Flash in the Pan or Dynasty?
After having a good 24 hours to mull over the complete domination of the Broncos by the Seattle Seahawks it’s time to look at what the future holds. The defense has earned favorable comparisons to the most recent ‘best defenses ever’ – the 1985 Bears, 2000 Ravens, and 2002 Buccaneers. The offense, vastly underrated, is not to be overlooked either for it’s contribution to the effort. The relative youth and speed of the players on that defense also recall the Jimmy Johnson-coached Dallas Cowboy teams of the early 90s. They look poised to dominate for the next several years if everything holds up. Which is the million dollar question, of course. Will it hold up? While the Seahawks try to maintain their dominance, the rest of the league will be finding ways to build a team to defeat them and the rest of the league. The Seahawks have done a pretty unique thing in that so much of their roster, including big name starters, were found at the back end of the draft and through free agency. More teams (like my Redskins) would be well advised to pursue a similar strategy.
Is the Seahawk model the way things are going to go, or is that an anomaly? 21 undrafted free agents, and a slew of late round picks playing important roles? Yes, there are a handful of guys who were drafted in the first round by either the Seahawks (Russell Okung) or other teams (Marshawn Lynch, Percy Harvin), but for the most part the roster was assembled with guys who didn’t come with huge signing bonuses right out of college. The two biggest names on the team, Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman, were taken in the third and fifth round, respectively. Of course this isn’t a totally new thing; championship teams have always been built with guys who weren’t all highly touted. But Wilson is the second Super Bowl winning back quarterback since Tom Brady in 2004 who wasn’t taken in the first round (the other is Drew Brees, taken in the second round by San Diego). In fact, 15 of the last 21 Super Bowl winning quarterbacks were taken in the first round, and three of the other six were won by the same guy (sixth rounder Tom Brady).
The big result is that the Seahawk roster is chock full of productive, but inexpensive guys. The roster is young (only two starters over 30 and an average age of 26 years old) and cheap (no big contracts outside of Harvin, Okung, and Lynch). The upside to that is, to date, they have able to build a championship team without gambling on too many high priced free agents. The downside is that these guys are going to want to get paid soon, and rightfully so. Guys who are key backups are going to get offered big money to start by GMs who overvalue their abilities, and guys like Wilson and Sherman are going to want to be paid like the All-Pros they are. That’s when we’ll really find out the staying power of this roster and this method of building a team. The Jimmy Johnson Cowboy teams looked like a young juggernaut but before long the talented role players got picked off by desperate teams waving money around offering starting jobs and big dollars. That seems to be inevitable in Seattle as well. Wilson, Sherman, and a few other guys will get paid and that will make it hard to replace the guys who leave for greener pastures.
The front office will have its work cut for them this time next year; to their credit, they have completely flipped the roster that lost the Super Bowl to Pittsburgh in 2006 while staying competitive. But this is a new animal. They will have to be ruthlessly efficient in deciding which players are merely products of their system and which ones are uniquely talented beyond that, and in deciding which players have reached their sell by dates and should be discarded. Lynch and Harvin will be major test cases; Lynch is still going strong but has amassed seven years in the league at the running back position; in another year or two he will either be an older guy who can still play or just an old guy. Harvin has been injury prone for his entire career, but as we saw in the Super Bowl, when he does play he is a difference maker like few others. A choice lies ahead between continuing to pay him a big number for what could be part time play over the next few years and finding a healthier substitute.
So enjoy it while it lasts, Seahawk fans. This year was great and next year should at least come close. But the future beyond that is, as it always is in the NFL, a mystery wrapped in an enigma.