Hawks make decisions with eye on sustained success

RENTON — John Schneider saw this coming.

Back when the Seattle Seahawks were just starting a rebuilding process under Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll, the general manager told the coach that somewhere down the road, cut day would be incredibly agonizing because the roster would be so deep, they wouldn’t want to let anyone go. Not only that, Schneider predicted, but the player Seattle did let go would someday be the ones being snatched up on the waiver wire.

Sure enough, the Seahawks have gone from being the team that in 2010 and 2011 was eager to pick up other teams castoffs to, as we saw over the past couple of days, a team that sticks with its players after cut day while watching other teams around the league eagerly grab its former players.

“John called this a long time ago,” Carroll said. “He said, ‘There will come a time, we don’t know how many years that it will take, when the roster will be so deep, that every cut will be difficult and that every guy that we cut will be picked up by any team.’ And, we are getting close to that. It’s a good thing.”

The Seahawks roster decisions made on Saturday, as well as the lack of moves that followed, taught us two things. For one, the Seahawks have become the team Schneider predicted, and secondly, no matter how talented a team Carroll and Schneider build, no matter how Super Bowl-ready the Seahawks look, they’ll always be making those rosters decisions with one eye on sustained success.

On the depth side of things, one needs to look no further than past years’ transaction reports to see how much the Seahawks have changed. Back in 2010, the Seahawks made their initial round of cuts, then over the next three days added six new players who had been cast aside by other teams. And that doesn’t even include Jordan Babineaux’s wild week in which he survived cut day, was released two days later, then re-signed the day after that. A year later, the Seahawks added four new players immediately following cut day.

Last year was a turning point for the Seahawks in that regard, as they made only one move immediately following cut day, releasing Kellen Winslow and signing Evan Moore. This year, not only did the Seahawks add only one player who wasn’t with them for at least some of the preseason — defensive tackle D’Anthony Smith, who was a need acquisition because of injuries — they formed a practice squad entirely of their own cuts rather than add any cuts from other teams. And more significantly, the Seahawks had eight of their cuts (from 90 players to 75, and then to 53) picked up by other teams: CB Will Blackmon (Jaguars), CB Ron Parker (Chiefs), TE Sean McGrath (Chiefs), QB Brady Quinn (Jets), LB Kyle Knox (Jaguars), WR Chris Harper (49ers), S Winston Guy (Jaguars) and DT Jaye Howard (Chiefs). And a ninth player, guard Rishaw Johnson, was added to the Chiefs’ practice squad Tuesday.

That being said, the Seahawks didn’t just blindly decide to roll with their own guys. They scoured the waiver wire, and they’ll always look for upgrades in talent wherever they’re available. Those upgrades are just getting harder to find.

“Well, we burned a candle up here now, Johnny and his guys worked late, looked at every single guy that came across the wire that might have a chance, and we’re really happy with the guys that we’ve kept, that’s why we weren’t as active,” Carroll said. “To be so competitive, it was verified by all the guys that wound up in other people’s camps; there are a lot of guys on other teams practice squads and active rosters as well. There were a lot of good football players that had to get out of here, so it was hard for us to look at someone that can come in and take anybody’s spot.”

You’ll notice that the list of Seattle’s nine players who have already found work doesn’t even include the two Pro Bowlers who were released, fullback Michael Robinson and cornerback Antoine Winfield. Which brings us to the second of the two aforementioned things we learned over the weekend.

Yes the Seahawks cuts were tough because they have so much talent, but they were also difficult for Schneider and Carroll because they had to deal with the business side of the game. Neither would tell you in an honest moment that Winfield or Robinson wasn’t one of the team’s best 53 players. But as high as expectations are this year, the Seahawks are making moves looking not just at this year, but at how they can sustain success. Or in Carroll’s words, how they can “Win Forever.” Sure going with the unproven Derrick Coleman over Robinson at fullback might ever so slightly hurt Seattle’s chances of winning a Super Bowl this year, but if cutting Robinson and his $2.5 million salary helps the Seahawks re-sign safety Earl Thomas or cornerback Richard Sherman to a long-term deal in 2014 with the cap space they can roll over to next year, that’s a decision Carroll and Schneider know they have to live with, even if it hurts a little now.

Asked before cut day if roster decisions involve weighing playing for now versus thinking about the future, Carroll answered: “Yes. The answer is yes to that. It depends on a lot of variables and circumstances. You can’t say across the board that we do this or do that. It’s going to depend on the situations and a lot of variables.”

And if you think Mr. Always Compete is contradicting himself if he’s willing to give a roster spot to a slightly less talented player, you’re missing the point. Carroll doesn’t just want competition between two players for a job, he’s competing with himself and other teams when it comes to handling the business side of the game and building a roster that can be good now and five years from now. Competition is paramount to Carroll, but so too is sustained success, hence the “Win Forever” title of his book.

The decisions the Seahawks had to make this weekend show not only that they’ve built the depth to win now, but that they’re still approaching things with a mentality that they can do so without mortgaging the future.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com

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