Football season being over for the Seahawks means the busy season is just getting started for general manager John Schneider, who along with his scouting department and head coach Pete Carroll, will over the next few months shape what the Seahawks look like in 2016 though decisions they make in the draft, free agency and perhaps via trades.
Schneider went on 710 ESPN Seattle Friday to discuss what lies ahead for the Seahawks this offseason. Here are five things we learned from his conversation on the Brock and Salk Show.
1. The Seahawks plan to be aggressive, but smart this offseason.
As Schneider mentioned a couple of times in the interview, the Seahawks have 17 unrestricted free agents and seven restricted free agents on their roster, which means a lot of critical decisions await. Just as Carroll said on Monday, Schneider said they'd like to keep as much of the team intact as they can.
"We're a darn good football team," Schneider said. "We love our players. We have 17 unrestricted free agents coming up, and we're excited for the challenge of keeping this really cool puzzle together.
"We attack the offseason. We're going to attack it the same way we always have. Obviously we know what our deficiencies are, and we're going to try to compensate for those deficiencies as we go, but we're not going to crazy in one area and panic just because we think we're struggling there. We're going to be smart, we're going to be aggressive."
When it comes to being aggressive in free agency, that doesn't necessarily spending a ton of money on multiple players—"Now, we walk away from, shoot 70 percent of (free agent negotiations), maybe 80 percent of them," Schneider said—but rather being aggressive to understand the market, or "knowing what the Jones' are doing." Schneider pointed out that doing that in the past allowed Seattle to add Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in the 2013 offseason well after free agency had kicked off, and Ahtyba Rubin last year.
"We've got our work cut out for us, but we're really excited about it," Schneider said. "We're all really excited about the future in terms of where we are in terms of the core guys we have battled to have under contract over the last couple of years, the core of leaders on this team, but also our young class that just came in. There are several players people don't even know about yet, we're excited for people to get to see those guys."
As for the large free agent class from the 2015 team, Schneider is realistic enough to know that it's not feasible to keep everyone, even the players they really like. Schneider mentioned past Seahawks like Byron Maxwell, Walter Thurmond, Golden Tate, Breno Giacomini and James Carpenter as examples.
"We know there are going to unrestricted players that we have where we're going to give it a go, we're going to give it a great run to try to keep them, but we know we're going to have to make a decision that we can only go to this area, then after that it's like, 'hey congratulations man.'" Schneider said.
2. Depth on the 53-man roster isn't enough.
When it comes to roster depth in the NFL, most casual observers would point to the talent on a team's 53-man roster, but Schneider is looking for more than that. As Schneider told Carroll in one of their earliest meetings in 2010, one of his goals was to build a team where the players they cut in August and September are sought after by other teams. That vision fully came to fruition in 2013, when 21 players who spent time with the Seahawks in the offseason and training camp played for other teams that season.
Having that kind of depth every year is almost impossible in a league set up to foster parity, but it's still a goal Schneider continues to chase.
"We don't talk about the 53, we talk about 80, and doing whatever we can to improve that 80," he said. "With our group, in terms of the acquisition and how we put the team together, we want to have the best competition at every position so that it's incredibly hard for coaches to make decisions. Two years ago, when we got to 53, throughout that season, we had 21 players that were here that we had let go who played for other teams that season. That's when people are chasing you, that's when you know you have a darn good roster. That's what we need to get back."
Schneider understands that having that kind of depth year in and year out isn't easy. Winning means being at or near the bottom of the draft order and the waiver claim order, and a salary cap makes it hard to keep all the young talent they develop, especially when other team become more and more interested in players developed by a winning team. But those realities won't stop the Seahawks from seeking that 80-man depth.
"Now this league is built on parity, it's built on trying to rip apart teams once they're built," Schneider said. "Drafting low and claiming low, and that's great, you don't want to be drafting high and at the top of the claiming order… We use that as a badge of honor."
3. Schneider likes what his team was able to overcome, but feels like Seattle should still be playing.
Schneider was asked during the interview if he felt like the Seahawks underachieved this season, and it wasn't an easy question to answer. On one hand, the Seahawks had been to two straight Super Bowls, making expectations as high as they could be, so losing in the divisional round felt like coming up short. But on the other hand, the Seahawks struggled so much early this season, falling to 2-4 at one point, that the way they responded in order make the playoffs showed a lot about the team's resilience.
"I still feel like we still should be playing," Schneider said. "What we had to overcome early in the season, starting in St. Louis, going to Green Bay—that's a tough start—I just like the way the team came together. I look at it like, this is a team that's been to two Super Bowls in a row and five playoff appearances in in six years, so our expectations are very high, so yeah, to I would say (we did underachieve) to a certain extent."
4. The Seahawks want to get tougher this offseason.
When Schneider and Carroll first arrived in Seattle, Schneider looked at teams like Pittsburgh, Baltimore and San Francisco as models when it came to physical play.
"I remember when we got here, we talked about being a team that could go play anybody anywhere," Schneider said. "… At the time, the 'Niners in our division and (Pittsburgh and Baltimore) were clearly the most physical teams in the league. That's where we want to be, we want to be the bully. We don't want to get knocked around. We want to be bringing it all the time."
The Seahawks eventually became that team, though Schneider noted that this year, "There were times we were and there were times we weren't. That just goes along with some of our inconsistencies this year."
So when it comes to evaluating players this offseason, finding players who can help build up that toughness will be a priority, just as it is every year.
"That's our goal from a pure football acquisition—that's what I talk with our people about all the time—we talk about being tough, smart and reliable all the time," Schneider said. "Who are the players who are going to play hard, who are going to come bring it, are going to be able to survive in the locker room with real strong personalities and compete with those guys, and stand next to them side by side in the trenches? That's definitely what we're looking for."
5. Schneider addressed the futures of Jimmy Graham and Marshawn Lynch.
While Jimmy Graham's knee injury cut short his first season in Seattle, Schneider didn't have as negative of a view on Graham's year as a lot of people do.
"Jimmy had a great offseason," Schneider said. "I thought he had a great camp. Personally, I think people were a little hard on Jimmy. He started going when our offense started going. I look at it as just part of our maturation of our offense. I don't look at it like he wasn't the Jimmy of old. You're talking about a guy that gets doubled and bracket all the time. When you try forcing an offense, you try developing an offense around one person, that's when you run into trouble... This guy's a phenomenal football player. I understand why people would say, 'Why didn't he come in here and take the offense to another level early on?' But I think the whole offensive unit, we were just trying to find our way early on."
And Schneider also put to bed any notion of the Seahawks not bringing Graham back in 2016, saying yes when asked if there was "no question" about Graham being back.
The future on another star offensive player, running back Marshawn Lynch, is less clear, however. Lynch is under contract for next year, but has hinted in the past at retirement, and Schneider said that could be what ends up happening, though he prefaced his comments with, "I would have no idea" what Lynch will do.
"I know we're going to treat him with as much respect as we possibly can here," Schneider said. "Give him a little leeway to find his way in terms of what he wants to do. But I'm under the impression that he's leaning towards retirement."
Team photographer Rod Mar shot what turned out to be his final photo essay of the 2015 season, as the Seahawks traveled to North Carolina and fell to the Panthers in the NFC Divisional round of the NFL Playoffs.