By John Boyle Herald Columnist
John Schneider was probably exaggerating for effect, at least a little, but the way the Seattle general manager describes a typical postgame phone conversation with his father is the perfect anecdote to kick off draft week for the Seahawks.
“My dad’s watching our games on TV like, ‘John, what are you going to do? How are you going to sign all these guys? You’re going to lose everybody. The sky is falling,’” Schneider said.
Schneider’s response: “We’re still going to be able to draft players.”
Indeed the Seahawks will draft players later this week. And as the elder Schneider points out, they’ll need some of those players to fill in as Seattle loses players off their Super Bowl championship team. And even more importantly, when the Seahawks lose more players in the next few years.
In their first few drafts together, Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll found the nucleus of a championship team, adding the likes of free safety Earl Thomas, tackle Russell Okung and strong safety Kam Chancellor in 2010, cornerback Richard Sherman and linebacker K.J. Wright in 2011, and quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner in 2012. Because the Seahawks were rebuilding, and let’s face it, not incredibly deep or talented, many of their picks made immediate impacts.
Now the focus shifts a bit from drafting players who will be impact players in 2014 to drafting players who will take on significant roles when inevitable departures occur in upcoming offseasons.
Just as last year’s draft class had a hard time getting on the field, with tight end Luke Willson and tackle Michael Bowie being the two exceptions, this year’s class, even if it’s very good, might not have a huge impact this season.
That doesn’t mean the Seahawks wouldn’t love to see the players they take later this week blossom into stars as rookies. That would mean they’re good enough to take jobs from players who helped lead Seattle to a Super Bowl. It just means the more important thing is that the Seahawks find future young, inexpensive impact players to balance things out as the current group of young, inexpensive impact players either get paid or leave.
“We know that by extending ourselves (financially) at specific positions that other positions are going to be younger players that have smaller salaries and are going to be expected to come in and contribute right away,” Schneider said. “Much like Earl did right away, Sherm did right away, Russell Okung, K.J., all these young guys that came in and played right away. So it’s kind of like having pillars, if you will, and then building around it, and we have to be very cognizant of what is coming three, four years out.”
Chancellor got his financial reward last offseason, while Thomas got his last week. Sherman likely will too at some point this offseason, and Wilson is a lock to get a huge raise in 2015. And if Thomas, Sherman and Wilson are taking up something in the neighborhood of $40 million in cap space in a couple of years as those pillars Schneider described, some sacrifices will have to be made elsewhere.
Hence William Schneider’s trepidation about his son’s roster.
When the Seahawks were still young and rebuilding, and when they had the tremendous competitive advantage of paying a Pro Bowl quarterback a six-figure salary — an advantage they’ll enjoy for one more season before Wilson gets his pay day — they could focus on rebuilding through the draft while also going out and trading for Percy Harvin or signing pass rushers like Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Already we have seen in the 2014 offseason that big offseason additions are a luxury the Seahawks can’t afford, not if they want to keep their own.
And don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing. Basically the Seahawks have built their roster to the point that they’d rather spend money on keeping their own players than adding outside help, which should be the goal for every team in the league. But to sustain their current level of success after paying their own young stars, the Seahawks need to find some impact players in this week’s draft. Even if those players’ impact takes a while to be felt.
Let’s face it, the Seahawks could be Super Bowl contenders again if they didn’t add a single player this week; their current roster is that good. But if the Seahawks are going to be contenders in, say, 2016, players from last year’s class as well as this year’s will have to be a big part of that future success.
You often hear people talk about a team’s biggest need this time of year. For the Seahawks, their biggest need in this draft just might be “help in 2015 and beyond.”
Schneider often likes to say they grade players for their team, not for the league. What he means by that is that the Seahawks aren’t just looking at a player’s talent, but how he fits in on Seattle’s roster.
The Seahawks may think one of the quarterbacks in this year’s draft is fantastic, but if they don’t think he can compete with Wilson, they won’t grade him as high as another quarterback-needy team might.
A big part of that process, of course, is looking ahead and trying to project who might be gone. Schneider said cornerback Tharold Simon was drafted in part because the Seahawks knew Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond, both in the final year of their contracts, could be gone, and sure enough both have found new homes. This draft will be no different. Somebody the Seahawks pick this week will inevitably find himself buried on the depth chart, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be a part of Seattle’s future.
“We’re trying to project who’s going to be here, who will be here, who they’ll be competing with,” Schneider said. “I think you saw last year was a prime example of that. Luke (Willson) did a great job. We had a specific role with him in mind, and our coaching staff did a great job with him, but I think you saw a number of other picks in there that were more projections for the 2014 season.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.