The single biggest asset for the Seattle Seahawks over the past 20 years was not Pete Carroll. Nor Mike Holmgren. Nor Tod Leiweke. Nor the 12s. Nor John Schneider. Nor Russell Wilson. Nor the Clink.
The biggest asset was franchise ownership by Paul Allen, whose stability, wealth and wisdom to know what he didn’t know, was the most important element in the Seahawks’ success and prosperity.
In 1997, Allen, moved by civic duty rather than passion, rescued the Seahawks from the blithering incompetence of team owner Ken Behring. Besides becoming the NFL’s richest owner by a factor of at least five, Allen approved the hires of Holmgren, Leiweke, Carroll, Schneider and others, helped fund a modern stadium and training facility, then said to the concerned parties, “You go.”
Thereafter, it was what he didn’t do — interfere with the good football people.
That virtue cannot be underestimated. When the NFL fan looks around to the operations of the 49ers, Cowboys, Browns, Raiders, Redskins, Colts and Cardinals, to name a few, the imagination conjures up clown cars.
Longtime Seattle fans dare not get smug, because from 1988 to 1997, the clown car was parked here after the original owners, the Nordstrom family, made the mistake of selling to Behring.
Front-office dysfunction, family politics and meddlesome egos don’t automatically disqualify franchises from winning championships. The messes just make winning big harder. Even well-run franchises, such as the Steelers, can get haywire sometimes.
In the long run, Allen’s tenure was as close to ideal as can be reasonably expected in the NFL. Now, it may be different.
The death of Allen Sept. 15 means this is the first offseason without his leadership. His absence doesn’t necessarily mean trouble or triumph, for the moment. It just injects some uncertainty about the future.
The reason for discussing it now is because Schneider, the general manager, thought to bring it up Wednesday at the annual scouting combine in Indianapolis, where his custom is to take a turn at the podium for 10 to 15 minutes of answers to media questions.
Responding to a query about whether today’s players require changes in recruiting tactics, Schneider said he didn’t think so, and elaborated by talking about why his franchise is so wonderful, hailing fans, ownership and Carroll’s coaching.
“Maybe I’m a little old school, but I don’t think it’s changed a ton,” he said. “Our stadium, as loud as it is — the fan base is incredible. Ownership’s been unreal. We lost Paul, miss him a ton, but we’ve been working with Jody, his sister. She’s been amazing.
“We look at it like we’re an elite place. We’re one of those teams that wants to be a consistent championship-caliber team, who wants to win all the time. We think we’re an attractive place.”
I don’t know that I’ve heard Schneider cheer-lead quite like that.
Having made the playoffs in seven of the past eight years, which includes two Super Bowl appearances, makes a case that he’s entitled. But that was then, and the future is nearly upon them, because soon enough, they will have to decide if they’re up for the privilege of having the highest-paid player in NFL history, then learn whether Wilson wants that privilege while remaining in Seattle.
Schneider’s message was directed, more or less, to Wilson to help convince him to stay.
Schneider wants the quarterback and his agent, Mark Rodgers, to know publicly that nothing has changed after Allen’s death. Jody Allen, Paul’s sister and primary heir, is chair of the Paul G. Allen Trust that owns the team. Bert Kolde, Allen’s longtime friend, is the vice chair.
Jody Allen has yet to make a public statement in her new role, but the organization has said the club isn’t for sale. Which is, of course, true until it isn’t.
Since Wilson’s contract is up after 2019, Schneider predictably said while he’s been in touch with Rodgers, his first priority is the Seahawks’ unrestricted free agents now, including defensive end Frank Clark.
Asked whether he thinks Wilson is committed (emotionally, if not contractually) long-term to the Seahawks, Schneider said, “I do. I don’t have any other reason to believe (otherwise), except website rumors.”
That was a reference to a rumor last week that Wilson, presumably via trade, wanted to join the Giants in New York, mainly because his pop-singer wife, Ciara, thinks it’s better for her career.
The popular speculation was that the story was planted anonymously with Fox Sports radio host Colin Cowherd by Wilson’s agent, who wants to stir the marketplace. So Schneider responded figuratively with his “nuh-uh, we’re still the cool kids” retort.
Irrelevant as was the Giants rumor, it did make a point about tactics from those who would benefit by separating Wilson from the Seahawks.
Even though the first public act by Jody Allen was to approve the extension through 2021 of the contract of Carroll, who has shown zero loss of energy or passion for the game, he remains the league’s oldest coach at 67.
More immediately, the Seahawks so far have the NFL’s weakest draft hand (four picks), fewest in club history. They have big room ($50 million, eighth-most in the NFL) under the salary cap, but a lot will go to extending Clark and others. Some room might have to be made for Wilson, should talks conclude this summer with an extension that includes new guaranteed money in 2019.
Still, it’s going to be tough to get better in 2019.
Someone might offer the argument to Wilson that he might be better off forcing a move now to a team on the rise instead of a sticking with a team that peaked with an unexpected playoff appearance.
With a new owner of unknown long-term passion and a franchise value that could fetch upon sale almost $3 billion for the foundation, Wilson might be well advised to break out of the pocket and seek the long-term owner/coach stability that helped him thrive in Seattle. Presuming, of course, that it exists elsewhere in the NFL.
Wilson’s remarkably efficient season in 2018 demonstrated he’s at the apex of his game, even if he has lost a step of speed. If anyone deserves a contract extension averaging $35 million a year, it’s him.
The bigger NFL question is whether any team paying that much to one player under the cap can be a consistent winner. None among the six highest-paid QBs made the playoffs last season.
The smaller Seattle question is whether Jody Allen might get creative and use her new influence to talk to the Oak View Group, creating a new arena at Seattle Center, to see whether they might want to have Ciara as the headline act opening the new venue in spring 2021.
It’s not New York, but Schneider says Seattle is an elite place. And Ciara’s talent fee wouldn’t count against the cap.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com.