A great deal of time and effort goes into feeding the insatiable fan interest in the NFL Drafts that WILL BE, prior to draft night. An equal amount of effort goes into dissecting the draft that WAS, following the draft’s conclusion. But what of the draft that WASN’T?
The most intriguing elements of the draft, to me, are not limited to mock drafts and player career projections. The more interesting insights are those of strategy and personality. What makes these franchises who they are, and how do they perpetuate their team culture through the draft? If only we could be flies on the wall of any draft “war room” (oh, pardon me Mr. Schneider…), get a snapshot of the actual team boards or hear the phone conversations and continual haggling that goes on during the draft? Oh what a story THAT would be. Therein lies the stuff of legend, that Kevin Costner could only dream of scratching the surface on. Therein lies, The Draft That Wasn’t!
It’s impossible to know all the machinations of these teams and the subsequent jockeying that goes on within the draft, but what we DO know is that action is continual throughout all 3 days. The impression we have of teams sitting patiently by as they wait their turn to simply take the best player available, is a 2-dimensional vision in monochromatic blah, concocted by the dogma of ignorance, and bred from a boring universe in which none of us actually live. So without delving too far into the realms of supposition and fantasy, let’s take a look at what we can infer from the comments and history of Pete Carroll & John Schneider regarding their draft efforts, up to and including the 2016 NFL Draft.
The Wizard of Blahs! Pulling Back The Wizard’s Curtain
One thing is for certain. Pete & John are cool customers when it comes to giving the public a glimpse into their decision-making process and its results. It’s never been their custom to work in ‘what-ifs’ or publicly share strategy of any kind. They play it real close to the vest in the lead-up to the Draft. They will never let-on that the guy they got wasn’t the guy they wanted, while gleefully telling his story of promise and unique value to the team. But, as in past years, you can NEVER put Pete & John on their pick prior to the draft (see Irvin, P-Rich, C-Mike etc.). So how was it in the 2016 that we all saw Ifedi coming from a miiiiiile away? Was this a major failure on their part, to effectively hide their intentions as they have in every previous draft in the Pete Carroll Era? No. It was the end result of a process that simply didn’t fall the way they intended, and they put a happy face on a pick that appears to check all the boxes on an NFL.com mock draft piece.
If I could sum-up fan and industry reaction as Goodell shared the Seahawks selection of Germain Ifedi with the 31st and final pick of the night, in the 2016 NFL Draft, it would be a resounding, “Blahhh….” But how? How did we all collectively get from a burning desire for the Seahawks to address the perceived offensive line failures, to “BLAAAaaah”?
In digesting the past 4 months of social media and the reactions of fans to Pete & John in public appearances, you’d think 12s would be dancing in the streets, throwing Mardi Gras beads at drunken co-eds and naming their damn children after Germain Ifedi! But instead? We were left wondering. United in that singular moment of underachievement, pondering what MIGHT have been. If Seahawks Twitter is to be believed, you literally had guys throwing their lap tops across the room and kicking their dogs, because Pete & John took the best offensive tackle prospect available to them in the draft at that moment? It all just made waaay too much sense to be authentic or intentional by the most creative and mysterious drafting team of this decade. Where was the hallmark drama? Where was the surprise factor? Where was the quintessential mind-fuck that signifies a Pete Carroll-John Schneider early round selection? Where was the disconnect? Well, I have some working theories that I believe 12s can relate to and enjoy, as we pull back the Wizard’s curtain and explore our collective feelings and opportunities lost on NFL Draft Night – 2016.
All Best Laid Plans
“To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing”
By William Butler Yeats
Now all the truth is out,
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat,
For how can you compete,
Being honor bred, with one
Who were it proved he lies
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbors’ eyes;
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.
This bit of poetry borrowed from the literary world holds great meaning for those who would project the draft, but also be judged by the result of their efforts. Many draftniks are having their feet held to the fire this week by fans and peers alike, but more important is the way we assess the efforts of the coaches and GMs themselves. Assigning draft “grades” is another ludicrous element of the NFL sports media in it’s ongoing attempt to meaninglessly rank everything under the sun and insult the intelligence of everyone involved. It neither speaks to any sort of reliability or takes into account the intentions and efforts of teams during the draft itself. For those critical of the results, it’s only fair to temper our reactions with what well-meaning, hard-working teams TRIED to do. Let’s look at the 1st Round and what was likely happening this past Thursday night.
As discussed in my Draft Primer, Deconstructing John Schneider (see my previous post and proceed to eat my soul as an after-dinner snack), we looked at what typically goes into recent Seahawks drafts and how they prioritize needs in building their roster. Traditionally Pete & John have passed on the opportunity to address immediate needs by filling current roster holes, in favor of a long view and desire to hedge soon-to-be free agents or aging stars. But despite the availability of some top flight prospects at LB, DE & DT still on the board in Myles Jack, Kevin Dodd, Noah Spence & Jarran Reed, Pete & John employed a fall-back tactic and settled on what would initially be a project player across the OL in Germain Ifedi. I believe it lends a great deal of insight into what led to the selection of what we now know is going to be a Right Guard for the 2016 Seattle Seahawks at #31.
As pointed out elsewhere, Jack had health concerns and the 1st round ultimately appeared a tad too early to select a 2-down run stuffer in Reed or his Alabama DL partner A’Shawn Robinson. But red flags and hesitancy over “reaching” aside, any of those players would have looked appropriate to #26 as the Seahawks might’ve sought to hedge their 30-year old stars across the defensive front. The personality of the Seahawks is defensive dominance, and with Mebane gone, and Bennett & Avril in the final years of their deals expiring by 2018, this would’ve seemed the ideal moment for “Schneider-gonna-Schneid” and surprise us with a potential future centerpiece. Instead, the choice was made that, even though they are turning these prospects over to their arch-nemeses in the NFC and beyond, there was no player there at #26 that they couldn’t live without, and the ones that may have spurred them into action, were clearly now gone. They moved-back and picked-up Denver’s choice in the 3rd round, which is essentially a 4th round pick in disguise. We know how it turned-out, & the additional 3rd made their native 4th expendable, subsequently being used to move-up and secure Reed in the 2nd. By any measure, getting top candidates at OL & DL going into the 3rd round with 3 picks yet to use on Day2 could be considered a triumph. But we’re left to wonder which players they truly coveted in the 1st Round, and what efforts were made to secure one of these prospects they may NOT have been able to live without, were there the opportunity and the resources to capitalize on it.
There Will Be Blood
There are some who might suggest that there’s nothing to see here. That the Seahawks focused not so subtly on a couple players they knew they could get late in the round and were determined to move-back and acquire more picks in a deep draft from the moment they awoke on Thursday morning. To those folks, I’d invite you to go sip some Earl Grey black at The Russian Tea Room and choke to death on your fucking crumpets and jam! Because the rest of us live in a world where we enjoy the best, most aggressive Coach & GM duo in the NFL, who are tirelessly working to improve the team, leverage every resource and are fighting like HELL to keep this championship run going for as long as humanly possible. Ask Peyton Manning if he feels the Seahawks’ front office is a trade-down, best player available group. You could never tell by the way they got on Paul Allen’s red-eye express to bag and tag Manning in the wild, as to keep him from the clutches of the Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos and others. This isn’t a middling group that is EVER content with their lot in life. EVER. To think they weren’t continually exploring every option in the 1st to get difference-makers on this team, is to think that all great men simply stumble upon their success, take what’s handed to them and make chicken salad out of chicken shit. OK, I’ll spot you George Bush, but, OTHER than that…
There were early reports out of Buffalo that day, (as reported on KJR AM’s draft broadcast special with Tony Softli) linking the Seahawks to a deliberate effort to secure a spot inside the Top20 should a particular player or two be available. Beyond the usual chatter that surely goes on between teams getting simple temperature checks on what those ahead of them are thinking, the Buffalo beat writer got a tip from his source that this could be a real deal in the works.
Prior to the draft, I discussed the likely resources available to be used in a reasonable trade-up in the 1st round. Knowing that extra 3rd Round compensatory pick gave Pete & John some flexibility later on, I concluded that they may want to utilize the extra draft capital to better mine the top-end of the draft, knowing they could fall back on deeper talent later on. In other words, you have a greater cushion than in most drafts, if you want to take a stab on a must-have guy. I understand that runs counter to the conventional wisdom that suggests you want more guys later in a deep draft, but it also highlights the rarity of the top-end in this particular draft. We actually saw this be the mode and method of the Seahawks 2nd Round selection of Reed, but the same physics that spurred that deal with Chicago, were already in place the day before.
The availability of the extra 3rd coupled with the team’s 4th round pick would have given Schneider just enough juice to move up to #19 or #20 should they find a willing partner. It was no surprise that the report of the Seahawks early efforts to move-up in the 1st came from Buffalo at #19, as my earlier draft notes had predicted would be, at the top-end of their affordable options. But who could they be targeting? Who, or rather what, could be so important to Pete & John that they’d sacrifice players later on for a chance to get that early?
Based on the importance to Carroll’s defensive scheme success, coupled with the need to hedge against future stars’ contract negotiation or departures, I predicted a high likelihood that Schneider would seek out the best options available to them at DE, WR and CB early in the draft. In the final moments prior to Day 1, CBS Sports’ Draft Insider Jason LaCanfora put the Seahawks on Shaq Lawson, DE out of Clemson and one of the premier pass rushers in this class. Lawson, similar to Seattle’s 1st pick of the 2015 Draft – Frank Clark, is possessed of an unnatural motor and ability to force his way into opposing backfields. Lawson was one of the most productive edge rushers in all of college football, but there was a chance he could slip down the round over concerns about a previous shoulder injury. This would be exactly the type of player, position and value the Seahawks might be expected to move on. Whether by initial intent or some process of reverse-engineering, Bills’ GM Doug Whaley followed the Seahawks’ bread crumbs back to Lawson and ultimately chose this budding star for themselves.
John Schneider, in the words of Pete Carroll, has an uncanny ability to place accurate draft valuations on players so he knows just when to pull the trigger on a guy. Maybe Whaley expected Lawson to be gone earlier than #19 and so he initially entertained talks of moving back off the pick with the Seahawks? Clearly, Schneider, early that day, put the correct valuation on Lawson and knew whereabouts he’d have to go to get him. In what became the first, yet not the last or even most infamous cherry-pick of the Seahawks on Day 1, Shaq Lawson became a Buffalo Bill.
An Old Friend Comes Calling
Also conspicuous by their near complete absence from the Seahawks draft were the positions of WR, LB and CB. This is the first time in their history that Pete & John failed to select players from these categories prominently, and throughout the draft (Lawler being the only representative from these position groups taken as one of the last players selected on Day 3), another sure indicator that the draft simply didn’t go to plan, or at least in terms of what they hoped they might be able to accomplish with 9+ picks. Skill positions factor prominently in Pete & John’s game plan annually, I believe this was a second element in their attempts to find the talent ledges in the 1st Round.
With Doug Baldwin approaching a very nice payday in free agency after this season, the Seahawks have a clear need to hedge the future at the WR position. As Green Bay learned the hard way last season, you need someone else to keep the mob off your All Pro slot receiver. Cobb could not do it all by himself, and neither can Tyler Lockett. This may also have been a factor in bumping Vannett up Seattle’s board as Pete desperately looks to get Jimmy out in more future routes, but the run on WRs this year went between picks 21 & 23. Schneider likely new this and may have been trying to get involved for one of Fuller, Doctson or Treadwell who went in those 3 consecutive picks. It would certainly be another good explanation for trying to get out front of the Texans, Redskins and Vikings, with the Bills or Jets at #19 & #20.
Another possible target that didn’t come to fruition may have been a move for what was generally recognized as the best CB prospect outside the Top 10 in William Jackson III. A long, aggressive kid that was as silky a mover as any prospect in the draft, he didn’t get the early attention of others as he played in a small school conference, but wowed at the combine and received private workouts from many teams including the Seahawks. Attempts to plug Cary Williams into the RCB spot last season opposite Richard Sherman tells us Jeremy Lane was never Plan A at that position. They could use another CB cut from the Sherman mold over there, and this draft offered the Seahawks a chance to do that, while also providing a critical hedge for not only the Brandon Browner signing, but also for Sherman himself as he once again approaches free agency in 2018.
My sense of the action just prior to Seattle at #26 is that a long conversation was had between the old buddies, John Schneider & Scot McCloughan, now GM of the Washington Redskins (pardon my French…). McCloughan was on record as saying their goal was to move back in this deep draft and take more pokes at depth of talent as he remakes the Skins in his vision. Then it didn’t happen… Why? Because Schneider and McCloughan, being cut of the same cloth, were of like-minds on what was happening that day in the early 20’s. They both saw the talent ledges at WR and CB, and ultimately McCloughan could not be persuaded off his pick of Josh Doctson at #22. Similar calls by Schneider were likely made to the Vikings & Bengals, who offered the last hopes for Treadwell or Jackson prior to Pittsburgh at #25 who had earlier shown they were all-in on a 1st Round CB this year. But the gravity around the final talent cliffs in the 20s were too strong to overcome. Vikings selected Treadwell and Bengals ran to the podium to announce that WJIII would be a Cincinnati Bengal. That’s a double-troll right there as the Bengals also left their division-mates, the Steelers, holding the bag. Less savvy in planning their contingencies earlier, Pittsburgh just went to their next choice at the position, yet an infinitely less pro-ready player in Artie Burns. Seattle now knew they were moving back in the round as soon as Cincinnati told them, ‘No thank you.’
The Most Bitter Rivalry: Lost, But Not Forgotten
Now that’s all pretty typical of any NFL Draft, and is likely the untold story of EVERY year. But in 2016, we had some truly dubious, head-scratching shit go down at the end of Round 1, and it involves some old rivals, true enemies, and even some homegrown betrayal and intrigue right out of a pulp fiction mystery.
What we’ve learned in the days following the Draft, was that Jerry Jones reeeally wanted Paxton Lynch to be a Dallas Cowboy. Jones is telling anyone who’ll listen about his regrets over balking at Seattle’s demand that he give up his 2nd & 3rd Round picks in exchange for #26 and the right to select Lynch as the future QB of Them Boys. Now I don’t blame Jerrah one bit as the difference between what he wanted to offer being the 2nd and 4th, is immense when they were selecting so highly in each round to begin with. The Dallas 3rd is basically a 2nd-round-light, at just pick #67. The difference to the Seahawks was enormous. Here are some names that went between the Dallas 3rd and Seattle’s next chance to pick at #90: Maliek Collins, Will Redmond, Yannick Ngakoue, Bronson Kaufusi, Darian Thompson, Jonathan Bullard, Kenyan Drake, KeiVarae Russell, Shilique Calhoun, Shon Coleman, Daryl Worley, Joe Thuney, Isaac Suemalo, LeRaven Clark, Kendall Fuller, Leonte Carroo, Braxton Miller, Kyler Fackrell, Javon Hargrave and others! Ya, I need a wet wipe right now too…
Lots of familiar names and Seahawk work-outs there. Any one of these players could have been a more ideal fit for the Seahawks long-term scheme needs than the players that came behind them. This, through rare depth, was the 2nd round talent pushed into the 3rd. This was an element of the opportunity many saw prior to the draft in judging it’s unique qualities. Jerry Jones’ indecision cost the Seahawks big, as they eventually struck the deal with Denver for #31 and #94. What was a chance at another 2nd round talent in 2016, ultimately became an additional 4th round-ish talent. When Jones called back to sweeten the deal, an honor-bound Schneider, having already committed to Denver, declined him in what must have been an incredibly bitter moment knowing the Seahawks had just walked away from an entire round of additional draft capital. But the nightmare wasn’t over. And it was about to stray into the utterly bizarre…
So there they were. Pete & John had just acquired #31, swallowing hard on the reality they had just passed up #67 for #94, having earlier watched all the home-run balls be knocked out the park. It was fall-back contingency time. Putting aside their draft night comments for a moment, they had clearly set their sights on now immediately improving the interior OL for the 2016 season. Germain Ifedi is a RG, despite any longer term aspirations, Pete & John selected a player they feel can start right away at Guard. But could Ifedi have been something other that their 1st choice there at the bottom of the round? When they initially considered the trade-back scenario, it must have first been thought that a team would move-up from the top of the 2nd Round to get their QB, ala the Dallas Cowboys attempt. In targeting the type of player value they could safely expect at the interior OL positions early on Day 2, they must have considered Josh Garnett, the top true Guard prospect in the draft, as well. Enter our old nemeses, the SanFrancisco 49ers, and their charming leader, one Trent John Baalke. Yes, I like to refer to the truly EVIL MFs of the world in the same tone as their own mama would be judging their shenanigans too!
In April, it was reported by Seattle Times beat writer Bob Condotta that the Seahawks may have an interest in Garnett. The local ties of him being from Puyallup High School, and a Pac-12 player for Stanford as well, gave the Seahawks scouts and coaches plenty of first-hand knowledge of his game, and there were certainly conversations between him, his agent and the Seahawks prior to the Draft. But what do we know about Josh Garnett the person, and what the hell was with that move by SF to get him on Day 1 all about?
Josh Garnett, it might be assumed, is a Pacific Northwest kid, and as such, might have grown-up rooting for the local teams. If you would have assumed that, you would be WRONG! In fact, Josh Garnett and his WHOLE family are die-hard 49ers fans. Yup! Garnett wanted to be a 49er so badly, he made the unprecedented move of working out for Kelly & his coaches not just at the Combine, and at Stanford’s Pro Day, but also took a private visit to Santa Clara, AND came back AGAIN for the local pro day, reserved for hometown kids that generally do not get a chance to compete at any of the other pre-draft events. Yes! He brown-nosed the 49ers so much, as to actually take away time and resources from the weak sisters of the poor, in order to hog just a bit more time in the 49er limelight for himself. SMDH. Here is his actual quote from his draft night presser.
Josh Garnett – “My family is actually a bunch of 49ers fans and they couldn’t wait to take a picture of me with the (49ers) hat on. Oh, yeah, my mom definitely started crying. Dad had to hold her up from fainting. She was so excited and everyone is real excited. I’m excited that the family is able to be excited and have me be on the team that everyone has loved for so long and has supported, it just makes it even more sweeter.”
Ya. I know, right? Puyallup. Holler back, because we need to have a serious talk right now. LOL
OK, so we got the Seahawks targeting the top Guards in the class and their sights are set firmly on a couple guys that stand to last until what was the top of the 2nd round previously. The Kansas City Chiefs are on the clock as the Commissioner strolls to the podium to announce that a trade has been made. Shockingly, Trent Baalke’s 49ers have moved back into the 1st Round to select what many believe will be a QB prospect, much like recent trades for Teddy Bridgewater, or the Denver Broncos for Paxton Lynch earlier that night. But when the pick was read aloud, the entire world collectively shook its head as it realized Baalke had just spent a fortune on a Guard out of Stanford University.
How could this happen? And why did it happen when it did? Garnett’s a nice player, but no one was putting him in the first round and none of the teams between SF and the bottom of round were strongly tied to Garnett publicly. If all things were equal, what did Baalke have to fear in waiting until Day 2 for him? It’s obvious now, that things, in fact, weren’t equal at all. There was nothing unbiased in this move whatsoever, and this was a team effort from the start between Garnett, his agent and the 49ers front office. There was a sharing of information there that, while not illegal in any sense, is still incredibly distasteful knowing that this player was acting like a mole for Baalke and York, reporting back to them the conversations taken in trust and full faith between themselves and other potentially interested teams such as the Cardinals, Panthers or Seahawks. I’m suggesting that Josh Garnett intentionally tipped-off the 49ers about the intentions of the other teams at the bottom of Round 1, giving Baalke the opportunity to know exactly what it would take to get Garnett and when to make the move so as to limit the potential cost as much as possible in favor of the best likely outcome for the 49ers. Is this connecting the dots? Maybe, but it’s more than a possibility. In fact, it’s likely this occurred in some fashion on Thursday night.
I’m recalling a quote from Varys the Spymaster in the Game of Thrones season premier that may be appropriate here, when he said the key to managing the unknown in the big game of life is in, “Knowing which of your enemies are actually your friends, and which of your friends are actually your enemies.” What a sorted business this NFL game is. I wouldn’t put anything past these desperate, spoiled charlatans that run these franchises. The Garnett deal stinks of collusion and double-dealing by his reps and the 49ers. Ultimately, you don’t want that kid or his 40-Whiner family polluting the pure waters of the Win-Forever Seahawks anyway, right?
Finally we had the Seahawks penultimate pick in the 1st round land them Ifedi, and they marched to the press conference with a giant smile, but there was some underlying tension and unease about both Pete & John that night that was unmistakable. This was not the triumphant, puffed-chest, WWE Championship Belt-wearing strut you’d expect from a duo that had just seen everything go according to plan, and having deftly manipulated the round to add picks while snagging the guy they targeted all along, spend an easy moment with the hometown media, in the sunshine they had carefully crafted that day. This was a dead-pan, sarcastic team that had quickly whipped-up a headline to share about Ifedi being a ‘cornerstone for them at Right Tackle’ for years to come. More than once, their frustration and the frayed nerves of betrayal showed through the manufactured smiles and positive spin they were selling on what they knew in their hearts was maybe the Plan B of what was earlier their Plan C or even D in the round! There are many positives to focus on in the outcomes of the 2016 Seahawks draft class that was. But it is impossible to overlook the shade cast by missed opportunities, failed efforts and the secret machinations of shadowy NFL figures in the 2016 Seahawks Draft That Wasn’t.