The Tim Ruskell Years (2005-2009)

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The Tim Ruskell Years (2005-2009)
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Since Tim Ruskell was appointed General Manager of the Seattle Seahawks the franchise has been to its first Super Bowl, cut a former NFL MVP and replaced a future Hall of Fame Head coach.

Never a dull moment in the Ruskell era.

Coming off a disappointing 4-12 season, the latest challenge is proving the 2008 season was merely an ill-fated one off.

In reviewing Ruskell's tenure with the team, we can look ahead and judge just how important the upcoming months will be for the Seahawks.

 

The perfect start

Appointed GM in 2005 to replace the departing Bob Whitsitt, Ruskell couldn't have asked for a better first season in charge.

Although most of the credit will rightly be offered to Mike Holmgren and the NFC champion roster, Ruskell deserves his fair share of praise.

Upon arrival, he shipped out six starters who had previously featured in an under performing defense.

In their place, a handful of key free agent signings and a A+ draft class - trading up in the second round to take Lofa Tatupu (who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie) and stealing Leroy Hill with a third round compensatory pick.

Having laid out the tools, Seattle subsequently recorded a 13-3 record before reaching Super Bowl XL - the first in franchise history.

Defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Detroit put an end to the fairy tale beginning, but the franchise had set the tone for future success.

 

The years after XL

Seattle continued to make the post season in 2006 and 2007 as NFC West champions.

Injuries unsettled the team in '06, Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander both missed time.

However, a 9-7 record was enough to break the Super Bowl curse - the Seahawks became the first team since the 1999 Titans to make the playoffs after losing the big one.

Injuries continued to hamper the team heading into the off season and after a dramatic home victory over the Cowboys, Seattle eventually succumbed to the Chicago Bears.

The Seahawks controlled the NFC West in 2007 and after a 10-6 regular season, defeated the Washington Redskins in the Wild Card round.

A toothless display at Lambeau Field the following week again ended Seattle's hopes of a Super Bowl return - but with four consecutive NFC West titles and five successive post season appearances, football in Seattle had inherited a winning mentality.

Until 2008.

The 4-12 campaign that followed has been blamed on injuries and the proposed departure of Mike Holmgren.

Approaching the 2009 season we'll discover if this truly was an unfortunate one off, or if there are deeper issues that need resolving.

Ruskell the risk taker

Tim Ruskell likes his players to be low risk on and off the field.

It's ironic perhaps that the Seahawks GM has rolled the dice a few times himself over the years.

The obvious example is the Steve Hutchinson situation.

Choosing to use the transition tag instead of the franchise tag in 2006, Ruskell didn't bank on the Minnesota Vikings making a poison pill deal to take arguably the league's best interior lineman.

In attempting to save a few dollars, the team lost a key component on their offensive line.

Recently Ruskell was seen taking another gamble, albeit a seemingly more calculated one.

Having drafted Aaron Curry and struggling to reach a long term agreement with the franchise tagged Leroy Hill, Ruskell removed the tag essentially making Hill a free agent.

If Hill had signed with another team, the Seahawks would have lost a productive starter and the opportunity to line Curry alongside two excellent young linebackers.

Ruskell won this bet, signing Hill to a 6-year $38m deal just before mini-camp.

By losing the hefty franchise tag cap hit (Hill would have cost close to $9m) it allowed the team to add Ken Lucas and Justin Griffiths.

The move is comparable to going all-in on a hunch and taking home the jackpot.

Any time you chance your arm there's an element of risk. Tim Ruskell's era as Seahawks GM is no different.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. The only guarantee is that Ruskell isn't likely to become any more conservative in the future.

 

Draft success

Thirty-six members of Seattle's current roster are their own draft picks.

Ruskell has mastered the art of finding gem's in the middle rounds.

Lofa Tatupu was an inspired second round choice in 2005 and has made three Pro-Bowls in his four year career.

Leroy Hill and Brandon Mebaneare two third round picks that have become key components in the Seahawks defense.

Seattle made an aggressive trade to select John Carlson in round two last year and were rewarded with a superb rookie season from the young tight end.

The likes of Ray Willis, Darryl Tapp and Josh Wilson have added solid depth to the roster.

The draft is always a lottery, but nobody can deny Ruskell hasn't had his fair share of success.

In his first four years, from the thirty players selected by Seattle twenty-eight have made the team the year they were drafted.

Few other GM's can claim to have had that level of success in the draft.

There's always another side to the argument and it could be suggested that there's room for improvement when drafting in the always important first round.

Chris Spencer (2005), Kelly Jennings (2006) and Lawrence Jackson (2008) have struggled to have an impact.

The Seahawks will be hoping that this year's choice, Aaron Curry, can improve their fortunes in that department.

Making big decisions

Shaun Alexander was named NFL MVP in 2005 and afterwards, was rewarded with an 8-year $62m contract.

By April 22nd, 2008, Alexander was a free agent.

After a record breaking season and leading the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl, it would have been unthinkable for Ruskell to let Alexander walk as a free agent in 2006.

But after a torrid 2007 campaign in which he played the majority with an injured wrist, Ruskell needed to make a big decision.

Could the team afford to put their faith in a running back who had reached his 30's and crucially lost that yard of quickness and ability to make people miss?

The Seahawks cut Alexander in one of the most dramatic falls from grace seen in the NFL.

Ruskell signed Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett in replacement.

Alexander himself has been outspoken on the issue.

"Sometimes, unfortunately, I was only compared to myself, you know what I mean? So it's like, 'Oh, you're not doing the same thing, we're getting rid of you.' So it's like, 'OK, who are you going to bring in to replace me?'

"I don't even think they (Jones and Duckett) had combined the yards I had with a broken hand, a buckled knee, you know?"

-Shaun Alexander

The future success of Jones and Duckett will be judged in 2009, but the decision to cut Alexander was one that needed to be made with no sentimentality.

Ruskell has never shirked the responsibility of making big moves. When the team has needed improvements, he's been aggressive to fix holes.

This off season has been no different.

In trying to hit back from 4-12, Seattle made a big splash to land T.J. Houshmandzadeh. They followed it up with an eye catching trade swapping Pro-Bowler Julian Peterson for Cory Redding.

In the draft, getting Curry adds an instant impact but the maneuveringin round two - adding Max Unger and getting a 2010 first rounder from Denver - must be applauded.

Looking ahead, more big decisions will need to be made by the Seahawks' front office in their attempt to regain the NFC West crown.

 

The future

Even despite last year's struggles, a case can be made for Ruskell being one of the safest GM's in the NFL.

He enjoys a strong relationship with owner Paul Allen and has only recently appointed his own Head Coach in Jim Mora.

Attention has been focused on recovery, not rebuild during the off season and expectations will be high for an improved season.

Extra intrigue lays ahead with the potential of an uncapped year for a team containing a cash-rich owner, whilst ageing veterans such as Matt Hasselbeck and Walter Jones will one day need replacing.

Even in Ruskell's relatively secure position he'll know more than anyone that if the difficulties faced in 2008 become a regularity, eventually questions will begin to be asked.

The challenge now is to recapture that winning mentality and make it back to the post season in 2009.

With Ruskell at the helm, it's sure to be an interesting ride.

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