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Is the Rest of the NFL Still Trying to Catch Up to Seattle Seahawks?

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Is the Rest of the NFL Still Trying to Catch Up to Seattle Seahawks?
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With the impressive combination of youth and depth on their side, is there any team in the NFL that has caught up to the Seattle Seahawks?

When you’re near or at the top of the competition as an organization and still have yet to reach the pinnacle of your potential, the logical thing is to secure sole possession of the glue that binds it all together.

Head coach Pete Carroll is obviously a major piece to the Championship puzzle that is the Seattle Seahawks, and in all likelihood, he's the mastermind behind their success. It could also be argued that Carroll is the closest competition Bill Belichick has for the exclusive rights to be considered the most valuable head coach in professional football.

According NFL Network’s media reporter, Ian Rapoport, the Seahawks and Carroll agreed to a contract extension that will make him one of the three highest-paid coaches in the league and keep him in Seattle at least through the 2016 season.

With their mastermind under locks, the Seahawks can turn their full attention toward doing what they do best—building upon one of the deepest rosters in football.

When you look at the offseason the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos had, with each engaged in a full-court press during the free-agent frenzy back in March, just how far ahead of the pack are the Seahawks?

But before you answer that, it might be wise to turn and assess their immediate threats for league-wide supremacythe dominant NFC West.

Let us not forget that the Seahawks were somewhat fortunate to come out on top of the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers. It could be argued that Seattle was outplayed most of that game, as the 49ers were the better team heading down the final stretch of the 2013 season, including that championship matchup. But in the end, Seattle had the most big plays while committing fewer turnovers and the team that deserved to win, ultimately won.

Scott Eklund
Michael Bennett led the team in sacks last year.

The comparative moves between these divisional foes this offseason would suggest that both teams lost some key contributors with very few additions worth getting excited about. The Seahawks were forced to part ways with CBs Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond, OT Breno Giacomini, DE Chris Clemons, DL Red Bryant and WR Golden Tate. But they did successfully re-sign DE Michael Bennett and DT Tony McDaniel.

The Seahawks were noticeably cautious this offseason when it came to bringing in new faces to the championship mix. They did try to sell veteran DE Jared Allen on signing for a discount in exchange for a Super Bowl, but Allen would rather take his chances going with a more financially secure future than a better shot at a Super Bowl.

Their biggest moves were re-signing key contributors from their current roster. After all, when you have a good thing going, this is often the best strategy for sustained success.

The 49ers, on the other hand, parted ways with every starter in their secondary, with the exception of rookie standout, safety Eric Reid. If troubled CB Chris Culliver plays a down next year in a 49ers uniform after being charged with a “felony and two misdemeanors” for a hit-and-run, per USA Today, it would be a huge surprise.

All-Pro middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman will also miss at least half of the 2014 season, as he continues to battle back from a gruesome knee injury sustained in the fourth quarter of the championship game against the Seahawks.

As for what the Patriots and the Broncos did this offseason, you can see the desperation to win a Super Bowl as soon as possible in these teams based on their willingness to sacrifice the future.

Both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are clearly running out of time to add one last ring before riding off into the sunset.

Steven Senne

This is almost certainly the last year for Manning, and John Elway knows it. The Tom Brady era in New England is entering its final chapters as well, and each of these teams have treated their offseason accordingly.

Seattle, on the other hand, is still building for the long haul. This means acquiring its talent predominately through the draft.

And drafting well is what Seattle does best.

Mark J. Terrill

Carroll figured out just how valuable it is to surround your organization with talented players while building one of the most successful collegiate dynasties in the nation while at USC.

When Carroll first signed on with the Seahawks, he expressed his intent to utilize the same method which yielded historical success in Southern California.  

The first step in building a winner is identifying talent. 

My former defensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders, Rob Ryan, use to always say, "Great players make coaches look smart."

There’s no question USC was always one of the most talented rosters year in and year out, producing 15 first-round draft picks over an eight-year period. By contrast, USC has only produced three first-round selections over the last four years.

Marqise Lee is the only 2014 prospect for the Trojans in consideration for a first-round selection. If Lee should fall out of the first round, that would make it three first-round selections over a five-year, post-Carroll era.

Carroll’s first draft as a member of the Seahawks yielded five players who had starting-caliber contributions to last year’s Super Bowl squad.

Russell Okung started at left guard and played well, Earl Thomas was a candidate for league MVP, Tate led the team in receptions in 2013, Walter Thurmond started on a defense that shut down the most prolific offense in NFL history (Broncos) and Kam Chancellor set the tone of the Super Bowl with a memorable hit in the opening minutes of the game.

In Carroll's next draft, he claimed one of the most talented CBs in the NFL, Richard Sherman, snagging him up in the fifth round no less. He also drafted another Super Bowl contributor who made big plays throughout the playoffs, Byron Maxwell, followed by the Super MVP, LB Malcolm Smith, in the seventh round.

Key Contributors Drafted in the Carroll Era
Year Round Name Position
2010 1 Russell Okung OT
2010 1 Earl Thomas S
2010 2 Golden Tate WR
2010 4 Walter Thurmond CB
2010 5 Kam Chancellor S
2011 4 K.J. Wright LB
2011 5 Richard Sherman CB
2011 6 Byron Maxwell CB
2011 7 Malcolm Smith LB
2012 1 Bruce irvin LB
2012 2 Bobby Wagner LB
2012 3 Russell Wilson QB
2012 4 Robert Turbin RB
2013 2 Christine Michael RB
2013 5 Luke Willson TE
2013 7 Michael Bowie OT

NFL.com

But just when you think the Seahawks can’t get any better, they go into the next draft and find their franchise quarterback and an elite middle linebacker all after the first round.

Carroll has repeatedly identified his draft strategy as focusing on guys the Seahawks identify as competitors. When you watch his defenses play, that’s absolutely what you see as a collective unit.

Interesting note, as dominant as that defense is, only two of the 11 starters listed by Ourlads.com are former first-round draft picks.

Clearly, Carroll and his personnel department are on the right track in terms of finding talent in the later portions of the draft. The benefit of finding affordable talent consistently means they can sustain success for long periods of time.

Evidence of this strategy paying dividends can be seen in their salary cap situation. Despite winning the Super Bowl last season, Seattle is ranked ninth in the league in available cap space, per Spotrac. It’s not easy being considered one of the deepest teams in the NFL in terms of talent yet have more cap space than over two-thirds of the league at the same time.

Teams with the Most Cap Space Heading into 2014
Team Cap Space
Cleveland Browns $40,115,644
New York Jets $33,039,306
Jacksonville Jaguars $30,007,200
Cincinnati Bengals $25,905,919
Pittsburgh Steelers $23,440,937
Philadelphia Eagles $19,976,024
Tennessee Titans $19,258,953
Indianapolis Colts $16,574,374
Seattle Seahawks $16,358,827

Spotrac

So when we talk about the rest of the league catching up, it seems like this race is going to be a marathon rather than a sprint. If you want to leapfrog the Seahawks for a year, maybe two, you can sacrifice longevity by overpaying for immediate upgrades.

Keep in mind, however, having excess cap space is not intended to win games all on itself. The point is to allow for the ability to financially compete for players you really want to build the team around. This can be either a free-agent signing such as Percy Harvin or the inevitable contract extension to a guy such as All-Pro CB Richard Sherman, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract.

One thought that should have the rest of the NFL worried is, their promising quarterback, Russell Wilson, is only in the second year of his career and is showing all the signs of a guy who will continue to learn and improve the cognitive aspects of his game for years to come.

Wilson has been a dangerous force with both his arm and his legs. He finished third overall in touchdown-per-throw percentage via Pro-Football-Reference.com, behind only Nick Foles and Peyton Manning.

He was also a member of an elite club of just seven QBs to attempt at least 100 passes and have a passer rating over 100.

To the surprise of many experts, Wilson has been making a strong case as perhaps the best quarterback of a great 2012 class.

Who is the best team heading into the 2014 season?

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It’s hard to find a team in the NFL that currently has a more promising trajectory over the next five years than the Seattle Seahawks. Even if the Broncos or the Patriots manage to take the next Super Bowl, Seattle will still be in title contention, as those teams suffer from dead weight generated by inflated contracts.

It is possible that New England is able to sustain success after Brady, but chances are this team will require at least a few years of retooling its roster before climbing the ranks again.  

If Seattle can use the draft to add another receiving weapon on offense and some depth upfront, this team has the potential to be unstoppable. With the success it had in past drafts, it’s no stretch to assume history will repeat itself yet again.

 

Ryan Riddle is a Former NFL player and writes for Bleacher Report. 

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