With hindsight, Pete Carroll and John Schneider got it right

Pete Carroll's blue print is the right one for Seattle

When Pete Carroll and John Schneider arrived in Seattle, most people had an idea as to how they would rebuild this team:

a.) Draft a quarterback

b.) Build around that quarterback

A lot of teams have taken this route in the last few years. The Atlanta Falcons drafted Matt Ryan with the #3 pick in 2008 and built around him – adding a left tackle, signing Michael Turner in free agency then bringing in other pieces like Tony Gonzalez and eventually Julio Jones. St. Louis turned down the chance to draft Ndamukong Suh because they believed they needed a quarterback – Sam Bradford – to begin yet another rebuild. The Lions drafted Matt Stafford after going 0-16, hoping he would be the focal point of a more successful era in Detroit.

In the last five drafts (2008-12) ten quarterbacks have been drafted in the top-10. Conventional wisdom says you need a quarterback to succeed. Conventional wisdom also states you sit that quarterback for one or more years, but more and more teams feel obliged to start their latest top-10 pick as a rookie. Instead of drafting the quarterback and then sitting him while you build from the inside out, teams are now throwing their rookies to the wolves and hoping for the best (see: Miami).

Some have been more fortunate than others. Matt Ryan had the benefit of a smart front office that knew it had to do something to protect the rookie, which is why they made an aggressive move to draft a tackle (Sam Baker) and add a running back of Turner’s quality. Joe Flacco – a slightly later first round pick who started in year one – had the benefit of an elite defense in Baltimore keeping games close. Mark Sanchez had a poor regular season as a rookie, but again benefited from a good defense and ground game.

In each case, Atlanta, Baltimore and New York knew what they were doing. Sure, it was a risk starting a quarterback that early. But it was a calculated risk given the quality surrounding the team.

Other quarterbacks haven’t been quite so fortunate. Sam Bradford has taken a pounding playing for a wretched Rams outfit. Stafford came good last year, but only after two seasons collecting injuries because Detroit couldn’t protect the guy. A lot of people love to get at Blaine Gabbert, but really what chance did he have in Jacksonville throwing to… ??? The Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns appear destined to struggle with their rookies for similar reasons.

One quarterback has been talented enough as an individual to make up for a poor supporting cast, and that’s Cam Newton. A lot of national pundits wouldn’t have touched Newton with the #1 pick as they mentioned a lot pre-draft, but few are willing to admit it now.

Seattle didn’t go with conventional wisdow (can you see that recurring theme?) and spent needed time putting themselves in the Atlanta/Baltimore/New York bracket instead of the St. Louis/Miami/Cleveland group.

Starting a rookie or even a second year quarterback is all about the situation you put them in. It is the most important position, everyone knows that. But having talent at that position alone is rarely enough. The Panthers may get by because of Newton. Indianapolis will probably experience years of success purely because of Andrew Luck, just like they did under Peyton Manning. All those guys were #1 overall pick. The Seahawks have never owned the #1 pick to draft a guy of such quality that alone can define a team.

Getting a quarterback and building around him is the presumed the way of doing things, but the Seahawks didn’t play that hand. Many people questioned that decision. I should know, because I was one of those people. I often wrote on this blog about quarterbacks, about needing to make the big push up the board and selling out to get that centrepiece. It was frustrating to see the team drift along with an out-of-sorts Matt Hasselbeck, Tarvaris Jackson or Charlie Whitehurst. Something had to be done. Why weren’t they doing something?

All along Carroll and Schneider knew what they were doing, even if we didn’t understand it at the time. There was a lot of hand wringing when Schneider uttered the words ‘we will not panic‘ time and time again in post-season interviews. Not panicking translated to us as not doing enough. Sitting on your hands. It was only once a solution emerged via Russell Wilson, that people (including myself) ‘got it’. And hey, I’m not the only one. You’re probably reading this and relating to what I’m saying too. And there’s nothing wrong with a front office needing to prove what they’re doing is right, just as long as we accept it when that the evidence is there.

Even if Wilson doesn’t succeed, Carroll and Schneider’s way is worth persevering with. Drafting a rookie and starting him in the 2010 version of the Seahawks would’ve been chaos. When you consider the options (Tebow, McCoy, Clausen), it’s pretty obvious why they didn’t pull the trigger despite owning two first round picks that year. In 2011, the options were Dalton or Kaepernick. Again – would you feel more comfortable now with one of that trio as your long term investment as a round one pick? After a lockout? After you’ve just changed offensive coordinators? Or was rolling with Tarvaris Jackson for a year (he knew the system and coach) a good option after all? Was any long term damage created by going 7-9 last year?

Now we look at a team that is overwhelmingly superior to the 2010 outfit that somehow made the playoffs. The defense is seemingly on the brink of elite status. The offensive line is stronger. The run game is much better. It’s a better environment for a young quarterback to prosper. And now the supporting cast is in place, they’re giving a rookie quarterback a chance to show what he can do.

The Miami Dolphins have basically done the opposite of Seattle – drafting a rookie quarterback in the top ten, naming him the starter and then proceeding to make life as difficult as possible for him. They’ve traded away a solid albeit controversial receiver in Brandon Marshall. They traded away a useful cornerback for draft stock. They’re basically hoping Ryan Tannehill avoids long term damage – physically or mentally – before they start a proper rebuild next year. Good luck with that.

Cleveland – led by a President a lot of Seahawks fans wanted back in Seattle – started in a similar vein to the Seahawks building a good defense with some incredibly solid picks. But then they panicked. They draft a soon-to-be 29-year-old rookie quarterback in round one because they feel obliged to force the issue. Brandon Weeden has no weapons, so they then spend a second round pick on Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft and hope he can offer an immediate impact. It has to be said – a lot of what Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert have done so far has been positive. There’s potential with the defense and the offensive line. They have a future star at running back. And yet they’ve got the quarterback position so wrong because they panicked. Weeden looked completely out of his depth in pre-season and time is not on his side.

Let’s not forget, the Browns and Miami could’ve both signed Matt Flynn. They were probably the favorites to do so. But they wanted to use the draft to solve that problem. Seattle not only signed Flynn, they benched him when their rookie looked better. How different would life be for Cleveland and Mike Holmgren right now if they’d gone Flynn-Wilson and spent the 22nd overall pick on – for example – David DeCastro, Dont’a Hightower or made a small move up the board for Kendall Wright?

The Seahawks took a different approach and didn’t panic. There was no desperation move in the draft, no losing of cool as they took Bruce Irvin or James Carpenter in round one despite some criticism. The team is better for that approach and while this franchise may be a year or two away from maxing out its potential, it’s still a club that’s on the right track.

I suspect in years to come the Seahawks might be used as a role model. If Seattle succeeds and if Wilson succeeds, it may lead to a trend away from the conventional wisdom of drafting a rookie quarterback as stage one of a big rebuild and then being obliged to start them. It is quite staggering how far this team has come in two and a half years and teams will take notice of that. Whatever happens in 2012, without doubt the Seahawks are getting it right.


  1. Mtjhoyas

    I feel like a member of your Fan Club Rob, but your stuff is always on point and a joy to read.

    I too, was one of those people panicking about a QB. As you mention, in hindsight that would have been disastrous. Unless you have an “outlier” type talent at QB, you truly need a capable team around them.

    The best part about their approach, is that they are building a system that can last. It’s not built to be a flash in the pan team, but rather one that can stand the test of time and has interchangeable parts that don’t cost a premium price. A pretty genius concept in the age of “overspending” and immediate results.

  2. Bobby Cink

    A well reasoned article. I like it.

  3. Colin

    What I love the most is we have money to spend when the time is right, and we have growing a nucleus of players where when draft time rolls around, there are no more glaring needs. We can really start taking Best Players Available.

    I think we are on the verge of long term success; they just have to go out and show it.

  4. Brendan Scolari

    Very good points Rob. It will certainly be interesting to see how this season plays out.

  5. Stuart

    Someday they will use the Seahawk model on drafting and building a team, you are so right about that. How lucky and blessed we are to be a part of this. Our fans have suffered through an awful lot of agonizing times.

    As a hard core fan since day 1, this Sunday’s season opener has more build up and excitement for me than any of the others.

    Time will tell how good we are, let the games begin! Game time cant get here soon enough for me…

  6. Adam

    I don’t know if anyone can truly follow the PC/JS mold unless they can draft starters at all levels of the draft 3 years in a row. 2011 might be the weakest draft of the three and we got two very promising starters out of it in Sherman and Wright and two “only time will tell types” in Carpenter and Moffitt.

    I’m not saying a team needs to be that successful at drafting to do it but after two 7-9 seasons most HC/GMs will take a shot with any QB they can get their hands to avoid the hot seat for one more season. In this win now league it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t type deal.

    • rrrhawkout

      I agree that a key part of this rebuild is Paul Allen’s non-inference and trust in PCJS as an owner. I don’t believe they’ve felt that “hot seat” feeling at any point (and probably won’t unless both years 3 and 4 deliver mediocre results, which I don’t see happening), and that’s incredibly freeing.

      Also, hiring a coach-president and a GM who can be in total sync and aren’t fighting each other for dominance is a rare and smart thing to have, so the organization can move in one direction. That’s what allows these risks to happen.

      Third, they’ve been very quick to move on from their mistakes, and let no sentiment stand in the way of dumping the underperformers. I was worried at first that, while they’d been ruthless with cutting old-regime guys and some tryout folks like LenDale White, they hadn’t before this year let go of any of their own installed pieces. Now it’s clear that no one is safe to rest on laurels. That’s another thing having the trust of the owner brings you: not having to worry about fan or pundit reaction to your latest head-scratching big-name-cutting (or benching) move.

  7. John

    Does anyone feel like Philbin is looking a bit like McDaniels?

    • Bobby Cink

      That is who I thought it was at first.

      • Rob Staton

        I think the guys above Philbin aren’t helping… McDaniels was the one making the big decisions in Denver.

  8. Michael (CLT)

    DoucheBxx -> me. I read what each coach. Every Coach… has to say about Wilson. And I believe. I get so spirited.

    So, what is Arizona beats Seattle. Will the spirit die? That is the true next test.

    How much love is there for the future of Russell Wilson? A loss will tell us.

    I love him as a player. I can think of no greater player leading my favorite time right now.

    I am Paul on the road to Damascus. The sun is bright, my friends.

  9. James

    Rob, great analysis as usual. I really appreciate you not taking the “know it all” approach of some draft analysts, but you instead keep flexible and dig deep to understand John & Pete’s thinking. This is why yours is the best Seahawks website around. …By the way, you remember the angst in the Seahawks war room in round two around the time Kendricks and Wagner were being drafted? Many assumed that the Seahawks were lamenting losing Kendricks. But, I was told “off the record” by a Seahawks beat writer that he was informed that the “angst” was over the decision to pass on Russell Wilson in round two. Many of the Seahawks people, who were targeting Wilson, feared that they would lose Russell if they waited until round three, and when the decision came down to take the risk to wait, and instead go with the LB, they thought they had lost their man. Alls well that ends well.

    • Bobby Cink

      I guess since it was told “off the record” that you can’t tell us whom it was that told you that.

      • Rob Staton

        Interesting comment regarding Wilson – and knowing what we know now… I can see it. In the lead up to the draft I was told though that the earliest Seattle would draft a QB was round three, but if they truly believed Wilson would go earlier than that I can see that thought process changing. They clearly felt they ‘needed’ to take Wilson.

        • Belgaron

          Seahawks Board 2012 Draft: #1 Russell Wilson, #2 Bruce Irvin, #3 Mark Barron, #4 Luke Kuechly….#n Bobby Wagner. Despite him being at the top of their board, they didn’t want to overpay (See Denver 2010 pick #25) and restrained themselves until round 3.

          …OK, He may have not been #1 on the board but I would really like to know if they truly had Bobby Wagner above him or not. From what I’ve read of Schneider’s grades of Wilson as a prospect, my bet is no.

      • James

        I was at an event at a local watering hole and the beat writer was there. We were chatting about the Seahawks draft and I mentioned the round two scene that many interpreted to mean that the Seahawks were upset at losing Kendricks, and I said that didn’t make sense, becauase Kendricks is an OLB, and the Seahawks clearly needed a Mike. The writer then told me “off the record” that he had heard that the angst we saw on the screen was, in fact, some of the guys in the war room believing that they must take Russell in round two or risk losing him, and they were visibly upset at potentially losing “their guy” when John and Pete decided (correctly) to take the risk.

        • woofu

          Flynn did not roll an ankle he overworked his arm to compensate for questions about his arm strength. Enter the destructor!

          Was RW the only Qb on their want list with Flynn as a fall back? Some say so. Others believe Tannehill was first but they were unwilling to reach so RW was the draft day fall back to Tanny. Currently Tanny is being called a franchise Qb for Miami and just like Wilson they both have the starting nods. Opinions and inside sources differ on the subject as you would expect but one thing is certain,,,

          ,,,Seattle was better prepared as a landing spot than Miami due to the main point of this article. Perhaps Tannehill is jealous of Wilson in that regard and should they both succeed the money WILL even out.

          • Mtjhoyas

            I for one am thrilled that we did not get Tannehill. Didn’t like him at all at TAMU. He had a loaded team and couldn’t win and seemed to get worse as the pressure was on.

            He has AWESOME tools, but watching Jake Locker forever here has really turned me off on the “toolsy QB” who is not a very good QB. It’s similar to the “5 tool” player in baseball and how rarely those guys ever work out. Playing a sport is almost like art, you can’t necessarily “teach” someone to be good at it. You can certainly hone skills, but you can’t just create a good player.

            *That doesn’t mean I disregard tools. Physical tools, intelligence, and saavy (ability to act unscripted) all make a great QB. You have to have a baseline set of physical skills to succeed. I think people will see Andy Dalton get exposed this year because his tools are horrendous.

            • Jim Kelly

              Just thinking about the “tools” thing. Russell Wilson has all the tools, he just doesn’t have the height. You might not be able to teach height, but you cannot also teach heart. Wilson has definatly turned his “lack of height” into motivation. So many coaches feel that they can teach up a player, that if they have one problem, coaching will overcome it. Because of that, guys like Koren Robinson are taken at #9, and true football players go at #75.
              I hope that Wilson succeeds, not just because of what that would mean for the Hawks, but because it would shut up so many “experts”. (I’m looking at you Mel Kiper, Jr.)

    • Kip Earlywine

      Very interesting. True or not, I always love hearing off the record stuff. Thanks for sharing. For what it’s worth, I find this explanation believable. They badly wanted Wilson, and they definitely gambled by waiting until round 3.

      You know how much I loved Wilson as a prospect before the draft. It sounds like JS liked Wilson every bit as much as I did, so I can only imagine his torment in round 3, wondering if he had just made the biggest mistake of his career.

  10. James

    There was only one question with Russell Wilson: Could he duplicate his 2011 Wisconsin season in the NFL? A lot of college QBs have had great seasons that ended in national championships (as recently as Cam Newton), but Wilson had the best season in college football history, based on the QB efficiency rankings. Even the three games Wisconsin lost, Russell put up 38, 31 and 29 points, and the Badgers D let them down. I will take 29 points per game and the Seahawks will go 14 – 2. If Russell could do the same in the NFL, he would be the long-sought franchise QB.

    But most NFL teams, and most draft analysts, did not believe he could be the same player… he was too short, basically, for all the other elements were there. Thank goodness that John and Pete believed that he could perform in the NFL as he performed at Wisconsin. When Russell arrived here in April, Pete saw immediately that Russell could duplicate his level of play into the NFL practices, so Pete placed Russell into the QB competition. Then, in the preseason, Pete saw that Russell continued to play at the same level in games. Here he is the starter and there is absolutely no logical reason to believe that he won’t continue to perform as always, once he gets acclimated to the speed of the game. Don’t bet against him from day one.

  11. Belgaron

    I agree with your insights, the focus was not building around a quarterback but building around the two most important units of the team—offensive line and defensive backs. And when I say focus I don’t mean targetting their top picks on these groups as they don’t target positions (although the value was there for several key members of these units), the focus was in the research that uncovered all of the members of the Legion of Boom in addition to Okung, Carpenter, Moffitt, Giacomini, McQuistan, and now Sweezy plus holdover Unger. With these two units solid and still improving when the quarterback is discovered, the team is ready to roll.

  12. Erik

    Great article….well done Rob

  13. Jim Kelly

    Rob, have you ever had a bad article? Not one that I can recall. Good job, again. The work that you and Kip do makes this site great. I’ve cited your work many times when supporting my arguments. Thanks for the great articles, and insight. Like Mtjhoyas, I am part of your fan club.

  14. Kip Earlywine

    As I was reading you talk about how certain teams went about buiding their franchises, I couldn’t help but think of the job Mike Holmgren had done in his first two years, only to blow it in year three. I loved that you touched on that same idea about a paragraph after you got me thinking about it. I even thought of the Wright trade up.

    Imagine the Browns right now if they had Wright, Richardson, and Flynn instead of Weeden, Richardson, and Gordon. They’d be a darkhorse team in the weaker AFC.

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