BY Art Thiel 06:22PM 01/03/2018

Thiel: Seahawks have to move on from stars

Coach Pete Carroll says the in-season trades that cost Seahawks high draft choices weren’t any more drastic than what they plan in 2018. Well, then — let’s all buckle up.

Offering the universal gesture for 2017 among Seahawks players and fans, RB Thomas Rawls shrugs. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

The great thing about spectator sports is that exactly everyone who enjoys them knows better than the people hired to do sports. At the moment around Seattle, all who bought a ticket, a T-shirt or a cable-TV subscription have a plan for Seahawks renewal that’s better than what coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider are concocting. Even people who haven’t bought a single Seahawks doo-dad know better than those two.

The two who should be most thrilled about this magnum fount of critical knowledge are Carroll and Schneider. Even if they have a hard time seeing it.

They should be thrilled because so many care so much.

Take a moment to observe the stares, grumbles and laments that populate your workplace, school bar, bus stop or home. People act as if somebody stole the third holiday of the season — a Seahawks playoff weekend. They want it back, damn it.

Particularly irksome to many was the widespread impression that the Seahawks mortgaged some of the future to win in 2017 while their legendary defense was still capable of carrying the franchise. Instead, not only was there no playoffs, the defense broke down faster than anyone imagined — but not as fast as a running game that was the envy of the league three years ago.

The Seahawks, they have concluded, shattered like safety glass, their 9-7 record artificially taped up by a vapid schedule that including only two noteworthy wins over teams with winning records (Rams, Eagles). And now, two high draft choices are gone from the repair kit.

Tuesday in his seasonal farewell address, Carroll was quick to challenge unprompted the claim that two in-season trades for emergency fixes — a 2018 second-round pick for DT Sheldon Richardson and a 2018 third-round pick for LT Duane Brown — were largely invalidated by a failure to reach the postseason.

“Did we take drastic measures to get guys outside of our roster during the season because this was our shot?'” Carroll said, asking the question ahead of reporters. “No. We were competing. We had some really clear thoughts about how our roster was going to come together and (top draftee DT Malik McDowell) wasn’t able to play. So we made a big move.

“When (LT George Fant) went down, we got a little bit out of balance. John immediately went after it and we found a guy who we think is an instrumental factor, not just in what he’s already affected in the short-term, but the leadership and the expertise that Duane Brown brings to us. It’s extraordinary, and we need it. That’s going to be a positive for the future.

“Those were moves that weren’t any more drastic than the moves we’re going to make (in 2018). We’re trying to go for it every time we go. There’s not a year where it’s, ‘OK, let’s sit back and wait until next year.’ There’s not a week, there’s not a day, there’s not a moment that we think like that.”

Sounded as if Carroll wanted to get something off his chest, yes?

The problem with “drastic-ness” as a standard of action is that it runs out quickly. Richardson is an unrestricted free agent who, at 26, will be expensive, maybe too expensive, to re-hire.

And other than the presumptive return to good health of Fant, a large man with a small resume of NFL starts (10), there is little likelihood of improving the offensive line immediately with draft choices or free agents.

The line already has plenty of young players in development. And good veterans are more scarce than matches in Smokey the Bear’s jeans pockets. Brown, 32, is not a free agent but is seeking a contract extension to improve his current $4.9 million salary, a steep price the Seahawks will have to pay because they are desperate at the position.

A reasonable scenario at the moment for the O-line would keep Brown at left tackle, move Fant to right tackle and move RT Germain Ifedi, the world’s most penalized man who isn’t behind bars, to left guard. Center Justin Britt stays put, and Ethan Pocic, even though he is too tall and not powerful enough yet, is the right guard.

An uptick, yes. But modest.

Where things must get drastic for the Seahawks is on defense. If we can infer from Carroll’s Tuesday remarks that returns by SS Kam Chancellor and DE Cliff Avril are unlikely, and CB Richard Sherman won’t be the same after surgeries to each leg, that leaves FS Earl Thomas, LBs Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright and DE Michael Bennett as the remaining stalwarts from the Super Bowl teams.

Wagner and Wright are, by age, contract, health and ability, the likeliest to remain. That leaves Thomas, 29 in May, and Bennett, 33 in November, as the likeliest veteran stars that the Seahawks can’t afford to keep.

At different times and ways this season, both indicated they know their Seahawks clock is approaching midnight. Thomas went so far as to tell Cowboys coach Jason Garrett to “come get me,” one of the most reckless gestures by a team leader that I can recall in Seattle sports history.

Suggestions that the episode was merely “Earl being Earl” are sops designed to cover for bewilderment, discomfort, betrayal — or all three.

If Thomas can’t get a contract extension from the Seahawks entering his final year, his trade would be a way to recoup this year’s lost picks. As for Bennett, another remarkable warrior, he wore down in the season’s second half, physically and emotionally. He may be ready to champion things bigger than football.

Keep in mind the Seahawks still have in place the tent pole that keeps this circus a going concern in the NFL: Owner Paul Allen, the Carroll/Schneider tandem and QB Russell Wilson. More than two dozen NFL teams crave such stability and proven success at the key franchise positions.

I take Carroll at his word that he and Schneider will be back, with the standard proviso that, yes, anything can happen. Almost everyone else in the franchise is in the chorus.

It’s hard to imagine a Seahawks defense in 2018 all at once absent Chancellor, Avril, Thomas and Bennett. Now that is drastic.

And necessary.

Here’s another drastic thing:

Rams 42, Seahawks 7, at home.

An earlier version of the column incorrectly said Brown was a free agent.


YourThoughts

  • Steed

    When I say blow it up, I mean, they should act they way they did when Pete and Co took over, and ruthlessly scythe their way through the roster to find any possible way to get better. And I think they will do that. Of course now they have lots of talent compared to then, and fewer options.

    The only thing I don’t trust them to do is pick offensive linemen. And I don’t blame that on Cable. They need to go full Costanza and just pick any offensive lineman that they don’t think will be good, then that guy will end up in the pro bowl.

    • art thiel

      Under a salary cap, a scythe doesn’t work after accruing success, big contracts and several injuries. A GM has to hand-separate wheat from chaff. In 2010, the field was limitless.

  • Matt712

    It’s hard to blame coaches and front offices for hanging on to players for too long in team cultures that describe themselves as ‘family.’ Indeed, fans are as guilty of it as anyone. However, I think Pete Carrol has always done his best coaching on younger payers whose egos have yet to blossomed enough to yield cynicism toward his style, and whose bodies can better hold up to the rigors of ‘always competing.’

    So, in the spirit of a fan’s ‘better plan for renewal,’ I suggest that John Schneider try like hell to construct contracts that end on players’ 28th birthdays and, save for a few core guys and a stable O-line, kick ’em out the door. Happy birthday. No cake, no rewards, no sentimentality, and no delusions about what an NFL shelf-life really has become.

    As for loyalty? The only thing any team, player, or fan is really loyal to is winning.

    • art thiel

      Well, there’s a hard-ass, Belichickian take.

      I’ve always disliked that “family” analogy when it comes to team sports. First, most families are dysfunctional, and second, I think many of us would like to put a family member on the practice squad, injured list or waiver wire, but we can’t.

      But I’d be careful about that birthday deadline. Might have missed out on a lot Favre/Brady/Rodgers wondrousness.

      • Bruce McDermott

        Pretty sure they would qualify for the “core players” to whom Matt refers…

  • Husky73

    You are correct in saying that those who sit on the couch often seem to believe that they know more than those who do it for a living. It’s just not football. Listen to people who talk about teachers (and have not been in a school for 30 years), or faux climatologists lecturing about the inanity of climate change. However, there is validity in listening to folks who are outside the Seahawks’ bubble, especially when those people are paying a good deal of the freight. Every fan in Seattle knew the Hawks needed to draft an OL and a RB last May….and they completely whiffed on a high risk pass rusher. Sometimes the people on the couch are right. Sometimes the people who have said that Carroll needs to rein in and focus his players, especially his stars, are right.

    • art thiel

      It’s true that the bosses get it wrong sometimes, and we unwashed get it right. As far as outsider criticism, fans are as entitled to say the player/coach/team/season were just as bad as the movie-goer is entitled with a film.

      Where things get close to off the rails for me is when fans insist on firing coaches after bad plays, games or single seasons (barring total malfeasance). Yes, it’s a what have you done for me lately business, but body of work counts for something.

      • osoviejo

        “…or single seasons (barring total malfeasance).”

        Sure Art, way to bring the always unwelcome junior Mora into my consciousness. Well done.

      • 1coolguy

        Art – I also don’t have much patience for the “firing the coaches” faction, EXCEPT for the “fire Bevell” faction, and even you will eventually come over to the bright side of clear reality.

  • woofer

    The fun of professional athletics falls into two realms: celebrating when the local heroes do well, and castigating the teams’s management when they underperform. For the Seahawks, after a season of both failures and enticing false starts, we have now moved definitively into phase two — badmouthing and second-guessing the management, and fantasizing various strategies for lifting the team out of its current funk. And — here is a critical recognition — if and when the fandom gives up on the visceral pleasures of carping, blaming and scheming, the logical next step will be indifference and apathy. Switch the channel to something else.

    I only point this out because of the wet-blanket introduction to this post, hinting that fans are uninformed fools that should leave the planning to the serious experts in the team front office (as relayed and interpreted by the team’s duly anointed media shills). This superior insider perspective only makes sense if one forgets that professional athletics is simply a form of corporate entertainment, nothing more. It is merely a temporary relief from having to agonize over far more important things, such as how to pay the medical bills or the size and sensitivity of Donald Trump’s nuclear button. None of this Seahawks stuff actually matters; that is why we are so keen on it. It is a fond harmless escape.

    What this adds up to is that the crazy ranting of disappointed fans should be honored and encouraged by the team and its bevy of dependents. It is the little back-up engine that keeps the car creeping along the freeway shoulder when the big V-8 throws a piston rod and needs to be replaced.

    It really doesn’t matter whether any of this ranting makes practical sense. Nobody imagines that the great John Schneider is breathlessly following these conversations. It just keeps us ordinary folks happily engaged during the lulls. And as all Seattle fans surely know, these lulls can stretch on for years and even decades. Where is Ken Behring now that we really need him?

    • Husky73

      Ken Behring has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to museums, education and clean water projects. He has also donated well over one million wheel chairs to people who need them and who cannot afford them, all over the world.

      • art thiel

        Many a scoundrel has covered his bad deeds with flowers.

        • Husky73

          To hundreds of thousands of land mine victims who no longer have to crawl, he is a godsend.

      • 1coolguy

        He has done some things well, but as we are speaking of the Hawks, the guy was a scoundrel, period.

    • jafabian

      Behring is in California, where he wanted to move the Seahawks.

    • art thiel

      Reading more carefully, woofer, you may have seen that I mentioned that Carroll and Schneider should be grateful that people care so much.

      My point about everyone feeling they know better than the bosses is an observation, not a criticism. Your points about why fans care, as an entertainment/distraction, have always been true, and a social safety valve of much merit.

      If I didn’t care what you and others thought, you wouldn’t be reading these words, because I wouldn’t be writing them. Of course the passion doesn’t make practical sense; if that were the standard, we wouldn’t have sports, food, animal, shopping and politics channels on TV/online.

      And thanks for reminding us of Ken Behring, so that we retain perspective on badness.

      • Ken S.

        Ya know something? I nearly forgot about that slug Behring till I read woofer’s post. I’ve had a new pin cushion voodoo doll for a while now – Howard Schulz. Hmm – I wonder where I put that Behring doll…Been a while and I think Behring could use a poke or two in the arse.

  • jafabian

    If you follow the Patriots blueprint the only player consistent during their success is Brady. The Steelers the same with Roethlisberger and a few other Steelers. With the Hawks the only players of value beyond Wilson is Wagner and maybe Baldwin. I’d include Earl but I don’t know if he undermined his position on the team seeking out the Cowboys. If Sherman sets example in the offseason with a healthy work ethic in his rehab he could surpass Earl. I’d like to see Duane Brown or Justin Britt emerge and join that small circle.

    • art thiel

      You left out Wagner, who is a linchpin. Thomas has always been eccentric, but that has never stopped his teammates from offering him ultimate respect as a player. His departure in his prime would be a serious blow, so the return in a trade would have to be stellar, on the Lynch end of the scale instead of the Harvin/Graham end.

      • Bruce McDermott

        Although Earl has been heard to say he doesn’t get ENOUGH respect from his teammates…

  • John M

    Great piece, Art, and look at the letters you got!

    Your math is writ large and makes sense, but it will hurt if all of those guys go at once. And regardless of how some have said there are no loyalties, winning, etc., there are, and you get attached to personalities and how they develop as players. Some implied that Baldwin was barely worth his oats, which is stupid; he’s come from undrafted to No. 1 receiver on a championship team; there aren’t many of those guys.

    Looking forward to your insights in this soon-to-be-interesting year . . .

    • art thiel

      There’s no doubt an emotional blow when longtime favorites are shown the door, especially at once. But events of the season overtook the Seahawks, and the plan for steady, slower transition may well have been rendered useless.

      • 1coolguy

        I say we do the unthinkable IF the person even exists: A person within the vaunted and MOST successful franchise in NFL history, the Patriots, who can replace Schneider. In an effort to improve all aspects of an organization, the right person from the Pats would be a coup.

  • 1coolguy

    Couldn’t agree more Art. With the retirements and with Luke gone at LG, there is suddenly quite a bit of money on the table. Add in Grahams’ $10m and we’re golden.
    If Thomas is worth a first rounder and a third, that would save big dollars, and Jones just might bite, for an All-Pro from Texas.
    This will be a true show of what Schneider is worth, as the last 2-3 drafts have been dismal, and the Harvin, Graham/Unger, and now the Hauschka/Walsh trade have not exactly burnished JS’s star.

  • Tman

    It all comes down to two missed field goals. The rational thing to do is keep your pro bowl players and bring back Steven Hauschka. There must be a trade for 2 o linemen out there. Happy New year everyone.

  • Don Nolte

    I don’t have any idea what the coaches and general manager will elect to do during free agency and than in the draft. A month into last season I would have supported having a fullback on the roster and playing! I read or heard that at some point we had one and than he got injured. To me nothing was more important than improving the blocking. Having a tight end on the roster whose primary skill set is blocking could have helped even if the defense knew he wasn’t a receiving threat. Of course these are band-aids but to have players the caliber of K J Wright, Wagner, Thomas, on the defensive side of the ball and now they sit at home.

  • Don Nolte

    I also forgot about Ken Behring. I recall him wanting to build a huge development near Issaquah (Sammamish Plateau?). When it wasn’t approved the attitude was “I’ll show them”.