The Seattle Seahawks made an NFL-high 284 player transactions during 2010, their first year with John Schneider as general manager and Pete Carroll as head coach. The pace has slowed as the Seahawks' roster has grown from one of the league's worst into arguably its best, but Schneider and Carroll continued to make bold, impactful moves even after winning the Super Bowl last season. Trading Percy Harvin five games into the 2014 season stands out as one of them.
As Seattle's Super Bowl XLIX matchup against New England approaches, here's a list of the 10 most critical moves Seattle has made in getting to this point. (For a look at how the Patriots' roster was built, check out Field Yates' article from Monday.)
1. Tod Leiweke's closing act -- tapping Pete Carroll as head coach
Leiweke was the longtime Seahawks CEO who had been instrumental in growing the Seattle fan base during the Mike Holmgren years. Despite those efforts, the organization found itself at a crossroads as the 2009 season wound down.
Coach-GM friction had done significant damage in recent seasons, and Leiweke was about to leave the organization for a job in the NHL. Leiweke resolved himself to set the organization on an upward trajectory before leaving. He led the charge in hiring Carroll away from USC. He oversaw the process whereby Carroll and Schneider joined forces. "Today, there's a new hope for the Seahawks and an opportunity to dream about championships," Leiweke said at the time. It was more than just talk. This was when Seattle's turnaround began.
2. Finding safeties in numbers
Teams typically think about building their teams from the lines backward. When addressing the secondary, they are increasingly looking for interchangeable coverage safeties. Seattle has bucked both trends in putting together the NFL's best defense. Landing lightning-fast free safety Earl Thomas and powerhouse strong safety Kam Chancellor in the 2010 draft gave the team two critical building blocks with very different traits. Carroll came up in the league as a coach of defensive backs. His vision for the Seattle secondary came to fruition rather quickly.
3. Shuffling the offensive staff
Seattle enjoys excellent staff continuity, but there was minor turmoil in the early going under Carroll. Offensive assistants Alex Gibbs and Jeremy Bates were not ideal fits for Carroll's positive coaching style. Tom Cable and Darrell Bevell replaced them. The staff has lived happily ever after by NFL standards. It's been a very good mix for Carroll and the organization.
4. Trading for RB Marshawn Lynch
This was the most significant of the 284 roster moves Seattle made during that initial 2010 year. Carroll's vision was to run the ball, play exceptional defense and reduce turnovers. Adding a workhorse-type back was a big part of the equation. Lynch was only 24 years old when Seattle acquired him from Buffalo for two midround draft choices.
Carroll used the word "unique" when describing Lynch's skill set at that time. The Seahawks' continual search for players with those unique or unusual traits has been a guiding philosophical force. Lynch embodies the philosophy. As Lynch put it in 2010 when explaining his "Beast Mode" mindset: "It's just a state of mind that I follow, that basically I won't be denied and I'm just relentless at what I do, and that's running that ball."
5. Cornering the market in 2011
A year after landing Thomas and Chancellor, the Seahawks drafted cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell with late-round picks in 2011. Seattle was one of the only teams looking for longer, rangier cornerbacks, even if those corners did not have the raw speed or fluidity of players who become first-round prospects at the position. Sherman has picked off 26 passes in 71 regular-season and postseason games since entering the league. No one else has more than 16 picks over that span. (His teammate Thomas is tied for sixth with 13.) Note that corners were not the only rangy coverage defenders Seattle selected in that 2011 draft; linebacker K.J. Wright was another who helped form the core of the NFL's best pass-coverage defense.
6. Having the guts to draft a 5-foot-10 QB
Lots of teams will tell you now that they liked Russell Wilson and were oh-so-close to selecting him out of Wisconsin in the 2012 draft. However, 15 teams passed on Wilson at least three times before Seattle made him the 75th overall pick in the 2012 draft. Schneider gets most of the credit for this one. Colleagues say he has a knack for projecting when players will come off the draft board, and that his willingness to stick to his convictions on players has paid off big -- with the most successful example being Wilson. Seattle had recently signed Matt Flynn to a sizable deal in free agency, so the team could have easily justified steering clear of Wilson at that point in the draft. Instead, they landed their franchise quarterback.
7. Fixing two key flaws after the 2012 season
Two defensive flaws held back the Seahawks during the 2012 season, as the team lost late leads in defeats to Arizona, Detroit, Miami and Atlanta:
1. An inconsistent pass rush: Seattle addressed it by signing Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril to free-agent deals before the 2013 season. The team has continually found productive veteran defensive linemen in free agency or via trade. Chris Clemons, Alan Branch and Clinton McDonald came and went over the years. Bennett, Avril and 2014 offseason addition Kevin Williams have endured.
2. Shaky nickel coverage: Marcus Trufant enjoyed a productive career in Seattle, but he was miscast in the nickel role during that 2012 season. The team has used a range of players in that spot over the past two seasons. Walter Thurmond played the role in 2013. Jeremy Lane and Marcus Burley have handled it primarily this season, with Maxwell getting some work there as well. It's been an important upgrade, especially in an era when nickel defenses play so many snaps.
8. Bringing back Dan Quinn
I remember a general manager from another team saying he thought Seattle's defense could fall off once coordinator Gus Bradley left to become the head coach in Jacksonville. That has not happened. Quinn has been at least as good. There is some thought that Quinn's background as a defensive line coach has added a dimension to the defense (Bradley was formerly a linebackers coach, while Carroll's background is in the secondary). Quinn had coached with Seattle under Jim Mora in 2009. Bringing him back to succeed Bradley has worked out well.
9. Moving decisively on Percy Harvin
The Harvin trade did not work out well for the Seahawks. It was an aggressive, somewhat risky move to add another player with the "unique" skills Carroll covets. Once it became clear to Carroll that Harvin was not fitting in well for whatever reason, the Seahawks moved aggressively to cut their losses. That can be difficult for teams to do after they have invested so much in a player. With Harvin gone, the offense rediscovered its identity through Lynch.
10. Taking care of the young defensive core
Trading Harvin was disruptive for Seattle, but the move had positive ramifications. Seattle used gains in salary-cap flexibility to re-sign Avril and Wright during the season. The Seahawks previously reached contract extensions with Thomas, Sherman, Chancellor and Bennett. The Harvin acquisition was risky in part because it was a case of a team rewarding a player from the outside before taking care of its own. The ability to re-sign so many key players subsequently sets up Seattle to remain strong on defense even after Wilson gets a raise this offseason.
• Patriots' low fumble rate: This piece by Warren Sharp for Slate.com showed New England with an unusually low fumble rate since 2007, amplifying questions about whether the team has gained unfair advantages by surreptitiously reducing air pressure inside footballs.
The fumble stats, while interesting and notable, are more akin to gunpowder residue than an actual smoking gun. A few thoughts:
• Stats on lost fumbles are not relevant unless you think reduced air pressure would affect recovery rates.
• Recent New England teams were off the charts in their ball security. Some of Peyton Manning's Indianapolis teams were also up there. Both teams would bench or even release fumble-prone players. Both had Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks known for impeccable fundamentals and getting the ball out quickly.
• A quarterbacks coach from another team said he thought reduced air pressure in the ball would help deliver the ball with less grip pressure. It is conceivable that could help a quarterback throw while dealing with an injury. This coach did not think strip-sack fumbles should be included in any calculation of fumble rates.
• Brady was among 14 quarterbacks with at least 32 starts from 2001-06 and from 2007-14. He reduced his fumbles per game by 0.31 from the initial time period to the second. Kurt Warner (-0.39), Kerry Collins (-0.33) and Jake Delhomme (-0.31) produced similar gross reductions while making at least 32 starts in each time period.
• Only New Orleans reduced its fumble rate more than the Patriots did from the first time period (2001-06) to the second (2007-14). Minnesota, Atlanta, Baltimore and the New York Giants also enjoyed reductions approaching or exceeding one-half fumble per game.
Bottom line: I found the fumble research interesting. No one should be surprised if the league uncovers incriminating evidence during its investigation. Teams around the league think New England operates in the margins while looking to exploit the smallest inefficiencies. For coach Bill Belichick to say the Patriots err on the side of caution was obviously not convincing.
• Why I like the Pro Bowl: The Pro Bowl game itself is not compelling, but after watching practices and spending time in the locker room, I can see why players love the concept. Watching younger players interact with and learn from accomplished veterans was a highlight. At one point during practice Thursday, Broncos veteran DeMarcus Ware spent several minutes coaching the Jets' Sheldon Richardson on the finer points of hand placement and footwork for pass-rushing. Ware is an eight-time Pro Bowler and member of the 2000s All-Decade team; Richardson is 24 years old and just starting out. Both men relished the opportunity to work together in a relaxed setting.
"That is what the Pro Bowl is all about and why I wanted to be here to meet guys like that," Richardson said after the game Sunday night. "I was counting stars on the back of his jersey and I was like, 'Man, I gotta get some of those.' [Ware is an] outstanding guy."
Ware said veterans such as Greg Ellis and La'Roi Glover helped him out early in his career, and that retired players such as Leon Lett and Randy White also passed along knowledge to him. You can see the cycle continuing in the Pro Bowl setting. Ware said he emphasized to Richardson how adding smarts to talent is one key for taking the next step in terms of becoming consistently dominant.