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Youth Versus Win Forever

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Talent evaluation is imperfect, and so you better your odds by keeping around young players with potential. Even if it doesn't pay off right away.
Talent evaluation is imperfect, and so you better your odds by keeping around young players with potential. Even if it doesn't pay off right away.

Matt Cassel never started at USC.

Oh you've heard this one.

No one knew who Stevie Johnson was before his religious crisis.

Well, fantasy owners and Kentucky fans did.

Peyton Hillis didn't start in week two. Jerome Harrison did.

Jerome Harrison wasn't supposed to start, Montario Hardesty was.

Jerome Harrison preceded someone named Chris Ivory at Washington State.

Mike Williams had busted out of the league. Even Pete Carroll was skeptical he could return.

I argued all through preseason that Ben Obomanu would make the roster. Readers were dubious. He was Seattle's number one receiver yesterday.

I'm just riffing here off the top of my head. Examples are plentiful and prominent enough that I don't even need to research this argument.

SgtSasquatch asked what Seattle has done to hinder talent development, providing a counterargument to my argument that hired guns are setting Seattle back with little to show for it this season. This is my response. I think it's pretty straightforward.

Young players are mercurial. They can improve suddenly. It might even be more accurate to say, young players are not nearly as easy to scout. Coaches often do not know what they have. Hillis and Cassel, for instance, didn't even start in college. Both are now starters in the NFL and Hillis is among the very best at his position.

If you ever want to be a successful talent evaluator, you absolutely have to understand the limitations of your ability. If you don't, you become Josh McDaniels. You make arrogant and rash decisions because you think you can beat the system. You fall in love with Alphonso Smith, overspend, and then give up on him after a season. You trade away the core of a Super Bowl caliber offense, because players don't match your style or scheme.

Pete Carroll has instilled a culture of competition. Pretty novel idea on a professional sports team. I kid. I kid. But, really, what does it mean? Does it mean the best players play? Doesn't that really mean that the best practicers play? The best players right now, but not the best talent, or the players with the best potential. Do we expect Golden Tate to be as polished as Brandon Stokley? Of course not, but what really does Stokley contribute to the next contender, and how other than playing him are we going to learn how good Tate can be? How else is Tate going to learn how to play at the NFL level?

Tim Ruskell drew some heat because his players always made the roster. For instance, Lawrence Jackson was all but installed at starter despite his obvious weaknesses. And that hurt Seattle short term. But, the alternative isn't to replace Jackson with a polished journeyman. Sure, the veteran probably times his snap better and he's more aware of gap assignments and misdirection and so forth, but so what? Junior Siavii, Craig Terrill, Raheem Brock, Chris Clemons, Brandon Stokley and Lawyer Milloy will never break out. They will never surprise. Seattle will not start Stokley this year, suffer through his growing pains and then discover he's Steve Johnson next year. Stokley is not capable of that.

Seattle traded away some of their young talent: Darryl Tapp, Rob Sims, Lawrence Jackson, Josh Wilson, but that's only part of the problem. Instead of patching with younger players, accepting growing pains in the process of developing a better team, the Seahawks have added veterans with limited potential. And, in total, the team isn't really better and the potential for development and upside has been curbed.

That's the problem, and that might be an indication that Carroll's Win Forever strategy is at odds with Seattle developing future talent. If we could perfectly estimate a player's potential, and only keep the ones with upside, and patch with veterans at the positions that are not filled with young players with upside, Win Forever would work perfectly. But we can't perfectly project potential, and retaining and playing veterans and thus not retaining and playing young players means Seattle has that much smaller chance to discover the next Hillis, Harrison, Ivory, Cassel, Mike Thomas, Jay Ratliff, etc etc etc.