RENTON — Four years ago, the Seattle Seahawks had the sixth overall pick, a clear need and obvious answer. Left tackle Walter Jones had retired in 2009. Two-time first-team All-America left tackle Russell Okung was available.
Welcome to Seattle, Russell.
Since general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll took over in 2010, that was arguably the only prepackaged draft pick.
As they head into Thursday’s draft, where the Seahawks pick 32nd overall – the price of a Super Bowl title – the front office carries a reputation for being unpredictable. It also has turned the Seahawks’ roster on its head since 2010, making this year’s picks pushes for the future and specificity.
The Seahawks picked up Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor in the same draft as Okung.
A year later, Richard Sherman arrived.
In 2012, Seattle selected Russell Wilson in the third round.
They have shaped Seattle’s roster because of talent, competitiveness and cost.
This week, the Seahawks gave Thomas and Sherman long-term extensions. Around this time next year, Wilson should also have been signed long term. Those repeated megadeals and a preference for young players will continue the draft philosophy Schneider displayed last season.
“The easiest thing to do is sign a veteran,” Schneider said. “The hardest thing to do is take a young player and coach him up. This staff has shown an ability to do that.”
After turning the roster inside out, Schneider and Carroll were able to establish the culture they preferred. Young and brash, the Seahawks’ roster molding was focused on finding piranhas.
Seattle constructed a competitive environment through Schneider’s first three drafts, leaving the 2013 draft and this one as efforts of accumulation.
Much of the Seahawks’ 2013 draftees essentially redshirted last year.
Running back Christine Michael, selected in the second round with Seattle’s first pick of the 2013 draft, was rarely active on game days. He finished the season with 18 carries.
Defensive tackle Jordan Hill, selected in the third round, also rarely played, in part because of injury. Fourth-round pick Chris Harper was cut because he couldn’t crack the receiving corps. Defensive tackle Jesse Williams and cornerback Tharold Simon both missed the season because of injuries after being selected in the fifth round.
Then, there was tight end Luke Willson.
He wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. Yet, the Seahawks took him with their third selection of the fifth round.
Veteran Zach Miller was the clear starter at tight end. The Seahawks felt Willson had potential in a specific role as a part-time pass-catching tight end.
Unlike in years past, where the Seahawks selected such players as Sherman and Wilson in later rounds with the assumption they could start, Willson was specifically pegged.
He was not a need, rather a luxury. And, an inexpensive one at that.
This is the new focus for the Seahawks when drafting. Vice president of football operations Matt Thomas – who was pivotal in the Sherman and Thomas deals – puts together projections that tell the Seahawks how valuable their draft picks will become. If not in the financial sense, which is the point, then in the on-field sense. It’s a measurement of value.
Seattle touts Carroll’s “always compete” life mantra. Reality is the Seahawks have reached a stage where fewer jobs are up for grabs.
Their hunt for players kicks in again Thursday night when the NFL draft starts in prime time on the East Coast. The Seahawks have six selections during the three-day, seven-round celebration of potential. They will now be digging for specific qualities, like they did with Willson last year.
In this draft that could mean a range of players. An offensive lineman, defensive end, safety or wide receiver would all seem logical with the Seahawks’ first pick. With the massive amount of money invested in the defensive backfield and wide receiver Percy Harvin, the Seahawks’ new challenge is making all the bit players work with limited financial investment.
“John shared his vision when we first go together about constructing the roster,” Carroll said, “and what would happen and what we would hopefully see in years three, four, and five, and it’s happened. We would have a really young team. We would fight like crazy to make the depth chart as competitive as we possibly could with the young guys that would continue to bolster. All of that has come true, and I think it’s a real strength. We have to continue to fight to re-create that each year.”