As I sat on the edge of my couch anxiously awaiting the Seahawks’ first-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, my mind raced over every possible scenario I’d envisioned over the last 12 months.
I’m not a newbie when it comes to “The Seahawks Way” of drafting. After years of disappointment on draft day, I knew whatever name commissioner Roger Goodell was going to announce would leave my stomach in knots.
Sure enough, it did.
With the 27th pick, the Seahawks selected linebacker Jordyn Brooks out of Texas Tech.
It surprised no one and yet everyone at the same time. Seattle did exactly what it always does: pick an obscure player that defied media and analyst projections. The choice, criticized right away, wasn’t only considered a prototypical reach but also provided exceptionally weak positional value for a first-round draft choice.
Seattle’s draft picks are often chalked up to, “It’s just how coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have always been,” or “we’re playing chess and the rest of the league is playing checkers.”
For years, those predictable lines worked to reassure confused, upset fans. But with a decade of missed opportunities starting to pile up, it’s time to see through these cliches and finally call this regime into question.
Brooks represents another unnecessary and unusual selection, who may very well turn into a fantastic player, but the startling acquisition provides the perfect opportunity to ponder whether or not this current staff is doing its best job to maximize quarterback Russell Wilson’s Super Bowl window.
(Hint: It’s not)
There’s no denying the Seahawks have had unprecedented success under Carroll and Schneider’s tenure. They have established an exceptional locker room culture, bet big on unorthodox players and provided a level of security and comfort that is unmatched across the league — besides maybe in New England, but there, players are often replaced at a much quicker pace. As poorly as things have been managed recently, it’s important to analyze all tendencies and trends since 2010, when the two took over.
History and Success
Before Carroll and Schneider rolled into town, Seattle was a mediocre, forgotten team that had just piled up consecutive 10-plus loss seasons. After a one-and-done season with coach Jim Mora, the Seahawks were in desperate need of an overhaul in almost every way possible. Enter Carroll.
He was coming over from the college ranks at USC to ignite a stagnant franchise. Despite being roughly 60 years old, he was as youthful as any coach the NFL had ever seen. Carroll used college recruiting tactics to bond with players and established a fun, exciting culture.
Schneider, Green Bay's director of football operations at the time, came in with Carroll. His aggressive front office tendencies meshed well with Carroll’s brash and energetic style. The duo set a record 284 roster transactions over their first offseason together. They cleaned house and operated to the beat of their own drum; they reinvented the organization and won a Super Bowl four years later, a miraculous turnaround for a franchise that had seemed so stale just a few seasons prior.
Seattle, led by a historic defense and smashmouth run game, became the team to emulate, whether it be by acquiring cornerbacks with long arms, drafting mobile quarterbacks or finding linebacker/safety hybrids. Carroll had a deep defensive background and began developing raw, unrefined defensive backs. Seattle’s defense was No. 1 in points allowed for four consecutive seasons. Although much of that success was tied to Carroll’s scheme, even more of it was tied to the innovative players Schneider acquired. The Seahawks’ defense, at one point, boasted arguably four Hall of Fame players — linebacker Bobby Wagner, who is still with the team, cornerback Richard Sherman and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor — and the Legion of Boom became not only an iconic nickname but also a dominant and historic unit.
Carroll instilled an always-compete mentality, and it’s this same approach that's allowed the Seahawks to have so much success over the past decade.
They don’t care about contracts or draft position; this philosophy gave unheralded players like running back Chris Carson, cornerback Brandon Browner and even Sherman the chance to immediately contribute. The Seahawks fully embraced their misfit status.
Star wide receiver Doug Baldwin, an undrafted free agent from the 2011 class, is the most perfect example of Seattle’s willingness to give underdogs a chance. Baldwin competed for a starting role right away and earned legitimate reps to lead the team as a rookie.
This startling lack of favoritism reached its climax in 2012, when Wilson, a third-round rookie, won the starting quarterback job. Matt Flynn seemed to be “the guy” after penning a huge contract, but Wilson vastly outplayed him in the preseason. Carroll and Schneider forgot about the politics behind Flynn’s $26 million deal, with $10 million guaranteed, and went with the best player: Wilson.
Schneider has done an incredible job staying aggressive and tenacious in his approach to acquire veterans for cheap and part with picks for proven, productive players. He’s pulled off heists to nab stars like defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, running back Marshawn Lynch, offensive tackle Duane Brown and cornerback Quandre Diggs; Schneider’s negotiation abilities have been largely successful, setting him and the Seahawks apart from a typical NFL front office.
Of course, teams can’t hit on every trade, and Seattle has had its fair share of high-profile whiffs to disprove that theory. Offensive talent in Percy Harvin and Jimmy Graham, and to a lesser extent defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, were busts; and there have been several times throughout the decade where you look back and say, “What was Schneider thinking?” Aggressive tendencies are bound to backfire at some point though, and Schneider’s hits are still much more prevalent than his misses.
Drafting is a whole other story, but trades have proven to be a huge plus for this organization.
The type of winning pedigree Carroll and Schneir possess isn’t just something that grows on trees. Both would undoubtedly be snatched off the market in record time if they were to be let go, and that’s something that has to be accounted for.
A lot went right for Seattle last decade; that’s in the past tense for a reason.
Whether it be draft misses, an unwillingness to adapt schematically or a failing identity, the Seahawks have struggled in some major ways. Wilson’s brilliance has hidden ineptitude, but make no mistake, it’s there.
The Seahawks are constantly trying to outthink the other 31 front offices and have had extreme success with bold and brash selections early on in the Schneider/Carroll era. The two have promptly stuck with that strategy since. Over the last few years, they’ve proved that same overcomplicated, reach-driven strategy largely unsuccessful, displaying that sometimes it’s better to just take the simple approach. Although trying to pull one over on the rest of the football world worked at every turn early on, it simply isn’t a sustainable approach.
Aside from Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf, Seattle has struck out on the majority of Day 1 and 2 selections, all of whom were profiled as reaches by analysts. We certainly know the media isn’t perfect, but after looking like complete fools early on, they’ve done as good a job, if not better, than Seattle in recent years.
It’s these same drafting struggles, coupled with outdated coaching tactics, that make difficult conversations about Seattle’s organization not only valid but extremely necessary.
Establishing the Run
Seattle is stuck in an early 2000’s ground-and-pound approach and has treated its star QB, Wilson, with kid gloves, which has led to several preventable issues. From poor starts to extremely difficult third-and-long situations, Carroll’s insistence on a run-first identity has limited Wilson’s attempts and subsequent success drastically.
Yes, Wilson’s been granted an increasing amount of freedom in every season since his rookie year, but it’s still not enough; 33 passes a game seems like a great number on the surface, but it’s the context of that volume that represents the true problem. Wilson racks up his yards and touchdowns, but only after their establish-the-run approach has left them in an unfavorable position.
The Seahawks have a Hall of Fame passer in his prime and are wasting him on a run-first team. Wilson is constantly asked to pull magic out of his hat. When he’s trailing by 10-plus points, he deserves better than what he currently has.
It may sound hyperbolic, but there’s no reason Wilson can’t put up 50-plus touchdowns with the right coach and philosophy in place. Allow him to pass early and often and life will be easier on everyone; after all, there was a drive against Cleveland last season where Wilson’s headset wasn’t working and he had to call the play himself and it led to a 58-yard scoring drive.
Old Tactics, Indecision
As good as the Legion of Boom was, times have changed. The problem is Seattle’s defense hasn’t.
Without the same roster that built that ferocious defense, the Seahawks are a drastically different unit; one that is very porous when examining it with a close lens. Not only is the personnel weaker, which is to be expected, but the scheme is extremely outdated and has been proven as such, especially against creative division rivals like the 49ers and Rams.
Seattle has continued to run a base defense formation a ridiculous amount of the time and played three linebackers more than any other team in the league — a strategy that previously worked. The Seahawks ranked 26th in yards allowed last season and failed to make any sort of necessary adjustments during games. They allowed sub-par quarterbacks like Andy Dalton and Matt Schaub carve through them in effortless fashion.
Unlike the defense, in-game decisions have never been something that Carroll was good at. Throughout his entire tenure, he’s struggled with challenges, fourth-down calls and timeout usage. Carroll has failed to trust Wilson on fourth-and-short calls, and his inability to press on offense until it’s an absolute necessity is mind-numbingly frustrating, as is his startling amount of faith in a mediocre defensive unit.
If both his patented base defense and questionable in-game decisions aren’t working, what good does Carroll actually serve?
The concepts discussed here are eerily similar to the bad ones; they’re just worse.
The Seahawks have always had a slow-starting team; their calm and methodical approach often put them into tricky situations. Their ground and pounds insistence only accentuate pass protection problems on obvious third-and-long passing downs; long conversions represent obvious opportunities for rushers, and Wilson has trouble finding time in the pocket early in games as a result. The frustrating part is that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is quite good at designing play-action and deep-passing concepts — he just doesn’t do it enough.
The blame for these putrid starts falls on Carroll’s shoulders. He needs this team ready from the initial snap, not waking up halfway through the second quarter. Seattle always finds a miraculous way to keep games close — the Seahawks played in 12 games last season that were within a single score — and yes, finishing is what matters, but every slow start represents a failed chance.
The Seahawks have never quite literally played a normal football game during the Schneider/Carroll era, but those missed opportunities add up.
Wilson’s brilliance is hiding the deep-rooted problems on the surface, but he’s trapped in a wild-card and divisional round cycle that may never be broken. Carroll and Schneider are unlikely to be fired as long as 10-win seasons keep coming, which they will, but being one of the last eight teams remaining, especially with a Hall of Fame quarterback at the helm, shouldn’t ever be considered a successful season.
The goal is to win a Super Bowl, and if recent trends are any indication, the Seahawks — with their outdated coaching and dysfunctional drafting — are stuck in a deceiving type of purgatory that will forever keep them from reaching that elite status.
Carroll and Schneider deserve all the credit in the world for reinventing this franchise, but all good things must come to an end. As hard as it is to type, Seattle needs an organizational overhaul for Wilson and this team to reach their true potential.
Much like how the coaching staff has made things needlessly hard for Wilson on the field, the front office has done the same when it comes to draft choices. Finding gems in the later rounds and acquiring quality veterans for cheap is great, but consistent misses in the first round have made these savvy moves a necessity rather than a luxury. No team can continue to waste these high-powered assets and function to the best of its abilities, even with Schneider orchestrating smart trades down the order in the process.
Throughout the Schnieder and Carroll regime, the only first-round picks that can legitimately be considered successful are offensive tackle Russell Okung (sixth overall), Thomas (14th overall) and linebacker Bruce Irvin (15th overall); Okung and Thomas were selected in the 2010 and Irvin in 2012. Even when accounting for the inevitably poor picks that will spawn from a decade of drafting, that's not exactly stellar.
When late-round selections end up as normal Day 3 players, as has been the case in recent years), it leaves the organization heavily reliant on Wilson to mask the inefficient roster. Pretending Metcalf was taken 29th overall last year instead of defensive end L.J. Collier is terrific in a perfect world, but mind tricks like that just can't be considered sustainable over the long term. Prized assets have been mismanaged during the Schneider/Carroll era and it’s more than okay to admit that.
While taking chances on unorthodox prospects was one of the biggest factors in Seattle’s 2013 Super Bowl run, the ridiculous hit-rates from those early drafts have, predictably, not been sustained. The cracks have begun to show even with Wilson almost single-handedly keeping the boat afloat. Cornerback Shaquill Griffin, Lockett and Metcalf have proved promising but shouldn't be considered good enough just to dismiss all these blown draft choices and wasted picks that have occurred in the process.
Coaching is often pointed to as the main culprit holding Wilson and this team back, but the front office is just as guilty using that very same logic. Strong personnel helps cover up poor coaching, but strong coaching can also hide poor personnel. Right now, aside from a few promising players keeping the wolves at bay, Seattle has neither.
- Aug 19, 2022
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