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March 20, 2013 at 8:50 AM

Seahawks free agency and the difference between hope and expectation

“There is no way I thought, a week and a half ago, that we’d have Percy Harvin,  Cliff Avril or Michael Bennett on our team this year. Any of them. Things just fell right for us.”
Seattle GM John Schneider to Peter King of Sports Illustrated, March 16

The Seahawks began their offseason open to the idea of making significant additions, hopeful even.

They did not however expect it, and that fact is important to consider as we try to put this offseason into perspective. Seattle has made big splashes before in free agency. Several times in fact whether it was signing linebacker Chad Brown from Pittsburgh in 1997, adding Grant Wistrom from the Rams in 2004 or — most recently — the double-play addition of defensive end Patrick Kerney and safety Deon Grant in 2007.

Those moves were about Seattle entering the market with fists full of dollars. That was certainly the case in 2007.

“The one thing the organization was committed to do was jump early,” said Mike Holmgren, who was then the coach.

Two things to note about that: Holmgren referred to the organization instead of using a more general pronoun like, oh, say something like “we” which is to say that Holmgren — as coach — might not have been part of this decision.

The more important fact is that Seattle had made a calculated decision to spend in free agency. The Seahawks were aggressive from the get-go, flying guard Kris Dielman to town as soon as free agency began. When Dielman spurned the Seahawks, the team turned its attention first to Kerney and then to Grant, deploying Paul Allen’s private plane in each instance. The team later added safety Brian Russell

Seahawks opened their wallet, and it has paid off in 2007
By Danny O’Neil | Dec. 14, 2007

The plan did work. For a year. The Seahawks won 10 games in 2007, Kerney was runner-up as the league’s defensive player of the year and the Seahawks reached the second round of the playoffs.

But as Seattle won nine games total over the next two seasons, it became clear this team had relied too much on veterans, leaving it vulnerable to the erosion that age inevitably takes in today’s NFL.

But that’s secondary to the main point here. Let’s go back to the way Seattle entered free agency. In 2007, it’s clear the Seahawks had money that was simply burning a hole in their pocket, and when Dielman wouldn’t take it, well, they turned to the next guy in line in Kerney. And when tight end Daniel Graham spurned Seattle to head to Denver, the Seahawks turned their attention to Grant.

Seattle wasn’t nearly so headstrong this season, and to understand why, let’s go back to March 12, the first day that teams could sign players. This was the day Seattle introduced Harvin, and afterward, general manager John Schneider took the time to talk with 710 ESPN Seattle on “Afternoons with the Go 2 Guy”* and the conversation turned to the open market:
*Full disclaimer: I work at this radio station, generally on that program

Schneider: “Free agency is unique. You’ve got to careful in free agency. You have to be able to have a level of interest and be able to stick to that level and be able to walk away from deals. We try to pride ourselves on being able to do that and not just kind of give in to the excitement of adding the player and taking care of what may be perceived as a need and just checking it off the list so you can just get in bed and sleep well at night.”

Q: You’ve said that in the draft that you grade for your team and not for the league. That means that you look at how you value that player and not where you think he’s going to be picked. Do you do something similar in free agency, and by that I mean do you try and establish a value for what that player is worth or do you focus on what you think it will take to acquire that player?

Schneider: “That’s a great question because you have to be aware of both. This weekend — now — we had a three-day period which was very unique, brand new where you were able to speak to the agents and try to find out where they are. And if there’s just too much of a difference then you just move on. There’s times where deals fall apart for them for one reason or another club and then they can come back to you, closer to your price range if you will.”

Now, remember: This was Tuesday, a full 24 hours before the first report of Seattle’s agreement with Cliff Avril, but looking back at Schneider’s words, it’s not hard to see what was going on. At this point, Paul Kruger had agreed to a five-year contract with Cleveland for $40 million, effectively setting the ceiling for pass rushers in this market. And then, the market came back to Seattle. A day later, that market would put Avril in Seattle on a two-year deal followed by Michael Bennett to a one-year agreement. The result was one of the biggest hauls in free agency only this time, it wasn’t the result of over-the-top spending aggression, but a little bit of patience, some discipline and a whole lot of players who saw Seattle as a desirable place to end up.

In 2007, Seattle was like a fisherman that strapped on his waders, determined to get hip-deep in the stream of free agents and before he knew it, water was at his armpits and he wound up underwater a couple of years later. This season, the Seahawks cast from the banks and waited for the catch to come to them.

For those interested in the whole conversation with Schneider, here’s the link:

More audio at MyNorthwest.com

| Topics: cliff avril, free agency, seahawks

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