Pete Carroll and John Schneider have gone through 10 drafts together as the two people in charge of the Seattle Seahawks. Their 11th will take place this week, and it will be very different than the 10 that preceded it thanks to the COVID-19 crisis that has much of the world staying at home.
Instead of gathering in the Derrick Jensen draft room with the entire coaching staff and scouting department, Schneider, Carroll and everyone else involved will be working remotely from home, connected to each other through numerous Zoom calls, phone calls, text messages and just about any other form of remote communication you can think of.
"It's going to be a fascinating experience," Carroll said on a pre-draft press conference held on Zoom. "We've had tons of drafts over our lifetime that will never be remembered like this one will be, so we'll hopefully pull it off in great fashion and we've worked really hard to do that. As John said, everybody has been contributing. This is a chance to compete to figure it out. It's Wild Wild West figuring that out and so it's been exciting. It's been cool to see the process and we're ready to go."
But for all the challenges the Seahawks, like every team, will face this week when it comes to the draft process, they also have the perspective that there are much more important things going on in the world.
"It goes without saying that our prayers are with all the victims of everything that's going on, and also the first responders," Schneider said. "Thank you so much for what everybody's doing out there to protect us. With all of our social distancing with everything that's going on all around the world right now, I just really hope everybody's safe and everybody's taking care of themselves."
Schneider added, "We want to provide a lot of hope and entertainment for people in tough times."
Over the course of three days, the Seahawks and every other team will face challenges, and the process of adjusting to a new normal will extend beyond this weekend with teams figuring out how to get ready for the season while conducting a virtual offseason program, and with the future of training camp and the start of the regular season still up in the air as well. But for as strange and potentially difficult these times might be, Carroll thinks he and the rest of the organization will be better for it in the long run, and not just in their day jobs.
"I think all that we're enduring right now and working to figure out calls for us to be very introspective," Carroll said. "We all have extra time and we all have extra moments and we're all seeing things a little bit differently from the home setting and all that—family and kids and all the way out to our work, there's a lot going on. And I think it just carries over. I think that we are never going to be the same coming out of this. It's going to affect us in ways—I don't think it's going to affect us negatively—I think it's going to affect us in ways that we can grow and be more aware and more prepared for more adaptability and flexibility in our lives and all. So I think it's going to carry over. I think it's going to be part of our work and all of that. We're finding that we can meet like this and work like this and still make progress, whoever would have thought you could do that? We're adapting and figuring out how to get back to the workplace, too. In all ways, every aspect of this is challenging us. There's an openness to it and depth to it and introspection opportunities, and I'm hoping we'll all grow and be better for it, as crazy as that sounds through the difficulties and all, but hopefully we'll figure that out.
"I do know this—we all have to continue to help each other. We all need each other more so than ever as we find out in our quiet that we need the connections and we need the interactions and we need one another and we need the support and the pump up and the juice and all of that, and so it's an extraordinarily amazing time and hopefully it can lessen the hurt and pain and then also come out of this thing and be smarter and organize our leadership to take advantage of things at the right time and best time to help us all. Really, all the way through the whole spectrum, from the top to the bottom, everybody's got to work all the way through this in a different way. I think it will make us better. I hope so."
With the help of the team's IT department, Carroll and Schneider are both set up with their own mini draft rooms, complete with numerous monitors, the team's draft board and multiple phone lines. Schneider noted that he has "had a couple walls ripped up" in his house so his internet connection can handle the extra strain.
"It's definitely been a challenge, but everybody's done a great job of recreating my dining room into a—when you walk in the door, it's the draft room," Schneider said, "I'm a very visual person, so everything's there in case things fall apart from a technology standpoint. I think there's like, I don't know, it feels like 25 screens. But I like the one-on-one interaction. I like being able to have private conversations with Pete throughout the draft process."
Said Carroll: "The process is it calls for a lot of setup. Johnny has got his stuff going—he's got a couple things beyond what that I need. I've got boards that wrap around the room. I've got seven screens going, which is not uncomfortable for me. I kind of like all the activity. We've got our land lines. We have got our cell phones, our backup cell phones, all kinds of stuff… It's kind of cool. It's all high-tech. We have our own little room here to do our press conference thing that's set off to the side, as well. We just both hope that we don't get overloads on the circuits and everything shuts down, you know, because we've got a lot more things plugged in than we normally do around here."
As for the specific challenges, Schneider noted that, after a bit of a bumpy start, the mock draft held for NFL teams on Monday went "very smoothly." But one particular challenge that could affect a team that likes to trade as often as Seattle does, is how that negotiation process will play out when Carroll, Schneider and the rest of Seattle's front office are in different locations with the clock ticking. Schneider noted that Monday's mock was scripted by the league so it didn't simulate the type of negotiating that needs to take place to make a trade, and as a result the Seahawks will do another simulation Wednesday with multiple teams that won't be as scripted, allowed them to get a feel for what it would be like to try to make a draft trade with this setup.
"At this point, I would say I'm about 80 percent there," Schneider said when asked if he's comfortable with how the process of making a trade will go. "Like I said, we're going to practice with a couple teams tomorrow in a live version on the clock and be negotiating. We didn't negotiate with the people yesterday in the mock draft. It was all scripted for us… The negotiation part of it is something that we're going to still work on some more, so honestly, to say that I'm totally comfortable with it right now, I'm not. By tomorrow night, I will be."
When it comes to evaluating players both for the draft and in free agency, the Seahawks will be looking for players who can adjust quickly to a new team and new setting, skillsets that will be more important this year than ever. Already teams are losing valuable offseason workout program days—the Seahawks were scheduled to begin their in-person offseason program next week, while others would have started this week—and while the Seahawks will plan on a normal start to training camp until they're told otherwise, nothing is certain right now.
"Hopefully we are going to draft guys and pick up guys in free agency that can adapt quickly," Carroll said. "They are going to going to have to be able to make sense of stuff in a lot shorter time frame. They are going to have to process really well. They are going to have to have their mind and act together so they can put their best foot forward and all that… There's a lot of this that's going to be unique, and we don't know what the runway time is going to be once we get them. We won't know how much time we will have to prepare them."
Whether it's figuring out how to make draft trades or how to win the recruiting battle for top undrafted free agents, Carroll and Schneider hope their decade of experience working together, as well as the tight-knit relationship between the coaching staff and scouting department, pay dividends this week.
"One of the really positive parts about this is we do have a group, from the personnel to the coaching staff and the support group and performance people, we do know each other well, so we can get a lot out of a little bit sometimes when we talk to one another and exchange stuff," Carroll said. "I think there's a lot of confidence and connection here that's going to hopefully help, and we're going to try to kick butt in this process, and maybe some other teams aren't. We don't know what they are going to go. We don't have a clue what anybody else is doing. We are just doing this all on our own."
And as is the case in any situation for the Seahawks, they'll view this unique draft as a chance to do things better than anyone else.
"This really is a competition and we are up against trying to figure this thing out," Carroll said. "… We are battling and competing like always and going to try to make it come out really in a special way."