Seahawks general manager John Schneider and his wife, Traci, appeared on 710 ESPN Seattle Tuesday, and while there was plenty of football talk from Schneider, the main reason for their appearance was a topic that's near and dear to their hearts. April is Autism Awareness Month, and the Schneiders were on the Brock and Salk Show to talk about their work with Ben's Fund, the non-profit they started five years ago, naming it for their son Ben, who is autistic.
"We realized pretty early how incredibly expensive it is to care for a kiddo on the spectrum," Traci Schneider said. "So when we got to a point where we had a platform and were in a place with our lives and with our family that we could give back, we wanted to give back directly to families."
To date, Ben's Fund has raised over $1.4 million, using that money to give away more than 800 grants to families in the state of Washington. Ben's Fund has also worked with Microsoft to give away more than 400 Surface tablets to autistic children. And one of the big sources of funding for Ben's Fund is this month's Prime Time dinner event at El Gaucho in Bellevue. The dinner, which features Seahawks players serving as celebrity waiters, is sold out, but people can still donate or bid on online auction items at bensfund.seahawks.com.
As for football-related topics, here are three takeaways from what John Schneider had to say.
1. The 2016 draft includes "a good group" of offensive linemen.
If you're curious what the Seahawks offensive line will look like in 2016 following the free-agency departures of left tackle Russell Okung and right guard J.R. Sweezy, you're not alone. In a funny anecdote to illustrate that point, Schneider told a story about someone approaching him after attending mass at Seattle University's Chapel of St. Ignatius to express that concern.
"The guy pats me on the back and says, 'Make sure you take care of that offensive line,'" Schneider said with a laugh.
In explaining why the Seahawks currently have question marks on his line, he noted the amount of money the Seahawks have committed to their talented defense and to quarterback Russell Wilson, but Schneider also pointed to the trouble teams around the league are having finding quality linemen.
"It's extremely hard right now to find offensive line," Schneider said. "It's just a position over the last couple years that has not been especially strong in the draft…. It's just a matter of constantly trying to address that position, and it never stops. We addressed it early in free agency, we'll address it in the draft, then we'll see what's happening this summer."
This year, however, Schneider says the offensive line class is better than it has been in a while.
"Every draft has different tiers, different shelves all the way through," he said. "Right now, it's a good group. It's better than it has been in several years. There don't appear to be as many drop-offs… This one looks pretty consistent all the way through at this point."
2. Free agency included difficult decisions, as usual, and things moved quickly.
When asked about this year's free-agency period, which began a month ago, Schneider noted that things moved, "Extremely fast."
Every year, there is an initial frenzy as teams bid on the top players, many of whom sign the first day of the new league year, but what stood out to Schneider is how quickly the second wave followed.
"We figure there are three or four different phases is the way we look at it, and the guys who were kind of in the second phase went within two or three days of the first group," he said. "You have you guys who are the high, high-tier guys, and then all of a sudden kind of a second phase of guys came in really fast. So we needed to be prepared, and we definitely were. Trent (Kirchner), Scott (Fitterer), Dan (Morgan), Matt Thomas, all the guys on our staff did a great job getting those players in right away, our coaches did a great job recruiting the guys we wanted to recruit that we had identified as kind of role players, kind of prove-it type deals for us. Guys we could afford who we knew could help us in specific roles. It just went so fast is really the way to describe it."
What wasn't different about this year, however, was the difficult reality of not being able to retain everyone the Seahawks would like to keep in Seattle.
"They're all very hard (decisions), but we've seen this coming," Schneider said. "We knew that if we were going to be a consistent, championship-caliber team that it was going to be a situation—we've talked about this for several years now—where every year you're going to see players come and go. It's just a matter of trying to identify your core players and trying to retain them, but also trying to see how far you can go with people who may leave in free agency… We had to make a pecking order, that's what we do, that's our job, and try to identify those guys where we're either going to give you a big hug because we're keeping you, or we're going to give you a big hug because you've come into generational wealth."
Making a tough decision to let a player leave in free agency or to release a player for salary-cap reasons "never gets easier," Schneider said, "because we're in a people business. Everybody in the building, we try to wrap our arms around the players and make them the best they can possibly be. I look at Golden Tate like a little brother… There's a lot of respect and a lot of time and effort that goes into it."
3. Frank Clark's "ceiling is off the charts."
While Frank Clark didn't put up huge numbers as a rookie in 2015, he showed the Seahawks enough that they continue to have very high hopes for the second-round pick.
"His ceiling is off the charts," Schneider said. "He's a long, 270-pound man. I think he was still finding his way throughout the season last year. He's continuing to find his way. He's a young man who had a rough upbringing—I think everyone recognizes that—but he has overcome a lot of obstacles in his life... When you looked at his preseason last year, you're thinking, 'it's just about opportunity, this guy's is going to take over.' And he has that ability to take over games."
Schneider reiterated what Chris Clemons said on the same radio show a day earlier, which is that Clemons, who recently agreed to terms with Seattle on a contract, will help Clark grow.
"Guys like Chris, Michael (Bennett), Cliff (Avril), those veterans are going to be awesome for him," Schneider said.