Aaron Curry’s demotion defines the Tim Ruskell era

Demoted: Aaron Curry is now part of Seattle's 2nd unit defense

Today Eric Williams confirmed what may have been inevitable. Linebacker Aaron Curry was demoted to the second string unit, essentially confirming that the #4 pick Seattle spent on his services in 2009 was a mistake.

I was never a fan of the pick. This was a player that had shown no pass rushing qualities at Wake Forest – in fact he was never even asked to rush the passer in college. He frequently played 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage and was used as a heat-seeking missile type linebacker. He made a few memorable plays on tipped-pass interceptions, but ultimately recorded only nine sacks in four years. He was suitably athletic enough to impress at the combine and played college ball with an edge that helped him boost a third round grade from the draft committee as a junior into a top five grade come draft day.

Curry was the classic over achiever and a heck of a lot of people fell for it. I remember debating with some Lions fans who were adament he should’ve been the #1 overall pick that year for an 0-16 team with no quarterback. Really?

Kansas City – who were crying out for an impact player on defense – didn’t see Curry as an ideal fit in their 3-4 scheme and instead went for LSU five-technique Tyson Jackson. I posted a mock draft that proposed a situation where Curry wasn’t taken by the Chiefs or the Seahawks and wondered if he could actually fall out of the top ten. In hindsight, he probably should’ve done.

But of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing. Every team would have great drafts if they could only go back and do things differently. Curry isn’t an awful linebacker by any stretch of the imagination – he’s just not ‘special’. If you’re going to spend $60m on a linebacker, he better be special. The main issue I have isn’t with Curry or his level of play, it’s the decision to draft him at all.

The AP reported shortly before the draft that Seattle had no intention of drafting a quarterback in 2009. According to the report, Tim Ruskell believed that a soon to be 34-year-old Matt Hasselbeck was ‘in his prime’ and the position didn’t need to be addressed. Hasselbeck had enjoyed a Pro-Bowl season in 2007 where he almost single handed dragged the team to a 10-6 record and a playoff victory against Washington. But a year on the injuries started to become a regular feature and even if he could manage to go on for a few years longer, surely the team had to be thinking this was the perfect time to take the plunge on a quarterback? Why did they get that situation so wrong?

Apparently the Seahawks had no interest in Matt Stafford, Mark Sanchez or Josh Freeman – the three quarterbacks that went in round one that year. This was all about an ‘impact’ signing. The 2008 season was a freak one off, let’s take advantage by drafting a pick for today, not tomorrow. Never mind that Hasselbeck is 34, Walter Jones is getting old too, Patrick Kerney is close to the end of his career and we won’t be able to rely on the Holmgren offense for productive receivers anymore. Let’s think short term. 

So what do you do? Of course you franchise tag one linebacker, trade another veteran to make room for the #4 pick and suddenly you’ve got a $140m trio of linebackers. A $140m trio of 4-3 linebackers who aren’t expected to be the sole source of pressure. Three positions most other 4-3 teams put such little investment into.

The rest is history – Hasselbeck never returns to full health and doesn’t return to the highs of 2007. The Seahawks have no developmental investment at the QB position, meaning we now watch Tarvaris Jackson on Sunday’s. A fourth successive losing season in 2011 looks like a distinct possibility for a team that had ambitions of a deep playoff run just prior to the collapse.

Say what you want about Mark Sanchez – and people love to give credit to everyone but Sanchez in New York – but he’s had to learn on the run with a Jets team that was no great shake before Rex Ryan arrived on the scene. They’ve since made consecutive post seasons and it could easily be three out of three this year. He was probably never a consideration in Seattle because he didn’t match Ruskell’s strict criteria – he wasn’t a senior and he wasn’t a choir boy with year’s of production. Would he be a possible saviour in Seattle today? Who knows. What we do know is he would’ve had two years sitting behind Matt Hasselbeck in preparation to start. It would’ve created a smooth transition and would’ve avoided most of the drama surrounding Hasselbeck’s future during the lockout.

Not a Sanchez fan? Well what about Josh Freeman. Sure, the Seahawks weren’t the only ones to pass on a player who has since become quite a force for Tampa Bay. They had him in for a visit though, they did all of the homework. He doesn’t appear to ever have been a serious consideration at #4, but haven’t we got a right to ask why? When the Seahawks were crying out for a long term investment at QB, why didn’t they take Freeman seriously?

The fact Curry never really worked out just creates a high profile stick to beat Tim Ruskell with. In reality, he missed so many times in his drafts and this wasn’t a one off error. These are Ruskell’s first round picks: Chris Spencer, Kelly Jennings, Deion Branch (trade), Lawrence Jackson and Aaron Curry. Only Curry is still with the team, but given his contract re-work and today’s demotion that looks like a temporary thing. Let’s dip into round two: Lofa Tatupu, Darryl Tapp, Josh Wilson, John Carlson and Max Unger. Tatupu had three Pro-Bowls and for a time was a great leader and good player for the Seahawks. Yet his old college coach just cut him and nobody has picked up the tab. Tapp and Wilson are gone – Carlson will probably follow as a free agent next year. Unger currently starts, but is still a big question mark for the long haul.

That’s not good enough and that’s how you turn a Super Bowl team into a shambles in just a few years. If you consistently miss on first round picks you will be judged badly and you will lose your job, as Ruskell did. The new regime will have to hit on high picks for a different fate as they rebuild this team. If the 2011 season goes the way many expect, next year’s first round pick could be the most important this team has had since they took Curry in 2009. Let’s hope for a more positive outcome.


  1. Jericho

    Let’s hope for a QB as well! Luck or Barkley, I don’t care which one.

  2. Seahawk Steve

    I was not a Curry fan and I was never impressed by him. I like many others kept hoping he would develope into a special player. So this just confirms another false hope. However; I am a Seahawk fan, so I live by my hopes for this team. I hope KJ will move ahead of Curry and develope into the player we all wanted at LB position.
    Another hope is we will get something of value for Curry, if traded I would like to know what you think the possibilities are? Will Curry be traded straight across for another player? If so who might that be? Will he be traded for a player and a draft pick or just a pick? What is your estimation of the possible scenarios here?

  3. Will

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m glad that the Seahawks chose not to draft Sanchez fourth overall in that draft. Sanchez really doesn’t have any standout tools. He flashed some tools at USC but they haven’t seemed to show up in the NFL. He doesn’t have the athleticism of a Newton or a Locker, the arm strength of a Flacco or Roethlisberger or the decision making, ability to read defenses and accuracy of a Brees, Manning or Brady. I really don’t know if we would be all that much better with Sanchez behind center. Not to mention that if we still were bad, having Sanchez would likely prevent us from drafting a better QB prospect.

    As for Freeman…I would have been fine (in hindsight now) if we had drafted him. Unfortunately he was never going to be drafted in the top ten. Ruskell would have had to trade down quite a few spots to get him and I don’t remember that Ruskell was all that big of a fan of trading down.

    • Kip Earlywine

      I’m still withholding judgement on Sanchez. Judging a QB after only 2 years from being drafted is not ideal, especially for a guy who’s now started almost twice as many NFL games as he did in college. I’m not normally big on having 1st round QBs ride the bench the first two years, but if there ever was a guy who should have, its Sanchez.

      Its early, but Sanchez is showing signs of growth in his 3rd year (this is when he should have began starting, after all). After posting a 6.7 and 6.5 YPA his first two years, he’s at 7.6 right now, and his completion rate is 63.2%, up from 53.8/54.8. He’s on pace for a 32/24 TD/INT ratio. He needs to cool it a bit on the mistake throws, but I’m sure Jets fans are pretty happy about how he’s performing right now. Caveats about small sample size apply, but its an encouraging start for him.

  4. akki

    Well, that completes Curry’s transformation into Aundray Bruce. Unlike anyone else Ruskell took, Curry actually wasn’t a compromise to below-average physical talent in height, size, or speed. Yeah, the positional value was questionable at the time, but I don’t think many thought he’d play himself out of a starting job.

    The thing is, how can you tell if a defensive player’s going to lack instincts at the pro level? If a linebacker never rushes the passer or plays coverage in college and there’s no tape of him doing so, you can’t assume that he’ll catch on like gangbusters, but you also can’t assume that he’s completely deficient either. If Curry was average at both, he’d probably be doing just fine. It’s almost like the defensive version of a WR from a spread offense that doesn’t run a usual route tree. From the same college system in Missouri, you come out with Danario Alexander who catches on right away, and Will Franklin’s who’s completely clueless and out of the league now. It’s just hard to tell, which is why even the best GMs whiff a lot.

    All of Ruskell’s high picks had a win-now angle to them. I’m curious what he does in Chicago, since I can’t say if that’s Ruskell’s true guiding philosophy, or if he was told to draft that way by his superiors.

  5. Rich

    Great article, Rob. I was thinking similary things about Curry recently and that’s why I put him in a trade suggestion yesterday. So much for him having any value now! Lol. Let’s hope the current regime performs better. I’m not sure if Carpenter will work out or not but haven’t been particulary impressed with those drafted after him this year either (though I wonder if you would have drafted someone else in hindsight?). I have been very intrigued with the 4th round picks we’ve had the last two years. Well three out of four anyway. Maybe we should just have all 4th round picks going forward? Love the blog. Keep it rolling.

  6. Ryan

    That’s a great point, Rich.

    Rob, knowing what you know now, what should the Hawks have done at #25 this spring?

    • Rob

      That’s hard for me to answer because I was a fan of Carpenter. I didn’t like taking a right tackle in R1 and argued against it throughout the season, but there weren’t many players who made me go ‘Wow’ last year… Carpenter was one of them.

      It’s no secret how much I liked Jimmy Smith, the corner from Colorado. I think at that stage in R1 you try to find value more than anything and not be dictated by need. Smith and Mark Ingram were much higher in my own gradings than Carpenter – and I was a Carpenter fan. It’s hard to think this team had a shot at Ingram and Smith even picking that late and passed.

  7. FWBrodie

    Ruskell Lesson #13: Do not pay linebackers that are not dominant pass rushers buckets of money. Do not invest 25% of your payroll into the linebacker position.

  8. Kip Earlywine

    This doesn’t look good for Curry at all. Normally something like this could be interpreted as a motivational tool, but Curry has not lacked for motivation.

  9. Hawkspur

    Strangely, at this stage it seems there’s a decent chance that Ruskell’s legacy will be a superstar quarterback.

    • Hawkspur

      Indirectly, of course. It’s not something that he’d be putting on his resume. And hindsight is a wonderful thing, but damn, that is a stinky list of 1st and 2nd round picks. Unbelievable. It’s mindblowing that he found another job in the league.

      • Rob

        Maybe he will put it on his CV? There’s not much else to put on there. “Put the Seahawks into position for a shot at Andrew Luck.”

  10. Misfit74

    I think ‘Demoted’ is a sensationalized headline (not just this article, but also those around the web with similar titles).

    The team is looking at KJ Wright in practice with the starting defensive unit. Never once did I hear a quote or read one that said ‘Curry has been demoted’ or that KJ Wright is the new starter. Or that anything going on IN PRACTICE this week is permanent.

    Hyperbole deluxe.

    Will the move stay? Maybe. Could Curry start this weekend? Perhaps. I mean straight out of Gus Bradley’s mouth was ‘were taking a look at Wright with the first-team defense this week and will continue to evaluate. We needed more competition at that spot.

    Never once did I hear anything definitive. So until I see it on game-day and see it stick, I’m skeptical.

    • Rob

      Well he’s a former #4 overall pick that is working out with the second team unit having previously been a presumed every week starter. Surely we don’t need the team to confirm that as a demotion to use the term?

    • FWBrodie

      Your starters run with a first team in practice. I mean, what more do you need? Have you ever heard of a starter taking the second team reps all week and then starting (barring injury)? I haven’t.

      • Misfit74

        KJ Wright play any snaps today? My point was that just because you take reps w/ the first team doesn’t mean you are automatically a starter or have taken another players’ job. Bradley only said they were taking a look at Wright and evaluating – creating more competition in the process.

        Today Wright had zero defensive stats. I didn’t notice him on the field.

        • Rob

          Well Wright started… and Aaron Curry had one tackle.

          • Misfit74


            You know, this makes me wonder if there is something inherent with our defense that limits numbers-based production from the SLB? I mean, two guys can’t even barely dent the box score, which isn’t a big deal if they’re contributing to the overall success of the defense, but it’s hard to know w/out re-watching the tape, I guess. Interesting.

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