There is little question that you have excelled in your job when someone agrees to pay you top dollar. That is what reportedly happened when Paul Allen opened up his wallet to give John Schneider a new five-year contract. Schneider has piled up a dizzying number of shrewd personnel decisions since taking over the Seahawks GM position in 2010. He has also made some regrettable choices. It is often instructive to see how the best handle their worst moments. We will take a look at both extremes for Schneider in an attempt to understand his rise to the top of his profession.
Five best Schneider decisions
#5 – Drafting Earl Thomas
Most of the credit Schneider gets for his draft picks comes from the “steals” taken later in the draft. It is easy to forget that picking Earl Thomas with their second pick in the first round in 2010 was a damn good move no matter where it took place. That roster was bereft of talent. Schneider could have added any type of player with that pick. Jason Pierre-Paul was taken right after. Mike Iupati and Maurkice Pouncey were taken a few picks later. Demaryius Thomas, Bryan Bulaga, Dez Bryant and Jerry Hughes also went off the board in that first round. Any of them would have clearly been fantastic picks.
More so than their #6 overall pick of Russell Okung, the addition of Thomas signaled the true start of a new era of Seahawks football where philosophy met strategy and collaboration.
Choosing Thomas stands out because it demonstrated the budding chemistry between Schneider and his coach. Pete Carroll knew exactly the kind of defense he wanted to run, and Thomas was exactly the kind of safety he needed. A player like Thomas was rare in his ability to cover sideline-to-sideline. His excellence and speed opened the door for Carroll to draft a certain type of cornerback that the rest of the NFL was less interested in because of their lack of lateral quickness.
#4 – Trading for Chris Clemons
Unlike baseball, it is rare for NFL GMs to be known for making great trades. The CBA and game itself is not conducive to adding talent through a trade. It is hard to find a player that is worth going through the effort to acquire that a team is willing to surrender. Schneider pulled off a fantastic deal for defensive end Chris Clemons back in his first year on the job. He traded Darryl Tapp to the Eagles for Clemons and a fourth-round pick. The pick ended up being wasted on E.J. Wilson, but Clemons become one of the best pass rushers in franchise history. Think that’s hyperbole?
Clemons is one of just three Seahawks to record three consecutive seasons of 11.0 sacks or more. The other two were Jacob Green and Michael Sinclair.
Clemons piled up more sacks in his first three seasons in Seattle than Tapp has in his entire ten-year career. His worst year in Seattle came in 2013 as he battled injuries, but his performance in the Super Bowl was one of the more underappreciated and important contributions to the victory. Schneider proved from the very beginning that he would scour the roster of every NFL, CFL, and college program to find talent to improve this team. That is why this trade makes the list over the more prominent one that brought Marshawn Lynch to Seattle.
#3 – Signing Michael Bennett to a 1-year contract in 2013
Schneider gets most of his praise for the stellar drafts he has put together, and will get more in this article. His free agent moves, especially along the defensive line, have been a key to his success. There was Alan Branch, Tony McDaniel, and Kevin Williams to stuff the run on the cheap. Raheem Brock piled up 9.0 sacks as a free agent in Schneider’s first season. No free agent, though, has been more impactful than Michael Bennett.
Anytime you can add one of the best defensive lineman in the NFL, it qualifies as a great move. When you can add him for $5M dollars, it becomes one of your best moves. Bennett was a catalyst for the Seahawks Super Bowl run in 2013, and remains the team’s top pass rusher. He has been a solid leader and a fan favorite who offers more than the average sound bite.
One could argue that re-signing Bennett for four years and $28M after that season also qualifies as one of Schneider’s best moves, even if Bennett might disagree. That first deal stands out because it was opportunistic. Schneider had already added Cliff Avril, who was their primary pass rushing target. Instead of standing pat, Schneider saw a chance to add another pass rusher by using a deal structure that has served him well. He gave Bennett the chance to prove himself as part of a winner and then re-enter the free agent market. It wound up being a win-win as the Seahawks and Bennett got their ring, and Bennett got a much bigger payday the following year.
#2 – Drafting Richard Sherman in the fifth-round of the 2011 draft
First came the safeties, Thomas and Kam Chancellor in the 2010 draft. Then, came the stretch limo version of cornerbacks in 2011. While everyone was looking for the shifty corners with great speed that could turn on a dime, Carroll had outlined a different model for Schneider to find. He wanted lanky and strong, with the nasty attitude and toughness needed to excel in press coverage. Schneider drafted Richard Sherman in the fifth-round, Byron Maxwell in the sixth-round, and signed Brandon Browner from the CFL in one offseason. Those last two make the honorable mention list of great Schneider moves, but getting what appears to be a Hall of Fame player in the fifth-round has to be in the top five.
One could make a case that this should be considered Schneider’s best move when you take into account how much it has not only changed the makeup of the Seahawks, but also started a trend in the NFL with teams placing a far higher value on cornerbacks of Sherman’s size and makeup. Either way, this choice skyrocketed the Seahawks secondary from one of the worst in 2010 to one of the best in 2011. Peter King wrote openly about his consideration of giving Sherman an All-Pro vote as a rookie. His impact was undeniable.
#1 – Drafting Russell Wilson in the third-round of the 2012 draft
This one needs no explanation. Arguably the best young quarterback in the game, Wilson came to Seattle in the third-round. That sounds preposterous now, but at the time, there were plenty of people who thought it was crazy to take a short quarterback that early. Nobody had succeeded in the NFL at that position under six feet tall in the modern era. It did not matter what his makeup was or his arm strength or his accuracy. Short equaled worthless, or at best, a backup.
Not to Schneider. He watched Wilson in person during his senior year and became enamored with his poise and leadership. He studied everything he could about what made quarterbacks successful, including taking into account hand size and the height at which Wilson released the ball. He proudly shared that Wilson’s over-the-top throwing motion allowed him to release the ball at the same height that a 6’2″ quarterback normally would. He talked about how Wilson played behind one of the tallest offensive lines in college and had remarkably few passes batted down.
Most of all, he talked about how Wilson “tilted the field,” a reference to his moxie and composure during times of duress. It was not a stretch for Schneider to take Wilson in the third-round. It was a stretch for him to wait that long to make the pick. That is part of what makes this his best move. He knew the team was a quarterback away from being a championship contender. He had a first-round pick and a second-round pick, and spent those on two pretty good players in Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner. It would have been easy to panic and call Wilson’s name earlier and lose out on two other starters as a result. Schneider kept his cool and made the best pick in the NFL over the past six seasons.
- Trading for Marshawn Lynch
- Signing Doug Baldwin as an undrafted free agent
- Signing Thomas Rawls as an undrafted free agent
- Drafting Kam Chancellor in the fifth-round
- Drafting K.J. Wright in the fourth-round
- Drafting Tyler Lockett in the third-round
- Signing Cliff Avril as a free agent
- Drafting J.R. Sweezy in the seventh-round
- Trading Percy Harvin to the Jets
- Re-signing Clinton McDonald in 2013
- Signing Jermaine Kearse as an undrafted free agent in 2012
- Signing Michael Robinson as a free agent
Five worst Schneider decisions
#5 – Drafting John Moffitt in the third-round of the 2011 draft
Just about every Seahawks fan loves John Moffitt. He is an affable guy who looks like the prototypical offensive lineman. He is cherubic and laid back and deferential. The problem with Schneider selecting him was that he misjudged Moffitt’s love for the game. A couple of years after being picked by the Seahawks, Moffitt chose to retire. There were some extenuating circumstances, but this pick along with the WR Chris Harper pick in 2013 led to Schneider reconfiguring his draft recipe to put a greater emphasis on mental makeup.
He, thankfully, did not go as far as former Seahawks GM Tim Ruskell about drafting almost purely based on character. What he did was start to look for what was initially described as a “love for the game,” but what evolved into a more scientific categorization of personality traits that lead to grit. Schneider and Carroll want to find evidence that players have faced adversity and overcome it. That is why they are often unafraid to take players who have injury problems. A player that has come back successfully from the injury is almost more attractive to Schneider than one who has no injury history at all. It is not just about overcoming injuries. He spoke glowingly about recent pick Rees Odhiambo who lost both his parents,
Seeing players come into the league and either fail to handle the influx of money and influence or fail to rise to the challenge of competing with the best gave Schneider new focus on less tangible attributes that lead to a draft pick becoming a success.
#4 – Signing Robert Gallery as a free agent in 2011
Carroll did not like how much the team had to rely on the pass in their first season. He wanted to run the ball and brought in Tom Cable to help make it happen. Schneider went out and signed one of Cable’s linemen from the Raiders in Robert Gallery. He paid a handsome sum and Gallery was terrible. He was so bad that he was out of football the next year.
This move makes the list because it was a pretty large swing and miss, but Seattle was far from an appealing free agent destination which left Schneider with few choices. The trio of James Carpenter, Gallery and Moffitt made up a rather unsuccessful attempt to rebuild the offensive line. One could argue Schneider has yet to find his footing in evaluating offensive linemen. This current crop drafted in 2016 will shed more light on that topic.
#3 – Signing Cary Williams as a free agent in 2015
Schneider was wise to let Maxwell walk in free agency, as the Eagles learned. His mistake was spending a decent amount of money on a veteran stop-gap in Cary Williams. The team had in-house options like DeShawn Shead and Tharold Simon, as well as a cheap veteran in Will Blackmon. They also had Jeremy Lane scheduled to come back from surgery. Schneider did not like his depth and decided it was necessary to add to the pile.
In a very non-Schneider-like way, he overpaid for a player of questionable talent. Williams had not played good football for years, but the Seahawks fell into the trap of believing they see things that other teams do not. They thought they could fix him.
Instead, they learned that adding a veteran corner who did not grow up in their system is difficult. Guys like Shead are more valuable to them than to other teams because he has been molded in their image of what a cornerback should be. Williams was a bad decision, compounded by the fact that he was given a multi-year deal which stretched out the cost of the bad choice into this season. It was not a massive or crippling deal, but it was a bad one nonetheless.
#2 – Trading for Charlie Whitehurst in 2010
The Seahawks swapped second-round picks with the Chargers and added a third-round pick a year later for a third-string quarterback. It was a head-scratcher at the time, and remains one of Schneider’s worst personnel decisions. Before the Wilson draft pick, Schneider’s moves at quarterback were the Whitehurst trade, not re-signing Matt Hasselbeck, and signing Tarvaris Jackson. His story as a general manager could look very different if not for that third-round choice in 2012.
Whitehurst was given the chance to win the starting job, but was clearly not up to the task no matter who he was competing with. Hasselbeck beat him out soundly in 2010, and Jackson did the same in 2011. Had Schneider surrendered a sixth or seventh-round pick for Whitehurst, this move may not have even made the list. Moving down twenty spots in the second round and throwing in a third-rounder makes this one of his worst decisions.
#1 – Trading for Percy Harvin in 2013 and signing him to a megadeal
This move topping the list of bad moves by Schneider should come as no shock. He gave up a first and seventh-round pick in 2013 and a third-round pick in 2014 for a mercurial player who had transcendent talent and a combative attitude. It became clear shortly after the trade that Harvin also had health problems that would rob him of most of the 2013 season. He did return to provide one of the indelible images of the Super Bowl when he took the second half kickoff back for a touchdown to all-but-seal the Seahawks victory.
If the only thing Schneider had done was trade all those picks for Harvin, it would have gone down as a bad move. That he compounded it by signing him to six-year, $67M contract with over $25M in guarantees is what truly makes this Schneider’s worth move. It sent all the wrong signals to his locker room.
He paid a player before he played a down in a Seahawks uniform. Until then, all the guys had earned their spots and their money through competition on the field. Harvin was given the red carpet treatment without earning any of it in Seattle. That also sent the message that Schneider did not believe the guys he had on the roster were enough to win a ring; it seemed like he felt the team needed a lot more than the guys already on the roster if he was going to make this big of a trade and spend that kind of dough.
That locker room exited 2012 full of confidence. They had been building from a loser into a winner from the ground floor. No shortcuts. As a family. This one move contradicted all of that.
It did not help that Harvin became a cancer in the locker room and had trouble finding his place in the offense. His talent was unquestionable. His fit was terrible. Worse, the money spent here made it impossible to retain Golden Tate, who would go on to thrive in Detroit.
As with so many of Schneider’s mistakes, he cut his losses quickly and learned from it. Where many GMs would have had too much ego wrapped up in a big move like this to cut ties just a year later, Schneider did not hesitate to jettison Harvin and move on. A more typical GM might have blamed their coaching staff for not utilizing him correctly or forced further adjustments to the roster, like trading Baldwin or Kearse to give Harvin room.
Schneider took the high road, and by doing so, has wiped Harvin off the books as of this new year.