Even with a win this Sunday over the lowly Detroit Lions, the 2009 Seattle Seahawks would be 3-5 when they enter the second half of the regular season, which begins with a three-game road trip that includes games against the defending NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals and what appears to be the future NFC Champion Minnesota Vikings. (Novel concept you heard here first: Any chance this team has of salvaging this season hinges upon their ability to play on the road, right? So why not get into that “road warrior” mindset this week and wear the road whites against the Lions at Qwest Field this Sunday?)
In all likelihood, the Seahawks will be 4-7 at the beginning of December, and the drum beat to not extend president and general manager Tim Ruskell’s expiring contract is bound to have grown even louder.
Ruskell’s ability to evaluate talent isn’t in question, his approach towards building and re-stocking the roster is.
An inordinate amount of this team’s high draft picks and priority free agent dollars on building a defense that appears incapable of even being respectable away from Qwest Field. Meanwhile, a once solid offensive line was re-stocked with a pair of early-round centers and multiple mid-round guard prospects, ironic considering how little he valued that position in February of 2006. (And this item about Steve Hutchinson being flagged for his first holding penalty in six years has to depress the hell out of Seahawks fans.)
Ruskell’s approach to the left tackle position alone would be enough to warrant a nameplate change on the door to the VMAC’s corner office, but he’s also misfired on first-round picks in 2006 and 2007, the latter of course, occurring when Ruskell traded the first-round pick to the New England Patriots for Deion Branch. As much as I applaud the spirit of that trade—and would do it again—when trades involving 1st round picks and $39 million dollar contracts don’t pan out, the man who pulled the trigger on the deal needs to be held accountable. (And no contract the size of Branch’s should ever have reached the 4th year without being restructured.)
Ruskell’s approach to the NFL Draft seemingly eliminates the Seahawks from selecting a player from a non-BCS conference, as just one of his 37 selections, San Diego State long-snapper Tyler Schmitt, hails from a non-BCS school. Of the 59 players on the Seahawks’ current roster, including those on injured reserve and the practice squad, that were acquired since 2005, just five players (Nate Burleson, David Hawthorne, Jon Ryan, Tyler Roehl, and Devin Moore) are from non-BCS schools.
I’m sure there are mountains of data Ruskell could point to which states that choosing players from major conferences increases the player’s chances of succeeding at the NFL level. Knowing the front office will rigidly stick to that philosophy, though, eliminates any hope that players like Ryan Clady, Joe Flacco, DeMarcus Ware, Logan Mankins, or Sean Smith will ever have their names called by a Ruskell-led Seahawks franchise.
Seattle sports radio station 950-KJR not only called for the franchise to replace Ruskell, but to do so with former Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren, who handled the GM duties until former team president Bob Whitsitt relieved him of those duties in 2003.
Holmgren is currently co-hosting a weekly “NFL Show” on KJR, and his tenure as general manager has been looked upon more favorably with each passing year. The 2005 Seattle Seahawks, for example, which was the NFL’s #1-ranked scoring offense, was largely constructed when Holmgren was buying the proverbial groceries.
As general manager, Holmgren suckered the Dallas Cowboys into dealing two first-round picks for Joey Galloway, one of which was used to select running back Shaun Alexander, the 2005 NFL MVP and the Seahawks’ all-time leader in rushing yards and total touchdowns. Holmgren signed Robbie Tobeck and Bobby Engram in 1999, drafted Darrell Jackson in the third round in 2000, swapped 2001 first-round picks and sent an additional third-round pick to the Green Bay Packers for Matt Hasselbeck, using the later first-round pick on Hutchinson.
However, it was also Holmgren the GM who threw veteran parts and forgettable early-round draft picks (Lamar King, Anton Palepoi, Ike Charlton, Kris Richard, etc…) at a defense which failed to rank any higher than 19th under his watch, thus creating the need for a Bob Ferguson, later Ruskell, to come in and fix the defense.
Holmgren has repeatedly mentioned how he’s learned from the mistakes he made during his time as general manager, and that he’d do things differently if given another crack at that job. He’s also made no secret of his intentions to get back into the NFL next season, or of his willingness to work for Paul Allen again.
As much as Holmgren is to be celebrated for helping make football in Seattle relevant again, and as much as I personally would’ve been in favor of him remaining the head coach for as long as he wanted, hiring Holmgren to be the team’s next general manager would be sending the Seahawks into the past, when it needs to be looking towards the future.
First off, the next general manager—if Ruskell is even replaced—is in for 2-3 year overhaul of the offensive line, will be tasked with finding the quarterback of the future, and it could be a couple of seasons before the Seahawks are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Holmgren turns 62 next summer, and it’s a fair to question whether or not he still going to want to be working in an NFL front office when he’s 65 or 66 years old.
Secondly, it wouldn’t be fair to current head coach Jim Mora to put the coach he replaced in charge of his job security. As much as I disagreed with naming a successor to Holmgren before his final season—a mistake you’ll never see another NFL team repeat—the bottom line is Mora is the head coach of this football team, and should be given the opportunity to succeed without the man he replaced looming overhead and making the team’s personnel decisions.
There are also legitimate questions about whether or not Holmgren can ignore the itch he has to resume his coaching career. Holmgren may aspire to a role similar to the one Bill Parcells has in Miami, but a major factor in Parcells’ ability to delegate authority and stay up in the owner’s box on Sundays is that at this stage of his life, he’d much rather be at the track in Saratoga than breaking down film in a classroom in Miami.
Given the team’s plethora of needs on offense, it’s tempting to want a brilliant offensive mind like Holmgren building that side of the ball. However, considering his track record as general manager, the Seahawks would run the risk of repeating the mistakes made throughout the last ten years, both under Holmgren and Ruskell, of having a front office too focused on one area of the team. Balance is needed in a front office, and neither Holmgren nor Ruskell has a history of being able to provide it.
Since it’s impolite to say “This guy isn’t the answer” without providing alternatives, here are some candidates Mr. Allen might want to consider handing the keys to his franchise to:
Name: Eric DeCosta
Current team: Baltimore Ravens
Current position: Director of Player Personnel
DeCosta has been with the Ravens for the last 13 years, and was the Ravens’ director of college scouting for six seasons before being promoted to his current position in 2009. Part of a front office which recognized that its Hall of Fame left tackle (Jonathan Ogden) wasn’t getting any younger and between 2005 and 2009, drafted six tackles, including a supplemental pick on left tackle Jared Gaither and a first-round pick this year on Michael Oher. Baltimore also used a first-round pick on Ben Grubbs (2007) and second-round pick on Chris Chester (2006), and in 2005, used a fourth-round pick on Jason Brown, who started 45 games for the Ravens before the St. Louis Rams made him the highest-paid center in the NFL this past off-season.
During the last five seasons, the Ravens not only continuously improved their offensive line, but they’ve fielded a defense that’s never been ranked lower than 6th, found their franchise quarterback (Joe Flacco) and a running back (Ray Rice) who is not only averaging 5.5 yards per carry, but also leads all running backs in receiving yards this season.
In the 71 regular season games since 2005, the Ravens are 39-32 and made two playoff appearances, including winning two road playoff games to reach last year’s AFC Championship game. During the same stretch, the Seahawks are 38-33, won three division titles, but haven’t won a road playoff game since 1984.
Name: Tom Heckert
Current team: Philadelphia Eagles
Current position: General Manager
Philadelphia has been the NFC’s best team this decade, making seven playoff appearances, and having just one losing season (2005) and one of the main reasons for their success can be attributed to their personnel department, which Heckert joined in 2001 after 10 years in the Miami Dolphins’ front office.
The Eagles’ drafts this decade have been among the best in the league, adding Pro Bowlers like Lito Sheppard, Michael Lewis, Brian Westbrook, Trent Cole, and Shawn Andrews in the early part of the decade. In recent years, the Eagles have chosen Broderick Bunkley, Mike Patterson, Stewart Bradley, Brent Celek, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and LeSean McCoy.
Heckert was promoted to VP of Player Personnel in 2003 and to general manager in 2006. As GM, one area Heckert has been proactive has been identifying who the team’s key players are and signing them to long-term extensions before their rookie contracts expire, avoiding situations the Seahawks have found themselves in with Steve Hutchinson (2006), Josh Brown (2007), Marcus Trufant (2008), and Leroy Hill (2009).
Though Heckert is signed through the 2011 season, he does not have final say on personnel matters in Philadelphia (that belongs to head coach Andy Reid) and in the last few years, has been granted permission to interview for NFL teams (Cleveland, Atlanta) that would’ve provided him with final authority.
Name: Reggie McKenzie
Current team: Green Bay Packers
Current position: Director of Football Operations
A former linebacker for the Los Angeles Raiders and San Francisco 49ers, McKenzie has been in the Packers’ front office for the last 15 years, serving as Director of Pro Personnel from 1997-2007 before being promoted in 2008 to his current position, where he oversees the scouting of all professional leagues and assists current general manager Ted Thompson with the scouting of college players.
McKenzie learned the front office ropes under former Packers GM Ron Wolf and recently interviewed for general manager jobs with the Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons.
Name: Doug Whaley
Current team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Current position: Pro Personnel Coordinator
A former scout for the Seahawks back in the mid-90s, Whaley has headed up the Steelers’ pro personnel department for the last 12 years, a position that also involves considerable input in the team’s pre-draft preparations.
With the Steelers winning two Lombardi Trophies, Whaley may be ready to follow in the footsteps of Tom Donahoe and Tom Modrak, two former NFL general managers who preceded Whaley in his current position.
In addition to writing for NorthwestFootball.net, Brian McIntyre blogs daily at Mac's Football Blog. You can follow Brian on Twittah, and if you’d like to e-mail him, you can always do so by clicking here.