A tale of 2 GMs: Seattle Seahawks’ John Schneider and Green Bay Packers’ Ted Thompson
Has the student become the master?
The Seattle Seahawks are the ideal. As the current Super Bowl champions, their path to success is presently being dissected, deconstructed and emulated by 31 wannabe-champion contenders. The chief architect of the team, Executive Vice President/General Manager John Schneider, was once an acolyte of Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson, himself a former Super Bowl champion.
The student is a student no more. The tables are now turned and decorated in Seahawks blue.
A tangled web
Before Schneider became the Seahawks’ GM, he rose through the ranks of the Green Bay Packers’ organization (14-plus years), in addition to time spent with the Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins and the Seahawks. Though only 41, he enters the 2014 season in his 20th year working in professional football. According to his bio on Seahawks.com, “Schneider’s philosophy is one of building through the draft while creating a competitive culture through a mix of youthful playmakers and veteran leadership.”
As any aspiring Super Bowl champion GM can tell you, that philosophy is much easier stated than accomplished.
Having spent some of his most formative years working under Ted Thompson, including during his one-year stint in Seattle in 2000, Schneider is well acquainted with Thompson’s methods and philosophy for building and maintaining a football team. Perhaps not so coincidentally, both Schneider and Thompson were brought to the Seahawks organization at the behest of former Seahawks and Packers Head Coach Mike Holmgren. The two franchises have shared a thoroughly intertwined history, of late, dating back to the Packers’ second-most-recent Super Bowl run of the late 1990s.
The Seahawks successfully enticed Holmgren away from the Packers in 1999 by promising him a dual role as coach and GM — a deal he was not able to get in Green Bay — who were still under the very successful Ron Wolf regime. Since that time, the two franchises have a rich, shared history of swapping players, picks, staff and management personnel.
They also swapped roles: Where the Packers won their fourth Super Bowl after the 2010 season, the Seahawks are now the current reigning champions — their first stay at the top of the NFL heap.
Similar styles, different results
They say the only game that matters is the last one you played. Advantage, Seattle. The Seahawks are king of the hill. All the others intend to get where Seattle now sits. Whereas Schneider’s preferred method is to draft and develop first, he was greatly influenced in that philosophy by Thompson. However, the reality of the 2013 Seattle Seahawks reveals very little impact generated by the 2013 draft class. Can you name one game Seattle’s top 2013 draft choice significantly impacted? Better yet, can you name Seattle’s top 2013 draft choice? (Christine Michael).
A quick look at the rest of the 2013 draft class reveals no stars; only role players and those missing in action. Running back Spencer Ware (sixth round) wound up on injured reserve. Defensive tackles Jesse Williams (fifth round) and Jordan Hill (third round) landed on injured reserve. Fifth-round defensive back Tharold Simon did not play for Seattle. Fourth-round pick, wide receiver Chris Harper was cut and currently is a member of … wait for it … the Green Bay Packers.
The Seahawks’ top producing rookie draft pick has to be backup tight end Luke Willson, who netted 20 receptions and one touchdown. Seventh-round selection, offensive tackle Michael Bowie (nine games; eight started), rotated into the offensive line when injuries once again decimated the Seahawks’ line.
That’s a lot of “draft,” but not much “develop.” Yet, the Seahawks won it all.
The Seahawks way
They way they did it was through aggressive, yet targeted additions of complementary veteran talent. Followers of the Green Bay Packers know this is the opposite of Ted Thompson’s M.O. More on that in a moment.
Schneider, along with Head Coach Pete Carroll, brought in a wave of veteran talent last spring to complement their young, on-the-rise team: wide receiver Percy Harvin (via trade), defensive linemen Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Clinton McDonald, Tony McDaniel, former Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and linebacker O’Brien Schofield. Schneider also brought in cornerback Antoine Winfield, which did not work out as hoped.
Again: Seahawks = Super Bowl champions. The league took notice, including Ted Thompson. Despite years of success and being considered one of the league’s top general managers, Thompson appears to have changed his draft/develop/draft-some-more ways by virtue of snapping up star defensive end Julius Peppers, late of the Chicago Bears. Thompson also very quietly signed former Minnesota Vikings starting defensive lineman Letroy Guion on March 17.
A big-name free agency signing by Thompson is big NFL news, indeed. You have to go back to 2006 before you can find any free agent stars inked by Thompson. In that year, his second as Green Bay’s GM, Thompson added Hall of Fame candidate Charles Woodson, longtime starting defensive lineman Ryan Pickett and … wait for it … former Seattle Seahawk Marquand Manuel in his biggest free agency splash to date — by far. Since 2006, Thompson has elected to shun new free agents and focus almost exclusively on draft prospects, rookie free agents and resigning current players.
Two things happened that may have influenced Thompson to view free agency differently: 1), Schneider, his former understudy, won the Super Bowl doing it his way. 2) The oft-bandied theory that a younger team is more resistant to injury has been largely disproven — at least according to the Packers’ recent experience. Despite being one of the youngest — if not the youngest — teams in the NFL over the past six seasons, the Packers have seen their injured reserve and multiple-games-missed-due-to-injury players lead the league. Not the list you want to top.
It’s not hard to come to the conclusion that if your young, inexperienced guys are just as likely to get hurt as veteran players, why not look at more veteran players? If you have the cap space, why not fill needs with proven, productive veteran experience? Unless the perfect early-round rookie falls right into your roster need, draft talent with an eye on the future more than immediate need.
In other words, Thompson is now doing things the Schneider way. The tables are now turned.