BY Doug Farrar 05:45PM 04/18/2011

Schneider more comfortable in his role this year

Seahawks general manager runs a team more properly aligned

Seahawks general manager John Schneider at the 2011 scouting combine. / Doug Farrar, Sportspress Northwest)

Last year, in his first NFL draft as a general manager, Seattle’s John Schneider said that he was “the man sitting next to the man,” an obvious nod to the pull new head coach Pete Carroll had in the organization. This year, with a playoff berth and victory (not to mention about 280 transactions) behind him, Schneider seems more comfortable in his skin as the personnel leader behind an NFL franchise. He may still be sitting next to The Man, but the seats are closer, and Schneider’s chair is quite a bit nicer.

“Our scouts flew in last night, and we started first thing this morning at 8,” he said in a small media gathering at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Monday afternoon. “We’ll go by position, and we’ll end the week with our coaches, and we’ll continue to clean up (the process) as we go through the weekend. We’ll get through the weekend, and we’re really at a point now where we’re ‘massaging it,’ if you will.”

One of the primary issues the Seahawks face – as do many teams – is the need for a marquee quarterback, sooner than later, has to be a part of the process. But as Schneider said, even when a lockout prevents teams from making overtures to free agent quarterbacks, the best way to go about it is to separate the draft ideal – the player evaluation process — from the needs that drive a team.

Schneider is more conversant with that intentional disconnect than most. In 2005, when Brett Favre was still entrenched as the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback, he was part of the staff that drafted Aaron Rodgers out of Cal with the team’s first-round pick. That worked out pretty well.

“I’d be lying if I said if it wasn’t on our minds,” Schneider said of the limitations when it comes to this year’s process. “It is on our minds to a certain extent, but … we’re getting ready for the draft, we’re evaluating everything by position, we’re looking for guys down the line who can help us – to fill specific needs and compete for specific roles.

“In terms of that, we’re approaching it exactly the same as we did last year. We don’t have to do anything different; it’s just that I don’t have to run out of meetings to take a free agent call with (Seahawks salary cap maven) John Idzik, or run out to a dinner (for a prospective free agent) or anything like that.”

In that regard, Schneider actually has more time to focus on the draft, and that side of the team-building angle, which is what many player personnel people find most interesting.

“Where we are as a team, we still feel like we’re in the infancy of our development,” Schneider said. “No disrespect to the players that are here, but we still feel like we have a long way to go to be a consistent championship-caliber football team. The draft is our primary avenue for creating that success, so we’re still seeing this as, ‘All right, here’s the next group of young men that we’re going to try to add.’ ”

Schneider also said that he’d love to do two things in the abstract – regain the third-round pick the team gave up for quarterback Charlie Whitehurst last year, and get younger and quicker overall. Trading down is not out of the question, especially since the Seahawks hold the 25th pick in this draft, as opposed to the sixth and 14th as they did on 2011.

As Schneider intimated, it’s a bit easier to hit on those early picks (at least, it should be), so a lower pick may be an invitation to go for more depth lower in the draft – especially when a smoother process facilitates success in the later rounds because the relationship between process and outcome is more clearly defined.

“My son’s got a good grade at six,” Schneider joked. “But picking at 25 makes it harder – it’s much easier this year in terms of our preparation, because when we got here last year, we didn’t want to change (the team’s former) grading system. We had a group of new coaches that we were trying to bring up to speed as quickly as possible as far as how we were going to build our board, and how the players were going to be ranked. We wanted to make sure they were in the most basic system, and I was kind of still in my own Green Bay format.

“This year’s been much easier – we’ve had our own grading scale, we’ve done a lot of great things, and everybody knows what to expect.”

What nobody knows is how the ongoing situation with Matt Hasselbeck will end. The free agent has been invited to test the waters when the labor situation allows a market opening for such transactions. But Schneider said – and given his history, he’s a reasonable bet to be taken at his word – that selecting a quarterback is a need that is based more on the need for a quarterback in general than any one specific gap to fill.

“This is easy – we will be looking for a quarterback every single year,” Schneider said, when asked specifically about Hasselbeck’s weight in the process. “I’ve been blessed to be around some pretty talented people, and it’s a philosophy that you can never have enough of those guys. Matt was a sixth-round pick, Mark Brunell was a fifth-round pick, I believe (in the 1993 NFL draft for the Packers). My point is, that position is so hard – everybody writes about it all the time, and it truly is the hardest position to evaluate.”

That’s just one of the challenges facing the Seahawks in this draft. Tomorrow, we’ll review what Schneider said about the “compensating factors” involved when thinking outside the box for different players, and how the faith he has in his current staff informs various decisions that might be made before the draft even starts.