The Seattle Seahawks' front office has arguably done the best job in the NFL the last few years building their roster. Not only are they built to win now, but their youth provides them with a chance to be contenders for a long time.
The Hawks have built themselves on the foundation of a great defense, a monster running back and a young quarterback who looks way too mature to be a second-year player.
While they have their share of players that may be overpaid based on their production, they've stockpiled on so much young talent that it doesn't matter. Overall, GM John Schneider has done a masterful job, hitting constant home runs with his draft picks. He took over as GM right after what has turned out to be a brilliant coaching hire in Pete Carroll. Carroll has created an exciting culture in the Northwest and support for the Seahawks is stronger than ever. It was a rare case of a head coach being hired before the GM. Since 2010, the two have transformed the franchise into a perennial contender. Now, let's look at this roster.
A large portion of the Seahawks' roster is playing under rookie contracts; hence they've been able to field quality young starters. That includes their quarterback, Russell Wilson.
Wilson is the most underpaid quarterback in the game. He's making less money than his backup! Since Wilson was drafted in the third round of the 2012 draft, he was given a contract near the league minimum. He surpassed everyone's expectations, earning the starting job out of his first training camp and led the Seahawks to a wildcard berth and nearly to the NFC championship last year. This year he helped them to an NFC best 13-3 record and a trip to the Super Bowl. In two seasons, he's thrown 52 touchdown passes to just 19 interceptions. His overall completion percentage rests at 63.6% and he's added up over 1,000 career rushing yards. Although he struggled toward the end of this season, he always seems to make the big throw when needed.
Wilson carries just a $680,000 cap hit. When your starting quarterback is paid so little and plays well beyond what you would expect, it allows you to stockpile players for other positions and load your team in other areas. This is why the Ravens struggled this season. They were, of course, an ageing team that lost several key players last offseason and had to give Joe Flacco a significant raise. He received a six-year contract worth $120.6 million. While Flacco definitely earned his payday, Baltimore was unable to surround him with the talent necessary to compete for a Super Bowl. The Ravens will be contenders again soon, once they field more young starters; but back to the Seahawks.
This team has built primarily through the draft, not only picking blue chip starters in the first round, but finding premium talent in later rounds. Wilson is one example, but Seattle found so many others after round one, such as Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, Kam Chancellor, Walter Thurmond and Doug Baldwin (undrafted). The Seahawks have added their share of pieces through free agency, like Cliff Avril, Zach Miller, Sidney Rice, and they traded for Percy Harvin last year. These were primarily finishing touches though, adding to the strong core Seattle built through superb scouting. Seattle's tremendous home-field advantage can't be ignored either.
Another gem the Seahawks acquired was the Beast himself Marshawn Lynch. After showing some promise, yet inconsistency in Buffalo, the Bills traded Lynch to Seattle in exchange for a fourth-round pick in 2011 and fifth-round pick in 2012. Bills fans grit their teeth as they watched Lynch run wild on the Saints in the 2010-11 wild-card round, rushing for 131 yards, including an unbelievable 67-yard rumbling score.
Lynch has never looked back, rushing for over 1,000 yards in each of his three full seasons in Seattle and has 41 touchdowns as a Seahawk in 59 games. He's added six touchdowns in six career playoff games. He carried a $8.5 million cap hit this season, playing under a four-year, $31 million contract he signed in 2011. He's been their offensive MVP for three straight seasons and there's no shame in paying him that amount.
Blocking for Lynch is a strong offensive line when healthy. Seattle invested in their front five, drafting left tackle Russell Okung sixth overall in 2010. He was drafted under the old CBA pre-rookie wage scales. Seattle signed him to a six-year $48 million deal. He's now on the back end of that contract, carrying a $9.5 million cap hit. He made the Pro Bowl last year and there's nothing wrong with investing money in protecting your quarterback and blocking for your tailback.
Right tackle Breno Giacomini was acquired from Green Bay's practice squad in 2010. He broke out in 2012, starting all 16 games and nine this year as he missed time due to injury. When healthy, he's been a huge part in getting Lynch going.
On the inside, Max Unger was drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft and is another mainstay for Seattle's o-line. He made his second straight Pro Bowl this year and was an All-Pro in 2012. He's among the top-paid centres in the NFL, earning a $4.9 million base salary this year. J.R. Sweazy was another great draft pick by Schneider, taken in the seventh round in 2012. Sweazy actually played defensive tackle in college, and has done a great job since being asked to play guard. Paul McQuistan and James Carpenter are also both quality guards and carry cap hits of $3.4 million and $2 million, respectively. Carpenter was taken 25th overall by Seattle in the 2011 Draft.
The wide receiving corps may be Seattle's weakest link in terms of production, as well as injury problems. Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin are the highest-paid receivers, with Rice carrying a $9.5 million cap hit, although he was placed on injured reserve earlier this year. He played in just eight games, catching 15 passes for 231 yards and three touchdowns.
After trading a first-round pick for Percy Harvin, the Seahawks got just one game out of him in the regular season. He produced one catch for 17 yards and a kickoff return of 58. Harvin is an explosive player when healthy, but he rarely is. His cap number for the 2013 season was $4.9 million and it will skyrocket to $13 million in 2014. He will play in the Super Bowl so maybe a dominant performance in the big game will make it seem all worth it.
Luckily for Seattle, they didn't skip a beat, despite their injuries on offense. Yes, their attack struggled down the stretch this season, but they still found ways to win. With their defense keeping them in games, players like Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Zach Miller were the beneficiaries. Miller actually carried the highest cap hit on the team at $11 million despite having just 33 catches for 387 yards and five touchdowns. He's a bigger threat in the redzone than anywhere else on the field, but due to the Seahawks needing to give several players a raise in the near future, Miller may be on borrowed time in Seattle, unless he restructures his contract.
Tate, Baldwin and Kearse each carry cap hits of less than a million. Tate had 64 catches for 898 yards and five touchdowns this season. Baldwin added 50 for 778 and five scores, while Kearse had 22 catches for 346 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 15.7 yards per reception. He also made the spectacular fourth down grab for what proved to be the decisive touchdown in the NFC championship game. Each of these players have done more than what was expected of them.
Make no mistake about it though; the reason the Seahawks are in the Super Bowl is because of the no.1 defense they boast. The Legion of Boom secondary is perhaps the greatest we've seen in over a decade and is so good it makes us forget about Seattle's solid front seven. Chris Clemons is on one side. His numbers declined this year, as at age 32 he registered just 4.5 sacks, having acquired at least 11 in each of his first three seasons in Seattle. He didn't produce enough this year, considering he carried a cap hit over $8 million.
The depth of this group softened the blow, as Cliff Avril who was signed from Detroit added eight sacks. Avril made less than half of what Clemons did this year, yet doubled Clemons's production. He also forced five fumbles.
Michael Bennett proved to be another strong pickup, returning to the team that signed him out of college. Undrafted in 2009, Bennett was cut in training camp by Seattle. After three seasons in Tampa Bay, he returned this year, playing all 16 games and delivering 8.5 sacks. With a cap hit of $4.8 million, it's a solid investment.
Red Bryant was a Seahawks fourth-round pick in 2008. He signed a five-year $35 million deal in 2012 and has been used primarily to stuff the run.
The Seahawks rotate nine guys on their defensive line. They always look fresh, and always form a formidable pass rush. They don't have one stand-alone player. Their strength here is in their depth.
At linebacker, Bobby Wagner was a player who flew under the radar in the 2012 draft. The Seahawks took him in round two and he's been a revelation for them. After a solid rookie campaign he added 120 combined tackles this year with five sacks and two interceptions. His cap hit is at $980,000 which is pretty good for your team's best linebacker.
Bruce Irvin is a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end; primarily a pass-rushing specialist drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft. His sacks dipped from his rookie season, falling from eight down to two, however he was a better all-around player, tripling his tackle total from 10 to 31.
Malcolm Smith was taken in the seventh round in 2011, yet has become a solid starter. K.J. Wright was taken in the fourth round and is another overachiever. With a cap hit of $675,000 he gave them 46 solo tackles, as well as 34 assisted tackles and 1.5 sacks.
The strongest point of this team though, is their lethal secondary. They have arguably the best cornerback in the game in Richard Sherman, and arguably the best free safety in Earl Thomas.
Thomas has done exactly what was expected of him coming out of college. Drafted 14th overall in 2010, he hasn't missed a game in his entire career. This year, he accumulated 78 tackles, two forced fumbles and five interceptions. He's shown great leadership on defense and has torn teams apart. Making $3.5 million in 2013, he may be in line for a raise. Yet another homerun by Schneider in the draft.
At strong safety is Kam Chancellor, who is no slouch himself. A fifth-round pick in 2010, Chancellor had 65 tackles, a forced fumble and three interceptions this year. Sure, he's had the benefit of playing next to Thomas, but he's always proven to be a consistent, reliable starter. He even had a crucial interception in this year's NFC championship against Colin Kaepernick.
At corner, the Seahawks have not missed a beat despite Brandon Browner's suspension. That's because they have Richard Sherman dominating one side of the field, with his long reach and tall frame. Taller than most cornerbacks at 6'3", Sherman uses his height to his advantage, providing matchup problems for opposing offenses. Drafted in the fifth round in 2011, he's never missed a start and has 20 interceptions in three seasons, including eight this year. He also defended 16 passes and has made big play after big play. He made headlines last week with his postgame comments following Seattle's victory over the 49ers. The image fans should remember is Sherman batting away a pass intended for Michael Crabtree right into the arms of teammate Malcolm Smith; the play that sent the Seahawks to New York. He's also a guy making less than what he should, his cap hit being $600,000. That's right, arguably the best corner in the game and he's making near the league minimum.
Brandon Browner's PED suspension has not hurt the Seahawks in large part due to Walter Thurmond's stellar play in Browner's absence. Yet another mid-round pick, coming in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, Thurmond has added a forced fumble and interception and six passes defended.
The Seahawks have done the best job of any organization in football at the draft in the past five years. They've managed to find quality starters in early and late rounds. They added key pieces in free agency and made a steal of a trade in acquiring Lynch a few years ago. John Schneider has done a masterful job as general manager and it can be argued he's the best in football right now. He has elite players at rock bottom prices which is why he's been able to stack this roster so effectively. He's going to have to pay through the nose soon though, though. Great players don't stay cheap for long. But for now he has built himself a championship team due to his constant hits at the draft and savy moves in free agency. No GM in the game can claim they're getting better value from their players than Schneider.