Editor's note: With the release of legendary cornerback/safety Charles Woodson by the Packers this morning, now is as good of a time as any to re-publish a great bit of research and insight by Davis Hsu, a four-part series compiled during late 2011 and early 2012.
After former Packers Personnel Exec John Schneider was hired as GM of the Seahawks, Hsu started exploring the idea that Schneider had brought with him, to Seattle, some of the main tenets of Ted Thompson's system with the Green Bay Packers, as it relates to roster building. Thompson is a bit of a innovator when it comes to how he drafts, uses free agency, and manages the salary cap and roster, and it's clear that Seattle has adopted at least some of those philosophies, which Davis will lay out for you here.
Obviously, this was all written well over a year ago, but the main ideas still apply: guidelines on high-volume drafting, major free agency, roster and salary cap philosophies, an 'in-house' program to foster loyalty and chemistry, a 'forever young' methodology, etc and so forth. Brush up.
John Schneider took the call he was looking for.
On Day 2 of the 2011 NFL Draft, Schneider found the willing counterparty seeking to move up and grant him the extra 4th round pick he desired on Day 3. He moved out of the 2nd Round (Pick 57) down to the 3rd Round (Pick 75). He netted an extra 4th round pick for his efforts and a few slots up the board in Round 5.
Schneider took John Moffitt at 75 (some have rumored he would have taken him at 57). Detroit drafted RB Mikel Leshoure at 57, a player that some draft experts fancied as the 2nd best RB in the Draft.
Detroit walked away from the 2011 Draft with five picks. The top end looked pretty solid with DT Nick Fairley in Round 1, WR Titus Young in Round 2 (editor's note: whoops), and the aforementioned Mikel Leshoure. Detroit was saying, 'we want impact players,' not just bodies. They knew with Matt Stafford healthy, they could compete with Megatron, Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril, Louis Delmas, Jahvid Best and more. In 2010, Detroit traded up into the bottom of Round 1 for the speedy Best in a similar style move (editor's note: bummer).
Trades can be a beautiful thing. A team that has many holes to fill can trade down and add more players to fill the many holes. A team that feels like it would rather have fewer, but likely more talented and higher impact players, can move up.
Atlanta felt that Julio Jones was an explosive talent that could vault them into the arena to battle Green Bay. Cleveland, a team in rebuild said, 'a first, a second, a fourth, another first, and another fourth...ok...done.' That trade may turn out to be a win-win if Julio can help Atlanta over the hump in the playoffs, and Atlanta looks to be headed to the playoffs in 2011 (editor's note: would you say this trade was a success? Jones is a premiere WR now, as we all saw in the Playoffs).
[At the time of the trade], Green Bay had just waxed Atlanta in their house, putting the Falcon's balanced/ball control offense in a bind by being behind several scores. Subsequently, Green Bay, fresh off a Super Bowl victory, walked into the 2011 Draft with nine picks. They had one in each round plus an extra 4th and an extra 7th. They had the worst possible draft position for any team, the last pick in every round. This was a team without many holes, yet instead of walking off with five really good players (which I probably would have done), Ted Thompson walked out of the draft with ten picks.
In fact - Ted Thompson traded down three times.
The final result of the Draft (again, in theory the Packers should have the worst draft in the NFL because they are picking last in every round):
Rd 1 - Derek Sherrod OT
Rd 2 - Randall Cobb WR
Rd 3 - Alex Green RB
Rd 4 - (Traded pick 129 to Denver- basically traded a 4th and a 7th for a 5th and a 6th- or put another way- they moved down 12 slots from the bottom of round 4 into the top of round 5 and moved up 18 slots from the top of round 7 to the bottom of round 6)
Rd 4 - Davon House CB (pick 131)
Rd 5 - D.J. Williams TE (pick 141- this is the 5th they got from Denver- and DJ Williams was the 2010 John Mackey Award Winner)
Rd 5 - (Traded pick 163 to San Francisco for a 6th and a 7th)
Rd 6 - (Traded pick 174- which they just got from San Francisco to Miami. GB moved down from 174 to 179 in exchange for a swap of 7th rd picks, GB moved up in Rd 7 from 231 (which they just received from San Fran) to 218)
Rd 6 - Caleb Schlauderaff G
Rd 6 - D.J. Smith LB
Rd 6 - Ricky Elmore DE
Rd 7 - Ryan Taylor TE/FB
Rd 7 - Lawrence Guy DT
I checked today - Lawrence Guy and Alex Green are on the IR. Ricky Elmore was cut. Schlauderaff was traded to the Jets in September for an undisclosed draft pick (wondering aloud what the Jets paid for this). All the rest of the players are on the active roster, and H-back Ryan Taylor was a guy the Seahawks were interested in pre-Draft as well.
I mean, check this out - who trades down 12 slots in Round 4 to move up 18 slots in Round 6? I wouldn't! But Ted Thompson did. Why? He knew his draft board inside and out. Did Thompson know that D.J. Williams would still be sitting there at pick 141 instead of pick 129? We will never know for sure, but that is my bet. And 2011 was not the first time Thompson has done this.
Ted Thompson took over the Green Bay Draft in 2005. He had previously set up the Draft Board for the Seahawks and Mike Holmgren for a few years, and bagged players like Shaun Alexander, Steve Hutchinson, and Marcus Trufant.
In 2004, pre-Ted Thompson, Green Bay had 6 draft picks.
In 2005, Green Bay was drafting late as the 2004 Packers had gone 10-6 and won the division under Brett Favre. They walked out of that draft with 11 picks: (two 2s, two 4s, two 5s, two 6s, two 7s - they only had one pick in Round 1, but made that one count - Aaron Rodgers). One of the 2s was Nick Collins.
In 2006, Green Bay drafted 12 times (two 2s, two 3s, two 4s, two 5s, two 6s). Players of note- A.J. Hawk, Daryn Colledge, Greg Jennings.
In 2007, Green Bay drafted 11 times. Players of note include - Mason Crosby, Desmond Bishop, James Jones, Allen Barbre(!).
In 2008, Green Bay drafted 9 times. Players of note include - Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley, Josh Sitton, Matt Flynn (!), Breno Giacomini(!)
In 2009, Green Bay drafted 8 times. This was the draft where GB was converting to a 3-4 defense and needed to get their edge rusher, so they traded up back into Round 1 to get Clay Matthews. They had previously selected B.J. Raji in Round 1. They also obtained T.J. Lang.
In 2010, Green Bay drafted 7 times. Players of note were Brian Bulaga, Mike Neal, Morgan Burnett, Marshall Newhouse, and James Starks.
In summary - under Ted Thompson, Green Bay has averaged 9.7 picks per draft over seven drafts (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 11, 12).
Now, John Schneider has referred to Ted Thompson as more of an "older brother" figure. The "father figure" to Schneider has been Ron Wolf. Yet, part of the appeal to Paul Allen, I assume, was that Schneider would bring to Seattle 'the Green Bay philosophy.'
In the end, we all know that Pete Carroll makes the final decisions, but I think Pete Carroll wants the Green Bay philosophy to bleed through. They will be more active in free agency than Green Bay, but I believe there is still a strong emphasis on the Draft. In fact, in 2010 and 2011 PCJS drafted nine times each. Throw in Charlie Whitehurst, Lendale White, and Leon Washington and we are pretty close to the Green Bay average of 9.7. Charlie and Lendale are worth half a player each. (That was a joke - it's ok to laugh).
Now, a little explanation on why I do this: as I have been reading and building models, fertile ideas have been flying all over the place. Why am I studying another franchise besides the Seahawks? Why have I purchased books on the Pittsburgh Steelers and plan on purchasing books on the Baltimore Ravens and other franchises? Why have I downloaded articles and studied the Green Bay roster on their website? Why?
Simply because I want my team, the Seattle Seahawks, to win a Super Bowl.
So, I figure I should study teams that have won and have a good chance of winning multiple Super Bowls. And I believe these franchises are not satisfied with winning just winning one, but expect to be in position year after year to compete for a Super Bowl. I believe that is Paul Allen's goal, and I believe that is why Pete Carroll and John Schneider are here in Seattle.
This triumvate wants to build a perennial winner.
It is not lost on me that the Packers are benefiting at a historical level from Aaron Rodgers quality of QB play in 2011. How good would the Packers be without Aaron Rodgers? 8-8. 10-6? I am not confident that I know. He may be worth 5 wins - which is an amazing level of value. He may be hiding major flaws on their roster right now.
Nonetheless, I still think there is a lot to glean from this organization. Paul Allen and Pete Carroll thought so when they hired John Schneider. I do know this - the Packers did draft Aaron Rodgers before any other team - and they did draft him with a good quarterback already on the roster. They get credit for that.
They also get credit for building a roster and a team in a manner that will allow the Packers to pay Aaron Rodgers market rates (upwards of $20M) for his talents for the remainder of his career and most importantly, when his next contract comes up. He does not make $20M today, but I am fairly certain he will.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: John Schneider is not Ted Thompson and I do not think the Seahawks will implement the "pure" Green Bay system in Seattle.
I say that for a few reasons: (1) John Schneider has said that he will be more aggressive in free agency and has demonstrated that in his time in Seattle (Zach Miller, Sidney Rice, Alan Branch, Jason Jones, etc), (2) Pete Carroll makes the final decisions anyway, (3) the roster Pete Carroll & John Schneider took over in 2010 was in worse shape than the roster Thompson took over in Green Bay in 2005. The 2004 Green Bay Packers that Thompson inherited won their division at 10-6 and had a quarterback that threw for over 4000 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Win Forever vs. The Cycle...
Listening to sports radio in Seattle, as I often do, I recall a time in 2009 when ESPN's Brock Huard mentioned a conversation he had with his grandma. I think he calls her "opa" or something like that. Anyways, she asked, "Why are Seattle sports teams so bad?" The Huskies were in a losing season, fresh off the 0-12 year. The Sonics had left town two years prior. The Mariners were losing 100 games. The Seahawks were in the process of going 5-11 under Jim L. Mora.
Brock didn't exactly know - but he said something to the effect of "Maybe it's cyclical." The Cycle. Like a business cycle?
Expansion, Bubble, Crash, Recession then Expansion again, like the economy?
In sports, maybe I could liken it to the Holmgren Era, which was very successful, and I do not dispute that. He spent the early years locking in key players, then formed an identity and let the key players grow together. As the key players peak, at the same time, you hopefully compete for a Super Bowl.
After the peak you may enjoy a few more good years and then age and injuries and free agency begins to erode your team. Alas - you finish 4-12 and 5-11 back-to-back and then draft some good players with high picks and begin the cycle again.
Pete Carroll and John Schneider do not want the cycle, they want to Win Forever. Pete Carroll won seven straight Pac-10 Championships. In his 9th season at USC he went 8-4.
In the book, Win Forever, within the chapter "Hard Lessons in New York," a younger Pete Carroll strolls onto the field at night after his first big win in Buffalo and stares up at the rafters with no one but the cleaning crew in his company-
"I noticed for the first time all of Buffalo's division championship banners on display - and it dawned on me that, while we had just won a great game, since Coach Levy had been there, they had put up winning season after winning season, division championship after division championship... it hit me: Now that's success. Those guys had shown that they had what it took to continue to win year after year, in an almost permanent state of winning."
The Green Bay Model...
As I write this (back in December 2011), Green Bay is 12-0 and is winning with the 4th youngest roster in the NFL. Currently, the three rosters that are younger than Green Bay, all have losing records: Tampa Bay, Carolina, and Seattle.
You would think a Super Bowl winning team would be cresting in their age cycle, yet that is not the case. The 2011 NFL season could very well end with Green Bay hoisting another Lombardi Trophy (it didn't, but there is no doubt that was a very good team). Is there any sign that the team as it is currently constructed will begin to dismantle due to age or losing players via free agency? At first glance, the answer is no.
The 2008 Packers' Draft Class will be up for contracts when 2011 concludes. The 2008 Draft was (number indicates the round):
2- Jordy Nelson
2- Brian Brohm
2- Patrick Lee
3- Jermichael Finley
4- Jeremy Thompson
4- Josh Sitton
5- Breno Giacomini
7- Matt Flynn
7- Brett Swain
In 2008, Green Bay drafted 9 players, which is an important note as I detail that further in this series. Green Bay has already signed Jordy Nelson and Josh Sitton to longer term contracts. Great contract staggering and long-range planning has been shown. My feeling is that they will let Patrick Lee and Matt Flynn walk at the end of the year (Ed: haha). They will re-sign Jermichael Finley to a large contract. Brian Brohm is out of the NFL. Jeremy Thompson had a career ending injury. Breno plays for the Seahawks. Brett Swain is on the 49ers active roster. Not Thompson's best draft, but not a bad draft at all.
Green Bay should be very competitive in 2012 and beyond.
The Rule and the Exceptions...
Here is the Green Bay model in a nut-shell:
Stock your 53 man roster with about 30-35 players on low-cost rookie contracts. 19 out of 20 of these "rookie contract" players were drafted directly by Green Bay or signed right after the draft as rookie free agents.
Right now, Green Bay has 32 players on these rookie contracts and 20 players on Free Agent contracts.
When you sign a player to a non-rookie contract, in 9 out of 10 cases, make that a player that is a player that you drafted and has performed well in your own system for 3 to 4 years.
Of the 21 players on Free Agent contracts - they break out in 4 Categories:
GREEN BAY DRAFTED STARS (12) - year specified is draft year
1999- WR Donald Driver
2000- T Chad Clifton
2004- C Scott Wells
2005- QB Aaron Rodgers, S Nick Collins
2006- LB AJ Hawk, WR Greg Jenning
2007- WR James Jones, K Mason Crosby, LB Desmond Bishop,
2008- WR Jordy Nelson, G Josh Sitton
TRUE FREE AGENTS (2) - year specified is when they joined GB
2006- CB Charles Woodson
2006- DL Ryan Pickett
EXCEPTIONS (3) - year specified is when they joined GB
2006- CB Tramon Williams (was cut from Houston as a UDFA and picked up by GB)
2007- RB Ryan Grant (was traded for a 6th rd Pick with NYG)
2007- FB John Kuhn (was picked up as a rookie after being waived by PIT)
VALUE PLAYS (4) - Green Bay has four other players that fill out the roster -
2006- CB Jarrett Bush (picked off of CAR waivers),
2010- NT Howard Green (picked off of NYJ waivers),
LB Erik Walden and S Charlie Peprah are on short term value contracts.
Peprah spent most of his career in Green Bay but was on KCC roster for a few games on special teams, Walden was picked up in 2010 but had bounced around the NFL since 2008. Evan Deitrich Smith was with Seattle for a short cup of coffee but I am not even going to mention him - he is a Green Bay guy.
Green Bay has 45 players on its 53 man roster that Green Bay originally drafted or acquired directly after the draft in rookie free agency. Only four players on the roster have logged significant snaps for another NFL Team (Pickett, Woodson, Green and Walden).
Thompson took over the Packers in 2005, and signed Woodson and Pickett in 2006. He also picked up Tramon Williams in 2006. The Packers haven't had a key contributor sign a big free agent contract, after being drafted by another team, in almost 5 years! Ryan Grant never played for NYG during the regular season.
Super simplified Green Bay Model vs. "Normal" NFL Model...
I have created an over simplified Green Bay model below for the sake of illustration. This is not exactly how the team is constructed, but demonstrates some basic concepts.
I have mentioned that Thompson's drafts average over 9 players per year, despite how successful the team was the prior year (Ed: not "we just need one more player to get over the hump or stay on top"). It's been a consistent theme in his seven drafts with the Packers. By stocking your team with young cheap players, it frees up money in the salary cap era to pay your best players when their rookie contract comes due.
The model is not designed to free up money to pay a free agent that was a star in another system. I don't count Woodson and Pickett as they were signed in 2006 in the Thompson early years. Now that the model is mature, the Packers do not sign big time free agents that performed on other teams.
So, the stocking of the roster frees up money to pay free agents - but only your free agents - not other team's free agents. My guess is that signing another team's free agent is risky because you have less information on that player in terms of: character, leadership, injury history, practice performance, fit in your system and a host of other factors. By only signing your own team's free agents, you may miss out on some opportunities on other great players, but you also mitigate tons of risk.
This system also does wonders for your continuity and unity as a team. Too much turnover is bad.
How much money does this cheap labor free up? Basically it allows you to pay your 17 or so free agent contract players an average of $5.6M per year versus 25 free agent contract players an average of $4.0M per year in a normal system. This is assuming both Green Bay and the normal NFL Team are maxing out the salary cap at $120M per year.
In theory, Green Bay can always pay market rates to their stars and not risk losing them to another team. It also may mean that the players on big contracts on Green Bay are better on average than similar type players on other teams. Can you name a really good player in the last 5 years that left Green Bay as a Free Agent?
Look at it another way, I imagine that most Super Bowl Teams have at least four star players and star players often make a lot of money. For the sake of this example, say $9M per year. If Green Bay has 17 Free Agent Contract Players and four of them make $9M, the other 13 can make an average of $4.6M per year. On a normal team they can only pay their 21 non "star" Free Agents an average of $3.0M per year.
All this is modeled below:
Super Simplified Green Bay Roster Model:
Super Simplified Normal NFL Roster Model
A specific look at the 2011 Packers' roster:
Please take some time to check out the accompanying spreadsheet.
1) The 35 or so players on their Cheap Rookie Contracts create the cap room to pay the 18 or so Green Bay Stars. Most NFL teams have less than 35 players on rookie contracts, and are littered with over 20+ average players on their 2nd (big money) contract.
2) There are only five players on the 53-man roster older than Aaron Rodgers (and he is not considered old) -Charles Woodson, Donald Driver, Chad Clifton, Ryan Pickett, Scott Wells. Pete Carroll wants a young team with a QB that has some seasoning.
3) Of the 18 players on big money-non rookie contracts, 11 have been selected to a Pro Bowl: Charles Woodson, Donald Driver, Chad Clifton, Scott Wells, Aaron Rodgers, Nick Collins, Ryan Grant, A.J. Hawk, Greg Jennings, Tramon Williams, and John Kuhn. Some experts say Jordy Nelson is right on the verge. Only the key players get rewarded with big dollars. There are some modest deals- for instance- James Jones and John Kuhn (fullback). Charlie Peprah was a value deal.
5) The only Class of 2008 player that Green Bay needs to worry about signing is Jermichael Finley- they already tied up Jordy Nelson and Josh Sitton previously. To clear cap room they might have to retire Clifton and Driver. Grant is probably gone after this year.
6) Only 10 players on the 53 man roster were ever signed to another team not named the Packers, and only threeplayers played significant regular season snaps for another team- Pickett, Woodson and Erik Walden.
Walden is probably gone after the 2012 Draft.
7) I am amazed that 10 players on the current 53 were Undrafted Rookies from the 2010 and 2011 class.
8) 25 players are in their 1st or 2nd year in the NFL. This explains why Green Bay is the 4th youngest team in the NFL.
9) In Ted Thompson's 2nd Year (2006) he signed two big Free Agents (Woodson and Pickett) and snagged three key 2011 players that still play for him off of waivers (Tramon Williams, Jarrett Bush (who I hear is a big-time special teams player), Charlie Peprah (who has filled in for safety depth with Nick Collins on IR). He also drafted AJ Hawk and Greg Jennings. It was a good year.
10) In 2007 Thompson grabbed Ryan Grant in a trade with NYG and pulled John Kuhn off off waivers from PIT.
11) Ted Thompson has NEVER drafted less than 7 players whether the team was 6-10 or coming off a Super Bowl- he believes in drafting often and also is very willing to play Undrafted Rookies. Look for the Seahawks to draft at least 7-8 in 2012. And pay attention to the Undrafted Rookies they sign.
12) In recent years, Green Bay doesn't pick a lot of players off waivers like they did in 2006 and 2007- probably because most of the Undrafted Rookies they like sign with them already. Why? Because they are a very good team and rookies know they have a good shot of making the team. This is because Green Bay takes rookie free agency seriously, these are not just training camp bodies.
Now, please stare at the attached chart for a minute or so. After you do that and get frustrated, I will walk you through what it means.
This spreadsheet shows a nameless, faceless 53-man roster. It is a pretty fair representation of the Green Bay model I've talked about above. It is broken up by Draft Year or Years of accumulated experience in the NFL. A Year 1 player would be a 2011 NFL Rookie, Year 2 refers to the class of players that was a Drafted Rookie in 2010, Year 5 Players were Drafted and a Rookie in 2007. A Year 9+ Player would be any player drafted in 2003 or prior.
In theory this model could work in any year - so I named it Year 1, Year 2 etc...
Some Key Numbers that will better explain this chart:
1/3 (One-third) - or more importantly - 18 - which is the closest number to 1/3 of a 53 man roster. Green Bay rewards 1/3 of its roster with big money 2nd contracts - typically players in Year 5-8 of their careers (peak) and about four more Legacy type players (Year 9+).
For Green Bay- Aaron Rodgers, AJ Hawk, Nick Collins and Tramon Williams would be Year 5-8 2nd Contract Type Players. Donald Driver, Chad Clifton, Ryan Pickett andCharles Woodson would be Legacy (3rd Contract) type players.
2/3 (two-thirds) - Or more importantly - 35- which is the closest number to 2/3 of a 53 man roster. Green Bay is able to always pay its best players, and never lose the players they want to another bidder, because 2/3 of the roster is cheap, young labor playing on inexpensive rookie contracts.
These are the Randall Cobbs, James Starks, and Jermichael Finley's of the roster. These are also the Frank Zombos and Vic So'otos.
13 - or perhaps you can think of it as 1/4 - This is the number of new players that enter the Green Bay system each year. Green Bay does not sign up outside free agents except in some small value cases (Erik Walden, Howard Green), so there are basically only two ways you will ever play with Aaron Rodgers:
(1) Get a phone call on draft day from Ted Thompson
(2) Get a phone call right after the draft from Ted Thompson as an Undrafted Rookie.
13 Again - If 13 players enter the system each year, then 13 players must exit the system each year. On an average team you draft seven players, maybe get lucky and one undrafted rookie sticks on your 53 man roster, and then sign another five free agents. Perhaps you lost two of your players, re-signed two of your players to their 2nd contract, and then signed three players from outside your team. (Again, think of the average life span of an NFL Player to be four years - 53 divided by 4 is close to 13.)
Typical Team would look like this:
7 Draft Picks
1 Undrafted Rookie
2 Re-signed Free Agents
3 Free Agents signed from Other Teams
In Green Bay- since they rarely sign outside the house free agents the system works like this:
9 Draft Picks (you trade down)
4 Undrafted Rookies that stick on the 53 man Roster
So, what does the yellow on the chart mean? Those are the players that are playing on your team that will lose their job by the end of training camp next year! Of those 13 rookies, only 10 will play in Year 2 and 3 will get cut. Of the 10 players in Year 2, by Year 3 competition from younger players will whittle that down to 7. By Year 4 only 5 players will remain.
If you are lucky enough to survive the first four years - only the top four players from your draft class will cross over into big money land. How do you make room (Green Bay is maxed out at the Cap) for those four newly minted paid players? You cut four of your older players- two legacy players per year and two others in the middle of their second contract. Why? Because age and injury has caused them to decline and they don't provide enough value for the contract they are on- and a younger cheaper player can do their job.
Think Nick Barnett and Daryn College.
1/5 (one-fifth) - The current NFL salary cap is a shade under $125M. Only $25M or 1/5th of the entire Green Bay Salary Cap is apportioned to the 35 players on their rookie contract. Think of it at about $500k per player plus bump up about 4 players who were drafted in Round 1 and you don't actually even get to $25M. But close enough. Where does the other $100M go?- it goes to the 18 "star" players on their 2nd or 3rd contract. The other 18 players can be paid on average over $5M per year.
25- The median age of your roster under this system- year after year after year. Your team stays "forever young" in perpetuity. Your team never gets old even though, of course, individual players do. The average age stays at 25.87. In this exercise I assumed the average rookie was EXACTLY 23 years old - we know in real life their ages vary and I am not considering the months either. But the point remains.
Culture implications (loyalty and identity)...
When you never go outside the house - you raise each player strictly in the culture that Green Bay wants to imprint on its team. Playing in Green Bay becomes special, because unless you were drafted or picked up right after the draft (or rookie waivers) in your first year, you will never have the privilege of playing in Green Bay.
John Schneider recently said (back in 2011), in an interview on Sirius radio: "If we put together a nice Draft this year, [add] a couple nice free agents, re-do some of our guys together, then yeah, we'll be on our way. [Next year, we'll] add another Draft to that and we'll be on our way to the motto we had at Green Bay, where we don't have to go outside the house."
"Things are positive right now, but we've got a long way to go. If we put two more solid Drafts together we'll be on our way to a team like that. I want us to get to the point where we're a consistent Championship-caliber team, where every year guys want our players."
The Draft becomes gigantic. Free Agency is only an exercise in paying your own players.
By the way, the system doesn't work without picking the right players for the right fit, you have to draft very, very well for this system to work, but if you can I can't think of a better model.
When all the players are "organic" you can really hammer in your culture and identity. After all, most of the players don't know anything else. Their whole NFL experience revolves around one team.
The class that started in Year 1 as 13 players has been filtered down to the 5 strongest in Year 4. Of those five, only the best four will receive that coveted 2nd contract and the other players will be free to walk.
Think 2007 2nd Round Pick RB Brandon Jackson.
Do you risk missing out on great talent available on other teams? Yes. But you also limit your risk, because the player you reward with a big money contract is a player you have gone to war with in your own family for four years. You know this players habits, character, injury history and measurables 100x better than any other team. Your risk of a bad free agent signing is much lower than going outside your house. You know that this player will play well in your system because he has already played well in your system for four years.
Think of the early season struggles of Nnamdi in Philly, same player, different system.
What is super fascinating about Sidney Rice, Tarvaris Jackson, Robert Gallery, and Zach Miller, is that the Seattle offense runs the same system that these players played under for 3-4 years. Cable at Oakland and Bevell at Minnesota. I don't think those Free Agent signings were a coincidence.
The Alan Branch success was helped by the fact that Pete Carroll knew exactly the kind of player he wanted next to Mebane, but Branch was in a totally different system in Arizona. He also did get a smaller deal that the other four free agents.
There is no loyalty in the NFL, and the one of the criticisms of the "Always Compete" Pete Carroll mantra is that it has no loyalty toward players. It does not have loyalty toward aging, declining and overpaid players. It does not have loyalty to a draft pick that was outperformed by an undrafted player or a 1st round pick being outplayed by a 4th round pick.
The Green Bay system is loyal in that, - if you played well for us for four years -, we will pay you, we will rarely pay big money to a player that has been making touchdowns and tackles for another NFL team.
There is a level of loyalty in this system.
Win Forever and Always Compete...
"Earn Everything", "It's all about the Ball", "Finish", "Protect the Team", "Competition Wednesday" and a host of other Pete Carroll phrases are thrown around every week.
However; the top two mantras are "Win Forever" and "Always Compete".
The Green Bay model dovetails perfectly with those two mantras. This is why John Schneider and Pete Carroll got so excited during their first meeting. Pete Carroll was dealing with younger college players and played freshman and sophomores. This fit perfectly with the Green Bay model. Pete Carroll recruited high school students and told them they would have a chance to compete and earn playing time.
Every year, Schneider is trying to haul in a ton of draft picks and another big batch of undrafted rookies.These are NOT training camp fodder, this whole class of rookies is given the chance to knock out 13 or so current players. Drafted players in Year 2 and 3 will lose their jobs every year to younger players that outperform them.
On Win Forever - your roster never gets old. If you keep drafting well every year and are willing to make hard decisions by moving on from good players - you can, in theory, "Win Forever". The roster stays at a magical average of 25-26 years old. Younger players are probably less injury prone and are, in general, faster. They may not be smarter and they may not be in their peak, but that's where coaching comes in.