How to Rebuild: Seattle Seahawks 2010-2013 Edition

Daniel Essen on how the New York Jets can follow the rebuild model of the Seattle Seahawks

In the last edition, we looked at what the New York Jets can learn from the Kansas City Chiefs‘ rise to relevancy. In this, let’s look at how the Seahawks went from going 5-11 in 2009 and then firing everyone, to being Super Bowl Champions in 2013. As one would expect many of the same lessons apply from the Chiefs edition. However, there are different approaches the Seahawks took that the Jets can learn from.

Build Through the Draft

After the 2009 season, Seattle decided to fire head coach Jim Mora Jr. and GM Tim Ruskell. In the 2010 offseason, the Seahawks hired former USC head coach Pete Carroll as their head coach, and then afterwards hired former Green Bay director of operations, John Schneider, as their general manager. They inherited a roster trending downward. Their vision was to build the team through the draft. You’ll be hard pressed to find a team that’s ever drafted better in a 3 year window than the Seattle Seahawks did from 2010-2012. Here are the most notable picks the Seahawks made in the three drafts leading up their Seahawks Super Bowl winning season in 2013.

2010

  • 1st Round: LT Russell Okung (2012 Pro Bowl)
  • 1st Round: S Earl Thomas (5x Pro Bowler)
  • 2nd Round: WR Golden Tate (2014 Pro Bowl)
  • 5th Round: S Kam Chancellor (4x Pro Bowler)

2011

  • 5th Round: CB Richard Sherman (4x Pro Bowler)
  • 6th Round: CB Byron Maxwell
  • 7th Round: OLB Malcom Smith (2013 Super Bowl MVP)
  • UDFA: WR Doug Baldwin

2012

  • 1st Round: EDGE Bruce Irvin
  • 2nd Round: ILB Bobby Wagner (3x Pro Bowler)
  • 3rd Round: QB Russell Wilson (3x Pro Bowler)
  • 6th Round: CB Jeremy Lane
  • UDFA: WR Jermaine Kearse

The Seahawks drafted what has been a combined 21 Pro Bowl appearances worth of talent in three years. We noted in the last edition how important it is to draft well. It’s unrealistic to expect the Jets to just have the same exact success as quickly as the Seahawks did but there are a few things the Jets can try to replicate. Like Todd Bowles, Pete Carroll was a former secondary coach turned defensive coordinator turned head coach, so he had a specific vision for what he wanted his defense (the secondary in particular) to look like. Like Bowles, Carroll is a defense-first type of coach. The Seahawks roster directly reflected that. He and John Schneider just managed to stumble on Russell Wilson in the 3rd Round in 2012 and pair him with the hardest working receiver group in the NFL.

The Jets tried  to make a patchwork template of a Bowles defense by spending almost their entire cap in free agency in Maccagnan/Bowles first year. Instead, what they should’ve done, and what they should do going forward (regardless of who sticks around), is to build that ideal roster through the draft. It may take longer and feel less certain but, as Todd Bowles is learning now, it can easily cost you your job trying to build through free agency. Building through the draft is cap friendly, and helps set realistic expectations for the franchise. Maccagnan needs to focus his attention on making sure the Jets have more of an opportunity to find talent in the draft than they have in the past. The best way to do that is by accumulating draft picks.

Put Together a Desirable Coaching Staff

The best way to tell you’re doing something right with your coaching staff in the NFL is if coordinators and assistant coaches are leaving for higher positions on other teams. Of course, everything starts with the head coach. But, honestly, the Seahawks have had a few coordinators that, if not for the success, would’ve had Pete Carroll looking over his shoulder. The Seahawks lights out defense may have been perfected under Dan Quinn, but it developed under Gus Bradley. It was when Bradley took the Jaguars head coach job in Jacksonville that the Seahawks were able to hire Dan Quinn from the University of Florida in 2013 and the rest is history. Since 2010, the Seahawks have had two defensive coordinators take head coaching positions in the NFL. In a few years, current defensive coordinator Kris Richard might be a third.

The Jets coaches haven’t been too impressive. On defense, the Jets have been in free fall this season. Kacy Rodgers has seen what was the 4th best defense in 2015, disappear before his very eyes, despite how much the Jets invested in it. The Jets need to consider the direction they’re going defensively. If they do decide to move on from Rodgers, its always best to try to pick from successful programs/franchises. For example, Clemson’s defensive coordinator, Brent Venables, who’s defense has been in the top 10 nationwide for two straight seasons (including number one ranked in 2015). His resume is similar to Dan Quinn’s when he left Florida. Venables will be a target for several NFL teams.

Offensively, Chan Gailey has been up and down. The Jets offense the last two seasons, as a whole, has been better than his predecessors but Gailey has had issues balancing offensive tendencies and failing to utilize certain players as much as they should be.  The difficulty on offense is that its hard to land a good offensive coordinator and even harder to do so with an unimpressive roster. Also, most offensive coordinators, unless horrifically bad, tend to stick around for continuity sake, for teams with a young QB depth chart. For that same reason, it might serve the Jets better to either promote quarterback coach Kevin Patullo or just stick with Chan Gailey. This is especially true if they don’t draft a QB, commit to continue developing Hackenberg in 2017 and sign a free agent QB.

Veteran Leadership is Overrated

The Seahawks crushed every theory about veteran leadership in the book. Their head coach, Pete Carroll is a players’ coach who is high on team synergy and soft on discipline. In their Super Bowl season in 2013, their best players were all under 30. At no point in the process did the Seahawks decide that they needed to bring in a role model for the guys to get behind. They just stacked young, ambitious talent instead. Of the notable draft picks mentioned above and the trades/signings the Seahawks made (RB Marshawn Lynch, DE Michael Bennet, DE Cliff Avril) leading up to the first Super Bowl win, the one common trait they all seemed to have was competitiveness. Players like Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Doug Baldwin became leaders by example. All either late round picks or undrafted free agents (Baldwin), they had to work hard to get to where they’re at now. Those are players others can get behind. That competitiveness rubs off on others.

On the Jets, players like Quincy Enunwa share that kind of mindset. Unfortunately, they have been drowned out by the cliques and petty squabbles in the locker room. Publicly pressuring the front office to sign a declining player, blaming teammates or position groups for team failures, taking plays off, and general lack of responsibility and professionalism are all actions of a last place team.  This is just another in the long list reasons the Jets need to shed as many veteran players as possible. Just having veterans in the locker room does not mean you have leadership. Often, like with the Jets, its actually quite the opposite.

It might be difficult for the New York Jets to match the end result of the Seahawks rebuilding from 2010-2013. But they can certainly try to emulate the steps taken to build a roster, coaching staff, and build a competitive spirit that competes for division titles each year. There are no shortcuts to develop that kind of success.

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com 

  • Beamen321

    Interesting article especially the point on veteran leadership. My question about the Seahawks “strategy” is how much of it was just blind luck? Most of their stars came from late round draft picks which is definitely good scouting but also probably means they liked 100+ guys more than them in the draft. They have also missed on a lot of their premium picks and big money Free Agent acquisitions (Matt Flynn, Christine Michael) but this is largely covered by hitting on late round picks (like WIlson beating out Flynn for the starting QB) Personally, I think the key to the Seahawks formula is that it’s a compete meritocracy and the best players play independent of their name, contract, or if it makes the FO look bad. This is what the Jets have sorely lacked in year 2 of the Bowles regime. A number of starters have been given large number of snaps while being outperformed by their backups (Forte/Powell, Fitz/Geno). As for the on-field formula, IMO the defense has been keyed by Earl Thomas who was a high draft pick but is also a player the Jets can look to clone in this years draft. He is able to cover up any mistakes by the corners underneath him leaving the CB to be more bold and take more chances.

  • McGeorge

    The first thing the Jets need to do is start drafting well. Until they do, they aren’t going anywhere. HC doesn’t matter if the players aren’t very good.
    Maccagnan isn’t the answer.