NFL Executive of the Year: The Case for John Schneider

The Shawkshank Redemption won exactly zero Oscars. Edgar Martinez is no closer to being in the MLB Hall of Fame. The Matrix sequels. We are all familiar with travesties. Each of us can quickly conjure the memory of an injustice that makes us reach for the nearest pitchfork. Among the greatest snubs of all time came in 2012 when John Schneider selected Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson with his first three draft choices but came in third in voting for the NFL Executive of the Year behind Colts GM Ryan Grigson and Broncos GM John Elway. Schneider was overlooked again the following year despite finding a way to add Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril as free agents, keying the franchise’s first Super Bowl win. Few men have accomplished more with less fanfare than Schneider. It is time for that to change.

Revisiting the absurdity of 2012 

Not only did Schneider draft Irvin, Wagner and Wilson that year, he also drafted Robert Turbin, Jaye Howard, Jeremy Lane, and J.R. Sweezy. He then added Jermaine Kearse, and DeShawn Shead as undrafted free agents. All of those players remain on NFL rosters three years later. He also signed Jason Jones as a free agent and Marshawn Lynch to a four-year contract. 
Grigson drafted Andrew Luck with the first pick in the draft, a move every other person with any knowledge of football would have made. He also took T.Y. Hilton in the third round, and added Jerrell Freeman as a free agent from the CFL. It was a nice year, but it pales in comparison to the breadth, impact, and ingenuity of Schneider’s additions.  
Schneider was pushed below Elway largely due to the signing of Peyton Manning. Landing a prized free agent is commendable, but pursuing the most sought-after free agent in NFL history is hardly remarkable. 

The subtle genius of 2015

There is little reason to believe the Pro Football Writers of America will recognize the nuanced accomplishments of Schneider this past offseason when they overlooked blatant brilliance in years past. Perhaps a little explanation will help.

Extending Russell Wilson

It took until the night before training camp for the Seahawks and Wilson to agree on a new four year deal. Wilson and company had set a deadline and were willing to play out the final year of his rookie contract if the Seahawks offer did not meet their bar. Schneider was able to find an agreeable structure that allowed Seattle to secure their franchise quarterback ahead of when a player like Andrew Luck resets the market next season, and avoid using the franchise tag that would have gobbled up a massive chunk of the 2016 salary cap.
This was no sure thing. Schneider was unwilling to rewrite the record books with the deal, while Wilson and agent Mark Rodgers were not going to be strong-armed into a below market value contract after playing for peanuts through three seasons. 
After a historic stretch of play from Wilson over the past month, it is starting to look like Wilson will remain a bargain for years to come. Imagine, though, how differently things might have played out if Schneider was not able to broker a deal and Wilson would have gone through early season struggles without a certain Seahawks future. The scrutiny would have taken on a different tone. There would been more debate about whether Wilson was worth the franchise tag. It is not a stretch to think Wilson’s development as a quarterback might have been stunted without the security of a deal. 
Instead, he has come through the valley to find a new peak, and Seattle is once again the hottest team in football.

Extending Bobby Wagner

The Wilson coup had the domino effect of allowing the Seahawks to use the franchise tag as leverage in their negotiations with Wagner, who had tweeted “Can’t keep everyone,” after news of the Wilson deal broke. An All-Pro in 2014, Wagner has been in the discussion for best middle linebacker in football in his three seasons. Schneider managed to secure his services for another four years.

Extending K.J. Wright and Cliff Avril

Schneider cleverly used the cap space gained in the Percy Harvin trade last season to extend both K.J. Wright and Avril before the season ended. Both players would have commanded huge dollars on the open market, and both have rewarded Seattle with their best seasons. 
It was just the latest example of forward thinking by Schneider. He was facing the prospect of an offseason where Wright, Avril, Wilson and Wagner were all in doubt. His ability to secure the services of Wright and Avril ahead of the free agent market gave him the time needed to focus on the lynchpin Wilson deal, and then wrap it up with Wagner. Even if the Wright and Avril deals technically occurred in 2014, they should be considered as part of Schneider’s 2015 personnel maneuvers. 

Signing Ahtyba Rubin

Seattle needed cap space to fit all these stars considering Harvin still counted $7.2M against the 2015 cap. Schneider had the foresight to see veteran Tony McDaniel had been underplaying his contract and added Ahtyba Rubin to the roster on a cheap deal. That flexibility allowed Schneider to move on from McDaniel to free up cap space after signing Wilson and Wagner without sacrificing defensive performance. In fact, most would grade Rubin’s play at 3-technique defensive tackle to be as good as anyone they have played there in recent seasons.

Trading for Jimmy Graham

Some may hold this move against Schneider. Jimmy Graham had become the Seahawks most dynamic offensive weapon before his season-ending injury. There is little doubt he would be enjoying the fruits of the offensive redemption story if he was still playing. The evolution of the offensive line and Patrick Lewis at center means the Seahawks line is arguably better than it was last season and the team added an All-Pro tight end. Schneider did a remarkable job in increasing the talent level of the team with this move. He deserves praise for knowing what he had in Tom Cable at line coach to make this gambit worthwhile.

Drafting Tyler Lockett and Frank Clark 

Tyler Lockett leads all rookie receivers in touchdowns and is the first player since Gayle Sayers to have five receiving touchdowns along with a kick and punt return touchdown in his rookie season. He has gained steam in recent weeks with no signs of letting up. Clark has been a productive member of the defensive line rotation, and has blossomed with three sacks in the last few games since moving inside to rush the passer. Only Minnesota’s Danielle Hunter and Chicago’s Eddie Goldman have more sacks as rookie defensive lineman on the year. That could very well change before the year finishes.

Signing Thomas Rawls as an undrafted free agent

The Seahawks rookie class is as good as any in football despite not having a first round pick, in large part because of the emergence of Thomas Rawls. Before going down with an injury, he was outperforming more heralded rookie runner Todd Gurley on a per-start basis, and was on track to rush for over 1,100 yards in about a half season. Marshawn Lynch went down with injury and Rawls gave the offense a massive boost. His play was so impressive that many wondered if the Seahawks should start him even after Lynch returned from injury. Seattle coaches will not have to face that decision now, but the fact that it was even a debate speaks to the quality of Rawls as a new addition.

The competition

I can already hear the clamoring for Dave Gettleman, General Manager of the Carolina Panthers, to win the award this year given the Panthers glitzy undefeated season. That would be ludicrous. Gettleman deserves credit for shoring up the secondary by signing Kurt Coleman, who is having a great year. He also made a nice addition with Shaq Thompson at linebacker with his first round pick, but that is it. Devin Funchess has been adequate as a rookie. 
The play of Carolina has been far more attributable to the development of players already on the roster like Cam Newton, Josh Norman, and Kawann Short. Give the coaching staff and players credit for their sparkling season (along with their awful strength of schedule), but do not give Gettlemen praise for a mediocre offseason.
There is a case to be made for Jets GM Mike Maccagnan, who added Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Buster Skrine and James Carpenter as free agents and traded for Ryan Fitzpatrick. First round pick (6th overall) Leonard Williams has been great, but the rest of their draft looks weak. He deserves credit for hiring coach Todd Bowles as well. That is an offseason to be proud of. Should Schneider end up behind a person like Maccagnan, who has legitimately made some great bets that helped his team win games, that at least would be defensible.

Still Schneider

Schneider has made dozens of decisions that range from bold to subtle over the past year that have directly led to the Seahawks being among the favorites to win a Super Bowl. They said it was not possible to make it back after winning a first one. They said he had invested too much cap space in too few star players. They said parity would pull this team down. Schneider has pierced those doubts with a seemingly endless quiver of arrows aimed at making this team a consistent championship contender. 
It is doubtful that he pays any attention to who is awarded the executive of the year each season, but the award has little meaning if the best executive in football has not won it. Make 2015 the year that error is corrected.


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