Seattle GM John Schneider continues to land top players
The Seahawks had a week worth an exclamation point, but don’t try to tell their coach that this was some sort of statement by the franchise.
“We haven’t changed anything,” Pete Carroll said. “This is not a statement of where we’ve come to. We’re just trying to get good football players on this roster.”
Yeah, we’ve noticed. In a single business week, the Seahawks traded for one of the league’s most versatile offensive players in Percy Harvin, minted him a multimillionaire, and followed that up with the double-play signing of two of the very best pass-rushers available in free agency: Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett.
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It was an unexpected splurge considering how many people expected the Seahawks to exercise patience this offseason. Instead, they pounced with three additions that have caused some to label Seattle a Super Bowl favorite.
So how did it happen? Well, it took a general manager who has turned out to be more aggressive than many expected, a favorable payroll situation that comes from having a starting quarterback playing for peanuts and a free-agent market that was nowhere near as lucrative as many expected. The result was three transactions that have fanned the flames of expectation, and as the first week of the new league season concludes, let’s pause and pull back the curtain for a look inside a week that was so important for Seattle’s near future.
The power play
Packers Way is a street in Wisconsin, not a route the Seahawks are copying.
At least not exactly.
If that wasn’t clear in the first three years after John Schneider left Green Bay to become Seattle’s general manager, it is now. The Packers make a point of sitting out the first wave of free agency under general manager Ted Thompson. They let the big money get spent, and when Schneider arrived in Seattle, the question was whether he would be cloning Thompson’s approach.
But the Packers had another general manager before that: Ron Wolf. He’s the one who first hired Schneider as an intern, and Wolf wasn’t exactly known to sit on his hands in the marketplace. He was aggressive, trading a first-round choice to acquire that Brett Favre guy off Atlanta’s bench in 1992 and then signing Reggie White as the seminal free agent, a pair of moves that went a long way to Green Bay winning its first Super Bowl in 29 years.
Schneider was the wolf this year, working through the trade for Harvin on the weekend before teams could begin signing players. The Seahawks took a blackjack approach and doubled down first by giving up the three draft choices it took to acquire Harvin from Minnesota and then signing the player to the largest contract in franchise history.
This was the single-biggest bet the Seahawks have made under Schneider, a move to acquire an offensive player so talented he could put the team over the top, but at a cost that would pose a problem if it doesn’t work out.
“Quite frankly, this is something that we have studied from afar,” Schneider said of the chance to acquire Harvin. “We were willing to be prepared for when it did pop, and so it popped this past Friday and that’s the way we went.”
As much as anything, it showed Schneider should have been taken at his word when he was introduced back in January 2010 and talked about using every avenue to acquire talent from the draft to free agency to the waiver wire. He pointed back to that message Tuesday when Harvin was introduced.
“We’ve said all along when we first got up here the very first time, that we’re going to explore every opportunity,” Schneider said.
And in Harvin’s case, aggressively so.
The acquisition of Harvin gave Seattle’s offense another target for Russell Wilson. It was Wilson himself, however, who helped open the window for Seattle to go sign a pair of pass rushers.
As a third-round choice, Wilson is locked into his rookie contract for at least the next two years. He will make a salary of $526,217 in 2013, $662,434 in 2014 and only after that season — his third in the league — can Seattle begin to discuss an extension with its quarterback.
That leaves Seattle with a window over these next two years when it will be filling the most expensive position in football at nearly minimum cost. That gives Seattle spending room to address the need to add pass-rushers, plural, which Carroll bluntly stated was needed after last season concluded.
In Avril, the Seahawks found someone who reciprocated their interest.
“His agent had informed us that this was one of the top places that he wanted to play,” Schneider said.
That was just a foot in the door, though, and with Avril’s resume, it was hard to foresee him settling for a two-year deal as a free agent.
He is turning 27 this year, has totaled 29 sacks over the previous three years and is coming off a season in which he made $10.6 million as the Lions’ franchise player.
While the Seahawks had spending room, they also had to keep an eye on the long-term need to re-sign the nucleus of young players they have drafted. The bill is going to come due. In 2014, safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman — Seattle’s two All-Pros — will be entering the final year of their contracts and in position for extensions. In 2015, it will be Wilson and Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung.
Yet on the second day free agents could sign with teams, the Seahawks found themselves closing a two-year agreement with Avril that gave Seattle a top pass-rusher without compromising its long-term flexibility. The deal underscored the uncertainty of free agency.
“In this process, you never know,” Schneider said. “And Cliff Avril’s a great example of that: You never know what’s going to pop up.”
You could say that again just hours later Thursday when Seattle’s one-year agreement with Bennett was first reported. Another top pass-rusher, Bennett had nine sacks for the Bucs last season. Another short-term deal, it’s just one year.
That two players with those kind of pass-rushing credentials would settle for short-term deals showed the free-agent market wasn’t nearly as lucrative as many expected. No one got even half the six-year, $100 million deal that defensive end Mario Williams landed in Buffalo.
Linebacker Paul Kruger set the ceiling this year, leaving Baltimore to sign with Cleveland, which offered $40 million over five years. Avril’s deal didn’t reach that annual average, but the short-term contract gives him a healthy salary and puts him in position to hit the market again two years from now. Bennett took a similar path with an even shorter deal.
The pair of agreements shows how soft the market was for free-agent pass-rushers this year, but they also demonstrate how desirable Seattle has become. The Seahawks didn’t keep stacking millions until Avril and Bennett said yes nearly so much as the market played to what the Seahawks were offering in terms of a short-term deal at a significant salary that Bennett and Avril saw as a great opportunity.
In one week, Seattle added three significant pieces to a team already returning 20 starters from a season that ended 30 seconds short of the NFC Championship Game. If it wasn’t a best-case scenario for the Seahawks, it was as close as you get for the general manager and his staff that pulled it all off.
“It really is more of a blessing than anything,” Schneider said, “trying to be prepared and see what happens. I think it’s gone well, there’s no question about it.”
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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