John Schneider, welcome to the Seahawks. You inherit a team with no clear strength (outside of punting and kicking), and few players who appear to be maximizing their potential. This is not a team, however, bereft of talent or hope. In fact, a shrewd personnel leader and effective coach could have the Seahawks back in the playoffs as early as next season. Reaching the playoffs sooner should not, of course, be prioritized above building a foundation that can win a championship.
With that in mind, let’s talk about the things that tend to be key components of championship teams:
QUARTERBACK: Perhaps the Seahawks most polarizing and most important topic. Matt Hasselbeck is undeniably the most successful quarterback in franchise history. I also consider him the best. Having said that, it’s clear Matt has struggled to stay healthy the past two seasons, and his effectiveness has taken a nosedive. He is a “system” quarterback that thrives in the West Coast offense where timing, predictability of routes, and accuracy are key. He is not a guy that can sit back in the pocket, patting the ball, and then gunning it to an open receiver. Given the right system, reasonable protection and at least some running game, he can still get us deep in the playoffs.
When you replace a QB in the NFL, you can go one of two routes. Either you draft a young QB and groom him or you take advantage of someone else’s development work and sign a free agent/make a trade. Unless the QB’s name is Jake Locker, I think this team would be wise to go hard after a qualified free agent in either 2011 or 2012. The 2012 class includes folks like Drew Brees, Matt Leinart, Brady Quinn, Alex Smith, and Vince Young. 2011 has Tom Brady, Derek Anderson, Trent Edwards, Michael Vick and Billy Volek. Granted, starting QBs are often franchised, but players like Matt Schaub and Matt Hasselbeck were acquired through trade.
This is the hardest position to project of any on the field. You just never know what you are getting, so that is why I lean so much toward getting a more known quantity that has been in the league a few seasons. Even with instant successes like Rothlisberger, Sanchez, Flacco and others, there are the Alex Smith, David Carr, Brady Quinn guys that give me pause.
I also would not forget about Mike Teel. He had as impressive a pre-season for a rookie QB as I’ve seen in Seattle. He has a strong arm and seems poised in the pocket. In short, I’d highly advise against using one of our 1st round picks on a QB this season. Taking a flyer on a later-round pick would be wise, but I think we have at least one more year to let the thing play out.
OFFENSIVE LINE Max Unger is likely your center of the future. Everyone else is a question mark. I like Ray Willis, but would not cry if he moved on. Sean Locklear can play right tackle or guard and signed a big money deal, but I would not be shocked to see them waive him to get cap room if that makes sense cap wise. Rob Sim, eh. Chris Spencer, goodbye. The best thing we have going for us here is Alex Gibbs, and he doesn’t even play.
I’m a little Jekyll and Hyde on this one. On one hand, I saw the Seahawks change a franchise by drafting Walter Jones in the top 10 of the draft, and I see some really strong offensive tackles available this year that make me excited. On the other hand, Alex Gibbs lines don’t really use prototypical offensive tackles, and rarely draft them at all, let alone in the high first round. That means we may be able to fashion together a solid offensive line far cheaper and with guys that are easier to come by. My ideal scenario here is that Gibbs is sold on one of the talented tackles and we take one in the first round that is a cornerstone for years to come.
What I know for certain is that this line needs a major overhaul. It hasn’t functioned as a unit since 2005. It will be interesting to see how much power Gibbs has over personnel here with the odd new power structure in place. What happens if Schneider wants a big o-tackle?
DEFENSE I don’t call out specific parts of the defense because it really seems to be great defenses, as a whole, win Super Bowls. We are where we are with our LB crew. I’d highly recommend exploring a trade of Lofa Tatupu to see what might come back. David Hawthorne had more tackles in half of a season (117) than Tatupu has had in any of his whole seasons except one (122). Hawthorne plays sideline-to-sideline. We need that. Tatupu has had less of impact each season since his rookie year. His value is still high, and if we could turn that into a package of draft picks or fill another hole, I’d do it without hesitation.
It makes me want to punch a wall, but we need ANOTHER defensive end and probably two, despite drafting a boatload of them in the Ruskell era. If I had one big message to Schneider and Carroll it would be to FORGET THE FUCKING TAMPA-2!! Stop stock-piling under-sized, try-hard guys so that we can run a system that is not resulting in disruption or pressure. I wish Jim Johnson’s Eagles defense had a name, because that’s what I’d like to see. Blitzes from all angles at unpredictable times. We need to be drafting great defenders at their position, and stop drafting players that “fit our system.” Until we have a system like the old Broncos running game where you can drop anyone into it and succeed, we need to focus on talent.
The obvious focal points here going to be safety and defensive line.
RUNNING BACK If QB is the hardest position to project and to fill reliably in the NFL, RB has to be the easiest. Any Joe coach potato can see a runner that makes people miss and has big-play potential. There are very few that can be great despite their offensive lines (e.g., Barry Sanders). You don’t need that to win a Super Bowl. What you need is to constantly be stock-piling YOUNG runners through the draft. DO NOT sign free agent running backs. That’s like buying a used car for new car prices. Most runners give you their best production in years 1-7. If we can get a guy like CJ Spiller, you get him. Otherwise, draft another guy to play alongside Forsett and call it a day. Forsett can be a good-enough running back in this league. I have little doubt he could pile up 1,300 yards rushing if given the chance, but he’s not a Pro Bowl player. Adding a starter that actually *is* better than Forsett (as opposed to Julius Jones) to play alongside him would be exciting to see.
My last bit of advice to Schneider is to resist the potential slant toward USC players, or even West Coast players. Pick the BEST players. If you follow all of these simple instructions, we should get along just fine.