These Seahawks appear to be trying to get back to 2011 and '12.
You remember those days. Pete Carroll and John Schneider making almost 300 roster moves per year to remake the franchise. Established veterans with no buy-in out. Younger players with chips the size of Mount Rainier on their shoulders arriving in.
That's how a new foundation was established, the one that got Seattle to five consecutive playoff seasons, back-to-back Super Bowls and the Pacific Northwest's only NFL championship.
Back then those Seahawks were selective in the guys they considered drafting. Their pool of players was smaller, limited to the most athletic and motivated. Many had histories of overcoming adversity.
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The Seahawks are getting back to that for this 2018 NFL draft that begins Thursday.
"I think one of the things we’ve done is really cleaned up (our draft board). There aren’t as many names on our board," Schneider said this week.
"You have to have certain criteria to be on our board. And we’re making less excuses for players, I’d say.”
The idea is for more stringent vetting to avoid recent draft mistakes.
This change comes after what could go down as Seattle's most damaging pick in recent years, if not the worst selection in the franchise's 42 years. Defensive lineman Malik McDowell, for whom the Seahawks traded down twice out of 2017's first round, has yet to practice and may never play for them following a mysterious ATV accident and head injuries last summer.
Last year many teams didn't even consider McDowell because of concerns about work ethic after he essentially took his final season off at Michigan State.
And it's been two years since Germain Ifedi was the Seahawks first-round pick. Ifedi was a right tackle in Texas A&M's wide-open, not-nearly-NFL offense. Ifedi has struggled in two positions over his first two seasons. In 2017 he was the NFL's most-penalized player.
This philosophical change comes three years after the Seahawks selected Frank Clark with their top pick. That choice was months after the defensive end was kicked out of his college program at Michigan in November 2014 following an arrest and brief jailing on suspicion of domestic violence. There was also an incident in June 2012 in which he was charged with stealing a laptop computer from a dorm room.
Though he wasn't on multiple team's draft boards in 2015, that choice has worked out. To date, Clark has been a good citizen and teammate and is the team's leading returning pass rusher.
The Seahawks' other "red-flag" top pick under Carroll and Schneider came in 2012, when they selected pass rusher Bruce Irvin 15th overall, five years after he’d been arrested for breaking into a drug dealer’s house and spending two weeks in jail. Irvin became a Super Bowl champion for Seattle as an every-down linebacker. He credited the Seahawks for turning his life around before he signed a $37 million contract with Oakland in 2016, saying he was "supposed to be in jail or dead."
The way Schneider and Carroll this week described their return to their old draft preparations, it's a wonder whether they would have taken Clark in 2015 or McDowell last year under their 2018 approach.
"There’s a lot," Schneider said in describing his new-old vetting criteria to get on the Seahawks' streamlined draft board. "There’s character, psychological testing, orthopedic testing, orthopedic grades. True fits.
"Sometimes you can make excuses in all of those areas because of a guy’s specific skill set.”
Carroll called it a return to the basics of how he built the Seahawks into a champion: by drafting and signing intelligent players with unique athletic talents, impressive backgrounds and, again, the chips on their shoulders the coach loves.
“This time of year we’re always going back to basics and looking at the fundamental aspects of the makeup of the players. We have been strong on the thought of getting the smart, tough, reliable guys that we’ve always loved, and we want to make sure that we’re doing that," Carroll said.
"Maybe it’s just a reminder because it’s that time of year again, but we certainly want to emphasize the real competitive-natured kids that really are going to come in and fight and claw and scratch, just like the guys that have made this program."
In the same talk Monday, Carroll explained why the Seahawks traded Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett and waived three-time All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman last month, saying the veterans weren't buying into the program and it was time to move on.
Left unsaid: Thursday begins a renewed emphasis on guys that can buy-in again.
So how will this new board with fewer names to consider affect the Seahawks' scheduled eight picks, tied with 2015 for the fewest of the Carroll-Schneider era that began in 2010?
The coach and GM aren't about to tell you or me what they are going to do with their 18th-overall choice in the first round. History and need say they are likely to trade down, to acquire a second- or a third-round pick they don't have. They've traded their top choice in six consecutive drafts.
But it seems assured they won't be drafting anybody with questions about work ethic or ability to play in a pro scheme, or a guy with a recent arrest and jailing for domestic violence.
Though the Seahawks used one of their 30 pre-draft visits and workouts they are allowed with prospects on Texas cornerback Holton Hill, this doesn't sound like the year they will take a chance on him. Tacoma draft guru Rob Rang and the folks at nfldraftscout.com see Hill as perhaps the best tackling cornerback in this draft. He has the size (6-feet-2 with the all-important 32-inch arms) Carroll loves in his corners. But Hill is believed to have flunked four drug tests the last two years. Off-the-field issues derailed his sophomore and junior seasons.
"There’s so much information on every individual – like I said, the medical portion, the orthopedic portion, the psychological portion, all the testing that goes into this, the functional movement stuff, the character stuff, right? At some point, there’s red flags, usually on everybody," Schneider said. "But what happens is you end up kind of ignoring some of those red flags if you feel like you have a specific need or fit for a player.
"I think it’s happened in the past. It’ll probably happen in the future. But we just want to limit those. You never truly know the whole package, right? You never truly know what’s in a man’s heart. So we just work our tails off to try to find it out. We’re still doing it. We’re not going to be done until like Wednesday night or whatever.
"Even when we get these guys, right, now they’re in the building…”
“We’re still figuring them out," Carroll said, finishing the GM's sentence.
"And I think too, I think this year we’ve taken another step in refining the process. I think we’re more precise about some things and information that we’re gathering," Carroll said. "And I think it’s allowed John to clean the board up more clearly than ever. I think that’s what’s happened. So we might not have as many numbers on the board because we’re more tuned in to specifically to guys that really fit. ...
"We’re just better than we’ve been."
The Seahawks have to be better than they've been because of those recent flops.
“Our analytics guys and (co-director of player personnel) Trent Kirchner and (director of college scouting) Matt Berry, they brought it to my attention," Schneider said. "And I think what had happened here, is we were a darn good football team — a talented team — there for a while, so you end up trying to get more and more guys on your board to figure out, while the draft’s going on, ‘Ok, are we going to be able to acquire this player? Should we move back to acquire that player? How’s that guy going to fit in?’ And it just became harder for some of these guys to make the team."
The Seahawks are at a transition point where they need these new guys to make the team.