Seattle's Not Going Away
There may be no NFL team better positioned for sustained success right now than the Seahawks. Not only have they reached the Super Bowl, but with a powerful home-field advantage; a young, deep and talented roster; management and coaching driven to succeed; and one of the country’s richest men writing the checks, they are primed for short- and long-term achievement. Let’s take a look at a few of the driving forces fueling the journey.
The general manager
Full disclosure: I worked with John Schneider in Green Bay for more than six years and we remain friends. Away from the game, he is an engaging and funny guy, as well as a solid family man. In his football element, John is driven; I have met few people in football or any other business more determined to succeed. He is relentless in his search for talent; he will look anywhere and everywhere to make the team better and takes great professional pride in the scouting process.
John brings a strong skill-set gleaned from many years of experience despite remaining relatively young at age 42. He had two stints in Green Bay, a previous position in Seattle, a few years in Kansas City and a year in Washington. He certainly subscribes to the "draft and develop" approach honed in Green Bay and appreciates the valuable currency that draft picks represent in the modern NFL. However, John’s philosophy does not restrict talent acquisition to the draft; he will aggressively venture into free agency and trades to pursue a particular talent. He can even become fixated on certain players, as I sense happened with Percy Harvin this past offseason.
A week into the 2006 free agent period we took notice that the Raiders’ Charles Woodson, a potentially elite player, was still unsigned. We debated entering a negotiation, with me asking my usual red flag question concerning lack of interest from the incumbent team: "If the Raiders, who know him best, don’t want him back, then why should we want him?" Additionally, chasing a player like Woodson was not in our DNA.
John, however, pressed the issue: Woodson was available and could help us; everything else was secondary. After a month of difficult negotiations—Woodson was ambivalent about joining the Packers even though we were offering significantly more than any other team—we finally reached an agreement. John spearheaded the effort to acquire Woodson, who went on to become Defensive Player of the Year for the Packers and was one of the truly impactful free-agent signings in NFL history.
The next year, during the run-up to the 2007 draft, John (along with Aaron Rodgers) championed the cause for Cal running back Marshawn Lynch. While Lynch presented off-field concerns for some within the organization, John stood on the table for him. And when the Bills took Lynch four picks ahead of us in the draft, there was an audible groan and a few curse words from John. Of course, it was no surprise that John, once in Seattle, traded for Lynch and subsequently extended his contract.
Finally, John is a strong believer in constant roster turnover. There is no NFL team that "churns" more players—through tryouts, workouts, bottom-of-roster additions/deletions, etc.—than the Seahawks. As to the tension and lack of security this constant roster churn creates among players at the lower end of the roster, agents and players dealing with the Seahawks know that this is how they operate in their quest for the deepest roster possible.
More full disclosure: I admit to initial negative bias toward Carroll as a former agent and good friend of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who was told by Carroll in 2011 that the Seahawks were "moving in a different direction." Matt moved past that, however, so I have as well.
Carroll and Schneider are in sync with their prolific "roster churn" and understand their roles: Schneider brings the players in and Carroll coaches them.
The one constant I hear about Carroll is that players love playing for him. True, we hear that said a lot to the point of being a cliché, but when it is said about Carroll it always seems that players say more than they need to. Why? Yes, it is the loose, collegiate atmosphere; but the major reason I always hear is this: "He’s got our backs." Carroll will rarely, if ever, call out a player; he understands they are the lifelines to his success. Carroll will always cover for a player’s mistake. There are few better compliments about a coach.
To that point, Carroll (and Schneider) has greater tolerance for players with "issues" than most. Every team has a different character/talent risk equation; the Seahawks clearly allow for greater risk on the character side. They have brought in players with pasts that include substance issues, arrests and reputations for high maintenance (even Terrell Owens was in training camp last year). Players tend to assimilate easily into the loose culture in Seattle, and they are not muzzled by the coaching staff when they arrive, as they would be under many NFL coaches.
Again, with Schneider and Carroll, it’s all about the talent.
Speaking of the talent/character equation, Russell Wilson has an abundance of each: he has an uncanny ability to do the right thing on the field and say the right thing off it. And his value continues to skyrocket.
From a Moneyball "bang for the buck" perspective, Wilson is the most valuable player in the NFL. His third-round earnings—$2.2 million over four years, $526,000 this year—represent rounding errors compared to other premium-level quarterbacks, including this week’s counterpart, Peyton Manning, making $20 million this year and next.
There is no greater value from a management perspective: having the team’s franchise player at a fixed (read: cheap) rate for at least one more season allows for that treasured roster flexibility. It is no coincidence the Seahawks were active this past offseason, supplementing an already flush roster with additional talents such as Percy Harvin, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and more. Wilson's value, from a financial and team-building perspective, cannot be overstated.
Yes, as many ask, Wilson's compensation will obviously ramp up dramatically at some point, but if we are talking about it, the Seahawks are planning for it. Moreover, that time is not near. With two years completed on a four-year rookie contract, the CBA mandates that a renegotiation to provide compensation more commensurate with his value cannot happen until, at the earliest, one year from now. Wilson will play the 2014 season at the relatively minimal cost of $662,000, while Manning, for example, will make $588,000 each week next season. As he was in 2013, Wilson will likely be the most undervalued player in the NFL in 2014.
Lost amidst the sociological dialogue involving Richard Sherman is the fact he has become a rare and treasured commodity in the NFL—a shutdown cornerback. With that comes value; Sherman is soon to enjoy tremendous wealth to match his growing fame.
Sherman joined the NFL in the class of 2011, the first class of rookies signed under the new CBA. Like Wilson, he had to sign a four-year contract. Unlike Wilson, he’s now past the three-year prohibition on renegotiations. And with the Seahawks certainly planning a major investment in Wilson in 2015, the time is ripe to secure Sherman. If and when that decision is made, negotiations will ensue debating comparables of top cornerback contracts such as those of Darrelle Revis, negotiated upon a trade, and recent top-of-market free agent contracts for Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan.
Sherman has less leverage than those players, as he is under contract for $1.4 million next season; the others were either at the end of their deals or had the leverage of a trade. Regardless, my strong sense is that Sherman will never see the last year of his rookie contract, as a glittery new one (complete with a large bonus) will replace it and give him long-term financial security. And that will be something to truly boast about.
The Seahawks are well positioned today, next season and into the future. We may be talking about this team in January for years to come, as they are poised for what every organization strives for: sustained success.