SEATTLE — You know it’s NFL draft time because Pete Carroll has issued his annual warning that the Seahawks might see things a little differently than, well, everyone.
They’re not afraid to be outliers in an NFL full of copycats. General manager John Schneider and his staff prepare too diligently to worry about what other teams are doing, and certainly, they have no desire to please the draftniks. They trust their draft board, no matter how kooky it might seem to others. And in the first three drafts with Schneider and Carroll in charge, they rebuilt the franchise in rapid and stunning fashion with their methods.
They’re not perfect, but their batting average is so high you’d figure they were hitting against the back end of the Mariners’ starting rotation. In the past, we’ve taken to calling this football operations staff unconventional, but let’s retire that adjective today.
Unconventional? It sounds too dismissive of what they’ve done. Drafting an All-Pro cornerback in the fifth round three years ago? Finding a franchise quarterback in the third round last year? Uncovering gems consistently in the mid-to-late rounds? Their methods look more ideal than unconventional.
Sure, they do things their own way. The surprise first-round selections of defensive end Bruce Irvin and offensive lineman James Carpenter in the previous two drafts helped shape the image that you never know what the Seahawks are going to do. Beyond the draft, they gained unconventional status with their Great Roster Shuffle after the 53-man cut in 2010, their first year in Seattle. They turned 320-pound defensive tackle Red Bryant into an impact, run-stopping end. And they put extremely tall cornerbacks Richard Sherman (6 feet 3) and Brandon Browner (6 feet 4) together to build one of the best corner tandems in the league.
But to use the unconventional label as the Seahawks’ primary description doesn’t give Schneider, Carroll and Co. enough credit for building a true Super Bowl contender in a way that should make the rest of the league envious.
Unconventional doesn’t cover the creativity, and in some areas, the innovation of this model front office. Calling them ideal, however, lets you know that they’ve approached what was once a massive team-building task the way that teams should do it.
It’s funny because, looking back, Schneider and Carroll have done this exactly how they told you they would do it. From their seemingly hokey introductory presser in which they preached collaboration, Schneider and Carroll have gone out and fulfilled their mission. They wanted to build around the draft, which every team says, but Carroll emphasized that he wouldn’t be afraid to coach a young team and give every drafted player a chance to get on the field.
They wanted to use every means of talent acquisition to their advantage, and they have done so, supplementing their good drafting through free agency, trades, cut-date pickups, undrafted college players and even the Canadian Football League.
And when Schneider and Carroll were giving the hard sell about collaboration, they talked of developing a quick rapport and chemistry, and over the years, their relationship has only gotten better. There’s a difference between being willing to work together and having good working chemistry, and they have that.
They don’t always see situations the same, but they know how to rectify it. Overall, though, there’s not a coach and general manager in the NFL as aligned as they are.
Carroll has the simple, clear vision. It’s about competition. It’s about having a high-energy, defense-centered football team that runs the ball on offense. It’s about having one of the most physical and aggressive teams in the NFL and pushing that style of play as far as it can go within the rules.
Schneider is a talent evaluator with the flexibility and agility to turn Carroll’s vision into reality. His knack for finding quality players later in the draft is what makes the Seahawks special. They wouldn’t have the depth for Carroll’s competition-based system without it.
Yes, the Seahawks can be unconventional, but mostly, they’re ideal because they’ve built this enviable roster.
Thursday is a prime example. While the rest of the league is deciphering the first round of a draft that isn’t very top heavy, Schneider jokes the Seahawks will be watching YouTube highlights of Percy Harvin, the versatile star receiver they traded their first-round pick to acquire.
It was an unconventional move for Schneider, who loves his draft picks. But on Sundays starting in September, plenty of other teams will probably wonder why they didn’t do it.