By Brian Nemhauser
Brian Nemhauser is full-time father and Director of Product Management, and a part-time founder of HawkBlogger.com. His wife could not stand hearing one more thing about the Seahawks, so now he pours all his passion for the team into his blog. He is a regular guest on the Dave “Softy” Mahler show on Sports Radio KJR (950 AM). Follow him on Twitter at @hawkblogger.
Leadership in the NFL is overrated. A bad team will not become good due to having great leaders in the locker room. A good general manager evaluates players on talent, cost, and ability to sustain performance (think age and durability). Keeping an older, more expensive, leader over a younger and cheaper player of similar talent is a surefire way to limit the flexibility of a front office.
Michael Robinson is a popular player on a very popular Seahawks team. He is a recognized leader in the locker room, where his teammates voted him special-teams captain last year. Yet he may also have played his last game as a Seahawk.
Robinson began his career with the Seahawks in 2010 as part of the massive roster turnover orchestrated by general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll in their first season in Seattle. San Francisco had cut Robinson, and the Seahawks picked him up a day later. A punishing fullback who has earned Pro Bowl accolades on the field, Robinson is also the charismatic creator off the field of The Real Rob Report – a behind-the-scenes video series on YouTube. Seattle rewarded Robinson’s performance with a two-year, $5 million contract extension in 2012. The combination of great play and likability has made Robinson a fan favorite. But the combination of cost and age (30) make him vulnerable.
It is hard to fault people who ignore the financial side of the NFL. Fans want to see great football, not examine balance sheets. Turning a blind eye to the dollars and cents, however, will leave you susceptible to shock when a player you love is shown the door. He may be healthy and playing well, but the NFL is a fixed economy with a salary cap and roster limit. Robinson’s salary of $2.5 million in 2013 makes him the third-highest paid fullback in the NFL, and the 32nd-highest paid back overall, according to OverTheCap.com. He is the 16th-highest paid Seahawk, and his salary is more than double players like Bobby Wagner and Golden Tate; more than triple players like Brandon Browner, Russell Wilson and K.J. Wright; and more than quadruple someone like Richard Sherman. Consider that when debating how much Robinson’s leadership is worth.
The Seahawks are set to spend over $13 million on the backfield in 2013 between Robinson, Marshawn Lynch, Christine Michael and Robert Turbin. That is fourth-most in the NFL, according to OverTheCap.com. Robinson’s $2.5 million salary contains no guarantees for 2013, meaning he can be cut with no impact to the salary cap. That is a lot of money to spend on a player that was on the field only 32 percent of the time in 2012, according to FootballOutsiders.com snap count data. Robinson only played around 30 more snaps than J.R. Sweezy, a part-time guard last season. The use of schemes like the read-option, and the increasing use of three-receiver sets decreases the need for a fullback even more. That is without injured Percy Harvin in the lineup, who will take more snaps away when he lines up in the backfield on occasion.
Carroll may have the reputation of an easygoing player’s coach, but he and Schneider have proven to be ruthless when it comes to pruning their roster to keep it affordable and young. Past leaders like Lawyer Milloy, Lofa Tatupu and Matt Hasselbeck were all shown the door. If leadership was not a concern back then, when the team identity was still forming, it certainly is not now when players like Wilson, Max Unger, Red Bryant, and Kam Chancellor patrol the locker room. Carroll is not going to establish any one leader on the team. His goal is to create a roster full of leaders. Every player who pulls on a Seahawks uniform is expected to uphold the values of the franchise, and if a player needs a leader to stay in line, he will not be a Seahawk for long.
None of this is to say Robinson is certain to be cut before the season begins. The front office will not cut talent just to save money. Affordable young players must be available who can perform at a similar level. That is why Derrick Coleman’s strong performance at fullback and on special teams matters. It is why the recent news of receiver Phil Bates getting snaps at fullback matters.
Seattle knows what is has in Robinson. He is terrific fullback, and a great public face for the franchise. He is also expensive and aging. Which characteristic ends up deciding his fate will be one of the more fascinating story lines to watch through the rest of the exhibition season. One thing is certain: Leadership will have nothing to do with it.
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