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.


nightwulf said...

Impressive first article, I look forward to more from you, Kip. (plus I like the fact that you think like I do:) )

Jon said...

Ruskell definitely knew what he wanted and had a decent eye for value BUT his jockey skills in the draft were horrendous. The moves he made to get players like Carlson or Tatupu where unnecessary.

Carlson in particular, he threw the 3rd round out the window to move up for Carlson in the 2nd after taking Jackson in the first. I've never understood why he didn't take Carlson in the 1st and Jackson in the 2nd without trading. Jackson had a 2nd-3rd round grade.

Let us not forget our trading partner in that endeavor chose Ray Rice with that late 2nd round pick.

I'm just saying, being aggressive and getting the guys you like is great but you can't throw the baby out with the bathwater in the process.

Steve in Spain said...

Jack Z's already one of the best GMs in baseball so, yeah, I'll take one of those please!

But as you suggest, it looks like Schneider's role will be quite different. Carroll will communicate to Schneider the players he wants but, since he's never put together an NFL roster before, it'll be up to Schneider to compose a draft / acquisition strategy to get those guys. Or so it seems.

I look forward to your posts, Kip.

Kip Earlywine said...


Maybe Rob remembers the specifics, but iirc, if we hadn't traded up for Tatupu there were a couple other teams that would have grabbed him. One was Cincy, who's coach Marvin Lewis loved Tatupu, calling him "little Ray" (Lewis). There was another team that was even more set on drafting him, but I forget who it was.

In the case of Carlson, he was projected as an early 2nd round TE and the Seahawks moved up 17 spots for him. Ray Rice is a good player, but great TEs seem harder to find than great RBs, and I think if we judged a draft by the great players we didn't pick, we could criticize 99% of our draft picks.

I really don't mind giving up the 3rd in 2008. Only about 4-5 good/decent players came out of that round, so the odds are decent we didn't miss much.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything you said so you must be right. Especially Price @ 14. Must of read Morgans write up.


Anonymous said...

Great work Kip! I'm glad Kyle/Rob brought you on. Very sound reasoning and very readable writing. --Nano

CLanterman said...

Great first post. I'm looking forward to more.

Kyle Rota said...

Excellent article, Kip. Great read!

War_Hawk said...

Nice article, welcome aboard Kip. This blog is gaining momentum and is a daily must read.

Kip Earlywine said...

Hey CLanterman, I didn't know you read. Glad to have you around. : )

Jon said...

Andrew WK(ip),

The Ray Rice mention was a cheapish afterthought* but my main point was if Ruskell really liked LoJack and Carlson so much he could have had them both if he took Carlson in the 1st and Jackson in the 2nd without trading. This is not hindsight talking, that move boggled my mind on draft day and time has only compounded Ruskell's blunder as LoJack is a waste of space....

This is the difference between franchises and GM's who do things right and one's who don't. The Eagles, Packers, Partiots, Steelers, Colts, Ravens etc. would not have burned picks the way Ruskell did in his tenure, and if they did by some fluke certainly no one would defend those moves.

The great drafting teams realize you don't have to make those reaches, like the Packers. Maybe they wanted Carlson, they didn't freak out and trade up, they took Jermichael Finley in the late 3rd round. Good/great drafting teams teams know where to get what they need.

I hope I'm not coming off too snarky here, I appreciate your perspective and I like this blog a lot but I just couldn't believe you didn't mind passing on the 3rd round.

*I heard Ray Rice on the Carolla podcast today, they mentioned the Super Bowl Shuffle. Ray had never heard of it...never heard of it, born in 87'.

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