General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll built the Seattle Seahawks into champions in part by thoroughly dominating the NFL draft in the early years of their tenure.
It took a mere four drafts for the duo to build the foundation of a roster that was strong enough to reach back-to-back Super Bowls with only a little augmentation through trades and free agency. They were drafts filled with immediate starters, some of whom have become All-Pro-caliber players at different points in their careers.
But the draft classes that followed have not come close to giving Seattle the same depth or caliber of players. There have been more misses than hits, leaving Seattle at a crossroads entering this week’s NFL draft.
“How come that doesn’t happen anymore?” Schneider deadpanned earlier this week, his voice heavy with sarcasm when discussing the lack of stars from recent drafts. “What’s your problem dude?”
Seattle has just seven picks, but five of those come in the first three rounds, beginning with the No. 26 overall selection. The expectation is that Schneider will likely deal one of those early-round picks to get more selections later on since Seattle has no picks in the fourth or fifth rounds.
Having more picks gives Schneider and Carroll a better chance of replenishing a team in transition. They are still an elite team, but with a core that is aging and getting more expensive as time passes.
“Having the three threes, the five picks in the three rounds is outstanding, don’t get me wrong,” Schneider said. “But you always feel a certain level of anxiety about what’s going to happen.”
The window for Seattle hasn’t closed. But it’s not exactly wide open either.
Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are 31 years old. For all the trade talk surrounding Richard Sherman this offseason, he just turned 29. Earl Thomas is nearly 28 and coming off a serious leg injury, while Kam Chancellor is 29 and had surgery on both ankles in the offseason.
Even Russell Wilson will turn 29 during the 2017 season. Of Seattle’s core players, only Bobby Wagner, Jermaine Kearse, Tyler Lockett and Justin Britt will start the season younger than 28 years old.
Those ages make the Seahawks a veteran team. It also makes them an aging team.
What Seattle needs is to rediscover the draft success from the early Schneider-Carroll years. The Seahawks need a draft more like 2012 when they landed five eventual starters including Wilson and Wagner, and fewer like 2013 when 11 picks yielded only one player who is still on Seattle’s roster — tight end Luke Willson.
The 2013 misses signaled a change for the Seahawks and their draft success, and one that hasn’t been completely solved.
The foundation for what the Seahawks became was built during the 2010-12 drafts and there are still seven players from those draft classes on the Seahawks roster, including Sherman, Thomas, Chancellor, Wagner and Wilson. That might not seem like much, but consider the following three drafts from 2013-15 yielded just eight players who remain on Seattle’s roster at a time that the Seahawks should have been replenishing with younger, more cost-effective talent.
Schneider doesn’t hide the misses, but notes Seattle has been able to make up for some of the draft deficiencies by finding capable players as undrafted free agents, on waiver claims or developed off the practice squad.
“(Director of pro personnel) Dan Morgan and his staff on the pro side have done a great job of bringing in practice squad guys, waiver claims,” Schneider said. “We’ve traded for a couple guys, anybody we could possibly get in the mix. I think our level of competition has raised and raised.”