Wednesday, 20 January 2010
My hopes and dreams for a Carroll/Schneider front office
By Kip Earlywine
The Seahawks recently hired John Schneider, the assistant to Packers General Manager Ted Thompson, to be Seattle's next General Manager. While I'd like to go into detail about what that means, as Brian McIntyre did; the truth is Schneider's role in Green Bay, or any of his previous teams (including Seattle), is pretty vague. John Morgan compared him to a "blank slate:" a very transparent collaborator type GM that will essentially do whatever coach Pete Carroll tells him to. And he's probably dead on in that assessment.
While I know many Seahawks fans have to feel uneasy about Pete Carroll having such a strong influence on the personnel decisions, there is the other extreme to consider. We've seen how Mike Holmgren and Jim Mora suffered for being force-fed Tim Ruskell players like Colin Cole and Brian Russell (although Morgan believes Russell to be Mora's idea, which could be true). Just once, it would be nice to see a GM/Coach duo completely in sync here in Seattle. You might argue that Mora/Ruskell were on the same page, but Carroll seems to be a much better leader and defensive mind than Mora, and it also seemed like Mora/Bradley's Tampa 2 system was greatly at odds with Tim Ruskell's assembled talent, which didn't change much in the 2009 offseason.
So while I really believe our true GM is Pete Carroll, or a combination of Carroll/Schneider, I'll give this curious arrangement the benefit of the doubt until we see what kind of moves Schneider makes. Here is what I hope he does- learn from Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik (a name which a full year later I have to google spell check). Jack Zduriencik (who interestingly enough also came from the front office of another Wisconsin sports franchise- the Brewers) inherited the first and only team in Major League Baseball's history to lose 100+ games with a $100+ million payroll. He took that awful team (61 wins) in financial hell, and turned it into an 85 win team in his first season, the biggest improvement of any MLB team in 2009. So how did he do this? He thought outside the box and never stopped looking for avenues to improve his team.
For example, after years of the online fanbase complaining about Bill Bavasi's (and front office's in general) refusal to acknowledge advanced metrics, Jack Zduriencik hired an advanced and well respected baseball statistician Tom Tango to advise him only two months into the job. How much Tango actually advises Zduriencik is not known, but it figures to be a lot since Zduriencik's roster moves consistently make sense from an advanced statistics perspective. Advanced Statistics are much more difficult in the NFL, and some of them are controversial, however, I think a good GM must leave no stone unturned and should consider every piece of information vital. I don't think the front office needs to hire Doug Farrar or anything (although that would be a great move), but if all Schneider does is familiarize himself with Football outsiders and statistics like DYAR (yards above replacement), it would serve him very well in finding the "hidden gems" of free agency.
Another thing is I hope to see is a GM who isn't afraid to make trades. The Seahawks have some decent linemen who don't fit Gibb's scheme very well, they have talented corners who don't fit zone coverage, not to mention they currently possess one or two extra starting caliber linebackers. Certainly, with a little work, you could find teams that have needs at those areas and have similar 3rd wheel players who could make for a win-win trade. This is exactly what Jack Zduriencik did when he traded for Franklin Gutierrez and Cliff Lee. Outside of draft day, trades are pretty uncommon in the NFL, but they really shouldn't be. Every year teams are hiring new coaches or GMs, implementing new schemes, and commonly find themselves with player dilemmas like a precision dependent Matt Hasselbeck in Knapp's loose system or Ray Willis in a zone blocking scheme. The Patriots, one of the most intelligently run teams in the NFL, nearly had a perfect season after an offseason that was highlighted by trades for Randy Moss and Wes Welker. The early-decade Denver Broncos were a RB factory, and turned that success into dealing a great but replaceable player for a HoF corner. And of course the Seahawks acquired Matt Hasselbeck, the greatest QB in the history of their franchise, in a trade. Simply stated, trades shouldn't be just for draft day. Start building relationships with other GMs (John Schneider already has ties to two- Mike Holmgren and Ted Thompson) and start looking for ways to optimize the roster through player exchanges.
The next thing I'd like to see is a GM that understands the draft, not just scouting the players but looking at what's out there and forming a strategy. This draft is pretty thin at offensive tackle, after the first round you would need a legendary offensive line coach like Alex Gibbs to make a starter out of the remaining options. Gibbs track record with linemen in the draft affords the Seahawks a big advantage, and they should consider taking advantage of it. If you have to choose between Charles Brown and Brian Price at #14, you get Price knowing there won't be great DT options later, and pick up a guy like Jason Fox, Selvish Capers, or Chris Marinelli later in the draft knowing that Gibbs can get a lot out of them. The fanbase may be upset about not taking a 1st round tackle (and I would have been one of them until recently), but Alex Gibbs seemingly never fails to turn mid-late round prospects into solid or even good starters. At the very least, this gives the team options and keeps them from drafting scared- reaching for over-rated players with precious resources because of a need.
Another aspect of this is to not be shy about moving around in the draft. If you have too many options at a pick- move down. If you really, truly believe in a guy later in the draft, don't wait for him- go get him! This was one of the things I really respected about Tim Ruskell's approach here- he moved down in the 1st on a few occasions and was very aggressive in the 2nd, spending an extra pick to get a guy he really wanted. Guys like Lofa Tatupu, John Carlson, Max Unger, and Deon Butler. That's a pretty impressive list.
In closing, I want our next GM to be active and aggressive, and exhaust every option. If it works out, the Seahawks will recover with surprising speed from their current pit of despair. If they fail, it just means that failure comes earlier and the ownership can move on to the next potential franchise savior sooner. Thankfully, Pete Carroll is obviously a very high energy guy and has already shown some encouraging signs- like watching tape and identifying Aaron Curry as a player that can be improved by being used differently, and the Brandon Marshall "locker room" rumors (if true) would certainly indicate a very pro-active and aggressive front office. I'm very much looking forward to how this offseason unfolds. The more energized this front office is, the more energized this team will be on Sundays later this year. And if all goes well, maybe we'll even see some "In John we trust" signs in the stands.
Posted by Kip Earlywine