The Seahawks head into an uncertain off-season with 25 players from the 2010 roster prepared to become free agents.
Unfortunately, a March 4th lockout is looming; Free Agency can’t start without a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. All 32 teams are in the same position, same limitations towards upgrading their roster.
With nearly half the roster unaccounted for, many questions exist. Can the Seahawks maintain the momentum of their late season run and historic playoff victory?
Despite uncertainty, the ‘Hawks have a sound plan in place. Head Coach and Executive VP of Football Operations Pete Carroll has re-tooled the coaching staff, aiming to improve player understanding of the scheme by hiring better facilitators, coaches, of the Seahawks’ philosophy.
General Manager John Schneider orchestrated 284 roster transactions in year one of the new regime in Seattle and changed nearly half the 53 man roster by opening Sunday 2010; an organization that thought of itself as unrefined and inexperienced, one that struggled with continuity and consistency in 2010, achieved their preseason goal of winning the division, plus one.
After tasting the possibility of a hosting a Conference Championship game, year two brings new expectations, new goals.
Schneider plans to put the Seahawks in position to improve upon the 2010 NFC West championship.
Tom Cable and Darrell Bevell take over the offensive coaching duties as Assistant Head/Offensive Line Coach and Offensive Coordinator respectively, a disciplined and knowledgeable combination that brings a balance of structure and attitude; A “West Coast Offense” passing attack, coupled with a tenacious “zone blocking” run game, will bring an improved, run based offense for the 2011 Seahawks. Carl Smith is likely to be named Quarterback Coach; he worked with Carroll in New England and coached Matt Leinart during his Heisman season.
New Defensive Line Coach Todd Wash and Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley’s working, football relationship dates back to the 1988 North Dakota State University DII Championship team as defensive starters. Wash’s hiring should bring continuity, including a more versatile pressure scheme, for the front seven; the soft nature of Bradley’s scheme remains in question to many Seahawks pundits. The Seahawks had trouble blitzing with Linebackers in the 2010 season; Linebacker Coach Ken Norton Jr. remains an asset in furthering the progression of a talented group, but Wash’s experience as a player and collegiate coordinator should help facilitate the defensive principles. The Seahawks need to become stouter on the line of scrimmage and keep plays in front of the front seven, taking some pressure of a questionable Secondary.
Questions exist in the Secondary. Jerry Gray left for the University of Texas, and is now the Defensive Coordinator with the Titans. Promoted Secondary coach Kris Richard has ties to USC, where he was a star player and Graduate Assistant after his NFL career; Pete Carroll scouted him to be a future coach when they parted ways in 2001. However, with Assistant Rocky Seto losing his offer to coach UCLA’s defense, the continuity among the coaching staff is in question. Former Texans assistant Robert Saleh comes in with scheme experience as the Quality Control Coach. Ultimately, Richard’s ability to improve a young secondary that struggled in 2010 remains a concern and his close ties with Carroll will put Carroll’s scheme under scrutiny if the unit continues to struggle.
The Packers Super Bowl victory provides unexpected insight into the future of the Seattle Seahawks.
Schneider won a Super Bowl in his first season as personnel evaluator with the Packers and Mike Holmgren in 1996; his list of mentors further includes Super Bowl winning GMs Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson and Coaches Jon Gruden, Andy Reid and Marty Schottenheimer. Schneider’s football education has been taught by an elite group.
He came back to the Packers and played a meaningful role in assembling the Super Bowl team; he spent 2002-2008 as a top Personnel assistant and left in 2009 under the title of Director of Football Operations.
The organization created a young core of players that play with passion; found players that fit the organization's culture.
They re-tooled the defense into an aggressive, 3-4 scheme and encountered a major transition from Favre to Aaron Rodgers and a spread offense. Note the hire of veteran coach Dom Capers as Defensive Coordinator was vital for that organization. The importance of tough minded mentality and “fit” were key principles.
Schneider uses Charles Woodson as an exception to the “fit” rule, an exceptional player that needed coaxing to fit into the organization, but eventually did. A complex puzzle, scheme and personnel wise, was put together quickly.
This Packers team is a group of “high character guys who stepped up;” Receiver James Jones after the Super Bowl, “we stayed together as a family and kept believing.”
The mantra sounds familiar; the 2010 Seahawks became a group of players that believe in one another; Those players understand that "buying in" is a crucial element of the program. Character is a must.
John Schneider is on the short list of NFL executives I want building the Seahawks going into 2011.
His plan consists of an in-depth, nationwide scouting operation of NCAA players available in the draft, continual signing of young, free agent talent to future contracts and re-signing of 2010 Seahawks is the focus of the plan. No trades or signing of players that finished the season under contract with other organizations is allowed until the new CBA is in place (Note: players released after the 2010 season can sign with a new team until March 3); that could mean limited or no draft day trading, a specialty for Schneider. Compensatory picks, additional picks awarded for Free Agents lost, are in question.
Having a continual pulse on the roster, a persistent understanding of who will fit, is of uninterrupted importance. The Seahawks didn’t make any big moves early in 2010 Free Agency, instead focusing on building depth.
Schneider aims to be diligent, bold and prepared to the fullest extent in finding new talent in this uncertain time. If a new CBA is agreed upon, Schneider will surely take his “no stone unturned” approach to sifting the Free Agent pool. He is willing to be more aggressive than his recent mentor Thompson in Free Agent acquisitions. Until then, Schneider will focus on preparing to the fullest extent for draft day and the signing of undrafted players afterwards.
The Seahawks understand they must focus on building; “we need to be diligent and come together from within.” Developing players that are readily available to the program will be the main focus of Schneider's off-season work.
Displayed by the 284 roster moves through year one, players who have been associated with this program recognize its competition driven.
The organization was able to keep free agents competing for spots, Chester Pitts early in the season and later Ruvell Martin, developing a group of “street” players who are willing to, at the least, raise the competition level and “buy in” to the culture; competition breeds progress.
Luckily for this organization, most of those not under contract into 2011 want to keep their roster spot.
1. My 10 Seahawks that must be re-signed, in order: Matt Hasselbeck, Leon Washington, Will Herring, Raheem Brock, Olindo Mare, Brandon Stokley, Brandon Mebane, Chris Spencer, Roy Lewis, Tyler Polumbus.
2. On the bubble, in order: Michael Robinson, Craig Terrill, Ruvell Martin, Jordan Babineaux, Junior Siavii, Kennard Cox.
3. Carroll plans to be “as man to man” with Lawyer Milloy as possible about his 2011 role. “It’s a tough situation;” enough said. If he comes back it should be as a special teamer and backup Safety. His leadership in 2010 was paramount.
4. The contracts of Lofa Tatupu and Marcus Trufant need to be restructured; Trufant earned $8.7 Million in 2010 with his roster bonus, with approximately $14 million and two years left. Injuries and penalties are the story of his past two seasons. Tatupu had surgery on both knees this offseason after a strained 2010, and his salary is questionable at $4.35 million for 2011.
5. I believe the Seahawks are 4 to 6 starters, 8-10 players total, from being a legitimate contender in the NFC; Both Lines, the Secondary and possibly skill (RB, FB, WR, TE) positions will undergo substantial changes; less likely, Middle Linebacker and Quarterback could undergo transition as well.
6. The Seahawks lost legitimate talent to injury in 2010: Red Bryant and Max Unger should represent two of those starters, if healthy. Junior Siavii and Roy Lewis were also significant losses for the 2010 roster. Keep an eye on 2010 late round pick Jameson Konz, FB/TE, placed on IR before last season and practice squad Corner Josh Pinkard.
7. Aaron Curry and John Carlson are two Seahawks that are at a crossroads with this organization; both have performed below expectations, Curry being the bigger bust. The staff has spoken faith in both players: Carlson should improve, if kept, in 2011; Curry’s motor and work ethic are admirable, but he needs to perform on Sunday.
With the draft nearly three months away and Free Agency a question mark, there is plenty of time to evaluate possible talent for 2011. The NFL Combine in late February represents the true start of pre-draft season and will begin to bring better clarity to the value of 2011 draftees. Five initial thoughts on potential additions for the 2011 roster, via draft and eventual free agency:
1. I am not currently sold on Kevin Kolb, or his lofty price tag, and am opposed to trading for Carson Palmer; The Seahawks need to turn towards the draft. Aaron Rodgers is the only Quarterback Schneider, with his superiors, have taken in the 1st round during his 17 years as an NFL personnel evaluator and executive; note for April's draft. Going into the combine, I like former TCU stud Andy Dalton: 42-8 in four years as a starter, 25-1 the past two seasons, he showed a steady improvement in completion percentage and passer rating during his collegiate career. He is accurate and has a high Football IQ. His value will fluctuate, but he could be available in the 2nd or 3rd round; I expect the Seahawks to “work” the draft and not reach for a Quarterback, even if that means moving down in round 1 for the sake of value.
2. The Seahawks need to add a powerful blocker in the backfield. Stanford Fullback Owen Marecic, 6’0 and 246 pounds, was a two way player at Stanford; his versatility, toughness and IQ make him a great fit. Arkansas TE D.J. Williams, 6’2 and 236 pounds, is team first, talented player that projects as a versatile NFL Fullback, possibly “H-Back.” I expect the Seahawks to address this need in the middle rounds.
3. If the Seahawks are to invest in a premiere Free Agent, especially on defense, I would target two players: Raiders Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is on the top of most team’s Free Agent lists, but his services will come at a price of $12-15 million a year; his addition would give the Seahawks versatility in creating aggressive blitz packages, as he can lockdown an area of the field. The other, can’t miss option is Ravens dominant and versatile Defensive Tackle Haloti Ngata; at 6’4, 350 pounds he would create a fearsome tandem with Red Bryant and give the Seahawks great scheme versatility.
4. Free Agents on my secondary list: Falcons Offensive Lineman Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo, Chargers Receiver Malcolm Floyd and Fullback Mike Tolbert, Panthers Linebacker James Anderson.
5. Based on team needs and Schneider’s draft history, possible Seahawks’ draft strategies: A focus on the Offensive Line in the first 45 picks and after round 4; a Defensive Back in rounds 1-3; Defensive lineman in rounds 1, 3 or 6; Schneider teams have taken two Quarterbacks in rounds 1-3 during his personnel career; a Middle Linebacker, downfield Receiver or Running back taken in the first three rounds is my prediction as the surprise Seahawks pick early in this draft. I will be disappointed if a strong, one cut, downhill runner is not taken in the late rounds. Players I’m currently focused on: NT Phil Taylor, WR’s Tandon Doss and Vincent Brown, DE J.J. Watt, OL Mike Pouncey, G Danny Watkins, LB Mason Foster, DB Rahim Moore, CB Jimmy Smith, Wisconsin teammates OT Gabe Carimi and OL John Moffitt, RB’s Bilal Powell, Delone Carter and Kendall Hunter.
I want to share two quotes I heard during Super Bowl pre-game coverage on ESPN, in regards to building a championship program:
Hall of Fame Quarterback Steve Young on team mentality: “teams need to develop something that can be held on to, year by year, where players can show up and continue to master the program.”
Super Bowl winning Head Coach Sean Peyton on what it takes to be a championship organization: “an organization must have a sound relationship between Head Coach and GM in terms of personnel, character and defined directions the team wants to go. When you have that, you have a dangerous program. You must have patience, ignore the white noise and stick to the plan.”
The new Seahawks regime displays both of those Championship qualities. Yes, a delayed labor situation will bring uncertainty to the roster turnover; do not expect as many transactions as last offseason. One thing is for sure; Carroll and Schneider will not let the labor situation hinder their ability to keep the “program” mentality running strong.
I remember reading a description of the mood of last year’s Seahawks draft room, particularly the relationship of Carroll and Schneider, being described as “one was on the other’s shoulders, running around the room.” The level of enthusiasm and diligence towards improving was uncanny.
Carroll simply stated in the 2010 post season presser "we’re going to work as hard as we can and not settle until it’s as good as we want it.”
The Seahawks intend to raise the ceiling this off-season, focused on elevating the program to an altitude where an NFL championship is on the horizon.