At one point during last month’s draft — with the Seattle Seahawks about to acquire (steal?) Leon Washington from the Jets, completing a stunning weekend overhaul of talent — I could have sworn Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was going to hoist himself on the shoulders of general manager John Schneider and begin galloping around the war room like Angus Young jamming above the head of Bon Scott at an AC/DC concert.
The energy in the room, captured by an NFL Network camera (see portion of it in video above), was palpable and joyous and frenetic, and as Carroll playfully wailed on his rookie GM, with Schneider still on the phone working away, it seemed the most poignant snapshot to capture what has been a profound offseason for the Seahawks. The chemistry between Carroll and Schneider has been instant, forging a tight bond in their first few months together that has led to immediate success with the dubious task of replenishing one of the more barren rosters in the NFL.
“We’ve had a blast getting to know each other,” Schneider said. “We spent so much time together, because our families weren’t here yet through the whole draft process. We share a lot of similar interests and philosophies. He’s a very trusting guy, and I think for me being a first-time general manager, he’s great for me because I’ve always been aggressive on the risk-taking side, and, ‘Let’s roll,’ and he’s kind of even more that way.
“So now I have to be kind of the guy who’s like, ‘Whoa, let’s slow down a minute here. Let’s think this through.’ And we’ve had a blast, so much fun late at night, eating late meals watching tape and listening to music, talking about players and football philosophy and life philosophy.
“He really is a wealth of knowledge and a fun guy to be around, and, yeah, we had fun at the draft, to do some of the things where he was so excited, and this stuff was coming to fruition.”
Carroll, with his big, outgoing personality and coming off massive success as head coach at USC, gets much of the public accolades. And that’s precisely how Schneider wants it. He’s not interested in credit or persona or outward recognition, though already he deserves much.
Schneider broke into the league as an intern with Green Bay in 1992, at age 20, with his college career cut short by shoulder surgery, and advanced with the Packers, under the tutelage of Ron Wolf, before serving as director of player personnel with Kansas City from 1997-99. He spent 2000 in Seattle in that capacity, and 2001 as Washington’s vice president of player personnel, before returning to Green Bay for the past eight years, rising to become director of football operations there before beating out a competitive field for the Seahawks’ GM job.
In rival front offices, football people know how bright, inspired and dedicated Schneider is and why, at age 38 with already 18 years of experience in the league, he might be precisely the architect the Seahawks need to regain their status as an elite franchise.
Schneider and Carroll inherited a nearly bare cupboard. Seattle is starved for playmakers on both sides of the ball, and Matt Hasselbeck, once a franchise quarterback, is now a question mark having been hobbled by injuries in recent years. Hall of Fame left tackle Walter Jones has retired. So did Patrick Kerney, the team’s best (only?) real pass rusher. Both lines are essentially in tatters. The Seahawks won just nine games in the past two years combined, falling hard after winning the NFC West four straight seasons.
Owner Paul Allen is as willing a spender as there is in the NFL, and many expected the Seahawks to try to plunder in free agency. But instead, with the market the weakest and thinnest it has ever been, the Seahawks shrewdly stood pat.
Instead, they focused on the restricted market, with younger players available. Seattle beat out Arizona to trade for quarterback Charlie Whitehurst from San Diego, swapping second-round picks with the Chargers and dealing a third. It was a gamble for sure, but a limited one, with Whitehurst’s upside significant and the team well stocked with draft picks. Schneider traded guard Rob Sims, not a fit in Seattle’s zone scheme, for end Robert Henderson and a fifth-round pick; picked up a situational pass rusher and a fourth-round pick for Darryl Tapp, and another pick for backup QB Seneca Wallace.
“With Charlie, so far so good,” Schneider said. “Matt and Charlie are competing and it’s fun to see. Charlie’s got a live arm and he’s got nice feet. He’s been spending a lot of time with (offensive coordinator) Jeremy (Bates) and (quarterbacks) coach (Jedd) Fisch, figuring it out and learning the offense and being around the building.”
Seattle made attempts to land enigmatic receiver Brandon Marshall from Denver, but never wavered in its insistence not to deal a first-round pick. Marshall’s off-field issues and huge new contract could create problems over time, though some fans criticized the Seahawks for not landing him.
“I feel very comfortable with everything that happened in that regard,” Schneider said. “We did our due diligence and headed down that road. Denver knew exactly where we stood with our offer, and at the end of the day, what they were looking at, and what Miami was able to give them (a high second-rounder) was something of more value, so congratulations to all three of those parties. One of primary things that Ted Thompson (Packers GM, whom Schneider worked under in his second stint in Green Bay and his first in Seattle) is really good at is just being able to walk away from deals instead of just giving in.”
As it turns out, the Seahawks were able to address the receiver position, and much more, in the draft.
It started on the first night, with Seattle holding two first-round picks. Replacing Jones was imperative, but in many of their pre-draft projections, both top left tackles — Trent Williams and Russell Okung — were gone in the top five picks. Williams went to Washington at No. 4 and only Kansas City stood in the way of taking Okung off the board, one pick ahead of Seattle. The Chiefs, with a need at tackle, sat there debating between Okung and safety Eric Berry.
“(Chiefs general manager) Scott (Pioli) and his staff do a great job of keeping their information really tight,” Schneider said, “so we didn’t know which way it was going to go. I got on the phone with Scott while they had some time left on the clock and begged him to let me know which way they were going — offense or defense. And he gave me one side of the ball (defense), and we were able to, at that point, know which direction we were headed. Otherwise, we would have to headed in a different direction.”
The Seahawks were overjoyed to be able to get Okung at No. 6, and wasted little time making the pick. But they knew more uncertainty loomed at Pick No. 14, with teams in the 10-13 range (Jacksonville and Miami in particular) looking hard at moving down. Figuring out who would be available was tricky, and the hope was that somehow Texas safety Earl Thomas might still be there when they picked again.
“Once Philadelphia made that trade (with San Francisco for the 13th overall pick) I thought it was over at that point,” Schneider said, figuring the Eagles were taking Thomas. “So we had a deal in place, and we were going to go back a few spots. What ended up happening was they took (defensive end Brandon) Graham. So we just stayed and took Earl. We were shocked he was there. I thought there was a chance he was going at No. 7 (to Cleveland).”
On the second day of the draft, the Seahawks had just one pick, but made it count. When they didn’t get Marshall they knew there was still good value at receiver outside of the first round, and they ended up with Notre Dame’s Golden Tate at the bottom of the second.
On Day 3, the Seahawks upgraded a moribund backfield via trade. Schneider began talking to Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt, who he had worked with in the past in Green Bay, and knew that running back LenDale White and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson were available. With Seattle on the clock in the fourth round, Schneider acquired both players by swapping picks in that round and the sixth with Tennessee. White has been a handful for the Titans, but if anyone can coax the right attitude and production out of the powerful back it’s Carroll, who had him at USC.
Schneider’s best move might have been his next. Seattle still coveted a shifty, speedy back with pass-catching skills, a home-run hitter (the Seahawks loved C.J. Spiller, who went ninth overall to Buffalo). After the Jets drafted yet another running back, Joe McKnight, Schneider got a call that explosive Leon Washington was available via trade.
“The Jets and ourselves saw it the same way — Joe was the last real playmaker on the board at the running back position,” Schneider said. “And once they selected Joe, then they gave us a call and we started talking about Leon. We had been talking about Leon internally for a while, and they were gracious enough to let our doctors interact to figure out what was going on, and we ended up doing it really for a sixth-round pick, since we gave them a five (fifth round pick), and they gave us a seven (seventh-round pick) back.”
Washington is coming off season-ending knee surgery, but has been a dynamic force in the return game and out of the backfield. He can be a third-down weapon for the Seahawks, who are optimistic he will be cleared for full football activities early in training camp.
“We’re going to be cautious with it,” Schneider said. “We want to do the right thing by him, and for the club. But you’re talking about a proven commodity in Leon, and depending on how everything heals up, we felt like it was worth the risk in the sixth round. We added a player to our backfield who can score at any point on the field.”
All of the wheeling and dealing added pizzaz to the already burgeoning relationship between Carroll, 58, and the 38-year-old general manager. Carroll, undoubtedly one of the more hip and lively 58-year-olds on the planet, was already coaching in the NFL when Schneider was in middle school, but they have melded together as a tandem with no struggle for control.
So far, so good. The Seahawks have addressed considerable deficiencies, and, in a transitioning NFC West, should be much more competitive. A return to the playoffs in 2010 is highly unlikely, but another offseason like this and those days will be back sooner than many expected.