As many of you may have noticed, over the past several months or ... the last year or so, I guess, I've become very fascinated with the behind the scenes management of NFL teams - specifically the Seahawks, and how John Schneider and Pete Carroll have managed to turn the Seahawks into a potentially very exciting franchise with a potentially very bright future. This is in stark contrast from where the franchise was following the 2009 season, where there really wasn't a whole lot to be excited about on any level. Aging roster, recently fired GM and head coach, Mike Holmgren didn't want to come back, - in general it was pretty bleak.
Davis has been big on this kick too and at some point will likely write more on it as well (with diagrams too!), as a lot of the things we see the Seahawks doing have some parallels to how teams like the Packers, Steelers, Ravens, Patriots, and a few other perennially good teams run their organizations. The NFL is like any other industry - the leaders in any industry get to the front based on a combination of factors - clearly defined organizational philosophy and uniqueness, talent - in leadership and on the front lines -, stability, harmony between levels of the organization - you name it. There are a million variables that go into running a successful NFL franchise and our fascination lately has been with the work going into making Seattle one of these perennial powerhouses.
Now - I'm not going to say the Seahawks are right there and on the cusp of eternal greatness. But, I would say that things are generally speaking much more positive and there does seem to be a specific and defined organizational culture and identity, there is talent in the front office and coaching staff (Schneider, Carroll, Scot McCloughan, John Idzik, Tom Cable), there is core talent on the roster (Okung, ET, Kam, Mebane, Rice, Lynch), harmony at all levels, from owner Paul Allen, to Pete Carroll, the ultimate decision maker, to John Schneider, whom I personally think is the most key of the bunch.
Paul Allen - well, he just pretty much wants to win. Pete Carroll has brought his Win Forever culture and identity, 'competition,' combined with his schematic philosophy and dedication to a few core beliefs (strong defense, strong run game) and this has meshed very well with John Schneider's Green Bay-borne methodology for building a roster while always maintaining youth and developing loyalty to retain your star players.
Scot McCloughan brings a very respected scouting background that seems to match up well philosophically with what Pete and John want to build schematically and personality-wise, and the 49ers team he largely built looks like a blueprint for what the Seahawks want to put together.
John Idzik's salary cap management meshes perfectly too with Pete's Win Forever and John's "Forever Young" ideals and thus far has built in plenty of cap space and designed team-friendly deals, which allows the Seahawks to effectively keep their key players as their contracts are due. His abilities and skills should be showcased in the coming years as the Seahawks look to re-up their young stars in Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Doug Baldwin, etc. They'll undoubtedly stagger this group over the next few years and the system described above will be tested.
Anyway, the point I'm making is not "The Seahawks are going to be the next dynasty", but rather - they do appear to have a strong group in the front office, a clearly defined philosophy and organizational identity, clearer goals in terms of roster management and cap management, and a long-term outlook on the team in general. At the end of the day, they have to find the talent on the football field and that talent will have to perform, but having the structure in place certainly doesn't hurt.
So, with that in mind - I wanted to continue to look at some things that John Schneider said in a recent interview with Brock and Salk, because, again, I just find his job and his performance at said job fascinating.
The interview started with hosts Brock and Salk asking JS about how much GMs talk to each other, as this interview happened just after the Combine.
Yeah, I've always wanted that weekend with the general managers that the Major League Baseball managers get, where they get together for like four or five days and drink a bunch of beer and just talk. Ours is kind of, you know, at the Combine, and we get together, and at the Senior Bowl and all the All-Star games and all that. I get the feeling that (the bond between GMs) is not quite as strong as it is in baseball. It sounds like they (MLB GMs) have a weekend where it's like "Hey, let's analyze each others' rosters, and lets all just sit and try to help each other out."
Ours is very much more clandestine, and you know, you have strong relationships with people, but you never really know exactly where anyone's going.
On this subject - I've always been interested in how phone conversations go between GMs of different teams. My visual of how this goes is borrowed from Money Ball mostly, where Brad Pitt phones what's-his-face of the Detroit Tigers and tells him that Carlos Pena is on the block. 'Who you got? Who can you give me?' was sort of the gist of the phone call. Two minutes later Pena was traded, with Pitt only checking very briefly with Jonah Hill on whether or not the Tigers' offered players were any good.
In real life, I know this isn't how it goes, but I do wonder just how different it is. Do GMs call each other up and say "Hey, we want to unload so-and-so, who you got?" like they're a couple of baseball cards? I know that I've heard Schneider mention before that they're always on the phone inquiring to teams about who they might be looking to deal or unload, and the Seahawks, perhaps more than other clubs out there, have not been shy about wheeling and dealing. This front office has made trades for Marshawn Lynch and Chris Clemons, Leon Washington, Tyler Polumbus and Kentwan Balmer, Clinton McDonald. Even if it's back of the roster type stuff, Schneider is always churning and it makes you wonder how they identify those players and broach the subject with opposing GMs.
Are they friends? Do they talk a lot?
"No, it's nonstop - you know, when we were at the Alamo Bowl, there were several guys there that I was speaking with, there's guys that, for instance, at the Oklahoma/Texas A&M game, you know, Bill Polian was there, a bunch of guys were there, so yeah we're always talking about stuff, it's just a matter of pinning people down. But, you know, you just have to be cognizant of other peoples' agendas."
Anyway - obviously doesn't tell the story much but it's interesting.
In terms of the roster that the Seahawks have been building, Schneider did address their defined plan - something that I've seen him say several times and the idea was laid out by Davis in his Green Bay Roster Model series, which pointed to the idea that Green Bay stays good for long periods of time by paying their stars what they deserve, to keep in them on the team, then filling the rest of the roster with high-upside but ultimately cheap players on their rookie contracts or veterans on low-level short term deals.
This is a pretty neat time in our process here, because we're actually getting to the point where, you know, where we're really focused on our own guys, and Coach Carroll and his staff have done a phenomenal job of instilling confidence in these guys, and building up their level of play. They've responded to the system, they've responded to the environment, and the guys that have done that are the guys that we're trying to re-sign.
It's an ongoing process with our own guys.
We've seen it with Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, and Marshawn Lynch.
In a different interview from earlier in the offseason, Schneider said something very similar.
I think we're getting there. I was really pleased with how a lot of the young guys stepped up and played, especially the second half of the season last year. And so I think you can see that that group now, and what we'd like to do is start rewarding our own players, you know.
Once you get it to a point where you kinda change the roster, you kinda get it to a point where you have a group you think you can win with, you know, that Pete and I are comfortable with, and the coaching staff, then you can try and keep that group together.
Try to keep that cohesion, and then just kind of supplement with free agency a little, if you need to, and then as far as specific needs, big holes, and then just go out and bust your tail in the Draft. That's where we're at right now.
The Brock and Salk interview happened prior to the re-signings of Red Bryant and Marshawn Lynch, and when asked about the contract negotiations and how important these two guys are as leaders and as the faces of the franchise, Schneider responded:
That's a great point, with the mindset that they bring. It's something that you have to place a market value on, for sure. But, these two players also have a unique ability to, exactly what you're talking about, rally the players on each side of the ball, they kind of represent where we're going in terms of building that toughness, and instilling confidence and competition with each other, and kind of locking arms and really getting into those games.
The Baltimore game, both San Francisco games, the games that we wouldn't have been able to hang in there with, in 2010, these guys represent that. So, obviously, they're core players for us, and we're doing whatever we can right now to retain them.
The Baltimore and San Francisco games come up frequently in interviews with both JS and Pete Carroll, and you'll often see them using 'street fight' or 'dogfight' or 'parking lot fight' metaphors for the toughness and don't back down type attitude they're trying to instill with this team.
One of the final things that Schneider said in that interview was in response to a question on how they go about building the roster - both through the Draft and in free agency or through trades - and his response was kind of a glimpse into the big picture of their war room.
It's an interesting process and the best way I can explain it to you is to say this: We look at this as a huge map, ok? Or, kind of a huge flowchart, if you will. We feel like we've done our homework, we feel like we don't ever have all the answers, we never feel like we're done, you know, evaluating everybody, but you have to know the whole landscape.
You have to know who's strong at what position, you have to know where the Draft is strong, where free agency is strong, where second-tier free agency is going to be strong, where cap casualty prospects are going to be strong.
Or, you know, where certain players are, for guys that you've talked to about trades.
You have to know what areas areas are strong, and be able to balance that between being able to re-sign your own players, or you know, just go out and be able to maybe get a better deal with another player.
You know, it's not easy, it's a big-boy business, and sometimes you have to make tough decisions and move on. I think we've proven over the last couple years that we're not afraid to do that.
That little summation, to me, gives you a good idea of why Schneider was hired in the first place. He's well-organized and methodical, not afraid to explore every angle and avenue for player acquisition, and he does the legwork involved to give the franchise the best chance possible to strike when the iron is hot on certain players. This has allowed them to identify and acquire some key players like Clemons and Lynch, Washington and Brandon Browner. Obviously, not all of their moves work out, but they're anything but complacent when it comes to building depth and adding talent.
Anyway - that's what I got right now. Thoughts?