Sunday, October 18, 2009

How to destroy an NFL football team


When Tim Ruskell took over the General Manager duties from Mike Holmgren in 2005, the Seattle Seahawks were stocked full of top-tier talent built for the unique West Coast Offense that Holmgren had run to near perfection since joining the Seahawks from the Green Bay Packers.

In 2005, the Seahawks went to the Super Bowl.

Critics hailed Ruskell's abilities as a GM, despite the fact that Holmgren, who handled all personnel decisions that built the team into the NFC powerhouse they had become, was the mechanic behind the sleek Seahawks engine.

And then Ruskell, basking in the glow of false confidence, placed a nuclear bomb deep within the recesses of the Seattle Seahawks franchise, slipped away into his fallout shelter, and waited, fingers twitching, eyes darting, wondering if anyone would be left alive to point the finger at him.

The nuclear bomb has officially exploded. For those of you interested in becoming a General Manager one day, or anyone struggling to figure out the salary cap penalties his franchise is mysteriously accruing in Madden 2010, this is an exploration in what NOT to do ... don't get confused though, Ruskell only built his bunker for one ... you'll be left to melt in the radiation.

Now, the Seahawks are in a unique position in the NFL because of their deep-pocketed superowner, Paul Allen. Where other GMs may struggle to find the cash to splash on free agents or to pay signing bonuses to high-caliber rookies, the Seahawks have always had plenty of money on hand to take care of business. But money doesn't solve everything (as we're going to find out after the 2011 lockout and the uncapped 2012 season ... yikes), and in Ruskell's case, it was the non-financially motivated decisions that led to the dramatic decline of the Seattle Seahawks since the 2005 Super Bowl.

Outside of the NBA Draft, the NFL Draft can have the biggest impact on revitalizing a franchise and restocking the team with great young talent. When Holmgren was playing house, the Seahawks made smart trades (bringing in QB Matt Hasselbeck from Green Bay) and smart draft picks (All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson, now with the undefeated Minnesota Vikings, whom Ruskell dumbfoundingly-decided not to resign a few years ago). But drafting isn't just about selecting the best-available players and plugging them in whenever they get a chance, it's about directly restocking the vital areas of a team:

  • Quarterback
  • Offensive tackle
  • Running back
  • Defensive end
  • Cornerback
  • Safety

Those are the six biggest needs to put together a successful franchise. You need offensive playmakers, someone to protect the blind side of your most important asset (your quarterback), someone to rush the opposing passer and penetrate the backfield, and finally a secondary that can properly defend against the pass.

In 2005, the Seahawks had all of those positions locked up with Pro-Bowlers (not professional bowlers, that wouldn't make sense) and successful role players. When Ruskell took over the franchise, however, he made the crucial mistake to not restock those positions with talented draft picks who could learn the position slowly from veterans in front of them before the natural "changing of the guard" could take place.

But Ruskell didn't just make that mistake once.

He made it four times.

Bill Belichick, the moody genius head coach of the New England Patriots, consistently used his draft picks, especially later-round draft picks, to fill his squad with barrels of ammunition that led the team to multiple Super Bowl titles in the decade. Tom Brady was famously drafted in the sixth round.

The point is that PLAYER EVALUATION is a General Manager's single most-important responsibility. A GM that can't properly evaluate talent, as the Seattle Mariners found out (cough ... Bill Bavasi ... cough), can single-handedly destroy your team. So the question hangs: Is Ruskell a good judge of talent? Is he capable of handling his primary function as an employee of the Seattle Seahawks? Would you keep a beer vendor who somehow filled every plastic cup with orange juice without ever realizing or accepting that he was bad at his job?

So just keeping in mind how much Belichick valued making smart draft picks and keeping in mind how critical player evaluation and restocking your team via the draft are, let's take a look at what Ruskell has done since he took over the team in 2005, starting with the 2006 NFL Draft.

2006 NFL Draft

  • Ruskell drafts CB Kelly Jennings (What's better than a beanpole 5'8" cornerback who can't cover, tackle, or sprint? Using a first-round draft pick on one! This pick is still haunting Seahawks fans, considering starting CB Marcus Trufant is hurt, they had to use free agent cash to bring back former Seahawk corner Ken Lucas, and they used another draft pick in 2007 on cornerback Josh Wilson, another tiny cornerback with injury-problems in the last few years ... I'm getting hives just remembering all of this stuff.)
  • Ruskell drafts DE Darryl Tapp (Just keep an eye on these numbers ... Total defensive linemen drafted by Tim Ruskell since 2006: 1, number of starters produced: 0)
  • Ruskell drafts OG Rob Sims (Just keep your other eye on these numbers ... Total offensive guards drafted by Tim Ruskell since 2006: 1, number of starters produced: 0)
  • Ruskell drafts FB David Kirtman (Never even heard of this guy, but the fact that we wasted a pick on him and then drafted fullback Owen Schmitt at the same position two years later should tell you everything you need to know.)
  • Ruskell drafts PUNTER RYAN PLACKEMEIER! (Holy crap! I didn't know that we actually wasted a draft pick on this guy! Plackemeier was cut from the 2009 Seahawks by Mike Holmgren after gaining a ton of offseason weight and averaging 40 yards per punt. Really tremendous use of a late-round draft pick.)

Needless to say, 2006 wasn't exactly the best draft class in franchise history. One terrible cornerback, a small defensive end who has only started a handful of games because better players were injured or ... weren't on the team, an offensive guard who finally got to start this season after veteran Mike Wahle retired only to end up getting hurt, a phantom fullback, and a punter that got cut three years after being drafted. Wow.

But it gets worse.

2007 NFL Draft

  • BELICHICK drafts S Brandon Meriweather with the Seahawks pick after the Seahawks traded the farm to get WR Deion Branch, a tragically-underperforming and often-injured receiver. (In just his second season, Meriweather had 83 tackles, two sacks, and four interceptions ... the Seahawks? Cut starting safety Brian Russell this year and promoted special teams player Jordan Babineaux to safety to try to get some production out of one of the worst secondaries in the NFL.)
  • Ruskell drafts CB Josh Wilson (Ah yes, the make-up pick. Jennings was so bad that Ruskell had to draft another corner the very next season. Jennings height was a major concern at cornerback, so Ruskell went out and drafted someone exactly the same height. Awesome.)
  • Ruskell drafts DT Brandon Mebane (Total defensive linemen drafted by Tim Ruskell since 2006: 2, number of starters produced: 0)
  • Ruskell drafts DE Baratka Atkins (Total defensive linemen drafted by Tim Ruskell since 2006: 3, number of starters produced: 0)
  • Ruskell drafts OG Mansfield Wrotto (Total offensive guards drafted by Tim Ruskell since 2006: 2, number of starters produced: 0)
  • Ruskell drafts LB Will Herring (Outside of special teams, Herring hadn't earned a sniff of playing time in four years before Leroy Hill, the Seahawks' starter, got injured in the first game of the 2009 season.)
  • Ruskell drafts WR Courtney Taylor (A small, cocky receiver with such bad hands and bad route running that he's been assigned almost exclusively to special teams duties for four straight years.)
  • Ruskell drafts WR Jordan Kent (Cut in 2009 after sustaining an injury in training camp and never producing outside of the preseason.)
  • Ruskell drafts OG Steve Vallos (Total offensive guards drafted by Tim Ruskell since 2006: 3, number of starters produced: 0)

See, I told you it got worse.

After two seasons, Ruskell had drafted three backup defensive linemen, three backup offensive linemen, two undersized cornerbacks, two wide receivers (and traded away a first-round pick for a third), and absolutely ZERO impact players at any of the crucial six positions. And yet nobody saw the time counting down on the team's sustained-success. The Seahawks kept winning, because they still had one of the best left tackles in the history of the game in Walter Jones, they still had Matt Hasselbeck, they still had Marcus Trufant and a healthy Patrick Kerney. They still had a decent offensive line. They still were scoring touchdowns. They were
SURVIVING.

But slowly and systematically, encouraged by the ignorance of Ruskell and the front office, the team fell apart.

Ruskell, lacking any foresight about an aging and injury-prone quarterback, an aging and injury-prone left tackle, an aging and injury-prone left guard, small wide receivers, small cornerbacks, a lack of depth at safety, a lack of depth at running back, and a completely ineffective defensive line, kept plodding away like the Band-Aids and silly string would hold.

2008 NFL Draft

  • Ruskell drafts DE Lawrence Jackson (Jackson was so bad in his first season that there were rumors the former first-round draft pick was actually going to be cut prior to the start of his second season. Incredible. Let's check the scoreboard! Total defensive linemen drafted by Tim Ruskell since 2006: 4, number of starters produced: 0)
  • Ruskell drafts TE John Carlson (I have to concede on this one. Carlson has been a bit of a revelation at tight end for the Seahawks. He set a few team records in his rookie year at tight end and looks to have the one ingredient none of Ruskell's other draft choices have: Potential. That being said, Carlson has been underwhelming this year outside of opening day and seems to be dropping a lot of passes, including three this past Sunday.)
  • Ruskell drafts DT Red Bryant (More defensive linemen anyone? Total defensive linemen drafted by Tim Ruskell since 2006: 5, number of starters produced: 0)
  • Ruskell drafts FB Owen Schmitt (The only thing Owen Schmitt has done in his short NFL career is hit himself in the head with his helmet to the point of massive blood loss.)
  • Ruskell drafts LONG SNAPPER Tyler Schmitt (Seriously? A long snapper? We drafted a long snapper?!)
  • Ruskell drafts RB Justin Forsett (A decent third-string running back, Forsett has had major issues fumbling the ball when getting any consistent playing time and has spent most of his young career on special teams or watching T.J. Duckett, another Ruskell free agent signing who ended up getting cut this season, and Edgerrin James, yet another Ruskell free agent signing who is so far past his prime the Arizona Cardinals, inter-divisional rivals to the Seahawks, let James walk a year after reaching the Super Bowl, get trash-time carries in blowout losses.)
  • Ruskell drafts K Brandon Coutou (Cut in 2009 because we drafted him when we already had a starting kicker. Of all the positions to draft a young replacement at, why in the world would Ruskell pick kicker? Why? Explain it to me. I'm waiting.)

The Seahawks finished 4-12 last year. Hasselbeck spent the majority of the season injured. Walter Jones got injured. Wahle retired. Holmgren left the team and was replaced, along with his offensive strategies, with Jim Mora. The new coach inherited a team with more injury problems than a retirement community and now sits at 2-4 before a bye-week after losing 27-3 to the Arizona Cardinals at home ... Hasselbeck, still recovering from another injury, was 10-29 passing for 112 yards (3.9 yards per completion ...) and an interception.

Who do they have backing up Hasselbeck? Seneca Wallace, a 28-year-old lifetime backup QB who's too short to see over his offensive linemen. And in 2009, when the Hawks ended up with the fourth draft pick in a loaded draft, did Ruskell attack any of the critical six areas?

2009 NFL Draft

  • Ruskell selects LB Aaron Curry (With the fourth pick in the draft, passing on a litany of offensive talent, including quarterback Mark Sanchez, two fantastic young cornerbacks in Malcolm Jenkins and Vontae Davis, two great young running backs in Knowshon Moreno and Beanie Wells, a swarm of first-round offensive tackles and impact defensive ends, Ruskell drafted a LINEBACKER. Is Curry a freak? Sure. Is he going to be a great NFL linebacker? Sure. But the Hawks had just resigned OLB Leroy Hill to a long-term contract and had Pro-Bowl ILB Lofa Tatupu in the middle. Spending the type of money first-round picks get in the NFL on another linebacker seemed at the time like a slippery slope. The Seahawks have a defense built like an Oreo now: A crappy cracker defensive line, fantastic creamy linebackers, and another crappy cracker in the secondary. With Hasselbeck coming off an injury, Walter Jones undergoing offseason surgery, and serious depth issues at nearly every position outside of linebacker, Ruskell's decision to select Curry leaves some serious questions to be asked.)
  • Ruskell selects OG Max Unger (Total offensive guards drafted by Tim Ruskell since 2006: 4, number of starters produced: 1. Aha! One! He got one right! Unger's a starter! Now ... would he be a starter if Ruskell hadn't whiffed on the other three guards? Doubtful. Would he be a starter if Ruskell had kept Hutch and put more money into the offensive line instead of wasting it on backups for the past three years? Double-doubtful.)
  • Ruskell selects WR Deon Butler (Yet another short wide receiver ... maybe I should've started a count on them too, especially considering the Hawks splashed out big money on free agent T.J. Houshmandzadeh this offseason, bringing their short wide-receiver count up to about 12,409 over the last four seasons. Let's check out Butler's stats this year for fun: 5 games, 3 receptions, 30 yards, 0 touchdowns. Well then.)
  • Ruskell selects QB Mike Teel (Hooray! A backup quarterback! It only took four years and the sixth round of the 2009 NFL Draft for Ruskell to even think about the future of the team. But what exactly is that future? Is Ruskell going to draft a QB next year in the first round with one of the two Seahawks picks? If so, is Seneca Wallace no longer on the team? And if that's the case, is Teel the backup even though when Hasselbeck got hurt this year Teel didn't even get a snap in practice because he was so far behind Wallace on learning the new Greg Knapp-designed offense?)
  • Ruskell selects S Courtney Greene (Hooray! A safety! It only took four years and the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft for Ruskell to think about the future of the secondary too. Unreal. Obviously it's too early at this point to make any judgments about Greene as a safety, but read into this at your whim: The Seahawks, after ditching S Brian Russell in the preseason, promoted Babineaux and had to sign Lawyer Milloy, an aging veteran without a team, to play backup safety.)

Ruskell's contract expires this year.

Here's hoping Paul Allen can even find his bunker to fire him.

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