SEATTLE - DECEMBER 01: Wide receiver Golden Tate #81 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates with Doug Baldwin #15 after scoring a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles at CenturyLink Field on December 1, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks defeated the Eagles 31-14. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Depth development is the name of the game.
The Seahawks still technically have a chance at the playoffs but the probability of that may be low, even if the Seahawks win out and finish 9-7. Now, I hope that happens, but right now the Seahawks are taking things week by week and, I would guess, probably not fixating on the playoffs as a measure of success this season. They're simply trying to get better as a team. Getting better inevitably means that they're going to beat some of their opponents, much to the quiet chagrin of some fans that want that high draft pick next year.
The Seahawks don't care about this, and are playing some of their best football of the season. And as a fan with a heightened sense of what it could mean to land a premiere QB, I still think that's fine. Obviously it'd be nice to get one of those two top quarterbacks, assuming they both declare (I'm talking about Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley), but as it's been talked about ad nauseam around here, there are many ways to skin a cat, so to speak, when it comes to building a champion, and those two players are not the guaranteed final piece of the puzzle. For anyone.
As I watched the Green Bay Packers take on the New York Giants yesterday, I couldn't help but see Seahawks' GM John Schneider's stamp on that team. As a top personnel guy in Green Bay's front office for the past several years before coming to Seattle, Schneider had a big part of putting together the talent that now makes up a defending Champion team that is now 12-0 this season.
Obviously, having Aaron Rodgers is a big, big part of the Packers success, but even when he was drafted, he was no sure thing. If you believe former Packers front office man Andrew Brandt, the Packers actually tried to trade out of that number 24 pick and only after finding no partners, settled for the guy that's now elite. Regardless, the point is that there can always be another Aaron Rodgers waiting to bloom late and become great. System and circumstances can play a big part as well.
As Brock Huard so eloquently put it in a great piece this morning entitled "Winning -- not draft order -- is paramount for Seahawks,"
"(John) Schneider and Ted Thompson didn't build the Green Bay Packers with top-10 picks, they built their foundation on Aaron Rodgers (No. 24), Clay Matthews (No. 26), Charles Woodson (free agent), left tackle Chad Clifton (No. 44) and a host of wide outs and tight ends like Jermichael Finley (No. 91), James Jones (No. 78), Greg Jennings (No. 52), as well as running backs Ryan Grant (undrafted), John Kuhn (undrafted) and James Starks (No. 193)."
It's hard not to see the same methodology and skill in talent evaluation with the Seahawks team as they start to wrap up year two of 'the rebuild'. Extreme discount, but potentially core players like Doug Baldwin (undrafted), Kam Chancellor (No. 133), Richard Sherman (No. 154), K.J. Wright (No. 99), and Anthony McCoy (No. 199) help to build on foundation players like James Carpenter (No. 25), John Moffitt (No. 75) and Seattle's two "high picks", Russell Okung (No. 6) and Earl Thomas (No. 14).
Cheap free agents Brandon Browner, Alan Branch, and even Tarvaris Jackson make up a nucleus of guys that should be around and heavy contributors for another year or two, or more. Marshawn Lynch cost Seattle a 2011 4th round pick (No. 122) and another late round pick this year, in what's now beginning to look like a bargain-basement price for a guy that could be the team's feature back the next few seasons.
Clinton McDonald was acquired in return for Kelly Jennings, a guy that was on a one-year deal and has no future with the team. Walter Thurmond (No. 111) looks to be a key player for the future. Mike Williams could still play a role on this team and was acquired for nothing.
Schneider departs from the Green Bay methodology a bit with a few big-name free agent signings, Brandon Mebane, Sidney Rice and Zach Miller, but all players are young and undoubtedly skilled, cornerstones for the team. Even Robert Gallery's signing has appeared to pay off, as his veteran presence on the line has helped it emerge into a solid run-blocking unit.
Yeah yeah, you've heard all this already. So what does all this mean for this year, particularly the remaining four games ? Well, the myriad of injuries create problems for this team but with them come opportunities for the depth players to step up.
With Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond on the injured reserve, Richard Sherman has played his way into what looks like a locked-down starting cornerback position for the foreseeable future. K.J. Wright has emerged from the Aaron Curry debacle as a solid starter in year one, with loads of upside as he grows and improves.
Paul McQuistan has acquitted himself nicely and has shown an ability to play multiple positions (LG, RG) and will now most likely get a chance at LT with Russell Okung's departure to IR. He's 28, old for this team, but has a low amount of milage from playing reserve roles so could potentially play a part on this team's future.
G/C Lemuel Jeanpierre may get a chance to earn his stripes at guard. Breno Giacomini can continue to prove he's a worthy swing tackle and secure himself a spot on the roster going forward. With Sidney Rice down for the year, Golden Tate is finally starting to show why the Seahawks drafted him in the 2nd round in 2010.
Deon Butler will have a chance to play and prove he still deserves a roster spot, and for a guy with a lot of talent and possible upside - a guy that actually was 2nd on the team in receptions last season - he's someone that a lot of fans have looked past and already written off. He'll try to prove those people wrong. This kind of thing is exciting as hell to watch develop.
Guys like Clinton McDonald and Pep Levingston will likely get some time on the line as the Seahawks flesh out their needs. McDonald is already probably number two on the depth chart behind both Mebane and Branch, and is only 24 and in his second season.
TE Cameron Morrah got a huge amount of snaps last week against the Eagles and looks to be making a case for his return next season. Someone mentioned that on pretty much Marshawn Lynch run, there was Cameron Morrah, making a key block. Remember that John Carlson will be a free agent so the Seahawks will need to sort out their number 2 and number 3 tight end situation, and Morrah, a guy the previous regime picked at No. 248, could be another one of those 'discount' contributors and the Seahawks could decide to part ways with Carlson.
As the season wears on, I'd guess that Justin Forsett will see more carries in his mini-audition. As players begin to wear down, I suspect the Seahawks will further test their depth and try and get backups as many snaps as possible. If the Seahawks lose one, or even two of their remaining games they become all but eliminated from playoff contention, but that doesn't mean the final games become any less interesting.
(Well, maybe a little less interesting. But, still fun.)