the field. The Mariners have lost fans because of their inability to put a team worth watching on the field. With PC/JS running the show, that won’t ever be a problem.
Is a Dynasty really possible?
In today’s NFL, predicting dynasties seems like fool’s gold. Anything can happen during the season. One game can drastically change the landscape of a season. One game can be the difference between a No. 1 seed and home playoff games or a No. 5 seed and a road journey in the playoffs.
With the Seahawks, it feels safe to expect another Super Bowl win in the next three years. This absolutely is a dynasty in the making. It feels safe to expect continued home dominance and many more playoff games in Seattle. Their young standouts are going to get their payday. I am naïve enough to believe that a couple of them will take a minor discount to make this thing work for a long time. These players come across as young men who want to keep their collective cleats on the throat of the league and dominate for years to come.