The Seahawks' front office tandem of GM John Schneider and Executive Vice President Pete Carroll have made waves the last two seasons with their absurd amount of roster moves and outside-the-box personnel decisions. They've faced some ridicule from fans and media over a few of their decisions, and have had to weather some storms of malcontent from the aforementioned constituents as the team has gone 14-16 in the regular season since their arrival. They've whittled the roster they inherited down to eight or nine haggard holdovers while adding youth, speed and talent through the draft and free agency.
If there's one overarching theme though for the personnel they've brought in, the one word that comes to mind for me is 'value'. In an age where big name free agent signings are the sexy and easy way to endear yourself to fans and media (see: Philadelphia Eagles), the Seahawks have gone another route. Now - before I explore some of those decisions, obviously, the Seahawks have indeed made a few 'sexy' free agent signings. Sidney Rice, Zach Miller, and Robert Gallery were brought in on big contracts so it's not like the Seahawks are the football version of Moneyball. That's not the point I'm trying to make and I'm glad they're not going that route completely.
They have managed to build depth and develop solid starters for next to nothing in the relative sense, and may be doing so at a better clip than any other team in the NFL. Let's look.
This methodology started for the Seahawks last season. Immediately. In training camp, NFL rejects like Reggie Wiliams and Mike Williams were invited to try out. I'm sure other teams do this but the extent to which the Seahawks have given tryouts is pretty remarkable. Mike Williams ended up catching on with the team and went on to lead Seattle last season with 65 receptions for 751 yards. Long story short, BWM went from sitting on his couch to leading an NFL team in receptions. The Seahawks got this production for essentially nothing (one-year tryout contract, peanuts in the NFL world).
Mike Williams wasn't the Seahawks only target on offense last season, and on a yards per game basis, Brandon Stokley was essentially tied with Ben Obomanu for 2nd on the team in that category. Stokley was an integral part of the offense for 11 games, plus two playoff appearances, and guess where the Seahawks found him? Yep, sitting on his couch.
The success from last year in that regard has continued this season. Doug Baldwin is having one of the best seasons for an undrafted free agent wide receiver in the history of the NFL with his 46 receptions for 731 yards and 3 touchdowns. His place on the team was secured with a $17,500 signing bonus and a handwritten letter from John Schneider. Sidney Rice, by comparison, received a $5,000,000 signing bonus from the team and makes about $120k per game, if that gives you an idea of the type of value Seattle is getting out of Dougie Fresh.
In other words, the Seahawks have Doug Baldwin's services for essentially nothing. I'd say that's value.
K.J. Wright is a linebacker that Seattle selected with the 99th pick in the fourth round of the NFL Draft. I consider myself a bit of a draftnik and thought I had a pretty good grasp of the top 200 or so players that were eligible this year. When the Seahawks made that pick, the only thing I could say was, "who?"
He soon supplanted 4th overall pick in 2009 Aaron Curry for a starting spot as a Seahawks outside linebacker and has not looked back. Curry is now gone, and Wright has been making plays and looks like a future starting staple on this team. He's smart, assignment correct, and 22 years old. He is making the league minimum for a rookie this season, $375,000.
Richard Sherman is a cornerback that the Seahawks selected with the 154th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He has stepped in for an injured Marcus Trufant as the starting left cornerback position in his first year, and has, in my estimation, secured that spot going forward for this team. That's not a knock on Trufant as much as it's praise for Sherman's ability in the Seahawks' system. He jams well, he tackles well, he can stick with speedy receivers, and his fiery on-field demeanor and intensity is second to none (except maybe his college roommate Doug Baldwin) on the team. He's 23 years old and makes the league minimum of $375,000.
Opposite him is Brandon Browner, a 27-year old former Oregon State Beaver that spent the previous four trips around the sun up north, playing for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. He comes to the Seahawks as a street free agent, meaning any team could have signed him if they wanted, and is making the league minimum for a first-year player of $375,000. He has played nearly every defensive snap of every game for the Seahawks this season, snagging six interceptions and two return touchdowns. He went through the expected growing pains from a first-year player but has emerged as a legitimate Pro Bowl contender.
Kam Chancellor was taken with the 133rd pick of the 2010 NFL Draft. You know about Chancellor. He's a potential Pro-Bowl candidate. Red Bryant is a former 4th round pick that was wallowing on the depth chart, was moved to Defensive End in Pete Carroll's system, and is now a Pro-Bowl candidate. Leroy Hill had a two-year hiatus from football after having trouble with injuries and the law and was re-signed to a veteran minimum contract this season. He's started every game for the Seahawks and has performed very well - he might even be the Seahawks' best linebacker right now.
Chris Clemons was acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles along with a 4th round pick for DE Daryl Tapp. While Tapp has started in three games for the Eagles since that trade, Chris Clemons has racked up 22.0 sacks and become a veteran leader of the defense. That's value.
Marshawn Lynch was acquired for a 4th round pick in 2011 and a conditional pick in the 2012 draft, probably a 5th rounder. He's scored a touchdown in ten straight games and is the Seahawks first 1000-yard rusher since Shaun Alexander's 2005 MVP season. I'll take that value - two mid-round picks for the guy you build your offense around?
Lead blocking for Lynch? Michael Robinson, a veteran, versatile leader that the Seahawks plucked off of waivers from the San Francisco 49ers last season. He recently was named the starting fullback for the USA NFL All-Fundamentals Team, an honorific title bestowed by some pretty knowlegeable people in the industry - Charles Davis, Herm Edwards, Merril Hodge, Jim L Mora (yes, that Jim Mora), and Carl Peterson (a former NFL exec and coach). Mike makes about $1.3 million this year, a very good value. Also helps the Hawks didn't have to use a Draft pick or trade a player for their starting fullback and special teams' captain.
The other special teams' captain, Leon Washington, is a player the Seahawks acquired from the Jets along with a 2010 7th round pick for a 2010 5th round pick. Washington is now a borderline Pro-Bowl kick returner and backup running back. He makes about $2 million this year. Value.
I'll spare you the intimate details from the rest of the list of players that I include as 'high-value', but instead just list off a few. Alan Branch, free agent acquisition from Cardinals. Has started 13 of 14 games this season. Branch is 26 and on a fairly market-rate contract. Breno Giacomini and Lemuel Jeanpierre were picked up on waiver claims and Paul McQuistan was signed off the street. They're now all starting.
Clinton McDonald was picked up for Kelly Jennings. He's now a regular part of the defensive line rotation. Value. Walter Thurmond was a fourth round pick. He was, prior to injury, the starting nickelback and could easily start on the outside at cornerback if needed. Anthony McCoy was a sixth round pick and Cameron Morrah a seventh round pick (by the previous regime) that get significant playing time.
Finally - I'm not forgetting him - Tarvaris Jackson. Jackson faced an uphill climb as he was signed to replace fan-favorite Matt Hasselbeck in what was, and this is putting it lightly, a controversial move by this front office. Tarvaris Jackson has had a respectable season, demonstrating both mental and physical toughness, leadership, and resilience. He's on a two-year, $8 million contract, has passed for 2,706 yards, 12 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, and has tacked on a rushing TD this season. He's played through a torn pectoral muscle and has endeared himself to the fanbase, no easy task considering the odds stacked against him to start.
He was acquired for nothing and given that market-rate two-year contract. He replaced Matt Hasselbeck, who was signed to a three-year, $20 million deal in Tennessee. Hasselbeck has passed for 2,900 yards, 15 TDs and 12 interceptions this season behind what I saw somewhere recently described as the 'best pass-blocking offensive line in the NFL.' He was benched in Sunday's loss to the previously winless Colts for rookie Jake Locker, and his status as starter is now up in the air, according to Titans' coach Mike Munchak.
The other options the Seahawks had in free agency are faring no better, really. Kyle Orton had a rumored price of a 2nd round Draft pick prior to the season. The Broncos waived him midway through the year. Yeesh. Carson Palmer was acquired by the Raiders for a first and second round draft pick next season and has been middling at best. Yeesh.
Kevin Kolb was a rumored target, and was acquired by the Cardinals for a 2nd round pick and former 1st round pick Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Kolb signed a six-year, $65 million contract, and has played inconsistently, passing this season for 1,900 yards, 9 touchdowns to 8 interceptions. He's missed five starts and has now been upstaged somewhat by John Skelton. There is now talk that Kolb could get waived after this season by the Cardinals to avoid them paying his $7 million roster bonus due at the start of the league year 2012. Yeesh.
The point is - the Seahawks have actually done pretty well for themselves in the QB hunt so far by not panicking, and when taken into context with what other teams have done, haven't hurt themselves. For that, Tarvaris Jackson equals a ton of value in my eyes.
I'm probably missing more value players but you get the picture. Value value value.