Since ‘that’ playcalling in Arizona in 2014, drama has never been far from the Seattle Seahawks. From Richard Sherman trying to fight Kris Richard to ugly departures of players such as Percy Harvin and Michael Bennett, the Seahawks have kept Seattle’s media busy.
The NFL’s annual organized activities have become notorious for hold-outs in recent years, with players such as Le’Veon Bell becoming notorious for simply not turning up, but the drama in Seattle appears to be less comedic. Earl Thomas’ contract situation has been the main problem for Seattle over the last two years, and it intensified when Earl Thomas broke his leg in week 13 of the 2016 season.
Football players have always questioned their longevity in such a brutal sport, but Earl Thomas believes he should be paid as he is the best free safety in football. In his own words, Thomas tweeted that he should be taken care of ‘based on his production in the last eight years’.
To call him wrong at this point would be plain wrong, Thomas is a lock for the hall of fame, and he is the main reason that Pete Carroll’s scheme has worked so well since he entered the NFL. Carroll’s defence isn’t particularly aggressive or creative, he instead plays a 4-2-5 formation with pure cover-3 on the back end. To put it bluntly. Earl Thomas is probably the most valuable defensive back in football, purely because he is the reason the Seahawks can play such a simple scheme.
For most NFL teams, keeping a lock for the hall of fame who is still legitimately an all-pro player, would be a no-brainer, but the Seahawks are not like other NFL teams, and Pete Carroll operates differently to any other coach. People seem to enjoy criticising Pete Carroll, but since he returned to the NFL, the only coach with more playoff wins than him is Bill Belichick, and it’s not like Belichick had a particularly difficult path to most of those wins, as he beat the likes of Blake Bortles and Joe Flacco in those runs. Richard Sherman was critical of Carroll’s approach to roster building, saying it suited the college game better. Again, Carroll has won more games than anyone else since returning to the NFL, so Sherman’s comments are probably misplaced at best.
You may wonder how this is relevant to the Thomas situation, and the answer is simple- Pete Carroll trusts his team building to win out in the long-term, and that is why he is quite happy to let people leave, and bring new guys in. Many outside Seattle are rightfully saying Seattle should just pay Thomas, but Carroll disagrees, and his recent comments were quite enlightening. As usual with Carroll, his comments were bland and by the book with a slight hint of positivity drizzled in, but what worried most about these comments was that it didn’t suggest Carroll was going to do much to remedy the situation, as all he said was ‘we’ll let itself play out’.
Carroll’s lack of urgency on the issue has caused some panic amongst Seattle fans, but personally, it doesn’t worry me as much. Thomas is a brilliant player, but if anyone can rebuild a defense using mid-round draft picks, it’s Pete Carroll. Many of my NFL supporting friends tell me I should be concerned about the loss of multiple all-pros, and while the revolving door on the defensive line is concerning, the secondary doesn’t. Carroll genuinely might be the best defensive backs coach of all time, and this Front Office has continually drafted and signed excellent safeties and corners. Essentially, Pete Carroll has earned the right to be trusted, and I will continue to do so until the numbers in the wins column start to dwindle.
After a few years of diversifying schemes and trying to do things differently, Pete Carroll’s offseason expressed a desire to go back to basics. Both coordinators in Darrell Bevell and Kris Richard were fired, with Brian Schottenheimer and Ken Norton arriving. Bevell’s firing was puzzling, but Kris Richard’s made a lot of sense. After taking over from Dan Quinn in 2014, Richard looked to diversify the scheme and he added more man coverage and blitz packages, but Carroll’s dismissal of him suggests that he didn’t agree with expanding the scheme. It’s hard to disagree with Carroll on this one, the Seahawks had a winning formula, and Carroll’s scheme has gotten results since the 1980s, why change it when it clearly still works?
Earl Thomas has no doubt been a big part of what Seattle have done defensively, no one will deny it, not even Pete Carroll. But Carroll trusts his talent evaluating skills and scheme more than he would ever trust one individual, and this is the chief reason that Thomas will likely be in another jersey in September.
Something many are overlooking in this discussion is that Seattle prepared for this likelihood in the 2017 NFL Draft. Seattle had an unholy amount of picks due to trades and the beauty of compensatory picks, and Seattle drafted four secondary players, with three of these being drafted in the top four rounds.
Carroll generally likes to wait on his secondary selections, but the fact he took these guys so high shows two things; one is that he rates these guys very highly, but the other is that he knew the changing of the guard was going to come sooner rather than later.
Seattle believe they have found an upgrade at strong safety in Bradley McDougald, as he is quite clearly better in coverage than Kam Chancellor, who was at his best as a pure hard hitting run stopping safety. With the way the NFL is going, having three safeties who can cover is not a bad thing.
The man to watch though, and the man who makes me believe in this process, is Tedric Thompson. The former Colorado safety looks as if he is going to be the next man up as the cover-3 safety, with Seahawks beat writer Gregg Bell suggesting that this has been the case in practice.
Twitter: Before, when #Seahawks expected Earl Thomas to show up, Bradley McDougald was fill-in FS for him while Delano Hill… https://t.co/3EPYQHAyl3 (@gbellseattle)
Thompson’s tape was mouthwatering, and metrics back him up too, with Pro Football Focus giving him the best coverage grade amongst all safeties in his final year as a Colorado Buffalo. Thompson has the range of Thomas, but we are yet to know if he has the play recognition of Thomas. Regardless, there is definitely reason to be excited about this Seahawks secondary, which also includes a guy the Seahawks believe can be elite in Shaq Griffin, and a brutal coverage corner in Tre Flowers of Oklahoma State.
This secondary is being labelled the ‘legion of whom’, and while this is an attempt to be disrespectful from opposition fans, it’s actually proof that Pete Carroll is willing to do whatever it takes to win, and he doesn’t let other things influence him. Pete Carroll’s draft selections in 2012 were ridiculed by NFL Network, with the selection of Bruce Irvin in round one being so ‘bad’ in the eyes of TV presenters, that NFL Network didn’t even have any tape ready as they didn’t expect him to go that high. That draft also saw Pete Carroll ridiculed for taking Bobby Wagner over Andy Dalton, and taking a short QB in Russell Wilson. Irvin was great, and Wagner and Wilson are both on Hall of Fame trajectories, so that Pete Carroll guy might actually know what he’s doing.
Essentially, Pete Carroll has gotten nearly every move right since entering the NFL, even the ones that were highly criticised. His talent evaluating skills are what make him one of the all-time great coaches, and until those evaluating skills clearly take a hit and stop producing results, I will continue to trust him. Earl Thomas has been an amazing player for Seattle, and he has given me some of the greatest moments of my life so far, but until they give me a reason not to, I will trust John Schneider and Pete Carroll.