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So far, John Schneider is the Executive of the Year

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Oakland Raiders
let me mooch some of that sweet gm scent john cmon
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Win Now is a subset of Win Forever. How can you hope to do the second if you ignore the first?

And nobody — nobody — in the NFL is better at juggling both goals than John Schneider. If he is not the league’s Executive of the Year right now, and eventually for the 2017 season, it will be a travestuous miscarriage of football justice.

Let’s talk about what setbacks Schneider and his people have had to overcome to get their Seattle Seahawks into playoff position with four games left to play.

The All-Pro Injuries

You can’t tell the story of the 2017 Seahawks without spending a chapter on the devastating injuries.

Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor: out for the year, since Week 10. Cliff Avril even longer. George Fant tore his ACL in the preseason. Michael Bennett has battled plantar fasciitis all year. Midseason surgery came and went for Luke Joeckel. Earl Thomas missed parts of three games with a hamstring issue and is now nursing a heel injury. Bobby Wagner hasn’t practiced in weeks. The only defensive back who’s appeared in all 12 games is newcomer Justin Coleman. Every time a new starting running back emerges, he gets dinged up and misses time.

You could build half a division-winning team with the Seahawks who’ve been hurt this year, seriously or not.

The Annual Line Dance

Youth on the offensive line is part of the routine for Seahawks, with Duane Brown the only lineman older than 26 years of age. And he didn’t even arrive until midseason. Being forced to use Rees Odhiambo, not a starting-level tackle, at the LT spot for almost 500 snaps; losing your highest-priced and most experienced free agent to knee surgery right after the bye; and struggling with growing pains at the RT spot, where Germain Ifedi is the most-penalized lineman in the league — these are the hurdles the Seahawks front office has had to overcome in 2017.

Of course, the impact of the Fant injury is hard to quantify, but it cannot possibly have helped in the short term. Of course times two, Schneider has only himself to blame if Ifedi and Mark Glowinski and Odhiambo don’t pan out, if Oday Aboushi wasn’t the answer at LG, and if Joeckel wasn’t able to last 16 games.

Regardless of who is to blame for any poor play, Schneider has had to pour extra effort into cleaning up an offensive line that spent much of the year battling inexperience, injury, or inability to block. If the line finishes the season as a decent unit, much credit should flow to the GM for building it, then tinkering with it, a la perpetually almost-finished Lego creation nobody can quite identify until its completion.

The Lack of Backs

Chris Carson won the starting tailback job in Week 1 and lasted four weeks there before a leg injury felled him. An uninspiring job-share between Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls (each at 2.6 ypc) paved the way for Mike Davis to take over. Right now, Davis is the best, most explosive back on the roster.

He also has all of 82 total yards on the ground this year.

Russell Wilson has more than twice as many rushing yards as the second-highest Seahawk. He has three times as many rushing touchdowns as the rest of the team. Seattle’s ground attack has been sabotaged by circumstance at least.

The McDowell Misfortune

(Which is not a new Robert Ludlum book title.)

Whatever Malik McDowell’s future holds, his resume will always have a blank space in the 2017 column. Everything the team has accomplished, it has done so without its top draft choice. Take the top pick away from other teams and see what happens to their season. The Saints without Marshon Lattimore? The Giants without Evan Engram? The Bills without Tre’Davious White? Wasting top-tier talent and valuable draft capital stings. Unless you have a Schneider running the show.

Unflappable, undaunted, unsurprised

Nobody would have expected to see the Seahawks in the top 5, league-wide, in players on IR. It wasn’t probable. Nobody would have expected, at the same time, that the running backs of a team supposedly dedicated to the run would average 3.4 yards per carry through 12 weeks. Also not probable for a Pete Carroll-run team. Nobody would have thought to garnish both those icy scoops of misfortune with the rancid cherry that is McDowell’s unfortunate spill.

But here’s the thing: Schneider had a plan for each of those twists of fate, and not a bad one, not a hastily-thrown-together backup plan, not a Plan B that might as well have been a Plan Z. He had one for each eventuality — you might even say plans within plans, wheels within wheels.

The General Manager of your Seahawks did not make lemonade out of lemons. Anybody can do that. He made a whole fucking lemon meringue pie, whipped up a tray of lemon bars and had enough left over to crank out a dozen lemon blueberry donuts. If you come back next week there’ll be lemon creme brulee. (Do come back next week.)

John Schneider... saw the injuries coming?

Down go Sherman and Chancellor, All-Pros. There are Byron Maxwell and Bradley McDougald, ready and prepared to step in. Maxwell looks like the same as he did in 2014, when he helped the Seahawks reach the Super Bowl. He doesn’t look the part of a player cast off by two teams in two years, available off the street as recently as November. He’s as sure of a tackler as ever, solid against the run, and came away with the only interception in Seattle’s 24-10 dismantling of the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday.

McDougald was acquired in free agency back in March for the bargain sum of $2 million over a single year. All he did Sunday night, in the biggest win of the year, was turn in 12 tackles. I’m not sure the Seahawks win the Eagles game by a bigger margin with Chancellor out there. I’m not sure they fare any better against Atlanta either — one score was gifted to the Falcons, who also got two short fields donated to them in the first quarter. After the most inauspicious start, the Seattle defense held Atlanta to 13 offensive points over the game’s final 52 minutes.

Adding Coleman into the slot stabilized the backfield. His pick-six against the Colts kept the game close in the first half; his sack of Carson Wentz earlier this week helped stall an Eagles drive. It’s already hard to imagine the secondary without him. It’s even harder to believe Schneider pried him away from the New England Patriots in September for a seventh-round pick.

The astute drafting of Shaquill Griffin, the cheap acquisitions of Coleman and Maxwell, plus the advance planning behind McDougald’s arrival all mean something. Although credit for the good work Seattle’s depleted secondary has done might come back to the players first, Schneider’s a very close second.

Line Dance, Anticipated

Schneider considered the line might undergo heavy turnover and underperform. Like you, he has also watched the recent seasons of the Seattle Seahawks. Joeckel was added, T.J. Lang was pursued, Ethan Pocic and others were drafted. Oday Aboushi was a $975,000 insurance policy.

Those were nice moves and near-moves, but the biggest feather in Schneider’s cap here has to be the Brown acquisition. Much draft capital was spent in luring the left tackle to the Seahawks — a second and third with a fifth coming back in return. Shouldn’t surprise anyone, as big swings have been JS’s modus operandi. A first, a third and a seventh for Percy Harvin. Max Unger and three rounds of draft position for Jimmy Graham. When Schneider spots a difference-maker, he finds a way to afford him, a reason to go all-in, not a reason to fold.

Brown has been that difference-maker.

Back, back, back, back, back... gone

People will count the Lacy signing against Schneider, and that’s fine. I don’t agree — Lacy posted 5.1 yards per carry in 2016, which is last season. He was the offensive rookie of the year in 2013, which is a different NFL season. The process seemed sound. But since there was some risk to the contract, with Lacy recovering from injury and struggling with weight, it’s not unfair to say the signing backfired.

(People will also fault Schneider for not attaching a second-year option to Joeckel’s deal, which is more dubious, given the opacity of negotiations.)

Even though there were few concrete clues that Lacy was about to dump a 2.6 average on the Seahawks, a number somehow duplicated by Thomas Rawls, the front office was ready with the next wave of ball carriers.

Chris Carson was drafted in the seventh round. He joined an RB room flush with talent — two guys who’d topped 5.0 yards per carry recently, a Swiss Army Knife in C.J. Prosise, and Alex Collins too, for good measure. There was no room for Carson, at first glance. There were grumblings of a wasted draft choice.

Well, not only did Carson end up making the team, but so did the undrafted J.D. McKissic. The former still leads the team in rushing yards, and the latter in all-purpose yards. Respectively they’ve put up 4.8 and 5.9 yards per touch. Their only problem is lack of playing time.

It’s not at all out of the question that Davis, Carson and McKissic are three out of the four running backs on the roster for Week 1 of 2018. And wouldn’t you feel a lot better about the prospects of the Seahawks running game, spearheaded by that trio?

Last planks of the case for Schneider

Schneider should also get credit for packaging a player who underwhelmed in 2016 for a new integral part of the defensive line. Whatever your feelings were on Jermaine Kearse (not ashamed to say I appreciated him a ton), his contract was out of proportion with his contribution. The cash would better have been used on an elite player than a middle-class guy like Kearse.

The Seattle GM fixed that one too. Kearse didn’t have an obvious important role on the 2017 Seahawks, not as the fifth-best receiver, behind Doug Baldwin, Graham, Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett. Sheldon Richardson didn’t have a future with the New York Jets, not as a sometimes-suspended player in the midst of a rebuild, in the final year of his rich contract. One second-round pick to sweeten the deal for the Jets, and two ill-fitting pieces each found better homes. It was the essence of a win-win trade that might well grease the wheels for future deals.

As for the McDowell and Avril injuries: those were mitigated by luring Richardson over, hitting on Nazair Jones in the third round, finding Marcus Smith and Dion Jordan in the pile of available pass rushers, plus letting previous draftees Frank Clark and Jarran Reed develop.

John Schneider found a way around every curve, every twist of fate or of an ankle, a way out of every dead end while pressed up against the salary cap. He is the Executive of the Year. No matter what happens in the final quarter of the season... almost.

What is Schneider’s competition?

Let’s start close to home. The Los Angeles Rams have had five players on injured reserve at any point in 2017, fewest in the league. Those players represent $4.3 million dollars of cap space. The main thing Les Snead has done well is cast a protection spell on his players and hire Sean McVay. And still the Rams lost a home game to the Seahawks, when an LA win would have made the biggest statement of the divisional year.

The Seahawks’ latest victim, the Eagles, look like a solid team assembled by a solid front office having a solid season. They also lost to the patchwork Seahawks. Head-to-head tiebreakers should also count in GM award voting, right? In addition, the Eagles are 1-1 against teams with a winning record and 9-1 against the rest. No doubt they’re good. But are they great? Do they even measure up to the other top NFC teams?

The Patriots are the usual amount of good for the usual reasons, and Bill Belichick is in process of turning a porous defense (32.0 ppg allowed in the first quarter of the season) into an elite unit (11.9 ppg since). They acquired Brandin Cooks for six bags of peanuts they found between the seat cushions of a Southwest Airlines flight. Don’t vote for Belichick. Great T-shirt idea by the way.

Dave Caldwell is the GM of the Jacksonville Jaguars, which you knew off the top of your head already because he’s such a household name. The Jags are 8-4 and lead their division, but if Caldwell is such a great executive, why did Jacksonville win 15 games in his previous four seasons? I don’t care how big your team’s single-season turnaround is, if you’re 23-53 after almost five seasons, you’re not Executive of the Year material, ever.

Two legit, but inferior, candidates remain. New Orleans’ Mickey Loomis and Minnesota’s Rick Spielman.

I sincerely doubt the league wants Loomis, who was suspended for the entire 2012 season due to his role in Bountygate, to win the award. Goodell has some strings he can pull, right? Also, Loomis has as twice as many 7-9 seasons under his belt as Schneider this decade. And let’s not forget the Saints spent much of 2015 and 2016 in cap purgatory. I’d say those negatives outweigh a bit of good recent drafting on defense and the smooth transition to a running attack.

Looking at Spielman’s case — or anti-case, as the case may be — shut up — the first bullet point is injury luck. Losing defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was a large bummer, and so was what happened to Dalvin Cook’s ACL. But that’s already half the Vikings currently on IR.

And when Teddy Bridgewater, then Sam Bradford became unable to hold down the quarterback duties, who was there to pick up the pieces? Case Keenum. Now, credit Spielman for selecting Keenum as the backup plan to the backup plan, because that was shrewd. But could he, or anyone, have foreseen that the Rams castoff would flirt with a 100 passer rating (he’s at a very healthy 98.6), with 17 total touchdowns to five interceptions? Keenum is the reason the Vikings are 10-2 instead of 6-6, and that’s not superior GM-ing, that’s plain old-fashioned luck.

It’s clear to me that no other general manager in the league would be as bold or as prepared to survive the 2017 in which Schneider is thriving.

In the end, they can give the Executive of the Year award to Spielman, sure, whatever, if the Vikings finish 13-3. I’ll rant a little, but the choice is defensible. It doesn’t matter much anyway. John Schneider is ours, and you can’t have him.