NFC West Reporters
Many people in the league openly mocked the Seattle Seahawks when they traded Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos last March, thinking they would be one of the league’s worst teams to start the regular season.
“We’ve really had this shit out of our heads all summer,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider said in an exclusive interview with FOX Sports.
After the trade, Seattle coach Pete Carroll, Schneider and the rest of the football team got to work. And the result was one of the surprise stories this year as the Seahawks led the NFC West 6-4 and headed into their bye week.
For Carroll, Schneider and the Seahawks, the track record can be traced back to a return to the team’s core principles when the two took over in 2010: win fast, young, hungry athletes and pit them against each other.
“We’re playing against young people again,” Schneider told FOX Sports. “And that is the essence of the culture – the competition. This year, I’d say with the quarterback contest as well, you start there. you have two boys [Geno Smith and Drew Lock] If you’re fighting for first place on your team, this species matriculates through the entire roster.
Schneider compared this year’s contest as quarterback to the three-man contest in 2012 between incumbent Tarvaris Jackson, high-dollar free-agent signee Matt Flynn and rookie third-round pick Wilson.
While Smith has shone on his first shot as a full-time starter since 2014, the centerpiece of this year’s team was a talented 2022 draft class. Schneider said the rookies were successful because of the college scouting team’s diligent work in identifying players with strong character, that fit the team’s requirements, along with buy-in from the coaching staff who helped evaluate and develop them.
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First round left tackle Charles Cross, second round running back Ken Walker III (587 rushing yards, seven TDs) and edge rusher Boye Mafe, third round right tackle Abe Lucas, fourth round slot corner Coby Bryant ( leads NFL with four forced fumbles) and fifth-round right corner Tariq Woolen (leads rookies with 5 INTs) have had the most snaps of any rookie class in the NFL this season.
“They are confident,” said Schneider about this year’s rookies. “They are great workers and they act like they are professionals, all of them. I think Tyler Lockett put it best: neither of them really talk. They just listen, work their ass off and keep working at their job.”
The emphasis on young players has resulted in a faster squad on both sides of football. According to Next Gen Stats, Seattle has three of the fastest players in football this season in Walker, Rashaad Penny and Woolen.
“What really stands out is our team speed, especially when you watch our defense and special teams units — and these are young people flying around,” Schneider said. “We’ve been a little bit sure for the last few years, you know, ‘Russell Wilson is going to carry you and Bobby Wagner is going to carry you.’ But it’s the ultimate team sport and I think you saw that the year we won it in 2013.
“We were as fast as S… and we had some key veterans who were great leaders in Mike Robinson, Red Bryant and Kam Chancellor. So there were people who could lead, we got the S… off the ball and played fast on defense, the quarterback managed the game and ran around and made plays.
In 2013, the Seahawks won the Super Bowl with the youngest roster in the game’s history. And while Seattle held onto several key players on that team to chase another ring, the Seahawks eventually had to pull from an aging roster and rebuild.
That process came to a head this past offseason when the Seahawks released All-Pro linebackers Wagner in a move to cut the salary cap and traded Wilson and a fourth-round pick to the Broncos for two first-round picks and two second-round picks , a fifth-round pick and quarterback lock, tight end Noah Fant and defensive lineman Shelby Harris.
The Wilson trade set the table for one of Seattle’s best drafts since 2012.
“We’ve met cap casualty guys every year — like Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, Chris Clemens — guys you’d like to keep but can’t keep because you’re trying to move forward,” Schneider said. “And then when you preach competition as the general philosophy of your program, it’s difficult when you’ve got the highest-paid left corner, free safety, strong safety, center linebacker, SAM linebacker, tight end, quarterback and Marshawn [Lynch]. We paid a lot of people there for a while.”
Schneider also points to back-to-back drafts in 2020 and 2021 that set the organization back, giving up two first-round picks and a third-round player in a stock trade with the New York Jets for Jamal Adams just before practice began in 2020 That trade paid off in the first season when Adams totaled 9.5 sacks, but it wasn’t as successful as the LSU product was missing time the last two seasons due to injuries.
“You combine that with two of the best draft classes in recent league history,” said Schneider. “And then we didn’t do a really good job either, bringing in some people who were competitive enough to say, ‘I’m going to take Earl Thomas’ job.’ Or: ‘I’ll take Sherm’s [Richard Sherman’s] Work.’ We took a couple of classes there where we learned that these guys were Russell Wilson at Madden or played Kam Chancellor at Madden. And now they’re in the room with him and it’s like, “Oh s— this is Kam Chancellor.” Instead of saying, “I’ll try to take his job.”
“So learning from our mistakes and understanding that it’s more about the makeup and the character of the person or the man, the courage and the confidence that they have. I’m just really trying to focus on that.”
Along with this year’s rookie streak, Seattle also smashed gold with the team’s decision at quarterback, trading Wilson and inserting Smith.
“It was a huge event,” Schneider said of Wilson’s move. “After going through it with Brett in Green Bay [Favre], which helped a lot with self-confidence. Obviously we weren’t ready to leave Aaron Rodgers in the garage. But that was a huge phase. Dealing with Bobby’s release as a pay cap victim was a big deal. I just felt like the whole organization did a great job.”
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Schneider and the Seahawks also drew on their experience when they ditched popular franchise quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, signed him to the Tennessee Titans as free agency, and put Jackson at the helm of the team in 2011.
After Wilson left, Smith emerged as a starter in a two-man contest with Lock and was one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the NFL. Smith’s promotion gives the Seattles some flexibility ahead of next year’s draft, when NFL observers initially assumed the Seahawks would pick the team’s next franchise quarterback.
“Geno just took it to another level from a confidence standpoint, which was really cool because I always tell people that one of Pete’s best qualities is his ability to instill confidence in people,” Schneider said. “But like all good ones, you have to be able to handle it. [Smith has] nice feet, he moves well and throws a nice ball.”
After transferring several franchise players, the Seahawks have returned to a roster-building philosophy while also keeping an eye on the present.
“We’ve always done things at close of trade to get better, but not that this guy is going to help us win a championship or that he’s going to tip the odds of winning a championship,” Schneider said. “There are more teams that are going into that and saying it’s going to be like that going forward.”
As the season started, the Seahawks were all about the future. But that future has come faster than anyone expected.
Eric D. Williams has been covering the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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