The Morning After: Seahawks Lie in Wait

The NFL had a party yesterday, and the Seahawks played the role of the homebodies, preferring TV and lounging to bright lights and bold decisions. They used their first round pick well before the draft took place, but there are some misperceptions settling in about that choice that fans should be aware of. The 49ers, Rams and Cardinals all made choices. Even Bruce Irvin made more headlines than Pete Carroll or John Schneider yesterday. Let’s take a look back at the night that was.

Jimmy Graham was NOT the Seahawks first round pick

Seattle traded away their 2013 first round pick to Minnesota as part of the Percy Harvin deal. Schneider told the press more than once that, “Percy is our first round pick.” The first time he did it, he clearly was using his wry sense of humor. But it sounded good, and became a consistent message delivered in a variety of different ways. Conceptually, it makes sense. The team had a first round pick, and now did not because they acquired Harvin. Factually, there are some critical differences that impact how a team builds a roster. 

#1 First round picks have slotted salaries

Harvin commanded a massive multi-year deal that included a signing bonus the Seahawks are still paying for this upcoming season. The $7M dead money cap hit Seattle has from that contract impedes a variety of different personnel moves the team could have made. The total cost of the first round pick Seattle traded away (#25 in 2013) is almost less than the dead money Seattle owes Harvin this season ($7.8M vs $7M). Graham will count $8M against the cap this year, $9M next and $10M in 2017 if he lasts that long.

#2 The cost of a mistake is far less

Seattle could have made a terrible selection with that pick, but it would not have hamstrung the team’s ability to groom their roster. Xavier Rhodes was picked by the Vikings with that selection and is scheduled to count $2.1M against the cap this year. We already know how costly it was to get the Harvin deal wrong.

#3 Longevity

First round picks are young, and under club control for five years. They are also groomed by the team that brought them into the league. Veterans brought in via trade are older (Graham is 28), and their opportunity to part of the team’s long-term core is far less. Graham, for example, would have no cap impact in 2016 if the Seahawks chose to cut him and apply the money elsewhere. On one hand, that’s great to have the flexibility. On the other, losing him after just one season would really raise the question of whether the team was right to give up the 31st pick.

#4 Opportunity cost

Trading away your first round pick for a proven veteran not only means you lose the chance to draft a player there, it also means you are far less likely to draft a player at that position. Consider that James Carpenter was a first round pick for the Seahawks in 2011 that many consider an unsuccessful, or at least poor value, selection. He still was essentially a four-year starter for the team that allowed them to focus on building other parts of the roster. Players like C Travis Frederick, DT Kawann Short, LB Kiko Alonso and RB Le’Veon Bell were all taken shortly after the pick Seattle traded away. Taking any of those players would have greatly impacted the way the Seahawks roster would have evolved the past two years. If Seattle does not move up today, sixty-two players will be chosen before they take their first. 

#5 Just the facts

Some will call it semantics, but they are pretty damn important semantics. Harvin and Graham were not acquired for first round picks. Harvin cost a first, a third, and a seventh round pick. Graham cost a first and Max Unger, and the Seahawks also got back a fourth from New Orleans. The value of Graham and Harvin was judged to be more than a first round pick. To imply that those players were the Seahawks first round selections underplays the value, and the accompanying risk, the Seahawks took when making the moves to get them.

REMEMBER? John Schneider traded Aaron Curry for a 2012 7th round pick and a 2013 5th round pick. Those picks turned into J.R. Sweezy and Tharold Simon.

Call it what it is

This is all probably obvious to most of you, but there appeared to be some danger of Seahawks fan getting high on their supply on this topic and coming across as defensive. The front office is smart to try and spin these deals the way they have. If fans and media buy the line that these players were their first round picks, it both lessens the burden they carry to prove the deal was a good one, and deflects attention away from what they could have had if they kept the pick. 
I happen to think Schneider made a savvy move this year in identifying that the cost of a very late first round pick in terms of slotted salary was greater than the value they could get with the talent that was going to be available. Many teams have said there were only 15-18 first round talents in this class. Why pay second round talent like a first round pick? 
Schneider made a calculated risk for the second time in three years. The first time was a disaster. This time, it could be brilliant. Going three years without a first round pick, though, is a serious gamble, and should be acknowledged as such. 

NFC West improves

I like what each of the Seahawks rivals did in the draft. Arizona added a highly rated and very athletic player in D.J. Humphries who can play either a left or right tackle. They would have two good tackles if Humphries works out after signing Jared Velheer last season. Arizona also added Mike Iupati in free agency and drafted G Jonathan Cooper last year. That’s a lot of beef. Iupati and Cooper have pass protection issues, so it is not all roses.
St. Louis took RB Todd Gurley, who is coming off a major injury. He is a potential All-Pro level running back if he comes back healthy and has a decent line to run behind. He will help Nick Foles. Expect the Rams to add a receiver early today to give their offense more punch.
San Francisco picked DE/DT Arik Armstead. He is very tall for a defensive lineman, and actually played basketball as well. Armstead has long arms and resembles the Cardinals Pro Bowler Calais Campbell. He is more raw and less physically dominant than Campbell, but should be a great addition to their line rotation that will include Tank Carradine and Darnell Dockett. I wish the Seahawks had defensive line prospects like Armstead, Carradine and Quinton Dial on the roster. Jordan Hill, Cassius Marsh, and Greg Scruggs don’t measure up yet.

Bruce being Bruce

Irvin got some attention last night by calling out Mel Kiper Jr and Ross Tucker on Twitter. Tucker referenced that people were comparing Vic Beasley to Irvin and wondered aloud if that was supposed to be a good thing. Here’s how Irvin responded:

Maybe not Irvin’s most articulate moment, but it is hard to fault the guy for standing up for himself. His name has been on everyone’s lips lately as there have been debates about whether he is in Seattle’s long-term plans. I happen to love what Irvin brings to the team, and think he is one of the most underrated parts of this squad. The biggest knock on Irvin is his age. He is already in his late 20s and may only have 2-3 more years of peak play before he starts to decline.

If I had the choice of keeping only two of the three starting linebackers on the Seahawks, I would pick Bobby Wagner and Irvin ahead of Wright. Clearly, the Seahawks front office sees things differently. Wright is solid all-around player, but rarely makes impact plays. Irvin and Wagner change the game more often than Wright does.

No matter how this plays out, I plan on enjoying Irvin wearing a Seahawks jersey for as long as he is around.

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