Following Danny's great article earlier this week regarding whether or not the Hawks have improved this offseason, there was once again tremendous debate regarding the state of the offensive line and whether it has improved since the end of the season.
Obviously, the offensive line was a priority entering the offseason, so when the two best players from the unit departed in free agency, it stirred up uneasiness among some fans. With J.R. Sweezy and Russell Okung gone, the line has been completely blown up. As fans jump on Ticketmaster.com to reserve advance tickets for Russell Wilson's funeral, John and Pete seem calm and relaxed, ready to move into the season with a starting group that might as well have been driving around town in a beat up pickup gathering o-linemen left on the curb.
The current projected starting five is comprised of a second round pick taken several rounds ahead of most projections, a fourth round pick with one career start, a seventh round pick on his fifth franchise in less than six years who has been referred to as a human turnstile, and a couple of undrafted free agents.
At times, it seems like John and Pete are running an experiment to see how competitive the team can be fielding a band of misfits and rejects on the offensive line, but this could simply be a continuation f the process of constant competition that they brought to the Hawks upon their arrival in 2010.
In the six seasons John and Pete have been at the helm, the Hawks have made it to the divisional round of the playoffs three times and the Super Bowl twice. It's obvious they know what they are doing, and to comfort myself I took a look back at some of the roster churn the pair has gone through in order to improve the Hawks to where they are today.
In particular, I wanted to look back and see if they had torn up a position so thoroughly in a single offseason that the top two players in the group were gone before the start of the next season. I thought it might be hard to find an example of such a revamping, but it turned out that these mad scientists have been doing exactly this since their arrival. Just take a look at the team's offensive leaders in 2009.
2009 Rushing Leaders
2009 Receiving Leaders
(As a side note, for anyone who wants to complain about Jimmy Graham not making as big an impact on the field as expected, take into consideration that Jimmy had 48 catches for 605 yards in less than eleven full games last season, while Carlson’s numbers for 2009 were amassed playing in the full slate of 16 games.)
Those days of Seahawks football were so dark, it's easy to forget many of those names, simply because of how painful it was to watch. Even when the games were close, sometimes just a bad day by the kicker was all it took to dash any hopes of victory.
That said, look again at those 2009 offensive leaders. During the offseason the number two receiver, Nate Burleson, was allowed to sign with the Lions as a free agent (what is Detroit’s infatuation with the Hawks’ WR2?). That wasn't a huge problem for many fans, as the team still had its top receiver, some youthful potential in Golden Tate and Deon Butler and one of the initial PCJS reclamation projects in Big Mike Williams.
However, before the season even got underway, the scheming duo of PCJS did something many pundits saw as unthinkable - they kicked a player with a $7M guaranteed salary to the curb. Technically 2010 was an uncapped year, but everybody knew that was just temporary to force the sides back to the negotiating table. However, based on the 2009 cap of $123 million, that $7M represented over 5% of the team’s entire cap space.
That's right, Big Balls Pete and Swashbuckling Schneider are such riverboat gamblers that they had the confidence to not only cut the leading receiver from the prior year, they not only ate $6.15 million of that player's guaranteed salary, they replaced him with a former first round pick who had put on so much weight once he hit the NFL that it was rumored he could have played o-line at one point.
We all know what the end result of that version of Let's Blow Up a Position Group was - the first team to ever make the playoffs with a losing record, and in so doing happened to knock off the defending Super Bowl champions in a game that featured one of the greatest plays in the history of the NFL. Obviously, the Hawks success has not been predicated on having top flight receivers, and it has been built through defense and the running game so the major question remains unanswered - can this offensive line do enough to keep Russell healthy and the team competitive?
A quick glance back on another early example of John and Pete at work
Looking back on the six years of Pete and John blowing things up got me thinking about when did I realize these guys were either mad geniuses or simply completely off their rockers? That answer was not too hard to find either, and involves a player in the news today - Chris Clemons.
It was just over six years ago when Pete and John reached into their bag of tricks and traded Darryl Tapp to the Eagles in exchange for Chris Clemons and a fourth round pick. I remember having mixed feelings at the time of the trade because while Tapp had been a second round pick, being undersized he seemed to have difficulties holding up against the run. However, I was troubled that the team would trade a 26 year old with 18 sacks and 149 tackles in four seasons for a 29 year old with 20 sacks and 50 career tackles in five seasons. Obviously it is always nice to add more draft picks, but I didn't understand how the team could improve by getting older and seemingly losing talent.
Turns out Pete has been around football long enough that he knows the skill-set he needs in a player to be successful in his system. Clemons would record double digit sacks in each of the next three seasons while becoming a key component of the Hawks D. Tapp, meanwhile has failed to register double digit sacks combined in the six seasons since the trade. And now, after spending the last two years in Jacksonville, the Hawks today announced that Clemons is back in the fold. Maybe he's a camp body, maybe he'll take on a third down pass rush specialist role, and maybe he'll rotate in as a regular. The only thing we know is that at team can never have too much pass rush, so it is good to have Clemons back.
The Hawks used the fourth round pick they acquired in the trade to take E.J. Wilson who never did much, but in that same draft they selected Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate and Kam Chancellor so that draft turned out okay for the team.
What does it mean?
Nothing, yet. The worrying and complaining about the offensive line likely will not end until the season starts, even if the team selects five potential new starters for the offensive line in the draft. Even then, many fans are likely to reserve judgment until the Hawks face a team with a talented front seven, such as the Panthers or Rams.
While the meaning remains unclear, it does show that Pete and John continue to be committed to the idea of constant competition and churn to create the best possible roster. Perhaps it will work. Or, perhaps Pete and John have simply had one too many movie nights together watching Miracle or Hoosiers and are simply trying to become the duo that won the Super Bowl with the worst offensive line ever. Whatever the reasoning behind their moves, Pete and John have a plan, and I'm sure they are sticking to it.