This offseason will be tricky for every NFL team. COVID-19 has severely impacted free agency, the draft, and the salary cap. Circumstances are testing. Yet the Seahawks’ situation is even tougher given they only have four 2021 draft picks. On top of this, recent developments around the league have made John Schneider’s job even tougher. The general manager’s 11th offseason cycle in Seattle projects to be the most difficult.
It’s not a new development for Pete Carroll’s coaching tree to get hired away to rival teams. While the days of peak "Legion Of Boom" envy are over, Carroll’s defensive scheme remains highly coveted. Indeed, 2020 featured three former Seahawks coaches in prominent coaching positions: Dan Quinn as Falcons head coach, Gus Bradley as Chargers defensive coordinator, Robert Saleh as 49ers defensive coordinator, and Todd Wash as Jaguars defensive coordinator.
However, the situation is going to be similarly tough in 2021. Saleh was hired as the voach of the New York Jets, where the hotshot will install his take on Carroll's defense. Saleh’s departure from the 49ers shouldn’t halt the Seattle carryover in San Francisco - Kyle Shanahan spoke of his love for the “soundness” of Carroll’s system when he first brought in Saleh. With Saleh gone, Shanahan promoted DeMeco Ryans and we can expect continuity, especially in his first year.
Bradley moved to Las Vegas to coordinate the Raiders defense. Quinn landed as a defensive coordinator with the Cowboys. These coordinator roles are underneath an offensive-minded head coach, meaning they have full Xs and Os autonomy over their units - and personnel. Finally, the Saints and Dennis Allen added Kris Richard as their defensive backs coach.
All of these coaches will look for similar schematic fits, often hunting the same players for their defense as Seattle. Early market inefficiencies are long gone; in fact these player types are now the prototype for coaches looking to run defenses guided by Carroll’s principles. Teams wanting to base out of Carroll stuff are now actively seeking “the next Richard Sherman,” “Kam Chancellor 2.0," or “Brandon Mebane reincarnated.”
As Seahawks general manager, Schneider has always been flanked by two trusty colleagues in Scott Fitterer and Trent Kirchner. Fitterer was Vice President of Football Operations and Kirchner Vice President of Player Personnel. Each year would pass with general manager interviews elsewhere but the pair staying in Seattle.
Now Fitterer is gone, hired by the Panthers in January to be their general manager. Schneider has talked up the men beneath him in his draft-time media appearances, being sure to highlight the work of Matt Berry and Nolan Teasley. Yet the loss of Fitterer, who was with the Seahawks since 2001, remains huge.
It’s not just the void left in the Seahawks front office. Schneider has now gained a rival general manager who knows how he and the Seattle front office thinks. Sure, there are advantages which come from a decent relationship, like having a reliable trade partner. The feeling that Schneider is now fighting his padawan still remains. This feels especially relevant in Year 1 for Fitterer in Carolina, where the GM will have the most intimate knowledge of Seattle’s opinions on players - college and pro.
Fitterer is likely to hold similar team-building philosophies to Schneider. He now represents a GM who makes similar moves yet possesses more resources in 2021. Carolina’s recent signing of Seattle’s 2020 seventh round pick Stephen Sullivan to a futures contract could be the start of 1080NoScopeFazeClan-level of sniping.
The Seahawks have, of course, lost members of their front office in the past. One of the key architects to early drafting success was Scot McCloughan, who resigned in 2014 with both sides citing personal reasons. John Izdik Jr. left his Vice President of Football Administration role, where he worked largely on salary cap matters, to become Jets general manager in 2013.
Meanwhile, the Ted Thompson front office tree spans widely across the league and this is something Schneider, a branch of that tree, has dealt with since he took the Seattle job. Fitterer feels different, and more threatening, because of how closely he worked with Schneider in a senior role. They operated together for 10 years.
As if the offseason wasn’t hard enough, Seattle’s franchise quarterback is now executing a media blitz. It's supposed to be easy once a general manager finds this vital piece! The true motive of Russell Wilson's campaign is unknown. It seems most likely he wants to control the narrative surrounding his disappointing end to the season that saw his offensive coordinator get fired, while also getting better pass protection in 2021.
Are there deepening philosophical differences between Wilson and his coach Pete Carroll? This is a non-contract year for the quarterback, so this isn’t the typical politicking. From Wilson’s camp, the push-back has been so rebellious, so uncharacteristic. It’s gone as far as to break Carroll’s first standard of “protect the team.”
Perhaps the obviously brand-conscious Wilson really does want to force a trade in a way that saves his much-talked about legacy from taking a negative hit. Or maybe this is all about getting publicity for him and his superstar wife, Ciara. Whatever it is, whatever the blend, Schneider could do without it.
Schneider began 2021 by signing a five-year contract extension to keep him with the team through the 2027 NFL Draft. The factors in this article combine for one hellish-looking first offseason post-contract extension. It’s a period where Schneider will be made to earn his money.