If there was any doubt before this season began, there can be no mistake now : The Raiders are firmly entrenched in a full-scale rebuild. Whatever may have been in place in the past two years, for better or worse, is now not only a thing of the past, but of a prior era. Reggie McKenzie has a large task ahead of him and he will make his fame with his success or else he will fade and become just another in a line of GM failures. Looking forward, it may be instructive to compare and contrast how the Raiders are progressing along their rebuild against other teams that have gone on such an undertaking.
Previously, as an exercise, I looked at how the Green Bay Packers and Ted Thompson built the current Model Organization [link]. In this study, I look at another team that has captured the fancy of the NFL public : the Seattle Seahawks. While most casual fans will see the Seahawks as an overnight sensation, there is far more to the story than that. This rebuild has been in place since the end of the 2009 season and Two (main) men have been working hard to build that franchise into what it is today, a young, hungry, exciting team that's loaded with talent and looking to storm the playoffs much the same way that the Green Bay Packers did in 2010.
Full Blog Post here : [link]
The Seahawks under Mike Holmgren's leaderships went from being a perennial playoff team (with a Superbowl appearance) and suddenly "fell off the table" and became one of the worst teams in the NFL in the worst division in the NFL.
2009 saw Holmgren gone and replaced by Jim Mora Jr who did very little except to firmly entrench the team as a bottom-dweller. The only reason they did not finish last in the Division was the benefit of having the Rams (1-15). In fact, two of the 5 wins came against the hapless Rams (who boasted having Kyle Boller as their QB for 7 games).
Mora's offensive coordinator at this time was none other than Greg Knapp. Under Knapp's guidance, the Seahawks' offense, led by Matt Hasselbeck and Julius Jones, would finish 25th in total offense, 15th in passing offense and 26th in rushing offense. After this season Knapp would move on to be the QB Coach of Houston.
What happened next is an example of a total franchise makeover. The architect of the organization was 1 year removed (Mike Holmgren) and the team direction was changing. Before the end of the 2009 season, the General Manager Tim Ruskell would resign and Rubston Webster would take over as interim GM. Webster would leave for the Titans in the offseason.
Clearly the team was in flux. The organization would be changing their Front Office and with that, the entire team identity would be shifting. The current roster was aging with little talent evident and while Jim Mora Jr showed some indications that he might be a good head coach, the winds of change meant that he would be fired. Mora would land on his feet and prove himself; he was hired as UCLA's Head Coach just prior to the 2012 season and immediately take them to the PAC-12 Championship game in 2012.
In 2010, the Seahawks found the man to lead their team, USC Head Coach (and former Jets and Patriots HC) Pete Carroll. Whatever the exact reason (depending on whom you ask), Carroll was ready to try his hand at the NFL again. With Carroll on board, the Seahawks would then look for a GM who would be sympatico with Carroll. The Seahawks would look to the Green Bay Packers to find their new GM. The team that, in 2005, took the Seahawks' VP of Football Operations for their GM would now surrender their own Director of Football Operations to the Seahawks. John Schneider took over as the Seahawks GM in Jan of 2010. (h/t to alekzw)
Side note : when Schneider left the Packers, his position of Director of Football operations was filled by Reggie McKenzie.
John Schneider would then bring in Pete Carroll to be the Head Coach (who would replace Greg Knapp with Jeremy Bates) and the rebuild would begin. From 2010 to 2012, the team would be nearly entirely made over. The players that formed the heart of the 2005 Superbowl team would leave and would be replaced by young up-and-comers.
There were lots of hits, but there were also quite a few mis-steps--some laughably bad--but what was clear was the approach that Schneider and Carroll were taking : they were scouting and acquiring talent and they were rotating players as much as possible. They didn't have much talent and it was clear that they were after increasing the talent level and that they didn't care how they did it or where it came from.
They didn't have the benefit of a Herschel Walker-type player to trade away so instead they did the best the could with what they had. They acquired lesser name players, took chances with unknowns guys or underperformers on other teams, made a few plays in free agency, and then had some fantastic drafts with the bulk in mid to late rounds.
It took 2 full years and 3 offseasons to remake the team. In that time, the Seahawks faced the awkward situation of winning a game that some (many?) of their fans wanted them to LOSE! The final game of the 2010 season cost the Seahawks 12-to-18 spots in the draft (from #25 to between 7-13, depending on tie-breaker),. But that 2010 Wild Card game they hosted appears to have invigorated an entire organization and fan base. Everyone remembers the Marshawn Lynch Beast Run at the end of that game and that play more than any other has defined this resurgent Seahawks team.
On a side note, if the Seahawks had lost their final game of the 2010 season, they may have been in position to draft JJ Watt! This Seattle defense with JJ Watt would have not been fair!
After their Year 1 Post Season success, 2011 saw some changes in the coaching staff with Darrell Bevel being hired from Minnesota and former Raiders HC making his way northwards to be the Seahawks' new Offensive Line Coach.
In the first year of their new offense, with Tarvaris Jackson as their QB, and faced with the Harbaugh-led 49ers and a surpisingly stronger Arizona Cardinals team, both of whom boasted stellar defenses, the Seahawks repeated their 7-9 record but fell to 3rd in the division, ahead of only the lowly 2-14 St Louis Rams. Note that two of the Seahawks' 7 wins in 2011 came against the Rams, 1 would come against the Cardinals early in the year, 1 would be against the underperforming Dream Team Eagles, and 1 would be against the Bears with Caleb Hanie. These were not impressive wins.
2012 would prove to be important for this organization and perhaps both Schneider and Carroll's jobs. The Russell Wilson dream season would begin and after this past Week 16 win over the 49ers, the Seahawks are currently 10-5 and a 1/2 game behind SF for the NFC West lead. They've caused a buzz around the entire NFL and many have dubbed them "Team no one wants to play." If they go on a playoff run like the Packers or the Giants have, the Pacific Northwest will simply explode and everyone will be studying the "Seahawk Way."
Most importantly, the team is in a good position for both the present and the near future. The fan base is excited and the organization has some stability.
They showed a model of how to totally rebuild an organization quickly and this seems to be similar to what the Raiders and Reggie McKenzie are trying to do. Seattle had the advantage of a much better salary cap situation, but overall the approach appears the same. We will have wait and see whether the results are similar, though.
They turned over 9 starters from their team (perhaps 8 depending on how you view Walter Jones), including former Pro Bowlers Walter Jones, Patrick Kerney, and TJ Housh. And then they added a bunch of guys, some of whom would be great, some would be ok, and some would be awful.
The result of this turnover was a slight improvement from the previous 5-11 to 7-9 in that wasteland of the NFC West. 5 of these 7 wins came against 6-10 SF, 5-11 Arizona (twice), 7-9 St Louis, and 2-14 Carolina. But those 7 wins would be good enough to win the NFCWest and host the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card game.
This 2010 season provided 8 players who would start on the 2012 team :
Marshawn Lynch, Russell Okung, Golden Tate, Breno Giacommo on offense
Chris Clemons, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor on defense
Leon Washington on Special Teams
4 of them (Okung, Lynch, Chancellor and Thomas) would be Pro Bowlers.
After Carroll's first year, there would be a little bit of a shakeup in the Coaching staff. Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates (who Carroll brought with him from USC) and Offensive Line coach Art Valero would be fired. In would come Darrell Bevel and new offensive line coach Tom Cable.
These two combined would lead the revitalization of the Seattle run offense. They went from 31st in the league (1424 yards) in 2010 to 23rd in the league (1756 yards); but more importantly, the foundation for their run game was being installed. This would pay huge dividends in 2012 when the running game would explode as the #2 team (2426 yards) after Week 16.
The Seahawks would let Matt Hasselbeck leave via Free Agency as his contract expired; he would end up signing with Tennessee. Schneider and Carroll would attempt to replace him with newly acquired Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst. Neither would prove to be competent and this was perhaps the biggest mistake made this year (though depending on contract demands, it may have been the correct long-term move). The absolute mess at the QB position would keep the Seahawks as a floundering team and hide the substantial growth and development of the rest of the team.
The Seahawks would sign two street free agents that no one else wanted. These two signings both seemed innocuous at the time but both would become starters.
CB Brandon Browner and former Raider OG Paul McQuistan.
These moves combined with 5th round pick Richard Sherman, 4th round pick KJ Wright, and 3rd round pick OG John Moffitt would provide the team with 5 starters and 2 Pro Bowlers (Sherman and Browner).
The starting CB tandem of Sherman and Browner, quite possibly the best in the NFL in 2012, would be acquired in 2011 for the price of a 5th rounder.
KJ Wright's emergence allowed the Seahawks to get rid of Aaron Curry (and his contract) for a 7th and a conditional later pick (5th in 2012).
With Darrell Bevel taking over as the offensive coordinator, the Seahawks would bring in two players that played under him in Minnesota. Tarvaris Jackson had trained in the system in Minnesota and would run it in Seattle and Sidney Rice (5yr, $41M) would provide an elite #1 target (83 rec, 1312 yds, 8 TDs in his previous non-injury year).
While Tarvaris Jackson would turn into a mistake, Sidney Rice would be a solid contributor, though perhaps not to the level of his contract.
After Mike Williams' solid first year in Seattle (65 rec, 751 yds, 2TDs), he received a nice 3yr/$11.2M deal; but it was a deal that was built to allow the Seahawks to get out of it easily at any time ($500K signing bonus, for instance).
After hiring former Raiders' head coach Tom Cable to be their Offensive Line Coach, the Seahawks would sign two Raiders' free agents to help install his blocking system : TE Zach Miller 5yr/$34M and Robert Gallery (3yrs/$15M). Gallery was a clear mistake and retired the following year. While Zach Miller is solid and a contributor to the 2012 offense, he's not yet lived up to his big-dollar contract.
They would make up for those under-performing free agents by picking up some more bargains. Undrafted Free Agent WR Doug Baldwin would grow into a starter and former 2nd round pick Alan Branch (cut by the Cardinals) would become a starting DT for them.
The team would finish with the same 7-9 record as in 2010. But with the emergence of the 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals, the Seahawks would finish 3rd in the NFC West.
From the outside this season would appear to be a step backwards, but the core of the team, especially on defense, was being put into place. The team was still not fully put together, but the talent was there.
These 5 stars on the defense were acquired in the past two years :
These 8 other starters on the offense were acquired in the past two years :
So in the two years Pete Carroll acquired 13 starters, including 6 Pro Bowlers and 2 former pro Bowlers (in Rice and Miller), mostly as lower round draft picks, which equates to low cap numbers allowing for higher roster flexibility.
With that core in place, Pete Carroll could now pursue his biggest need : a starting QB. The loss of Matt Hasselbeck, combined with the Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst was a major misstep and was holding the team back, despite the progress made at nearly all other positions on the team.
Their big splash move in the offseason (made possible by that aforementioned cap flexiblity) would be former Green Bay QB Matt Flynn. They gave him a 3yr/$19.5M contract with $10M guaranteed.
They would then draft Russell Wilson in the 3rd round and sign him to a 4 yr/$2.9M contract. And against all odds, the 3rd rounder beat out the big name free agent signing and the rest was history (or is history being made). This is yet another example of a fantastic bargain that helps the Seahawks manage their Cap! They would also find their starting MLB (and another seeming Pro Bowler To Be) with the 2nd round pick of Bobby Wagner and a backup-RB/RB-of-the-future in Robert Turbin in the 4th.
The big draft day name first rounder Pass rusher Bruce Irvin at #15. While Irvin is the more well known player, Bobby Wagner was the more important pick. With the 2nd and 3rd round picks, Schneider/Carroll got their QB on offense and their QB on defense. With the 47th pick of their draft, they got a Day 1 starter who is growing into a top-tier MLB, the player that Rolando McClain was supposed to be. And Wagner is another bargain at 4yrs, $4.3M. A perfect example (actually ANOTHER perfect example) of how a great draft can impact a team.
Seattle wasn't so involved in free agency, but they did have one very important free agent moves; it was re-signing one of their own : DT-turned-DE Red Bryant. While not known much beyond the Pac Northwest, he's one of the keys to their defense, as well as a wicked kick blocker on the Field Goal team. The Seahawks acknowledged that with a 5 yr/$35M contract with $14.5M guaranteed.
WR Mike Williams, who was a key player in the 2009 Wild Card victory over New Orleans, fell off substantially after getting his new contract (18 rec, 236 yards, 1TD) and was overtaken by Doug Baldwin in productivity. Because of Schneider's foresight in writing a flexible contract, Williams was cut with little cap effect..
With both Wilson and Wagner emerging as forces, with Irvin a growing force as a situational pass rusher, and with Turbin providing depth at RB, the Seahawks added needed key pieces that helped bring the entire team. The Seattle Seahawks have emerged as not only a playoff contender for 2012, but a potentially long-term dominant team with a roster littered with stars and emerging superstars.
On the 2012 roster, there are 3 starters left from 2009. DT Brandon Mebane, LB Leroy Hill, C Max Unger (at a different position), and punter Jon Ryan. (note: Red Bryan was on the 2009 roster but was inactive 10 games and not a major contributor).
What helped this roster turnover was that the salary cap situation was good and allowed them to go out and get some free agents (helped by retiring aging players and expiring contracts). They also had a full complement of draft picks which they turned into more picks. They also benefitted from Impatient Josh McDaniels giving up his 1st rounder in 2010.
In their three drafts, Schneider and Carroll had 9, 9, and 10 picks. In three drafts, they had 28 picks, 7 more than the norm of 7 picks; this means that the Seahawks effectively had 4 drafts in the past three years! And out of those 28 draft picks, they found loads of talent, including 6 stars, another 4 starters, and a couple of important backups. That's 12+ major roster contributors in three drafts.
Here's a table that shows how the Seahawks turned over their starters (roughly since "starter" changes over the course of a year depending on injuries and play) :
Whew. That's turning over a roster and that's what Raiders fans can hope for.
How Reggie Compares
Unfortunately for the Raiders, their road is much harder. The cap situation is much worse, magnifying each mistake and allowing for fewer attempts in free agency, and allowing for little risk-taking. And it also decreases the ability to acquire an impact player outside of the draft. Even a player like Chris Clemons whose price tag is moderate would be out of McKenzie's spending zone!
The draft situation was downright awful. Where the Seahawks had 2 PRIME first round draft picks (#6 and #14) in their first draft and 9 total draft picks, Reggie McKenzie had to deal with losing his 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th picks, and 7th picks though picking up end-of-round 3rd, 4th, and 5th compensation picks. McKenzie ended up with 6 picks starting with pick #95 (note: Carroll/Schneider had drafted Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, and Golden Tate all before pick #95 in their draft).
Here's a look at Seattle's first draft with McKenzie's first draft slots shown in reference :
1st, #6, Russell Okung, OT
1st, #14, Earl Thomas, S
2nd, #60, Golden Tate, WR
Reggie : #95, Tony Bergstrom
4th, #111, Walter Thurmond, DB
4th, #127, EJ Wilson, DE
Reggie : #129 : Miles Burris
5th, #133, Kam Chancellor, FS
Reggie : #158 : Jack Crawford
Reggie : #168 : Juron Criner
6th, #185, Anthony McCoy, TE
Reggie : #189 : Christo Bilukidi
Reggie : #230 : Nathan Stupar
7th, #236, Dexter Davis, DE
7th, #245, Jameson Konz, WR
Reggie : UDFA : Rod Streater
Reggie : UDFA : Lucas Nix
9 picks v 6 picks, but McKenzie found 2 UDFAs that made the roster, giving this more of a 9 to 8 look.
The Seahawks had a difficult cap situation caused by their five big contracts, but those contracts pale in comparison to what Reggie was dealing with in Stanford Routt, Kamerion Wimbley, Richard Seymour, Michael Huff, McClain, McFadden, and DHB.
Here's a list of those Raiders' big (total dollar) contracts side-by-side with the Seahawks' contracts :
McFadden : 6yr/$60M
Sea : Aaron Curry (2009) : 6yr, $60M
Routt : 5yr/$54M
Sea : Walter Jones (2005) : 7yr, $52.5M
Kelly : 7yr/$50M
Wimbley : 5yr/$49M
McClain : 5yr/$40M
Sea: TJ Houshmandzadeh (2009) : 5yr, $40M
Sea: Patrick Kerney (2006) : 6 yr, $39.5M
Sea: Deion Branch (2006) : 6yr, $39M
Heyward-Bey : 5yr/$38M
Huff : 4yr/$32M
Seymour : 2yr/$30M
The Seahawks (aided by two retirements) got out from under $231M worth of contracts in two full years.
Reggie McKenzie is working to do similarly, but he's dealing with over 50% more dollars to deal with; the Raiders' contracts sum to a mind-boggling $353M. In his first year, McKenzie released Routt and Wimbley, shedding nearly 30% of those outrageous contract dollars, which equated to $103M. He also restructured Seymour to stretch a few cap dollars out.
In Year two, it appears a near certainty that both Seymour and McClain will be gone. That's another $70M cut, 20% of those initial dollars.
Consider this, after Reggie McKenzie cuts Routt, Wimbley, Seymour, and McClain, the Raiders' initial total of big contracts is down to $180M.
So, after two years of making hard decisions and cutting big bad contracts, Reggie McKenzie will have reduced the total contract dollars from the previous administration down to just slightly better than what the Seahawks had at the beginning of their rebuild. This should put into perspective exactly how poor the financial situation was (and still is) within the Raiders' organization. As bad as the Seattle contracts were, the Raiders' contracts were about 50% worse, compounding the difficulty of the rebuild.
But in 2012, the roster turnover has already begun in earnest. Here's a table look at how the "starters" have turned over (it's even more stunning if we factor in Seymour, McClain, Bartell, Spencer, and Huff as well) :
The going might be slower, but the approach seems similar: turn over the roster, find inexpensive talent, and increase the talent level. With some savvy work and some luck, the Raiders might start to show a turnaround, but it may be overly optimistic to expect the Raiders to have as rapid a rebuild as the Seahawks.
We'll see what happens in Year 2 of McKenzie's tenure and that will go a long way to give us an indication of how it is all progressing, but we may not know we are there until we are there.
One of the biggest things to see here is that in 2012, when it all came together, it all came together all of a sudden. In the previous years, while in the midst of the rebuilt, it was not clear to those outside the Building where the team was. The team appeared a mess and with back to back 7-9 years, there was not indication of progress and many were getting restless. At the beginning of the 2012 season, very few Seahawks fans expected what they have right now.