Horizontal American Style Football in high contrast on black

Sophie’s Choice: John Schneider or Russell Wilson?

You have to make a choice. Either you get to have John Schneider as your general manager or Russell Wilson as your quarterback. Which would you choose? Seahawks fans will increasingly take sides as this impasse on Wilson’s contract continues and other, lesser, quarterbacks are signed to large deals. Much has changed in the month since I first broached the topic of a future without Wilson. What was outlandish just a few weeks ago, is now being discussed by mainstream press on a regular basis. The endgame for this standoff will either involve Schneider capitulating or Wilson playing on another team. Wilson will not budge on his demands, and may even increase them. The ending could come as soon as this month or as far out as 2017.  Fans could be forced to make that Sophie’s choice before this reaches conclusion. Where would you fall?

The case for Schneider

It is true that no one player makes a team. One man, however, is responsible for bringing 97.7% of the players on the Seahawks current roster into the fold. Only Brandon Mebane and Jon Ryan were added by a general manager other than Schneider. Equally important for this debate, however, is how good his judgment has been when it comes to letting a player leave.
Rob Sims 2010
Craig Terrill 2010
Aaron Curry 2011
Tyler Polumbus 2011
Marcus Trufant 2012
Kellen Winslow Jr. 2012
Mike Williams 2012
Barrett Ruud 2012
Roy Lewis 2012
Ron Parker 2012
Tarvaris Jackson 2012
Phillip Adams 2012
Deon Butler 2012
Kris Durham 2012
Rishaw Johnson 2012
Cordarro Law 2012
Sean McGrath 2012
Matt Flynn 2012
Leon Washington 2013
Jaye Howard 2013
Antoine Winfield 2013
Will Blackmon 2013
Mike Person 2013
Silver Siliga 2013
Red Bryant 2014
Sidney Rice 2014
Michael Bowie 2014
Percy Harvin 2014
Chris Clemons 2014
Walter Thurmond 2014
Breno Giacomini 2014
Golden Tate 2014
Michael Robinson 2014
Clinton McDonald 2014
Brandon Browner 2014
Chris Maragos 2014
Malcolm Smith 2015
Max Unger 2015
Zach Miller 2015
Byron Maxwell 2015
Kevin Williams 2015
O’Brien Schofield 2015
Jeron Johnson 2015
James Carpenter 2015

That is not intended to be an exhaustive list of every player Schneider has moved on from, but it is a good representative collection of his most important decisions to part with talent. There are a few notable misses with guys like Ron Parker and Silver Siliga who were cheap young players the team chose to move on from and have become valuable members of winning teams. Jaye Howard is a decent player for the Chiefs. There are a ton of big names that start appearing in 2014, but it is hard to argue any of them was truly a mistake. Golden Tate is a guy they would have kept if they had not made the error in judgment by acquiring Percy Harvin.

Look at that list and try to make the case that Schneider makes crucial mistakes in letting players go when he should have spent more cap dollars on them. I don’t see it.

Schneider has an impeccable record of judging when a player’s market value eclipses his worth to the Seahawks roster. 

Prioritizing roster depth and balance

There is also a philosophy at play here that factors in. Schneider, and his partner in crime Pete Carroll, are attempting to prioritize a more balanced roster that is not so extremely quarterback-centric. That is central to Carroll’s approach to building a team. He wants to win forever. Part of how he plans to do that is giving young players snaps far earlier than most coaches are comfortable. Part of that is preaching competition and letting older players go when a younger, cheaper option is available. And part of that is building a team that can win with less than an elite quarterback.

It does not matter whether or not you think Wilson is an elite quarterback. For Carroll and Schneider, it is core to their belief that you can win without one. Ignore that if you must, but it plays a key role in this discussion. They would take a lesser quarterback in order to have a stronger overall roster. They believe putting too much emphasis on any one player makes them too vulnerable. Think of the Broncos without Peyton Manning, or the Patriots without Tom Brady.

It is not that they think elite quarterbacks are not a great way to win. It is that they think it is a more precarious way to win.

If it gets to a point where Schneider holds the line and there is no agreement with Wilson, it will be because of this philosophy.

The case for Wilson

No quarterback has ever won more games in his first three seasons than Wilson. He has been to two Super Bowls in his first three years, and won at least one playoff game in each of his first three seasons. If you think that Wilson was the primary reason the team won during that period of time, as opposed to the defense or the running game, this is a pretty simple choice to make. Most people, however, know it is more nuanced than that. 
Let us assume that Wilson was not the number one reason for the Seahawks success the last few years. Most people would point to the defense and running game as being at least as important as Wilson, if not more so. Players like Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright, and Marshawn Lynch are titans in the Seahawks talent landscape. Except, all those players were on the roster in 2011 before Wilson joined and the Seahawks went just 7-9 that year.
Lynch ran for over 1,200 yards. The defense was top ten in points allowed and yards allowed. The fledgling Legion of Boom allowed opposing QBs just a 74.8 passer rating. Max Unger was there. Doug Baldwin and Tate were as well. 
To say that the change in the team’s fortunes were entirely due to the introduction of Wilson as the quarterback would be pushing the boundaries of reality. Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin came aboard in the same draft class, among others. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril were key components of the 2014 team that won the Super Bowl. But it would be equally unwise to ignore Wilson’s impact.

No Seahawks quarterback has ever been this efficient. He set the franchise record for passer rating as a rookie. He tied the NFL rookie record for touchdown passes. Even with Lynch’s 1,200 yards in 2011, the team finished 21st in rushing yards per game that year. They have not finished below fourth in that category since adding Wilson.

He is a dynamic player who exudes poise and has a habit of making great plays in big moments. His comfort with play-action passing, mobility, and touch on deep passes makes him a hand-in-glove fit for the Seahawks system. His work ethic and squeaky clean image make him a guy a franchise can feel comfortable betting on.

Even the most skeptical of Wilson must acknowledge he has that intangible “it” factor. That is what drew Schneider to him in the first place. Seattle may be able to find another capable quarterback to step in should they move on from Wilson, but that player is not currently on the roster, and it is unlikely he would bring everything to the table that Wilson does.

Wilson is a known quantity, and asking fans to trade that for the unknowns of who would replace him and impossible to predict roster ripple effects is a tough sell. It is a tack that only a front office occupied by mavericks like Carroll and Schneider would even consider.

A decision to sign Wilson now would add certainty to the Seahawks future. They would know their most expensive asset was in tow, and could plan around it. Their defense may slip as a result, and the overall talent around him would degrade, but the team would have the most important position on the field secured.

My choice

Wilson is not going to reduce his demands. Nor should he. He is a more accomplished player than either Cam Newton or Ryan Tannehill. The market for quarterbacks of his ilk will continue to rise. He can bet on himself to stay healthy and earn at least one franchise tag and possibly two before getting a long term deal from someone. 
That means that Schneider would need to cave and spend the market rate for Wilson, which is clearly far more than he is prepared to offer. He would need to start looking at either cutting players now or getting rid of more of them next year. Perhaps the Wagner’s of the world would be asked to play elsewhere. There would be heavier reliance on having terrific draft classes to keep the roster talent at a championship level. 
These are the types of choices that make or break general managers. The easy choice would be to pay Wilson. Everyone would cheer Schneider and his job would be safe. I don’t think that is how he approaches his role. He and Carroll are committed to a philosophy on how consistent championship rosters are constructed, and it is hard to argue with their results thus far. They are, after all, the people responsible for giving Wilson the opportunity to become the player he is now. Few other teams would have drafted him, and even fewer would have started him as a rookie on a stacked team.
I have some doubts about Schneider’s ability to continue drafting successfully since Scot McCloughan left. I am waiting for another stellar draft class to prove it is Schneider who has the Midas touch and not his former personnel man. That matters in a discussion like this because my instinct is to side with Schneider, but only if I am confident he is capable of overcoming the loss of a player like Wilson with new talent. 
As great as Schneider and Carroll have been at building most of the roster, their track record on quarterbacks is not great outside of Wilson. Their plan to replace him would have to involve trading Wilson for high draft picks that could be used on a new young quarterback or grabbing a “replacement level” player (think Tarvaris Jackson-clone) until they can find another young prospect to develop.
Also, Schneider and Carroll have their contracts end in 2016. I certainly would rather take Wilson on the roster for the next decade over losing him and then seeing Schneider and Carroll move on. There are plenty of angles to this gridiron soap opera.
In the end, I believe overall talent prevails on the football field. As great as I think Wilson is, I would rather see the front office hold their ground and continue fielding the most talented roster in the league than bet on Wilson being able to carry the team more and more as his contract value escalates. 
No matter the outcome, I have a ton of respect for the courage of Schneider and Carroll to make this stand and for Wilson betting on himself this way. There is not a right or wrong here. If you want to find a villain, find the drafter of the collective bargaining agreement.   

post signature

More Stories
Real Hawk Talk Episode 153: Post-Draft & Rookie Camp