Comparing Seattle’s rebuild to St. Louis’ current woes
When Pete Carroll and John Schneider arrived in Seattle, they had an extremely focused vision for rebuilding the team.
And let’s be right, a titanic rebuild was required.
The Seahawks had nobody to build around. No stars left over, ready to be the cornerstone. Just ageing veterans picking up pay checks and injuries.
It needed strong leadership. Seattle needed an identity.
The funny thing is, having so little to build around definitely helped the Seahawks. Having a blank sheet of paper was actually a good thing.
They never had to consider what was already on the roster. They never had to build around somebody else’s idea.
This, for me, is an infrequently discussed reason why Seattle became an 11-2 franchise.
When you can do whatever you want, you truly can install a vision. It was all Carroll. The ‘Win Forever’ philosophy within the locker room, the style of football they were going to play on the field, and what they were going to do in each draft to improve an area of the team piece by piece.
This was a completely focused rebuild starting from scratch. At no point did they have to say, “well we have this guy, who wasn’t our pick, but he’s going to impact our plan.”
Now look at the Rams.
Jeff Fisher inherited a much more talented roster in St. Louis compared to Seattle in 2010. They had two excellent edge rushers. A dynamic inside linebacker. A physical, pounding running back. And a quarterback.
Or so they believed.
I think the Sam Bradford pick has seriously hurt the Rams. Essentially, Fisher had some of his vision crafted for him by the former regime. And at first I suspect he believed it wouldn’t be an issue. But it became one.
Even if they decided to make major changes, it was nearly impossible to trade Bradford and his $78m contract. He had to put is faith in somebody else’s guy. And he had to tailor an offense to suit what he already had.
Whether he liked it or not, that was the hand he was dealt.
Carroll had no such restrictions. He could basically do what he wanted. Imagine how different things would be in Seattle had Bradford declared after the 2008 season and landed with the Seahawks in the 2009 draft. It’s not that unrealistic, given they had the #4 choice (although there’s every chance he could’ve gone to St. Louis or Kansas City at #2 or #3 — both needed QB’s at the time).
Let’s run with that thought for a second. When Carroll left USC, he would’ve been forced to work with a quarterback he hadn’t selected. And that relationship — coach and QB — has to be water tight. There has to be ultimate confidence there. The kind of trust and confidence we see between Carroll and Russell Wilson.
I just have a hard time picturing Bradford and Carroll as a working partnership. It doesn’t quite fit.
And it would’ve been a potentially frustrating marriage given Bradford really hasn’t taken the next step. He looks average.
Fisher could be forgiven for feeling a little agitated.
His quarterback is set to earn $17.6m next year. In 2015 the cap hit is $16.6m.
They’d be better served finding a way out of that deal and starting again. Sportrac has the dead money on his deal at around $7m next year– which isn’t too bad. I think they need a get out, and fast.
For too long that pick has shaped what the Rams have tried to do. Fisher needs a release to truly turn that team into a contender.
He needs his guy.
They had to try and build around Bradford and hope he was up to it. They made the big trade with Washington in 2012, but clearly didn’t like what they saw with the inherited #6 pick. Some reports said they wanted Justin Blackmon, who went at #5 after a move up by Jacksonville.
Were the Rams targeting Blackmon for Bradford? Maybe.
When the Jaguars stepped in, St. Louis moved down again — dropping all the way to #14, almost in disgust, and taking Michael Brockers. It all seemed a bit reactionary at the time.
I think they wanted to force it. To get a weapon for Bradford.
And I think part of the reason they traded up for Tavon Austin this year was a response to that.
But they’re still building around a player who barely warrants such faith.
It just seems like, despite spending three first round picks, the presence of an average and now injured quarterback had too much influence.
Less could’ve been more.
Start with the blank sheet. Draft Robert Griffin III. Build around him instead.
Would the Rams be better off? I genuinely think so — despite all the picks they got from Washington. There’s no way Fisher and that organisation would’ve brought on the Dan Snyder -nspired chaos we’re seeing with RGIII and the Redskins.
Was it ever a realistic option? Of course not. Bradford was forced on Fisher. An arranged marriage worth nearly $80m.
It’s hurting them. Look how quickly Bruce Arians has turned Arizona into a winner. They were a shambles a year ago. Jim Harbaugh immediately picked up the 49ers and got them to a Super Bowl after years of underachieving. And Carroll made Seattle competitive with a lightning quick rebuild.
Rams fans would be well within their rights to question why things are taking so much longer in St. Louis.
To an outsider it looks like they’re regressing again. They’ll play tough some weeks because they have a good coach and some elite defensive players. They do have talent. But it’s all a bit of a jumbled mess without the one guy who glues everything together.
I suspect in 2014 we’ll see the Rams again forced to build around Bradford, unless there really is a logical way out of that contract. I have this vision of them going tackle (Matthews, Robinson, Kounadjio) and then receiver (Watkins, Evans, Lee) — without getting any better in the process.
Perhaps going for a Texas A&M hat trick would be the best way forward? Jake Matthews and Mike Evans in round one. Trade back into the first to go after Johnny Manziel.
Hey, it’d get people talking. And all three guys can play. It’d be an easy sell on season tickets — Manziel, Evans and Austin on the same offense? Who wouldn’t be intrigued by that?
It might also be a disaster — Manziel’s certainly volatile territory. He could change the NFL. He could be a massive disappointment. But it might be a more pro-active plan than continuing to build around an average quarterback and being the spare wheel in a rock solid NFC West.
It’s a big twelve months for the Rams. I’m not sure they can justify floundering in 2014 having spent five first round picks in the process. Better quarterback play will likely determine whether they become another nightmare match-up for the Seahawks and the rest of the division.
For me that means ridding themselves of the one thing Seattle never had to worry about at the start of the Carroll era.
Somebody’s else’s well-paid quarterback.
Luke Willson’s role developing
For most of the year Luke Willson has been a project. He had nine catches in his final year at Rice. And when he was drafted in the 5th round, even the keenest college football fan barely knew anything about him.
This is essentially what we knew — 6-5, around 250lbs and runs a 4.54.
Yet that is what the league is looking for. It’s what a heck of a lot of regional scouts will be asked to find. Go and get the next athletic move-tight end who is big and fast.
It’s been steady progress for Willson so far. He got rave reviews in training camp. Yet in games he’s mostly been limited to one big play on each opening drive. The scripted part he can practise during the week.
Maybe things have started to click? Maybe he’s growing in confidence, starting to understand the concepts and how he can be effective?
Against the Niners he was a bigger part of the game plan and scored his first pro-touchdown — leaving Patrick Willis for dead in coverage and sprinting home on a nice score.
While he’s no Jimmy Graham or Jordan Cameron, he is a difficult match-up for linebackers. And it’ll be interesting to see if his production increases in the final three games.
Look out for the Arizona game in week 16. They’ve struggled against tight ends all year, including against Zach Miller when the teams met earlier in the season. That could be a big break out day for Willson, much in the way Anthony McCoy torched the Cardinals last year.
If he continues to progress and makes the most of the off-season, who knows what he can achieve going forward?
The Seahawks needed a weapon like this. Every team does these days. And with only Eric Ebron an obvious solution in the 2014 draft, seeing Willson improve will be a major plus point for this developing offense.
Byron Maxwell played well… he just needs to back himself
In pre-season Maxwell looked like a starting NFL cornerback. That was one of the big storylines of the summer — just how good the depth at corner is. Antoine Winfield not making the roster was a bigger deal than we probably realised at the time.
Walter Thurmond and Byron Maxwell essentially made him redundant. Jeremy Lane did enough as a spot-starter last year to warrant some faith.
All three have shown up in a big way.
Maxwell is the biggest positive for me. He’s physical. He fits the character of the defense and in particular the secondary. And it looks like he’s spent enough time around Richard Sherman to understand the benefit of preparation.
If there’s one thing he just needs to do to completely take that step forward to legit starter — it’s trust himself more.
At times yesterday he was grabbing, holding and in some cases — mugging — the 49ers receivers. He got called, he also got away with some stuff. And I just kind of felt it was all unnecessary.
He’s a very good cover corner and he can be physical. He has the ball skills as we saw on the interception. And despite getting targeted (understandably) he never backed down.
I’d love to see him show a little more confidence to play ‘clean’ — to trust his skills in coverage, his athleticism and not risk the wrath of a referee’s flag.
If he can do that, I think he has a very bright future in the league.
Kearse’s role going forward
Speaking of guys breaking out — Jermaine Kearse just continues to impress.
He always flirted with quality at Washington. He dared you to believe in him — and some did. I remember a time when he received grades in the second and third round range by the big media pundits.
Kearse went undrafted largely due to the freakish inconsistency he showed. He was probably the most frustrating player in college football for two years. And I’m not a Husky fan (I’m not a fan of any college team).
Whether it’s the laser eye surgery or something else, this year he’s looked like a genuine NFL receiver. The circus catch against the 49ers was truly incredible — a major underrated play in the game on third down. To contort his body in such a way to make that catch — that was special. Really special.
So what can he be going forward?
I think this current role suits him. He’s not a big overly physical guy, but he makes plays. He’ll never dominate a defense or take over a game. Seattle really lacks that tall, explosive big man and that’s never going to be Kearse.
But at a time when other guys are creeping closer to free agency (Tate, Baldwin) they’re going to need others to step up to the plate and if nothing else — remain consistent.
And despite what he showed in college, Kearse is quickly turning into Mr. Consistent for the Seahawks.
Tre Mason one to monitor
My choice for the Heisman? Auburn’s Tre Mason.
All year he’s produced. He’s the true heart beat of his team.
They don’t pass much and rely on brilliant run blocking and the opportunistic tendencies of their backs. Mason is essentially the focal point of a team nobody expected to be in the National Championship.
Yes — Jameis Winston has had a great year. He’s also surrounded by 5-star talent and I must confess to having a great deal of sympathy with this article.
You could also argue the Seminoles have barely broken sweat in the ACC this year, unlike Auburn who have needed Mason to get through another rock-hard SEC campaign.
But it’s his pro prospects that interest me the most, not his ability to win an award. And I think he has a big future.
For starters he’s explosive enough — he can make the big play. He’s got a very squat frame with a strong lower body. I think he can act as a receiver out of the backfield and be something of a Darren Sproles. Yet he’s capable of pounding the rock too.
Against Alabama he was hitting the hole well and making yards after contact. He consistently picked up 4-5 yards.
In other games he’s been able to make big explosive plays. He had 304 yards against Missouri. Without that effort, his team don’t get to the big game.
Right now I’d grade him right up there with Bishop Sankey. Teams will be put off taking running backs early. When a sure thing like Trent Richardson looks positively powder puff in the NFL, that has to be a concern.
We’ll see less and less running backs going early as a consequence.
Wherever Sankey and Mason end up going in the draft, I still expect both to have an impact at the next level.