Mount Rushmore: Seattle Head Coaches/Managers

Yesterday:  Seattle Sports Announcers

It’s All Star Week in Major League Baseball, which means it’s pretty much a dead week in sports.  I’m not 12 years old, so the All Star Game doesn’t mean anything to me; I’m not 62 years old, so golf doesn’t mean anything to me.  But, a blogger’s job is never done!  Or, I dunno, maybe it’s been done ad nauseam.  Either way, I’ve got nothing timely to write about, and I’ve got nothing else better to do, so I’m doing this.

We’re celebrating some of the local Mount Rushmores in a series of posts this week, because that’s something people do, right?  Sports radio and the like; what’s your Mount Rushmore of Stand-Up Comedians?  Off the top of my head, I’d have to say Dave Attell, Chris Rock, Tig Notaro, and Dave Chappelle, but ask me another day and I might give you four completely different names.

Today, I’m going to delve into the head coaches and managers of the various local sports teams.

In spite of the fact that Seattle is far from Titletown, U.S.A., this was actually a pretty difficult exercise.  Ironically, because there were TOO MANY good coaches to choose from!  I’ll tell you right now, this one is bound to be my most controversial Mount Rushmore of the week, but IDGAF.  Come at me, broseph!

For starters, right or wrong, I’ve put OVERWHELMING emphasis on those head coaches who led their respective teams to championships.  I mean, it’s obscene, which is why I’m going to start this post with my Honorable Mentions, and I’m going to lead off those Honorable Mentions with probably the most glaring omission (but hear me out):  Lou Piniella.

Look, I love Sweet Lou as much as the next guy, and if I were simply ranking managers of the Seattle Mariners, he’s obviously at the top of the list.  And, while much of this isn’t his fault, I would argue he’s not entirely blameless for the fact that the Mariners only made it to the playoffs 4 times in his 10-year career.  And in those 4 years, they failed to get past the American League Championship Series (often never really making it much of a challenge).  Those teams were absolutely LOADED with talent!  Are you kidding me?  Not even a single World Series appearance in the bunch?  I know, the organizational management of those teams was severely lacking; they bungled a bunch of trades, mishandled two of our greatest players (Griffey and Randy) to the point that both wanted out of the organization, and refused to pony up the cash to keep the best player on the planet – Alex Rodriguez – when he became a free agent.  That having been said, I’ve never really had much respect for baseball managers; what do they do besides write a lineup and make bullpen decisions?  Manage player egos?  Ooo!  Big whup!  Head coaches in other sports do that too, and they do a lot of other stuff that has more of an impact.  Naw, I’m not buying baseball and I’m not buying Lou Piniella.  If Mount Rushmore had 5 people on it, I probably STILL wouldn’t have him on it!

Because that leads me to my next omission:  Mike Holmgren.

At least he took the Seahawks to a Super Bowl!  I would argue both he and Piniella have to be credited with changing the culture of losing for their respective Seattle-based teams, but they JUST didn’t quite get it done when it mattered most.  There were some extenuating circumstances with Super Bowl XL and the officiating that I won’t get into here, but alas, Holmgren just misses the cut.

Some other Honorable Mentions include, in no particular order:  Chuck Knox (very underrated as the leader of the Seahawks in the 80s); Nate McMillan (doing a lot with a little in a mis-managed Sonics organization, particularly in the Howard Schultz years); Gil Dobie, Enoch Bagshaw, Hec Edmundson, Tippy Dye, Marv Harshman, and some of those other old-timer Husky football and basketball coaches (who are obviously WAY before my time); Jim Lambright (who somehow held the Huskies together after sanctions and an acrimonious split with Don James); and Lorenzo Romar (whose ignominious end to his tenure should do nothing to tarnish what was a tremendous achievement for Husky basketball).

So, without further ado, I present my Mount Rushmore of Seattle-based head coaches.

At the top of the list was the easiest pick of them all:  Don James.

The Dawgfather.  Head coach of the University of Washington football team, from 1975-1992.  He’s the closest thing we had to a Bobby Bowden, Bear Bryant, Steve Spurrier, or Joe Paterno (without all the child rape).  He led the Huskies to a National Championship in 1991 and was poised to continue to do so for years to come if not for the Lack of Institutional Control scandal that ultimately led to him resigning in protest for the unfair sanctions on the team.  Also, not for nothing, but the Huskies were robbed of a second National Championship in 1984 (to a bum BYU team who played a cupcake of a schedule), but that’s another post for another time.

Don James was the G.O.A.T.  We can only hope and pray Chris Petersen someday ascends to that level.

Next on my list, I’ve gone with Pete Carroll.

Like I said, championships are a premium to me when it comes to my Mount Rushmore of Head Coaches, and Big Balls Pete has one, with another Super Bowl appearance to boot.  He’s 17 wins away from being the winningest Seahawks coach of all time, which should go down in 2 years, tops.  After a couple of 7-9 rebuilding seasons, he’s won no less than 11 games every year (including playoffs).  Overall, he has 4 division titles in 7 years, 6 playoff appearances in 7 years, at least 1 playoff victory every time they’ve made the post-season, and with John Schneider (who certainly belongs on the Mount Rushmore of local GMs) built one of the best rosters in the history of the NFL, in the 2013 Seahawks.  He could retire right now and I don’t think there will be another local head coach that will bump him off my Mount Rushmore in my lifetime.

Third on my list:  Lenny Wilkens.

Oh yeah, here it comes.  I told you, titles baby!  Lenny took over as a player-coach for the Sonics in 1969 before being fired in 1972.  When he returned to the Sonics as just a head coach in 1977, he took a good team and led it to greatness.  Those Sonics teams went to back-to-back NBA Finals against the Washington Bullets in 1978 and 1979, winning it all the second time around.  The Sonics ultimately went another direction starting in the 1985/1986 season, but he still sits at #2 all time in franchise history winning percentage (keeping in mind, of course, that the Sonics died in 2008, and whatever record the head coaches of that team in OKC may have amassed has no bearing on the Seattle Supersonics).

Finally, the fourth name on my Mount Rushmore:  George Karl.

You may take umbrage with Lenny Wilkens’ inclusion on my list, and that’s fine, I understand.  You may take umbrage with the fact that I have George Karl over the likes of Piniella and Holmgren, and again, that’s your right.  But, you know what?  George Karl won a shitload of games in Seattle!  He has the best winning percentage of a head coach by a million miles over the other professional teams’ coaches at .719.  He took the Sonics to the playoffs every year of his tenure, won 4 division titles in 7 seasons, had the Sonics in the 1-seed twice (best regular season record in the entire league once); led the franchise to two Western Conference Finals, and led the franchise to the NBA Finals once (against the best team of all time, the 95/96 Chicago Bulls).  AND, not for nothing, but took the Bulls to 6 games when they probably had no business getting past Game 4.

I could go on and on.  Maybe only the Pete Carroll Seahawks have had more talent than the George Karl Sonics, but for all his greatness, there was a lot of failing.  George Karl led the first #1 seed to lose in the first round in NBA history.  His Sonics teams squandered two Michael Jordan-less years when they were ripe for back-to-back championships (the Houston Rockets, instead, took advantage of that glitch in the matrix).  And, ultimately, George Karl was destined to be run out of here by poor personnel management by Wally Walker (featuring the obscene signing of Jim McIlvaine and the trading of Shawn Kemp for Vin Baker).

Nevertheless, those Sonics teams were beautiful and exciting and ultimately tragic.  They ignited a love affair with sports within me that burns like a thousand suns to this very day.  At a time when the Seahawks were mediocre, and before the Mariners were relevant, we had the Supersonics and nothing else mattered.  There may have been better teams out there in the 90s, but no team was as thrilling to watch on a nightly basis.  When they were on, they were unbeatable!  When they were off, they were combustable; that’s just the way it goes sometimes.  But, George Karl had his hands all over that team, and was the main reason why we were able to take the next step to elite status.  Ultimately, the biggest tragedy of all is that George Karl doesn’t have an NBA title to his credit; he might be the best head coach in NBA history not to have one.

Okay, there you have it.  Agree?  Disagree?  Feel free to let me hear about it.

We Lost The Tez

Respect …

Seattle has been hit pretty hard over the last week.  First, we lost Chris Cornell, who was an absolute titan of my youth, as superfans of the 90’s Seattle music scene don’t get much bigger than me, and now we’ve lost Cortez Kennedy, who died of unknown causes at the age of 48.

I’ll withhold any sort of rant until we get more information, but it doesn’t look good that Tez was complaining of headaches in the days leading up to his death.  The more this happens, the worse it’s ultimately going to be for the game of football.  I mean, we can’t have our superstars dying before the age of 50!  Everyone always says they were gone too soon whenever someone dies, but it actually means something when you’re only 48 years old.

I’ve been having a hard time keeping it together as I read all the tributes and well-wishes to him and his family the last day or so.  I’ll generally always root for guys who play for my team, but it’s nice to know that someone so great at football was also such a great person in life.  There are so many stupid fucking dickheads in the world, I forget sometimes that there’s a lot of goodness and kindness in the world too.

Growing up, Steve Largent was my favorite football player of all-time, but Cortez Kennedy quickly became my #2.  I was looking through the 1990 NFL Draft, wondering whatever became of the guys drafted around Tez (who was picked third by the Seahawks).  Jeff George was picked first by Indy, and he ended up being an explosive bust.  Kind of like a poor man’s Jay Cutler.  But, you know, you can understand why they grabbed him #1 overall.  Then, the Jets picked running back Blair Thomas with the second overall pick, and I had to laugh.  Thomas was out of the NFL by the end of the 1995 season, and you could argue he was part bust (injury-related) and part bust (coaching-related).  I mean, who drafts a running back #2 overall, then puts him in a 4-running back rotation?  That’s insane to me.

So far, there have been three other Hall of Famers to come out of the 1990 draft:  Junior Seau at #5 to the Chargers (also lost too soon, due to football-related brain issues), Emmitt Smith at #17 to the Cowboys, and Shannon Sharpe WAAAAY down at the second-to-last pick of the seventh round to the Broncos.  It’s pretty crazy that you could make a very good argument that Tez was the greatest 3-Tech Defensive Tackle of all time, Seau was the greatest Middle Linebacker of all time, Emmitt Smith was the greatest Running Back of all time, and Sharpe was the greatest Tight End of all time, all coming out in the same draft.

What was good for the NFL was also good for the Seahawks in that 1990 NFL Draft.  On top of Tez, the Seahawks got Terry Wooden, a starting outside linebacker, in the second round; Robert Blackmon, a starting strong safety, also in the second round; and Chris Warren, a starting running back, in the fourth round.  On top of some of the holdover talent, it’s mind-blowing that the Seahawks would be a 2-win team only two years later, but I guess that’s what happens when you neglect the quarterback position for so long.

Tez was truly in his prime from 1991-1996, when he made the Pro Bowl each of those six years, and was First Team All Pro in three of those years (from 1992-1994).  He had his 1997 season cut short due to injury, but bounced back for two more Pro Bowl seasons in 1998 & 1999.  He was more of a rotational guy under Mike Holmgren, particularly in his final year in 2000, and he only got to enjoy one playoff appearance (in 1999, in a loss to Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins), but he was a Seahawk through and through.  For most of the 1990s, Tez was literally the only reason to ever watch a Seahawks game.  I take great pride – and I know he takes great pride – in the fact that he was a career Seahawk, even though he had multiple offers to play elsewhere as his career came to a close.

The best part of Tez’s game was that he wasn’t just a sacks guy.  He was a complete, all-around defensive tackle.  Yes, he got his share of sacks (14 in 1992, when he was Defensive Player of the Year), but I don’t remember EVER seeing an interior defensive lineman with the number of tackles that he’d get.  73 tackles in 1991, 92 (!) tackles in 1992, 77 tackes in 1993.  I mean, how do you even do that?  That’s on top of the fact that he was almost constantly double-teamed, because if you didn’t double-team him, he’d absolutely blow up every single play.  And, that’s on top of the fact that he rarely left the field.

A 3-down interior lineman with high sack totals AND high tackle numbers?  And you want to try to argue with me that he’s not one of the best 3-Tech DTs of all time?  Get the fuck off my planet!

I didn’t know the man, I was never lucky enough to meet him in person, but one of my favorite stories about him is the reason why Tez wore the number 99 in his DPOY season of 1992.  Earlier that year, his best friend (and fellow University of Miami alum) Jerome Brown died in a car crash.  Brown was drafted by the Eagles in 1987 and was also an interior defensive lineman.  He started off his career a bit slower than Tez, but in 1990 and 1991, he was First Team All Pro, and on the path towards the Hall of Fame.  Jerome Brown wore the number 99, so in honor of him, Tez wore that number for the 1992 season, when he absolutely tore apart the National Football League.  That’s the type of friend Tez was; that’s the type of person the world lost yesterday.

It wasn’t a given that the Tez would make the Hall of Fame, but it damn well should’ve been.  He had to wait a few years before he got his crack, and you could tell no one would appreciate it more than him.  I was beyond thrilled the day it was announced (the only way I could ever be happier is if Edgar makes it), because no one was more deserving of such accolades.  I’m just happy he was alive to experience it.

I’m beyond bummed out right now.  I encourage anyone reading this to go down a YouTube rabbit hole of Tez highlights.  You won’t be disappointed.

My favorite pic …

Seahawks Death Week: Looking On The Bright Side

Hey look, I get it, losing sucks.  Teams like the Seahawks have a finite championship window.  On the one hand, that’s a good thing because it means we have a good team.  The Cleveland Browns don’t have a finite championship window because they suck!  On the other hand, that championship window is going to close sooner or later, if it hasn’t already.  For what it’s worth, I think the future still looks pretty promising, but that obviously comes with the fact that they have work to do on the player personnel side.

Before I get into the promising future, let’s take a quick look back.  We’re at the end of the best 5-year run in franchise history!  56-23-1, or a .706 winning percentage.  That easily bests any of the best 5-year runs in the 80’s, as well as that superb 5-year run in the Holmgren years.  This includes the fact that we’ve won at least 10 games AND made the playoffs AND won at least one playoff game every season since 2012.  Only the Patriots have done that, and they enjoy the luxury of having the very worst divisional opponents this side of the AFC South.  On top of that, factor in 3 divisional championships, 2 Super Bowl appearances, and 1 championship, and you could say the Seahawks have been pretty hashtag-blessed in this run.

All the while, the Seahawks have remained one of the youngest teams in the NFL.  Now, more and more, that’s a result of the back-end of our roster being filled with rookies, but the players at the top are still in their primes, which means we’ve got at least 2-3 more years of this championship window left to stress over!

First and foremost, we’ve got a franchise quarterback.  You’re not going anywhere without a franchise quarterback.  Just ask those aforementioned Cleveland Browns, or the Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, New York Jets, and so on and so forth.  Even in those rare instances where a team rides its defense to a title, you’re never going to be able to achieve sustained success with that tactic.  Yeah, Peyton Manning stunk in 2015 and the Broncos won it all, but you saw what happened in 2016.  Due to salary cap constraints, players get poached.  Due to the law of averages, a defense largely healthy one year suffers a bevy of injuries the next.  I mean, go back through time of all the teams with elite defenses and crappy quarterbacks – 2002 Bucs, 2000 Ravens, 1985 Bears – did any of them repeat?  The Bears didn’t make another Super Bowl until the 2006 season; the Bucs haven’t been back period; and the Ravens didn’t win it all again until the 2012 season, at which time their defense was a shell of its former self, and they were able to ride the hot hand of Joe Flacco of all people.  The overwhelming majority of Super Bowl champions – and even Super Bowl participants – had either great quarterbacks, or average quarterbacks having great seasons.

Now, is there cause for concern about Russell Wilson’s 2016 season?  Sure felt like a step back to me, but I don’t know how much you can learn about a season when he’s hobbled and still running for his life because of that O-Line.  I think it all finally caught up to him, resulting in rushed throws, which in turn resulted in a lot of inaccurate throws.  Improved offensive line play will surely result in improved quarterback play.  Or, it’ll spell doom for a promising young player who looked like he was on the fast track to the Hall of Fame.

As I mentioned before, the wide receiver group is as strong as ever.  Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett are great players.  Jermaine Kearse unquestionably had a down year in 2016, but he nevertheless brings a lot to the table with his blocking and his rapport with Wilson and the other receivers.  Paul Richardson came on like gangbusters after Lockett went down.  If we’re able to incorporate him more into this offense, we haven’t had a player with his combination of speed and catch radius EVER in the Pete Carroll era.  The person who comes closest is Sidney Rice in his prime, which I think this team would take in a heartbeat.  When you top it off with Jimmy Graham – who I believe this team not only needs to hang onto in 2017, but should probably look to extend out another 2-3 years to make his cap hits more reasonable – this offense has the weapons in the passing game to succeed.  They won’t need to hit the free agent or trade markets, nor will they need to look in the draft all that high.

Running back might be another story.  When healthy, you’ve got elite talent with Rawls and Prosise, but obviously you can’t count on either of them for a full 16-game season plus playoffs.  Alex Collins really started to play well towards the end of the season, so obviously I think you keep him in the mix.  But, this team will most definitely have to look in the draft for another quality back to throw onto the pile.

In talking about the O-Line, Justin Britt was a pleasant surprise and lone bright spot.  While there is plenty of work to do here, it’s nice to know at least ONE spot out of five is locked in.

Defensively, we’re still stacked up and down the lineup.  Bennett and Avril are still making lives miserable.  Frank Clark – already solid as a rookie – took a big leap forward in his second year, setting himself up for a HUGE third season, and likely a huge payday once next season concludes.  Along the interior, Rubin and Reed and the return of Tony McDaniel helped us maintain our status as one of the best run defenses in the league.  You never mind picking up extra talent in this group – particularly at the back end, to shore up the depth – but D-Line isn’t really the priority it has been the last couple years.

I was most impressed with our linebackers in 2016.  Bobby Wagner had a so-so 2015, and responded with the best season of his career this past year.  He was, in fact, the best linebacker in the entire NFL, which is no small feat.  Led the league in tackles, managed 4.5 sacks for a guy who doesn’t rush the passer a ton, and was just generally always around the football.  K.J. Wright continued being the most underrated defender in football, and the guy most deserving of a Pro Bowl invite who has yet to actually make it who finally got in this year!  This group didn’t see its strongside linebacker out on the field a lot, but when Mike Morgan came back from injury, he was a force, particularly in setting the edge on running plays.  Just, all around, the best linebacking unit in football, period.

The secondary, while it needs some work, has the broad strokes in place.  Richard Sherman didn’t have his best year (and, it sounds like half that year he was dealing with an MCL issue), but when he’s locked in on his side of the field, as you saw in the Detroit playoff game, he’s still a force to be avoided.  On the opposite side, DeShawn Shead got the starting nod and really acquitted himself well.  Unfortunately, they didn’t trust him enough to just leave him over there – as we saw more and more Richard Sherman following the other team’s best receiver – and I think that might’ve had something to do with our defense taking a step back.  At safety, Kam was his usual dominant self when he was on the field, and Earl was Earl (again, when he was on the field).  The fact that both of those guys missed some pretty extensive time this year, and the fact that our defense REALLY suffered accordingly, means this team has work to do in shoring up our depth in the secondary.  Those four guys, plus Jeremy Lane, were supposed to make the secondary this team’s #1 strength.  Instead, they were this team’s second-biggest weakness, when the likes of Kelcie McCray, Steven Terrell, DeAndre Elliott, and Neiko Thorpe were thrust into active duty.  Bolster the unit from the bottom up and we should see a return to former glories for the secondary.

The foundation is solid, is what I’m trying to get at!  Across the board, except for the O-Line.  We’ve just got to figure out a way to get the complementary pieces in place to get us through the hard times.  As luck would have it, 2017 presents a unique opportunity to really pump this team full of talent.  The Salary Cap should be upwards of $170 million.  Our dead money is currently less than $1 million.  Add that to our contracts already on file, we’ve spent approximately $135 million on our 2017 roster.  The best part, though?  Our list of unrestricted free agents is pretty weak.  The most expensive player on that list is Steven Hauschka, and we might end up looking in another direction at kicker anyway, given how poor of a season he had in 2016.  Then, there’s Luke Willson, who figures to test the market and see if he can get himself a starting job somewhere.  If he comes back to Seattle, it’ll likely be on a very reasonable deal.  As for starter types, Mike Morgan and Tony McDaniel could be had on small deals as well.  Beyond those guys, we’re talking about the bottom of the roster:  McCray, Sowell, Thorpe, Marcel Reece, Tukuafu, Jeron Johnson, Brandon Williams, and Damontre Moore.  So, you know, it’s not like there’s some big contract we need to take care of on our own roster.

I’m fuzzy at best as to what the free agent market is going to look like, but that’s a topic for another day.  For now, let’s just bask in the glow that we’ve got a very good football team, with some very smart people running the show, and we’re really not THAT far off from competing for the top seed in the NFC and the Super Bowl.

Seahawks @ Rams Preview

I hate the fuckin’ Rams like The Dude hates the fuckin’ Eagles.  Just this bitter, resigned exasperation, like, “Really?  We’re doing this shit again?”

I hate the Rams and I really shouldn’t, is what I’m getting at.  The Rams have been mediocre-to-terrible for over a decade now, with no end in sight if I’m being honest.  And yet, they’ve beaten the Seahawks an alarming number of times, dating back to the Holmgren years.

Hell, they haven’t won more than 8 games in the regular season since 2003!

But, I’ll be God damned if they don’t have our number, and it starts right up there at their defensive line.  Like that idiot owner in fantasy who loads up at one position, to the detriment of the rest of his team, the Rams have stockpiled a ridiculous number of elite defensive linemen, while neglecting things like – oh, I dunno – quarterback, wide receiver, offensive line, linebackers, the secondary, tight end … pretty much anything that isn’t the defensive line or Todd Gurley.

If this were the 1930s, I’m sure the Rams would be the cock of the walk, and I’m sure Jeff Fisher would seem like a genius.  But, this is now, the Rams are fucking terrible, and Jeff Fisher can only seem to beat Pete Carroll, which is a neat parlor trick to show off to your friends, but it isn’t going to keep you gainfully employed.

(as a quick aside, I’ve been laboring under the impression that they’d already given Fisher an extension beyond this season, but apparently all those reports were of a deal being “imminent”.  Which I assume means, “just as soon as he beats the Seahawks”.  I’m still sticking to my guns that this is going to be his final year there, extension or no extension, because come on)

And so here we are, another year older, another couple of Rams games on the schedule.  The first one is this weekend, and it’s the first regular season game back in Los Angeles since whenever they moved away last.  There will be 90,000 die hards in attendance, of which I want to say half will be corporate or celebrity, which is another way of saying it’ll have a Super Bowl atmosphere without the stakes.  I’m sure it’ll be loud in the early going, but once we get into this thing, I can’t imagine the crowd is going to have that much of an impact.

Key to this game will, of course, be Russell Wilson and how well he’s able to move in and around the pocket.  Last Sunday, after the Suh hit, it didn’t look like he could take more than a couple steps.  I would assume he’ll be better today, but I think it’s a longshot that we’ll see him as an active runner on read-option plays.  My hope is, if he can handle it, to tuck and run with the ball early, to at least show the defense he’s okay (even if he’s not totally 100%).  That should mitigate things a bit, and hopefully open things up for the running backs.

Thomas Rawls will return to his starting role, which I think is appropriate, and not just because I have him on my fantasy team.  He’s the more complete back, and he should be getting the bulk of the carries.  I still like Christine Michael, but I think I like him more as a change of pace back.  Pick your spots and let him do his thing.  But, I still don’t know if I trust him to hold down the starter’s job full time.

The offensive line is what everyone will be focused on, of course.  They’re going up against a D-Line even better than an already-good one in Miami.  On the plus side, they’ve had an extra week to work with J’Marcus Webb at right guard, so hopefully they’ll be able to gel a little bit, and we won’t see so many breakdowns from the right side of the line.

Still, this is a game you just have to grit your teeth and hope for the best.  The Seahawks most certainly won’t be able to move the ball all that well.  Even in the second half of last year, when Russell Wilson was putting up God-like numbers, we laid an egg at home to the Rams in Week 16.  If that’s the case, there’s no good reason for us to expect the Seahawks’ offense to produce this time around.

The defense, as always, will have to run the show.  Take a look at what the 49ers did on Monday Night, and do that.  Do exactly that.  I want constant pressure on their quarterback, I want Gurley’s ass to be dumped in the backfield on the reg, and I want their receivers stuffed short of the line to gain.  No more breakdowns, no more tight ends running free down the field, no more missed tackles, and so help me God, you BETTER force some turnovers!  I’m not kidding!  If the Rams are going to throw our offense around like a ragdoll, I want our defense to be twice as vicious!

And, for the love of all that is holy, stop falling for their special teams tricks!  Is it too much to ask to fucking FOCUS on the shit that keeps repeatedly beating us?

As for a prediction, I don’t even know how to start.  I know what this game SHOULD look like:  it should be a bloodbath where the Seahawks win 27-7, and the Rams only get that TD late in the 4th quarter after we’ve inserted our subs.  What WILL it look like?  Oh, probably more of the same horseshit.  If I’m feeling optimistic, maybe something like a 16-13 Seahawks victory.  If I’m feeling realistic, probably a 24-18 Rams drubbing.

This game has Huge Embarrassing Failure written all over it.  Once again, we’ll be pointing to games like this as the reason why the Seahawks failed to get the seeding they wanted in the playoffs.  I almost don’t even want to watch this catastrophe.

Should The Seahawks Undervalue Offensive Linemen?

It’s something I brought up in yesterday’s post, that got to gnawing at me a little bit today.  Value over quality.  Instead of keeping your offensive line intact for a long period of time – by handing out contract extensions once their rookie deals lapse – just reloading with fresh, young rookies and hoping for the best.

Is that the best way to go?

Obviously, this gets back to the realm of Can’t Pay Everybody.  Would you rather have quality linemen at most or all of the offensive line spots?  Or, would you rather have a franchise quarterback, All Pros/Pro Bowlers at Safety, Cornerback, Linebacker, Defensive End, and so on?  Something’s gotta give, and the Seahawks have decided that something is the O-Line, the running back position, the interior defensive line, and to a lesser extent the wide receivers.

Well, to figure out the right way to build a roster, it’s kind of simple, actually.  Just factor in that position at a Pro Bowl level and compare it to a “replacement level” player.

If you start at quarterback, it’s clear as day.  Look around the league, at the teams making the playoffs every year.  The best teams generally have a top-level quarterback.  The mediocre teams and the bad teams are generally employing (or are forced to use, due to injuries) replacement level quarterbacks.  Nobodies.  The Brian Hoyers of the world.

Going down the line, what’s the difference between Earl Thomas and Brian Russell?  Pretty huge difference there, right?  What’s the difference between Ricahrd Sherman and Kelly Jennings?  Again, pretty huge.  Bobby Wagner vs. David Hawthorne?  Michael Bennett vs. Grant Wistrom?  I could go on and on, just comparing quality Seahawks on the roster now vs. mediocre ex-Seahawks who brought this franchise to its knees with their bumbling.

Now, what’s the difference between Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls?  I know we’re talking about a REALLY small sample size, but as a rookie the Seahawks were able to find a player in Rawls who averaged 5.6 yards per attempt.  This wasn’t just a third down back hitting on some big runs; this is a guy who got significant action, in a starting role, before that ankle injury cut short his season.

What’s the difference between Doug Baldwin and someone like Alshon Jeffery (random example, I know).  Jeffery is considered to be a significant upgrade in talent – a true #1 receiver who’s able to win a lot of jump balls and really be a force on offense.  But, their career yards per catch are within a yard of one another, and Jeffery never had a season where he caught 14 touchdowns like Baldwin did last year, under a relatively modest salary.  A guy like Jeffery on the open market would command top dollar; a guy like Baldwin might still be had for a bargain, considering his overall production value.  Should the Seahawks break the bank on a guy like Jeffery, or should they extend a guy like Baldwin for a modest sum and get just as good production, if not better in certain areas?

If I may slide around to the point of the post:  what’s the difference between Russell Okung and Garry Gilliam?  I have no idea.  Based on his play at right tackle last year, you could argue Gilliam is a big dropoff.  But, the left side is his more natural side, and he’s had a whole offseason to bulk up and work on technique, so you’d hope there will be some improvement gained by health and experience alone.  If Gilliam can be a league-average left tackle, that’s not so much of a drop-off from Okung.

If you compare the rest of our offensive line to, say, the Cowboys (who are touted as doing it “the right way”, by investing heavily at all spots along the offensive line), what is the drop-off?  Well, let’s look at the 2015 regular season.

  • In rushing, the Seahawks were third in the league, with 2,268 yards; Dallas was ninth with 1,890.
  • In pass protection, the Seahawks gave up 46 sacks, good for 6th-worst in the NFL; Dallas gave up 33, tied for 11th-best.
  • In QB hits, it’s even worse.  The Seahawks gave up 114 hits, 3rd-worst in the NFL; Dallas gave up only 67, 5th-best.

So, yeah, the pass protection half of the O-Line’s duties is pretty dire.  If we’re unable to get those numbers way down to at least league average, it’s only a matter of time before Russell Wilson gets injured and we lose a season to backup quarterback play.  But, it is only half the battle, as the Seahawks play it pretty close to 50/50 in the run/pass department.  We’re getting good run production, which is a big help, compared to teams throwing the ball 2/3 of the time and increasing the risk to their quarterbacks that way.

The thing that everyone talks about regarding offensive line play is continuity.  You need your linemen to be healthy, and you ideally want them playing together for a long time.  It’s why a Seahawks line as bad as it was in Week 1 last year can improve the way it did, to where it WAS a league-average unit by Week 17.  Those same five guys, for the most part, played together every week, and experienced a bump in productivity as a result.  Imagine what that would look like if you could have the same line playing together over the course of YEARS!

Well, you don’t have to think too hard, because you can look at those O-Lines we had in Seattle during Holmgren’s peak years.  Doesn’t hurt that those lines had a hall of famer in Walter Jones, but they were also veterans who had played together a bunch (until it was unceremoniously broken up in the Poison Pill fiasco).

The key to the whole thing is just getting a league average unit.  If the Seahawks can do that by paying guys peanuts, I believe it’s entirely worth their while.  Because you can get by with league average offensive line play; whereas you can’t get by with league average quarterbacks, or league average secondaries, or a league average pass rush.

Yeah, continuity is great, and pumping a lot of resources into the O-Line is fantastic if you can afford it.  But, no team is immune from the injury bug.  And just one or two injuries to key offensive linemen can completely dismantle the whole thing, leaving you not only over-paying for a position that’s on the IR, but stuck with replacement players anyway who are thrust into starting spots they’re not ready for.

In my book, with the right coaching, some smart drafting, and a little luck, you can skimp on the O-Line – like you can at running back, defensive tackle, and so on – and still get good-enough value to make your team a championship contender.

I’m not worried about the Seahawks’ O-Line.  Then again, I haven’t seen them play, so check back with me again in August.

Seahawks Lose Mebane, Sweezy

I’m going to try to spread these out a little bit (fear not, I’m well aware Jeremy Lane has re-signed with the Seahawks and will be here another four years; I’ll get to him later).

Lotta news coming down the pike yesterday, as it was the first day NFL free agents could sign their new deals.  For a while there, it looked like the Seahawks were going to miss out on a bunch of available guys in addition to failing to bring back some key starters (until the Lane news broke late last night).

Losing Brandon Mebane hurts.  He’s been one of my favorite Seahawks since we drafted him in the third round in 2007.  If you could make the Pro Bowl for being just a run-stuffing defensive tackle, Brandon Mebane would be an All Pro.  But, of course, the guys who get all the glory are the pass-rushing interior linemen, so Mebane never really had a chance.  Yet, he’s been a quality starter for us since he entered the league.  He was our elder statesman.  The bridge from Holmgren to Carroll.

He signed a 3 year, $13.5 million with the San Diego Chargers, so, like Irvin, he’s out of our hair.  He gets a $3 million signing bonus, with his 2016 salary of $2.5 million guaranteed as well.  It’s really a no-risk move for the Chargers, as they could release him after this year with only a $2 million dead money hit.  In that sense, it’s REALLY a bummer the Seahawks couldn’t get him to stay.  Maybe they worried about his age.  Maybe they didn’t want to spend that much on another veteran defensive tackle.  Maybe he just wanted to get the hell out of Seattle and try another team on for size.  Either way, he won’t be a career Seahawk, and as a fan that’s disappointing.

The question for Mebane is:  does a 9-year starter make the Ring of Honor?  I’ve got him on the fringe, but ultimately I don’t think he makes it.  Maybe if the Seahawks had brought him back, and he packed on another two or three quality years of smashing run defense, you could make a better case.  Longevity was always going to be his angle, as he’s never been all that dynamic (15.5 sacks on his career).  Aside from last year, when he suffered his first and only serious injury, Mebane had never played fewer than 12 games in a season, and usually he was in the 15-16 game range.  He was another valuable piece to this defense’s all-time great run, and like all good things, his tenure here has come to an end.

J.R. Sweezy was here for a much shorter period.  As part of that epic 2012 draft class, Sweezy has been a fixture at right guard since he came into the league.  Converted from defensive tackle, he never quite got the credit he deserved, especially for his run blocking.  Granted, there were a number of boners throughout his Seahawks career – whiffed blocks-turned-sacks, false starts, late hits by pushing defenders off of a pile after the whistle had blown – but if you step back and take a rational approach, you can see the Seahawks got tremendous value.  As a 7th round pick, the guy gave us 4 predominantly healthy seasons on an offensive line that produced Top 5 rushing attacks each and every year from 2012-2015.  And he did it for PEANUTS!  He may not have been the greatest guard in the league (and by most advanced metrics, he was one of the worst), but I don’t care, that’s some value right there.

Now, would I pay him $32.5 million over 5 years (with $14.5 million guaranteed) like the Bucs did?  No, probably not.  He’s probably not worth all THAT.  But, good for him that he was able to find a team that WAS willing.  My lament with Sweezy is that he never fully developed like I thought he would.  I really thought he was going to make a leap and have everything click, but he pretty much plateaued over the last two seasons.  Granted, he cleaned up some of the bonehead penalties, but there were still too many instances of him getting blown up to pay him top shelf money.

So, that’s three starters so far who have left for greener pastures.  Seahawks are looking at some serious compensatory draft picks for the 2017 draft.

What Does A Future Without Jermaine Kearse Look Like?

Word around town is that Jermaine Kearse doesn’t expect to be back in a Seahawks uniform in 2016.  You can take that one of three ways:  either this is a negotiating tactic, letting the world know he’s not giving any discounts and is most certainly looking for the most money; or he’s got it on good authority the Seahawks will lowball him or perhaps not offer him a deal at all; or he’s got it on good authority that another team is going to blow him out of the water with the type of deal he knows unequivocally the Seahawks won’t want to or be able to match.  I don’t think you make a statement like that by just reading tea leaves and guessing the Seahawks won’t be interested.  It’s my opinion the Seahawks would very much like to have him back, but at a price that won’t break the bank.  As such, you gotta figure somewhere out there Kearse is going to find a team to break that bank.

Let’s face it, the salary cap is rising and all over the league you’re seeing teams with dozens of millions of dollars to spend.  Jermaine Kearse is nobody’s elite, #1 receiver, but he’s a perfect complement, a good route runner, a physical blocker, and a guy who can make big catches in traffic (as we’ve seen time and time again).  I wish him the best in his endeavors and truly hope he’s able to maximize both his bank account and his opportunities on a team that likes to throw the ball a lot more than the Seahawks.

It’s no secret that as a University of Washington alumnus and Seahawks fan, I’m a pretty big Kearse fan, so in that sense, this is tough news to take.  I know there are more Husky receivers where he came from, and plenty of undrafted underdogs to root to glory, but I like Kearse for more than where he came from, and how hard he fought to get there.  Kearse fits this offense like a glove.  Over his 4-year career – especially the last three years of it – he’s come in here, done his job, and helped this offense achieve great things.  With him most likely leaving, there’s a big hole to fill; bigger, I think, than most fans realize.

Jermaine Kearse doesn’t get the credit he deserves.  I get the sense that most fans feel we can just plug anyone into his spot and not skip a beat; I’m not so sure that’s necessarily the case.

Yes, ideally, someone like Kevin Smith will take a big leap forward in his development this year and come in, ready to compete for the third receiver spot behind Baldwin and Lockett.  But, I dunno.  I hear about all the amazing catches Smith makes in practice – apparently he’s known for making at least one spectacular play per day – but I’ve yet to see him really make an impact in a game.  Obviously, when he’s the 4th or 5th receiver, there aren’t a ton of opportunities for someone in that position.  Maybe my fears will subside this fall, but I think it’s fair to question whether he’s ready for an increased role.

I guess, if you want to look at the obvious option, we still have Paul Richardson.  A guy who was a high draft pick, with a lot of speed and a lot of talent, who made a pretty solid impact as a rookie in 2014, getting better as that season went along.  But, then he got injured, and it essentially cost him all of the 2015 season (save one game, where he had one catch for 40 yards).  Word on the street is that he’s fully healthy and will be able to participate in all offseason programs, so at least we’ve got that going for us.  Nevertheless, you can’t help but be concerned about his injury risk.

If you just focus on the upside, there’s a lot to like about a 3-headed monster of Baldwin, Lockett, and Richardson.  Lots of good speed, good hands, and good route running there.  As we maybe transition to somewhat of a quicker-passing offense, those are three guys who can get open in a hurry (they would have KILLED IT back in Holmgren & Hasselbeck’s heyday).

Beyond that, there’s Kasen Williams, who’s probably more raw than Kevin Smith; and there’s Ricardo Lockette, who’s technically a free agent (but I doubt he’s going anywhere), and who’s someone you have to wonder if he’ll even be able to lace ’em up again.  His road to recovery might not be anywhere near complete by the time the season starts anyway, and you know how I feel about wide receivers who start on the PUP list and try to play later in the season (see:  Richardson, Paul … they tend to get re-injured a lot, okay?).

Taken as a whole, there are two receivers you can depend on, one receiver you have to worry about, two receivers who might not be ready to make the jump, and a guy coming off of one of the scariest injuries I’ve seen on a football field in a long time.  Therefore, I don’t think I’m speaking out of school here when I say the Seahawks might be wise to invest in this position a little bit (this would be especially prudent when you look at Jimmy Graham’s injury and the fact that he might not be ready to do any football activities whatsoever until the regular season starts, if not later).

What does that mean?  Well, it sure as shit doesn’t mean trading away our #1 pick for another veteran from another team, I’ll tell you that!  I also don’t mean that I necessarily want the Seahawks to USE that #1 pick on drafting a receiver, though I suppose I’d be okay with it if someone uber-talented happened to fall all the way to the mid-20s in the first round.  If I had my druthers, all positions being equal in the realm of “best player available”, I’d want the Seahawks to use their top pick on either an offensive or defensive lineman (preferably a guard or a defensive tackle).  But, I wouldn’t be opposed to the Seahawks using that 2nd or 3rd round pick to go after another receiver.

I’m pretty sure the Seahawks will look at receiver SOMEWHERE in the draft, anyway.  The question remains:  can we strike gold twice in a row?  Tyler Lockett came out of the third round of the draft last year ready to play right away; that’s pretty rare.  Hell, you’ll run into a lot of first round receivers who aren’t ready to play in year one!  For every Julio Jones, it seems like there’s twice as many Nelson Agholors or Kevin Whites.  Now, factor in where the Seahawks are picking (near the end of most rounds) and the odds of finding another diamond in the rough are pretty slim.

So, in short, you have to really wonder about the strength of this position in the short term.  2016.  If there’s a rookie who isn’t ready, or doesn’t start producing until near the end of the season, that leaves us pretty much with the guys I listed above.  Baldwin and Lockett as your top two, Richardson and probably Smith as your next two, and then who knows who fills out the final spot or two?

Obviously, we’ll know more once Training Camp and the pre-season rolls around.  Things might start looking better once we see these guys in action and start reading reports from bloggers and beat writers and whatnot.  Maybe someone I don’t even know about will pop and force his way onto the team.  As a fan, I feel less secure with the position without a glue guy like Kearse.  But, it’s also a little exciting (in a scary way) to see what’s going to happen.  You never know, with more opportunities, maybe we’ll find a guy or two who will show us something we never expected!  And MAYBE we’ll even be better for it!

My Top 25 All Time Favorite Seattle Seahawks

With Beastmode’s retirement this week, I thought I’d take stock and reflect upon where he lands among my all time favorite Seattle Seahawks.  While he’s my favorite over the last quarter century, he comes up just short of my all time fave.

I should probably point out that my knowledge of the Seahawks prior to the 1990s is pretty limited (I was born in 1981).  As such, you won’t find many of the old-timers.  Indeed, only 5 of my 25 played prior to 1990, and none of those five are named Dave Krieg, Jim Zorn, or Curt Warner.  Zorn was a guy I never saw play, Warner was always hurt when I started watching football, and the years I watched Dave Krieg were those loser years where he heavily contributed to his standing as one of the most fumble-prone quarterbacks in NFL history.  If I never again see Dave Krieg raise his arm back to pass, only to watch in horror as the ball gets flung backwards thanks to his criminally under-sized hands, it’ll be too soon.

Among the actual Honorable Mentions are the following:

Ricky Watters – a guy who reminds me a lot of Beastmode, but unfortunately didn’t play with us quite long enough to merit breaking through; Chris Warren – very underrated back, who unfortunately was saddled by a lot of mediocre Seahawks teams; Eugene Robinson – solid safety for some solid defenses; Michael Sinclair – second on Seattle’s all-time sacks list; Cliff Avril – who could potentially climb into the Top 25 one day, if he continues to produce the way he has; Red Bryant – mostly a fan favorite type, who I was happy to see find a role in the early Pete Carroll years; Robbie Tobeck – helped solidify the greatest offensive line in team history during the Holmgren years; Steve Hutchinson – who gets a bad rap even though it was Tim Ruskell who dicked him over first; Rocky Bernard – an underrated interior defensive lineman who this team would kill to have right now; Sam Adams – someone who blossomed after he left the Seahawks (and someone who I randomly have a signed jersey from); Bobby Engram – who was Doug Baldwin before Doug Baldwin; Chad Brown – who gets overlooked a little bit because he came from the Steelers, but still played quality football for his Seahawks tenure; Rufus Porter – a speed rusher off the edge and another fan favorite type; Zach Miller – who I’ll always respect for his toughness even though he got injured a lot; and Joe Nash – who would be my #26 if this list went that long, because he was an awesome nose tackle for this team who played here FOREVER.

Anyway, without further ado, My Top 25 All Time Favorite Seattle Seahawks:

1.  Steve Largent – He was this team’s first Hall of Famer, and when he retired, he had most – if not all – of the wide receiver records before they were broken.  When I started getting into football in the late 80s, there was every reason to be a fan of some other team in some other city, as those Seahawks teams were okay, but nothing special.  The 49ers had Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, the Raiders (who were a particular favorite among my elementary school classmates) had Bo Jackson (’nuff said), the Redskins, Oilers, Dolphins, and Bengals were all loaded with talent.  I don’t totally remember my thinking on this one, but I’m certainly convinced now that I would never have become a Seahawks fan if it weren’t for Steve Largent.  I mean, yeah, they’re the local team, so it’s easy to say I’d just stick with that as the reason, but throughout the 1990s, I used to mock this team relentlessly, and would frequently bet my family members that the Seahawks would lose (and won quite a bit of cash in the process, for a kid in the 1990s anyway).  But, I could always hang my hat that at one point, Steve Largent played for the Seahawks and was the best player at his position.  Also, didn’t hurt that I got to meet him at an autograph signing at the Tacoma Mall.  It was many hours of waiting in line, but it was worth it.

2.  Marshawn Lynch – Unlike many of the guys on this list, who were either career Seahawks, or played many more years here, Lynch became a favorite of mine in a little over 5 and a half seasons.  His bruising style of play, all the highlight runs, and his abilities as a receiver and blocker make him not only the most complete running back in franchise history, but one of the very best overall players we’ve ever seen in a Seahawks uniform, including the other Hall of Famers coming up next on this list.

3.  Cortez Kennedy – It’s hard to pick one over the other when it comes to Tez and Big Walt; both are consummate bad asses.  While you could make the argument that Walter Jones was the best player at his position in NFL history (which I do), I don’t think I’d necessarily put Cortez Kennedy as the best defensive tackle in NFL history (though, to be fair, I haven’t tried ranking them all, so who knows?).  What I will say is that what won me over in Tez’s favor is his Defensive Player of the Year Award in 1992.  First of all, it’s hard as fuck for a DT to win that award (there have only been two other players since 1992 at that position to win that award – Dana Stubblefield & Warren Sapp).  Secondly, no player at any position has ever won the award while playing on a shittier team (the Seahawks were 2-14 that year).  But, such is the fierce brutality that was Cortez Kennedy (who ranks 4th all time in franchise history for sacks); he finished that season with 14 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and a whopping 92 tackles.  Let me repeat:  92 tackles!!!  There are linebackers who don’t get that many tackles, and here we are, looking at a DT who got 92 tackles.  Just insane!  To compare, Stubblefield in 1997 had 15 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and only 48 tackles; Sapp in 1999 had 12.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and only 27 tackles (that wasn’t even Sapp’s best season, but regardless, he never surpassed 50 tackles in a season, so that point is moot).  Tez frequently battled double- and triple-teams throughout his career, and was still a God damn hurricane to deal with in the middle.  It’s just too bad he couldn’t be rewarded with more playoff appearances.

4.  Walter Jones – If you went pound for pound, you’re probably talking about the very best player the Seahawks have ever had.  With Bad-Assery being a theme, they don’t get much more bad-ass than this guy.  He was repeatedly franchise tagged, repeatedly held out in training camp and in the pre-season, then showed up right before the regular season started not only in tremendous shape, but ready to start from Game 1.  Then, when you tack on his training regimen of him pulling Cadillacs to get ready for the season, and I think I need to go lie down for a while because I just got winded writing that statement.

5.  Matt Hasselbeck – This is probably where things start to get a little more fluid.  In five years, I would anticipate someone like Russell Wilson will have surpassed someone like Matt Hasselbeck.  Indeed, many fans might disagree with me, but I gotta admit I’m still a pretty big Hasselbeck fan.  He led this team to its first Super Bowl appearance, which is always going to be huge, even if the result isn’t what we wanted.  Where his talent may be lacking compared to a guy like Wilson, his personality and charm in the media more than makes up for it.  It’s always WAY more entertaining to hear a Hasselbeck interview than a Wilson interview.  I know, that means little compared to on-field accomplishments, and as I mentioned above, Wilson will probably pass him in a few short years.  But, for now, I hold Hasselbeck in higher esteem.

6.  Richard Sherman – This future Hall of Famer has nowhere to go but up on this list.  Pretty unlikely leader in the clubhouse of Legion of Boom participants, but Sherm has been the most consistently elite through the 2015 season.

7.  Shaun Alexander – He gets a bad rap for not being Marshawn Lynch, but I think a lot of fans forget just how great he really was.  If he didn’t start breaking down towards the end, he was well on his way towards getting into the Hall of Fame.  As it stands, he was one of the best two or three running backs in the NFL for a good five-year period.  He should be a shoo-in for the Ring of Honor, if the Seahawks ever get around to putting more people in there.

8.  Brandon Mebane – Love this dude.  He won’t be a Hall of Famer, he won’t have his number retired, he might not even make the Ring of Honor when it’s all said and done.  But, he was one of the better Tim Ruskell draft picks.  As a third rounder, he got on the field right away and has been a staple for this defensive line ever since.  Nine years in, he looks as good as ever, and I hope the team retains him so he can retire as a Seahawk.

9.  Kenny Easley – He’s the only player on this list who I don’t really remember watching play live.  So, I’m really basing his ranking on highlights and on testimonials from players around the league who talk about this guy with some of the highest reverence I’ve ever seen.  If his career wasn’t shortened by kidney disease, he’d be in the Hall of Fame right now.  Compared to Ronnie Lott, he’s the only other Seahawk to win the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award, in 1984, when he had 10 interceptions (2 returned for touchdown).  As it stands, he’s a Ring of Honor guy, and the best safety in franchise history (eventually to be surpassed by the next guy on this list).

10.  Earl Thomas – He’s our Ed Reed.  Our Troy Polamalu.  Our All Pro Machine striving to be the best this game has ever seen.  The only thing that could cut him short on his quest is if he succumbs to injuries.  His dedication to the game and being the best puts him in my Top 10.

11.  Russell Wilson – Seems criminally low, I know.  I don’t think it’ll be too much longer before he’s in my Top 10.  Maybe even one more season.  The way he’s playing right now, and with Lynch’s retirement, this will be HIS offense.  If he manages to carry this team to unknown levels of awesomeness, I think he’s destined to skyrocket up my list.

12.  Jacob Green – He was an absolute monster throughout the 80s, racking up the most sacks in franchise history with 97.5 (and that doesn’t even include his first two seasons, when the NFL didn’t record sacks as an official stat).  Certainly one of the more underrated defensive ends of the 80s.

13.  Joey Galloway – Probably another controversial pick – especially this high in the rankings – but I don’t care.  He only really played 4 seasons for the Seahawks before holding out for 8 games in his fifth year before forcing Holmgren’s hand, but those four years were outstanding!  He was an elite return man from the get-go, and a big play machine on offense as well.  If we only could have paired him with a competent quarterback (he was saddled with Rick Mirer, John Friesz, and Jon Kitna before we were able to get Warren Moon in here for a couple of injury-plagued years towards the end of his career) he might have been even better, for as crazy as that sounds.  Still, even the way he left things wasn’t so bad, as we ended up getting two first round draft picks (one of which we used to nab Shaun Alexander, with the other being traded for multiple picks so we could get Koren Robinson, Heath Evans, and some backup offensive lineman I’ve never heard of).

14.  Doug Baldwin – Another player whose ranking could go way up on my list if we manage to keep him on the team beyond his current contract.  He’s proven to be a clutch possession receiver, as well as a guy capable of making bigger plays downfield, and as of 2015, a touchdown monster.  To think an undrafted receiver who has started since his rookie year could still be getting better in his fifth season is pretty amazing.  I want to see the Wilson to Baldwin connection continue for at least the next half decade, if not longer.

15.  Golden Tate – Maybe another controversial pick, but I like who I like, and I like me some Golden Tate.  I kind of dismissed him when he left for Detroit, as we still had Percy Harvin, after all.  But, when Harvin proved to be a huge chump, I’ve longed for Tate’s big play ability ever since.  His loss is now mitigated by the drafting of Tyler Lockett, but there’s still a lot to like about a guy like Tate who was another outsize personality on a team full of ’em.  A guy who got under the skin of opposing defenders (like the fucking Rams, for instance).  And a guy who played bigger than his size.  Not extending him, in favor of bringing in Harvin, is a move this team continues to regret.

16.  Brian Blades – The wide receiver parade marches on, with Blades, who played significant minutes for a rookie under Chuck Knox, and who eventually went on to replace a legend in Steve Largent as this team’s #1.  He was never super flashy, and only made one Pro Bowl in his career, but he’s this team’s second-leading career pass catcher.  He has the team’s second-most receiving yards, and is fifth in touchdowns.

17.  K.J. Wright – He cracks this in large part due to recency bias.  He’s been here for five years, has played all three linebacker spots, has only missed a small handful of games, and should be in the Top 10 in franchise history in tackles by this time next year.  I love his smarts, his professionalism, his toughness, and the fact that on a defense full of superstars, he just quietly goes about his business of being consistently great.  He’s never been to a Pro Bowl, and probably never will, but when it’s all said and done, he’ll go down as one of the best linebackers in Seahawks history.

18.  Marcus Trufant – He was rarely flashy, but he was a first round pick and a starter from day 1.  He made a Pro Bowl in 2007 when he had 7 picks, and it doesn’t hurt that he was a local kid who made good.  And, not for nothing, but we went to the same high school and played on the same Freshman football team (he was the superstar, I was the third string right tackle who never ACTUALLY got to share a field with him on gameday, because I was terrible).

19.  Michael Bennett – In three short years, Bennett is already #10 on Seattle’s all time sacks list.  Of course, he’s so much more than sacks, but that’s still pretty impressive.  With his ability to play both inside and outside, against the run and against the pass, he’s probably the most talented defensive lineman in franchise history (just behind Tez, that is).  If we can keep him happy and playing through the end of this contract – or onto another if he keeps producing – he could easily shoot up this list as well.

20.  Kam Chancellor – He took a bit of a hit this year with his holdout.  I don’t mind a guy who holds out of training camp and/or the pre-season, but I tend to draw the line when a guy starts missing regular season games (and starts costing us those games with his absence).  Truth be told, his 2015 was far from ideal; but, that doesn’t wash away the previous four years of amazingness.  If we can make him happy again and keep him around a few more years, he’ll return to his rightful place among the Top 15 or Top 10 on this list.  For now, it’s sort of Wait & See mode, for fans and the franchise alike.

21.  Lofa Tatupu – His career was relatively brief, but man did he shine bright!  In only six years (one of them severely injury-marred), he made three Pro Bowls, one first team All Pro, and cracked the top 10 in tackles in Seahawks history.  THIS is the best draft pick of Ruskell’s tenure, and a big reason why this team made the Super Bowl during the 2005 season.

22.  Darrell Jackson – Fourth in franchise history in receptions, second in touchdown receptions, and the number 1 receiver for most of Matt Hasselbeck’s time here.  His reputation was somewhat tainted by drops early in his career, but I feel he more than made up for it from 2003 through 2006.  Another guy who never made a Pro Bowl, and will probably never make the Ring of Honor, but he’s a big part of those Holmgren teams that brought the Seahawks to a level of respectability we’d never seen to that point.

23.  John L. Williams – Listed as a fullback, but he was really a do-it-all type of back.  He had hands like a receiver (3rd all time in receptions, 6th all time in receiving yards in Seahawks history), had quicks like a running back (fifth all time in rushing yards in Seahawks history, 9th in rushing touchdowns), and the size of a bruising fullback (5’11, 231 lbs), he could really do it all.  In an era that pre-dates these types of specialty backs who are equally as good at catching as rushing (LaDainian Tomlinson, Marshall Faulk, etc.), John L. Williams was truly a trailblazer.  He’s securely third place in franchise history in total yards from scrimmage (behind bellcow back Shaun Alexander with 10,940 total yards, and Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent, who had a total of 13,172 yards), ahead of other, more notable, running backs like Curt Warner, Marshawn Lynch, and Chris Warren.  John L. played largely a reserve role, as a third or fourth option for this offense for most of his tenure here, but he played that role splendidly.

24.  Bobby Wagner – He’s been great since his rookie year, I only expect further greatness going forward.  He’s another who could easily skyrocket up this list, the longer he remains the quarterback of the greatest defense we’ve ever seen.

25.  Jermaine Kearse – What can I say?  He’s another local kid, another undrafted free agent, who worked his way through the practice squad into being this team’s #2 receiver.  Doesn’t hurt that he’s a Husky.  Also doesn’t hurt that he’s made some of the biggest catches in franchise history, including the 4th down touchdown against the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, and the game-winning touchdown against the Packers the very next year in the NFCCG (not to mention the super-human TD catch in Super Bowl XLVIII, and the beyond-human bobbling/diving catch in Super Bowl XLIX).  He might have played his last down in a Seahawks uniform, and if so, I’ll be sad.  But, I’ll also be happy for a guy who started at the bottom and worked his way into a contract that was too big for the Seahawks to match.

The Seahawks Are One Of The Best Franchises In Football

When you think of the best teams – and the best-run organizations – in the NFL, you think of New England, Pittsburgh, Green Bay; but Seattle doesn’t immediately come to mind.  If you’re in my age range (mid-30s), you probably still have the moniker of “America’s Team” seared into your consciousness when you think of the Dallas Cowboys.  You’d also probably liken the 49ers, Giants, and various others among the greats.  But the Seahawks?  Nah.  Tucked all the way up here?  Out of the limelight, what with East Coast Bias and whatnot, the Seahawks are middle-of-the-road at best.

Living with this team in the 1990s, “middle-of-the-road” was something to aspire to!  An 8-8 season was considered a success!  But, I think it’s time to come around a little bit.  I did some research (i.e. wasted a bunch of time working on a spreadsheet), and it turns out the Seahawks have been pretty damn great; not just recently, but dating back the last 13 seasons.

I know, it’s a VERY arbitrary starting point.  But, this is a Seattle-centric blog, and the 2003 season is quite significant for this franchise.

Mike Holmgren’s first season with the Seahawks was 1999; he’s generally credited (and rightfully so) with turning around this moribund franchise.  All the old-timers can cling to the mid-80s glory of the Seahawks, but let’s face it, by the time Holmgren was brought on, this team was a laughingstock, or at the very least a non-entity.  This little slice of nothingness up in the Pacific Northwest you didn’t really have an opinion about if you didn’t have to play us regularly (and even then, even teams within our own division had MUCH bigger rivalries with teams other than the Seahawks).  Even though Holmgren led the Seahawks to a division title and a playoff appearance in his first year, I’m reluctant to include that year, or the subsequent three seasons, as he was still mired with a lot of the previous regime’s players.

In 2003, though, everything started to come together.  Matt Hasselbeck was a proven, quality quarterback.  And, the rest of the team was talented enough to push us into perennial division-winner status, as we ripped off five straight NFC West titles.  The Holmgren era, by and large, gets short shrift when compared to the Pete Carroll era, for good reason.  These Seahawks teams, since 2012, have been VASTLY superior, and have had much more success than those Holmgren teams (especially in the playoffs, where it counts more).  But, if you lump these two eras together, you get a good look at what a quality franchise really looks like.

You’ll notice a theme when you look at the great franchises:  they tend to be defined by the head coaches.  The Holmgren Era, the Carroll Era, and so on.  But, really, what we’re talking about is quarterback eras.  The Hasselbeck Era, the Wilson Era.  As you can see from a lot of the crappy teams, quarterbacking is everything in the NFL.  Teams are lucky if they get ONE franchise quarterback in a generation; the Seahawks have had two, and that’s the biggest reason why the Seahawks have been among the greatest teams over the last 13 years.  It’s also why the Seahawks will continue to be great, as long as Russell Wilson sticks around.

From 2003 through 2015, the Seahawks have been the sixth-most successful franchise in the NFL, behind New England, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, and Denver.  In that Google Spreadsheet I linked to, the left side divides the teams by division; the right side is listed by way of regular season record.  This is some PHENOMENAL company the Seahawks are keeping!  And, when you go down the list, you can see why these teams have had the success they’ve had.  Tom Brady & Bill Belichick; Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck (Indy hitting the lottery twice with those #1 overall picks); Ben Roethlisberger; a seamless transition from Favre to Rodgers.  The only semi-outlier is Denver, who has been blessed in recent seasons by the signing of Manning, and had some other playoff years with Jake Plummer of all people; but, the one thing I would point to is organizational stability.  They had Mike Shanahan for a bunch of those years, and John Elway has been a force as an executive since he took over.

I don’t really have a point beyond touting that the Seahawks are pretty great.  I often come across as a bit of a Debbie Downer, as a result of my sports upbringing and having all success ripped away from me as a fan.  I just think it’s time to appreciate how good this team has been for the majority of my adult life.  When you take it in across the big picture, the Seahawks are fucking awesome, and it’s about time the rest of the nation recognized.

With news of Ken Griffey Jr. being inducted into the Hall of Fame (with a record-setting percentage of votes), it’s given Mariners fans yet another opportunity to reflect on our mid-90s success.  You look at those teams and smile, especially given how bereft we’ve been of baseball prowess in recent years.  You can also look at those teams – with two hall of famers (Griffey and Randy), a should-be hall of famer in Edgar, and another should-be hall of famer in Sweet Lou – and smack yourself as hard as you can on the forehead:  HOW DID WE NOT WIN A WORLD SERIES WITH THOSE GUYS???

But, that’s baseball.  Really, that’s just sports.  Success is fleeting, championships are fucking hard, and the world is a meaningless flat circle.

With the thought of those Mariners teams in your mind, now think of these Seahawks.  From the Holmgren Era, we had a hall of famer in Walter Jones, who anchored one of the best O-Lines in recorded history.  From the Carroll Era, we’re looking at how many possible/probable hall of famers?  Let’s list them off:

  • Earl Thomas
  • Richard Sherman
  • Russell Wilson
  • Marshawn Lynch?
  • Bobby Wagner?
  • Kam Chancellor?
  • Doug Baldwin???

It’s getting a little lean down there at the bottom; I don’t know if any of those last three guys have a legitimate shot at the HOF (they’d probably have to have REALLY extended careers, which I don’t think is necessarily in the cards with the way big hitters like Wagner and Kam play the game; and I just don’t think Baldwin will have the raw receptions/yards numbers compared to other receivers – it’s just hard as a receiver in general in this pass-wacky day and age to crack the hall), but just having three Hall of Famers on your squad is remarkable in its own right (for what it’s worth, I do think all three of Earl, Richard, and Russell will end up making it, assuming their careers aren’t cut short in a hail of concussions).

We’re really fortunate, is what I’m getting at, to be fans of the Seahawks right now.  That’s not to say I’m satisfied, or ready to settle for what we’ve got.  As a fan, you always want more; it’s the nature of the beast.  But, as we head into Wild Card weekend, it’s cool to look back and reflect upon all the greatness we’ve seen.  Here’s to another 13 remarkable years!

Is It Time To Declare The Jimmy Graham Trade A Failure?

It doesn’t make me happy to write this.  Not by a long shot.

I’m not afraid to admit that I pretty much loved the trade immediately after it happened.  I didn’t love losing yet another first round draft pick, but I thought everything else was fine.  Graham is a dominant red zone presence.  He seems like a good clubhouse guy (or, at least, not the fucking maniac that is Percy Harvin).  He plays a position of need (tight end/receiver).  Max Unger had spent the better part of the last few seasons on the training room table, was getting up there in age, and looked to be well on his way to breaking down and leaving the league.  Plus, with Unger’s constant injuries, it felt like our offensive line was getting by with Okung and Smoke & Mirrors anyway, so what would it matter if we skimped on that if we could drastically improve the rest of our offense?

Well, I think it’s safe to say things have sufficiently blown up in our faces so far.  The Seahawks have yet to beat a team with a winning record (Chicago at 4-5 is the best so far, and they were without their top quarterback and wide receiver in that game).  The offensive line has been just so fucking miserable.  The passing game seems to focus so hard on getting the ball to Jimmy Graham just to avoid criticism from the press that our quarterback is missing other wide open targets.  And, most mind-bogglingly of all, the passing game ISN’T directing its concentration to him enough when we get near the endzone!

That’s why I wouldn’t say Jimmy Graham is the reason why this trade is a failure, ignoring a couple bad drops in the Cardinals game.  I just happen to agree with the sentiments of the Hawkblogger and others.  It’s hard to integrate skill position players into your already-established offense.  These things generally take years to develop, not weeks.  And, ideally, they’re established by bringing in rookies and draft picks; guys who more easily adapt and can grow into your system.  Jimmy Graham was already an established player when he came here.  He had years and years of experience in the New Orleans system, which is about as different as it gets compared to what the Seahawks have been running the last few years.  So, it’s reasonable to expect some growing pains when trying to integrate him into your system.  It’s also not entirely UNreasonable that he may never truly mesh with our system, and our offense will continue to struggle accordingly.

It’s still possible for him to take this year, and the next full offseason, to get fully comfortable with what we’re trying to do (just as it’s possible for our coaching staff and quarterback to figure out how to use him when we’re close to the goalline), and end up being a force for us in 2016 and beyond.  At that point, maybe I have to go back and renege on these comments of the trade being a disaster.  Except, here’s the thing:  if the Seahawks fail in their goals for 2015, the trade will STILL be a bust.  Because those goals are winning a championship, and failing in that goal means we’ve lost yet another year in our ever-dwindling Championship Window.

Now, obviously, I’m not going to sit here and cite Jimmy Graham as the sole reason why the 2015 Seahawks won’t win the Super Bowl (or get to the Super Bowl, or win the division, or make the playoffs, or …), but I will say that our struggling offense as a whole is the primary reason why things have gone so poorly so far.  Did the defense give up some late 4th quarter leads?  Absolutely.  Did our offense do anything to extend those leads, or prevent the other team from getting the ball back?  Absolutely not.  The defense hasn’t been its sharpest, there’s no doubt about it.  But, if we’re weighing the reason why the 2015 Seahawks are on the outside of the playoffs looking in right now, more than 50% of the blame falls on the offense as a whole.  That has to do with play-calling, that has to do with line play, that has to do with the quarterback’s decision-making and poor execution, that has to do with Lynch’s nagging injuries, that has to do with the receivers not getting open, and yes, that has to do with Jimmy Graham.  You can divide that pie however you see fit; shit done gone wrong with this group.  But, a lot of it comes back to the Jimmy Graham trade as a whole and the chain reaction of repercussions that have followed.

Like I said, it’s partly the play-calling; the focus on getting the ball in Graham’s hands.  And, in a major way, it has to do with the offensive line, which we’ve been talking about all year.  Last I heard, Max Unger has been relatively healthy this season; at the very least, I haven’t heard of him missing any games.  What would this team look like without Jimmy Graham, and with Max Unger?

Considering the center position has been a trouble spot, I’d like to think Unger’s presence would be a huge bonus for us.  Considering Justin Britt has been a nuisance at left guard, I’d also like to think Unger’s presence would be a double-bonus for us:  he could assist in double-teams, and/or he’d be there to call out protections like he did so well in the past.  And, who knows?  Maybe with Unger in there, we’re able to use someone like Patrick Lewis at left guard; at the very least he probably gets a chance to push Britt for playing time in practice, right?

Unger is signed to a moderate contract in 2016 ($6 million, $1.5 million in dead money, should he be released).  Jimmy Graham has cap hits of $9 million & $10 million in the next two years (with $0 in dead money should he be released).  One thing you can say that helps soften the blow of this trade is that the Seahawks haven’t extended Graham, or otherwise turned any of his money into guaranteed money (not to say they won’t do that this offseason, to free up some cap space, but they haven’t yet, so I’m calling that a silver lining for now).  Also, if we never made the deal (or any other type of similar deal), you have to wonder what the Seahawks would have done differently in the draft.  Do they go after the top-rated college tight end?  Do they shore up the O-Line?  Do they end up with Tyler Lockett in the third round?  After all, the Seahawks did trade the 4th rounder they got from New Orleans in that package with Washington to move up to get Lockett.  Does that deal still get made?  Or, do the Seahawks go wide receiver with their first round pick and let someone else nab Lockett?

We’ll never know all the other variables.  As such, we won’t really know how to dissect this trade until it’s all played out over the next few years.  Maybe the Seahawks miss out on the playoffs this year, but maybe they return with a vengeance in the next couple years and win that Super Bowl trophy again.  If that’s the case, do we even care what happened in 2015?

If you forget the variables, and take the trade at face value, then yeah, the trade has failed us.  There’s still time to turn it around, but the odds are long; the hole we’ve dug ourselves into is probably too deep.  It’s going to take a lot of improvements on the fly in the second half of the season – as well as a mighty winning streak against some fairly stiff competition (the Steelers, Vikings, Rams, Cards won’t be pushovers).

The lesson we have to learn is:  don’t take the guys in the trenches for granted.  You want to have a good offense?  You need a good quarterback (1-A) and you need a good offensive line (1-B).  Or, at least a competent offensive line, and not the worst fucking offensive line in the entire league.  Take the Pats, for instance.  They got the quarterback, check.  We’ve got the quarterback, check.  When the Pats – with their good quarterback – have an offensive line that gives him even a smidge of time, the Pats do very well on offense.  When the Pats’ O-Line struggles (as it did early in 2014, for instance), they tend to lose games, as Brady gets knocked around and starts to look his age.  Same deal here.  The Seahawks don’t need to have a line on par with the Cowboys, or those old Holmgren teams; something middle-of-the-road like we’ve had in recent years will do just fine.

Save your trades and your bigtime free agent signings for positions where it’s easier to integrate.  With your skill position guys, it’s always best to stick with the home-grown crop, even if they’re not as flashy or as good as some available veterans.  I’d rather be winning, and still contending for a division title, with a group of pedestrians, than losing and vying for a better draft pick with hired guns who don’t necessarily fit into our system.