Learning lessons from Pete Carroll’s Seahawks

The Bills are banking on Sammy Watkins (above) and E.J. Manuel working out

The Seahawks are a team that broke away from conventional wisdom. That’s well publicised by now. It’s almost a little tiresome to keep bringing it up.

But it’s true. And if I were an owner looking to move in a new direction, I’d be looking at Pete Carroll’s work in Seattle with envy.

There’s nothing overly scientific here. They look for rare athletic qualities and guys with the attitude to compete. Of course it’s much more sophisticated than just that, but it’s nothing a competent and experienced NFL staff can’t at least attempt to emulate.

It doesn’t even have to be a carbon copy. It’s just about knowing what you want to do and getting after it. What constitutes one of ‘your’ guys? You can open up the competition in camp and let them go for it. Let the best man win. Always compete.

But it’s also knowing when to make specific moves. Taking calculated risks and not forcing the issue. Seattle turned over every stone to find a winning formula. They invested in players they could believe in — they didn’t invest heavily in specific positions because, well, that’s how you build a team.

The Seahawks went from lifeless also-rans to Champions in four years. You’d think teams would be scrambling to try and replicate it.

And then you look at why some franchises just can’t get out of their own way.

Buffalo — forever in the shadow of New England (at least in my lifetime) — pick the worst draft for QB’s in years to go after their guy in E.J. Manuel. He struggled, he got injured. The Bills panicked. Now they’ve blown two first round picks on Sammy Watkins in an attempt to make life easier for their young quarterback.

I like Watkins. But here’s the thing — Atlanta moved up 20 slots to get Julio Jones in 2011 and gave up two first round picks to do it. Buffalo pulled the same move (with the same trade partner coincidentally) to move up five slots.

It’s a kings ransom. And now they’re not only banking on Watkins proving he was worth the outlay — their banking on their first round quarterback being competent (and healthy) enough to supply the ammunition.

Buffalo’s key draft stock from 2013-2015 is tied into two players. The future of the coaching staff and front office will be forever connected to the performance of Manuel and Watkins.

Even if the plan succeeds it should be seen as reckless and impatient.

It’s almost the exact opposite of Seattle’s approach.

Perhaps there are other things at play here? The eventual sale of the team could lead to jobs being lost. This could be an aggressive attempt to prove a point before major changes occur at the top. Who knows.

But they couldn’t have done things any more different than Seattle. And I just find that very confusing.

I also find it interesting personally to critique Buffalo because to be honest a few years ago I probably would’ve given their pro-active approach a huge thumbs up.

I, like most people, felt this was the way you had to build a team:

1. Find a quarterback
2. Give them some weapons
3. Develop a dynamic passing offense

Teams like Indianapolis, Green Bay and New Orleans placed their trust in being able to put up huge numbers behind a prolific passer. If Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees got injured — it was over. But while ever they were healthy and active their teams had a shot.

I passionately thought the Seahawks needed that at the start of the Carroll era.

I was wrong.

In 2010 we spent great time discussing the minimal pro’s and significant con’s of Jimmy Clausen, Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy. My final 2011 mock draft had Colin Kaepernick posted at #25 to Seattle. We also debated and dissected Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Jake Locker.

Who could be Seattle’s 40 TD machine?

They didn’t draft any of those players. They waited. And waited. And then found a player they could believe in. The man who would quarterback this team to a first ever Championship.

And they did it their way. Running the ball, playing great defense. Not relying solely on the man under center being healthy, working in a flawless pocket.

When you see teams trying to build around one vital player and position, you almost have to smirk.

Yet you do it — or at least I do — with the knowledge I would’ve made exactly the same mistakes before Carroll and co. arrived in Seattle.

Following the growth and development of Carroll’s Seahawks has been a great lesson in team building. We are better educated fans because of the experience. We are more aware. And yet there are still teams in the NFL making the same old mistakes.


  1. drewjov11

    You bring up a great point about the mentality that teams are all trying to find that next great passer and often times they neglect to remember that this is a team sport. Some teams are ai desperate to find “their guy” that they don’t bother to figure out if he can be “the guy”. Yes, it is a passing league. But that doesn’t mean just anyone can be a great passer. When people said that we should take mark Sanchez, I cringed. When people said we were rumored to trade for Kevin kolb, I wanted to puke. Even Matt Flynn made my skin crawl. Heck, I loved RGIII, but trading away your future for one player? Look at their roster. You have to have a team around your passer in order to win titles. Defense, special teams, maybe a bit if a running game, a competent line. Without all of that, you have David carr and a prayer.

  2. Stuart

    Rob, welcome back buddy! We have missed greatly!

    Your time away has added an “edge” to your style of writing, in a good way.

    Good insights as always. Just imagine how different things would be around Hawsville had we drafted Kaep in 2011? I wonder if the Hawks would have drafted Lavonte David in R-2 and waited it out for Bobby Wagner in R-3? No matter, we are blessed with Russell Wilson. 🙂

    The points on the Buffalo Bills are spot on, however, here in Seattle we know that first round picks are tremendously over valued in the way that PC-JS draft in days 2 and 3.

    IMHO, the best GM of all time would be Baalke for R1-R2 and JS for R3-R7 and UDFA’s. (excluding 2010 with picks 6 and 14 that we struck GOLD with)

  3. Mylegacy

    To me the Hawks are designed as; an otherworldly defensive team – with an offense that doesn’t make mistakes, owns the football and wants to control it for hours, or strike for a quick score – while the defense sits in its cage eating raw red meat impatiently waiting to get back on the field and devour another offense.

    From the 12’s to the truly supreme Thomas, the Godzilla at SS, the two Blankets With An Edge on the corners, the fastest Three Opportunists just behind the DLine and finally a seven man rotating buzz saw looking for bones to crush to make their bread…

    Think about it…the Hawks are the only team in captivity where the Stadium and the Fans have been engineered to work together and orchestrate a crescendo of cacophony all aimed to deafen and disorient the opposition.

    On SO MANY levels this team is truly unique…

  4. bigDhawk

    We need to ask three questions about every player that we discuss as a future draft prospect:

    1 – What are the special physical/mental characteristics this player possesses?

    2 – How might the Seahawks be able to maximize those characteristics?

    3 – In what way does this player personify Always Compete/Win Forever?

  5. Madmark

    What I like about the PC/JS buildup of this team. They fill a bunch of positions and never panic in reaching for a QB. This year they have 5 QBs to compete like the year Russel Wilson beat out T.J. and Flynn. The open competition program works. My player, who I believe will surprise eveyrone other than Christine Michaels will be Anthony McCoy. I think he could earn himself a nice 2 year contract after this coming year.

    • Adog

      I think that Jesse Williams the dt we drafted out of Alabama will be the guy who will turn some heads this year. He has had a whole year in the seahawk culture/environment to just soak it in. That’s one thing that is hard to emulate…the locker room .

    • Johnny

      Agreed. McCioy was highly touted out of USC but injuries have insofar delayed his development and potential. I think if he can remain healthy and get into a nice rhythm with Russell, McCoy can once again fully realize his once amazing potential to be a big-bodied, speedy receiving tight end. Why make a risky investment on Finley when you have a younger and, in my opinion, better option right in your own wheelhouse?

    • Chris

      The trade of draft capital for Whitehurst was a panic move.

      Most fans wouldn’t have even considered making that move. Luckily the Hawks seem to learn from their mistakes.

      • Jon

        Really? I don’t think it was so much a panic move as much as it was being wrong in the evaluation of Whitehurst. giving up a 3rd round pick (a year later) and moving back in the second is not some huge investment. The Seahawks once gave up as much draft capital as that for Matt Hasselbeck and he had at that time the same volume of work in the NFL as Whitehurst did when we grabbed him. They believed he was good enough, and they were obviously wrong in hindsight, but lets not get that confused with a panic move. They didn’t give up 2 seconds for an ageing McNabb, high draft picks for the over-hyped Kolb, or 2 first rounders for the ever above average Carson Palmer. They took a chance to find their guy with a 3rd round pick. Then two years later they did find there guy with another third round pick and he won the SB!
        Some people may panic about that move but it was not a panic move.

        • Jon

          Panic is giving up 3 first round picks and change for RG3. They only moved up like 3 spots to get him.
          Panic is taking a bleh QB in Christian Ponder at (#12?).
          Panic is paying Kevin Kolb a 60 M contract

        • Chris

          For what he was worth relative to what we gave up, I consider it a panic move. Certainly not on the scale of some other “panic” moves teams have made though. With Hasslebeck they at least had first hand knowledge of the player, they didn’t really know squat about Charlie (not to mention Hass had at least won the backup job unlike Charlie). Could you imagine a team giving up a 3rd and a 2nd round swap for our 3rd string quarterback? That trade wasn’t just misjudging talent, it was asinine. I see their lack of aggressiveness later on, and unwillingness to give up draft capital for M.Flynn later on as one of the thankful lessons learned.

          • Arias

            Couldn’t have it just been that they saw a QB they thought had all the tools to be successful and that they liked, so they engineered a trade for him commensurate to what they thought he was worth in a 3rd round pick and swapping 2nds? Why does desperation have to play into it? As far as the team and Hasselbeck were both concerned at that time, he was going to re-sign with the Seahawks. Pete said it was the top priority in the off season to get Hasselbeck re-signed and Hasselbeck wanted to retire in Seattle. It wasn’t until later that negotiations broke down. So it’s not like they didn’t have other plans for who was going to start for them.

  6. Stuart

    Both those players coming out would be great.

    If McCoy shines, would that spell the end line for Miller after this season?

    Williams would be a huge bonus! That comes from reading so many articles that he will never play-contribute etc etc. I remember him in College and remember so well the talk of him being a 1st rounder, even a Hawk 1st rounder at that. If he stays healthy, our D-line depth benefits so much. 🙂

  7. PatrickH

    Reading this article, I couldn’t help but wonder, if Charlie Whitehurst and company hadn’t beaten the Rams and gotten into the playoff, then the Hawks would be in the 8th spot in the following draft. Would PC/JS have passed on Gabbert or Locker in that draft?

    One thing that PC and company have shown, is that coaches and GMs need to think carefully about which physical traits are vital to a position and which ones are less important. For years the thinking was that a CB need to have great speed and agility, which downgraded tall and (relatively) slow guys like Browner and Sherman. I admit that I used to share the thinking as well, and Pete has really opened my eyes on that one.

    • Arias

      Sherman wasn’t really ‘slow’. You could argue his pro day times (he wasn’t invited to the combine) in straight line speed 4.54 in the 40 yard dash is average for cornerbacks. But he posted excellent times in his 3 cone and short shuttle which I’d argue test the more important skills required for his position than straight line speed.

      • PatrickH

        Actually Sherman was invited to the combine. His combine measurements were 4.54 (40 yd dash), 4.33 (short shuttle), and 6.82 (3 cone). By comparison, the average combine measurements for CB (from 1999 to 2012) were 4.49 (40 yd), 4.15 (SS), and 6.97 (3C). So yes Sherman did have an excellent 3 cone time but was below average for the other two.

        Browner’s combine measurements were 4.63 (40 yd), 4.24 (SS), and 7.20 (3C). Also, Byron Maxwell ran 4.43 (40 yd) at the combine. He didn’t participate in the short shuttle and 3 cone during the combine, but at his pro day measured 4.49 (SS) and 7.12 (3C).

        • Arias

          You’re right, I was thinking of Baldwin not being invited to the combine so was going from pro day numbers.

    • AlaskaHawk

      I think they would have passed on any quarterback who did not have at least two of these three key attributes of Russell Wilson.

      1. Accurate throwing the ball
      2. High TD to Interception Ratio
      3. Good scrambler

      I could add being a leader to the list, but most quarterbacks are leaders.

  8. kigenzun

    Of course, other teams will continue to make the same mistakes over and over and over–because everybody has believed in the big tall pocket passer since Johnny Unitas was the prototype.

    What other reason could there possibly be, 50+(!) years later, to draft Brock Osweiler, Brandon Weeden, and Ryan Tannehill ahead of Russell Wilson?

    For the longest time the myth of QB haves vs. QB havenots has reigned supreme. Teams who won it all like Baltimore did with Dilfer and a withering Defense, were just blown off as aberrations and outliers. And the media as a whole doesn’t seem smart enough to make the connection between the 2000 Ravens winning 34-7, and the 2013 Seahawks dismantling the Donks 43-8.

    Personally, I gave up on the “BIG QUARTERBACK” theory the day we drafted Dan McGwire instead of Brett Favre. Friggin’ Idiots. One could play football, the other could not… it was really as simple as that.

    I also remember watching Russell in the Rose Bowl and on Jon Gruden’s quarterback show, and praying, “Oh please please please Sweet baby Jesus let us get this guy. He can ACTUALLY PLAY FOOTBALL! Regardless of his height, he’s got all the other intangibles.”

    Just the fact that our team is built on a midget FS and a midget QB is basically thinking so far outside the box, the rest of the league may never actually understand how we managed to pull it off.

    (And by adding nitrous to the mix with Harvin, PRich, and Christine Michael, we have as good a chance as any to do it again…)

    • formerstarQB16

      “Personally, I gave up on the “BIG QUARTERBACK” theory the day we drafted Dan McGwire instead of Brett Favre. Friggin’ Idiots. One could play football, the other could not… it was really as simple as that.”

      Watched a lot of Southern Miss games in 1990, did ya?

      Define “could play football”. McGwire threw for 3,600 yards in ’89 and 3,800 in ’90. Favre? 2,500 and 1,500, respectively.

      Both were graded about equal. Granted, Knox wanted Favre (not in the 1st round, but later in the draft), but Behring overruled him. Which pissed Chuck off something fierce and eventually led to the wonderful Tom Flores years.

    • Steve Nelsen

      I love your comment about Percy Harvin, Paul Richardson and Christine Michael adding nitrous to the Seahawk offense.

      I think of our rushing offense with Beast Mode as a power game like a muscle car. I think both guards could have breakout years and I think we will get improved play at right tackle so I am optimistic about the run game being even more powerful this season (assuming the rumblings about Lynch don’t turn into something disruptive). But, after reading your post, I can envision our offense as a muscle car with a nitrous injector. That’s a nice thought.

  9. Steeeve

    Welcome back, Rob!

    I think one of the key things that Carroll had and has that other owners don’t allow their coaches is: 1) power and 2) time.

    Being able to make personnel decisions in tandem with the GM he helped choose has meant the team building is going in a single direction, and the trust to give Carroll five years and never show a hint of “hot seat” furor even after two 7-9 seasons gave the staff the opportunity to the patient in building.

    Most owners, if you said “We’re going to take three maybe four years to find our QB,” (even midway through the 2012 season we still didn’t know for sure we had our long-term solution) would have applied the screws and forced them to go all in on someone, anyone, with a big investment.

    • Jon

      I think you have hit the nail on the head here.
      We spend a lot of time talking about PCJS and rightly so.
      Perhaps some attention should be given the the culture shift that ultimately has taken place in the entire era of Paul Allen. He came in and was no longer willing to accept minimal mediocrity. Ok, then what should we do? Hire Holmgren! Well that was fun, he took us to the SB but now his love for coaching is gone. Insert Jim Mora. Oh yeah he’s a nice guy (nevermind) but he does not have a plan. We need to move on and we’ll just send him a check for his contract, get rid of him and find someone with a track record and a plan. Ok lets get PCJS cause they have a lot of promise and they have been working within two separate winning formulas for years now. Ok, we made the playoffs at 7-9 and a year later won only 7 games again but there was real improvement in how we lost those 9 games. They told us it would take four years and so far the team has outperformed the roster. Paul Allen did not accept PCJS because of the 7-9 records, he accepted the philosophy the performance of those records and the tangible growth that was taking place. He was not accepting mediocrity, but PCJS were churning out this roster at a rate never seen in the NFL because they like their boss would not accept any form of mediocrity. I am certain that this was quite appealing to Allen, and is the reason that there was not pressure to do something knee-jerk and take Andy Dalton, Kaepernick, Mallet, or any of the other QBs. Instead Paul Allen gave some patience because he knew that PCJS had the same disdain that he has for mediocrity.

      • Mark

        I don’t think it can be overstated how well PC, JS and co. work together on the same vision. All-in doesn’t just apply to the players. Staff and coaches must also be on the same page. Today the whole organization works as a cohesive unit.

  10. me

    I think people underestimate how humble PCJS have to be for the ‘always compete’ motto to work. I mean think about the usual model: get ‘your’ guy! If you have a need, pick your favorite players as either a FA vet or #1/#2 pick, and call it good. Trust that you know the answer – even though first days picks bust out like crazy and old FAs are overpaid and still often underperform to expectations.

    Thor whole point of our team building idea is not to believe you know the answer. If you have a role to fill, find 3-4 guys you know have the mental and physical characteristics to potentially succeed, invest as little as possible in getting them on the team, and keep whoever does the job best.

    It’s basically an odds game – instead of going all in on one solution you selected ahead of time, pick the best odds you can on multiple options, and see how it shakes out. I mean take our WR need for a ‘big guy’. We didn’t take one R1, so obviously we “failed to address that need”, right?

    Well, late R1 WRs become average contributors at about 50%, I think. Would I say there’s 50/50 odds that one of the crew of Norwood/Rice/Matthews can be an average redline possession receiver? Absolutely I’ll take that bet, and look at what we invested to get them: R4 pick, vet minimum FA, street FA.

  11. Kyle


    Who was your biggest draft miss; that one player you bought into 100% and he turned out to be a dud? You mentioned Jimmy Clausen in your post, and I was not a reader of your blog at the time, but I was of the same opinion as you were and bought into the Clausen hype big time. I could mention Aaron Curry, but that’s too easy.

    • Rob Staton

      I actually never bought into Clausen Kyle. In fact I had him down as a round two prospect all along (all archived at the old site — seahawksdraft.blogspot.com). Neither did I want Aaron Curry — I actually pined for Michael Crabtree in 2009.

      My biggest miss to date is probably Matt Barkley who sank like a stone. There are others who fell based on character/injury concerns that weren’t in the public domain. Barkley fell purely on physical talent and a lack of perceived upside. So he would be the biggest miss.

    • Michael (CLT)

      Interesting question. I hope me providing my two cents is not intruding.

      I loved Sanchez. And I was hell bent on trading up to get a QB. “Win now” was my reasoning.

      I would make a terrible GM. But I am a great fan!

  12. Steve Nelsen


    You were missed! Glad to have you back.

    Your article focused on the Seahawk’s patience in building a roster. You also pointed out their strategic decision to build their roster around a running game and a great defense as a reason for their championship.

    There are a couple other things that I think the Seahawks have done differently that have also contributes to their success. I’d love to get your thoughts in comments or follow-up articles.

    One of the previous posts mentioned the 12s. The best analysis I have heard on this subject came from a marketing expert. He said that the Seahawks have achieved the holy grail of sports marketing by creating an atmosphere where the fans not only feel the excitement of the game but they truly believe that their participation can actually affect the outcome of the game. This kind of fan base is extraordinarily rare in the NFL (or US professional sports period).

    Pete Carroll describes the Seahawk defense as, “A 4-3 defense with 3-4 personnel.” What he means is that they have a number of very versatile players up front and they can use some situational players in a rotation to give opposing offenses a wide variety of defensive looks. Gus Bradley described it best, “I think the idea here is that Pete Carroll wanted to try and incorporate both the 3-4 and the 4-3. The hard part of it is to try and make it simple enough that you can run both defenses, and we feel like we’re on our way to doing that. We really developed this defense so you can play multiple positions. It’s not as advanced as maybe some 3-4 teams and maybe not as advanced as some 4-3 teams, but, we can do both. And, that’s where I think we create some issues for offenses. They look and say, ‘We can’t put in our 3-4 plan, or our 4-3 plan, because they do both, and it might limit some of the things they do.'” Lots of defenses are moving to using rotations in the front 7 instead of starters and backups as their model. But I think we are still out in front on this in terms of having a roster that has grown up in this system. I believe special kudos are owed to coach Norton for his skill in developing young linebackers.

    The Legion of Boom. Pete Carroll and John Schneider have managed to draft and develop the best safety tandem in the league and what is arguably the best cornerback tandem in the league during an era where defensive backs are the most highly sought after positions in the game. They have done this by creating a system and indoctrinating players into that system. It is not as simple as drafting fast corners or big corners or even big and fast corners. It takes time and commitment. Seattle DBs may be famous for their “Boom” but they are also extremely dedicated to film study and being students of the game. Pete Carroll is arguably the finest defensive back coach in the NFL and his assistants have done an extraordinary job of developing a group of guys into the Seattle system.

    Culture of Competition. Pete Carroll has done a great job of creating a “Win Forever” culture in the Seattle locker room that is extremely competitive. In fact, John Schneider remarked going into this year’s draft that he has adjusted the type of player he looks for to give greater weight to their ability to survive in this type of environment. Carroll literally wrote the book on this type of culture. How many other front offices would have been too afraid of criticism to allow their 3rd round rookie to beat out their high-priced free-agent QB in training camp? Or, to move their starting 1st round pick linebacker (Irvin) to the bench in favor of a 7th rounder (Maxwell)? The lack of fear demonstrated by this front office is fairly uncommon. I think buy-in from the owner and the fan base support is what has allowed the patience you wrote about.

    • AlaskaHawk

      Great Post Steve. Have you written on here before???

      I believe the key difference in the Seahawks vs other teams is not the physical attributes of the drafted players. Yes we all focus on SPARQ and three cone drills and 40 times. So do ALL the other teams. We don’t have some secret to drafting success or free agency. We have struck out just like other teams.

      For instance witness the Whitehurst, to Tevaris, to Flynn, to Wilson transition. Somewhere in there a draft pick and 12 million dollars were thrown away.

      The difference is Pete Carroll and the coaching staff. We have better coaches and better game plans. They take the raw talent that is recruited and turn them into an Uber Football team. Now that we are ahead of the training curve, we will be competitive for many years to come.

      Also helps that we are now building a big practice squad reserve in all our positions. If one player goes down we will have two players ready to step up.

      • Steve Nelsen

        Thanks, Alaska. I discovered this site shortly after the SuperBowl and have made some posts about the draft. I have really enjoyed the professional level of discourse here. Rob is a very-skilled talent evaluator and I am impressed that so many of the posters here also review film on players.

        I have been gathering notes and thoughts for an article about the Seahawks defensive scheme and philosophy and this post includes some of those notes.

    • Hay stacker509

      Great write up sir! I look forward to reading another article you post

  13. Hay stacker509

    — Seahawks; Kevin Williams Agree to Contract —
    Thu Jun 12, 2014 –from FFMastermind.com

    ESPN’s Ed Werder reports free-agent DT Kevin Williams has agreed to one-year contact with the Seattle Seahawks for in excess of $2 million, according to sources.

    That’s insane! With our rotation of players up front Kevin Williams at his age playing around 30-40% of each game is an impact… If he makes the final roster

  14. Ulsterman

    Two words that come to mind with the current regime are patience and planning.
    The patience to wait for the right quarterback, the patience in the draft to wait and take players where they think they’ll still be available, but also the patience to keep players around a year or two or three years until he’s ready to make an impact – players like Maxwell spring to mind.
    They’ve also planned ahead at certain positions like dline, running back and cornerback because they know that position’s going to take a hit in a year’s time.

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