By Danny O’Neil
NEW YORK – It took Seattle 30 seasons to play for its first Super Bowl.
And after an XL-sized disappointment in Detroit in February 2006, it took the Seahawks eight seasons, two coaching changes and a complete overhaul to get back to their sport’s biggest stage.
It wasn’t easy, and it certainly didn’t happen overnight, but after tallying nearly 150 roster moves in Pete Carroll’s first year as head coach, it’s possible now to look back and lay out in chronological order the five biggest risks Seattle took en route to reaching this moment:
1. Hiring Pete Carroll as coach and vice president of football operations | Jan. 11, 2010
The Seahawks had a coach when they reached a crossroads at the end of the 2009 season. The team had won nine games the previous two seasons – four of them against the Rams – and endured a transition from Mike Holmgren to Jim Mora that was not necessarily unpleasant but certainly awkward.
The Seahawks could have kept Mora. There was a financial incentive to do so given the fact he had three years remaining on his contract. There was a human component to that, too. Mora was coaching in his hometown. He had passed on job opportunities with Washington – both the NFL team and the university – to get that chance, only to be given a Tim Ruskell-assembled roster that was clearly inadequate.
Owner Paul Allen opted for a more extreme remedy – resetting all systems instead of rebooting. And he went out and hired a coach who was historically successful in nine seasons at USC but who had a record of 33-31 as an NFL coach and as many NFL playoff victories as Mora: one.
2. Parting ways with Matt Hasselbeck | July 29, 2011
Matt Hasselbeck was the franchise’s most successful quarterback when he and the Seahawks parted ways in 2011. (AP)
The NFL lockout ended. The doors just never reopened in Seattle. At least not for the franchise’s most successful quarterback, as the Seahawks opted to turn the page in a decision general manager John Schneider spent more than a year agonizing over. It was a situation that Schneider compared to what his boss in Green Bay faced with regard to Brett Favre.
“He had a lot of angst because he knew he was going to have to be the guy who told Brett it was time to move on,” Schneider said of Ted Thompson. “I felt that with Matt when I got here. Just because I was here when we acquired him the first time so I knew we were going to be going in a different direction at some point.”
It wasn’t a foregone conclusion that was going to be in 2011. The Seahawks tried to re-sign Hasselbeck, offering to guarantee to the first year and portion of the second season in the contract. The Seahawks put an expiration date on the offer at the end of February, saying that if it wasn’t accepted by the time of the league lockout everyone was expecting, then it might never be back on the table.
It wasn’t, Seattle choosing to sign Tarvaris Jackson and usher in a new era at quarterback.
3. Drafting Russell Wilson in the third round, No. 75 overall | April 27, 2012
No one in the Seahawks’ draft room was opposed to the decision to select Wilson. However, Schneider was the only one who wanted to pick him in the third round.
Good thing the Seahawks did. The Eagles were planning to choose Wilson later that round – with the very next pick, in fact – seeing him as a ready-made backup for Michael Vick.
Instead, Seattle landed the quarterback who was exactly 4 inches from being a sure-fire first-round pick. Two years later, Carroll was able to joke that Seattle should have chosen Wilson sooner in the draft. No one else in the league is laughing.
4. Naming Russell Wilson the starter | Aug. 26, 2012
Matt Flynn’s arm was sore and Wilson’s exhibition-game performance was incredible, so by the time the rookie was named Seattle’s starter it wasn’t quite unbelievable.
Seattle chose to start Russell Wilson at the beginning of his rookie season instead of letting him learn as a backup to free-agent acquisition Matt Flynn. (AP)
The decision was nothing short of shocking given the amount of money Seattle had paid to sign Flynn and the fact that starting the veteran while letting the rookie season on the bench was certainly the path of least resistance.
That has never been the route these Seahawks have traveled. Not under Carroll and Schneider, and after signing veterans like Charlie Whitehurst, then Jackson and finally Flynn, the Seahawks found their starting quarterback in an undersized rookie with oversized ambitions.
Has the experience changed the way Schneider evaluates quarterbacks?
“Since we got here, I think there’s lessons to be learned about how you acquire the player,” Schneider said. “But not like the skill set and the way he plays.”
5. Acquiring Percy Harvin | March 12, 2013
It’s too soon to evaluate the single-biggest personnel risk Seattle has taken over the past four years. Not just in terms of the money the Seahawks paid Harvin in a new contract, but the three picks they gave up for the privilege of paying him that contract, including last year’s first-round selection.
Harvin was injured this season, sidelined first by a hip injury that required surgery and then by a concussion. It wasn’t the start that anyone envisioned for his Seahawks career, but it’s also not the final judgment. He was a player acquired not to put the team over the top, but the manner in which Seattle had constructed the rest of this team offered the flexibility – financially and in terms of draft picks – to make its most aggressive move. Instead of using the No. 25 pick on a player unlikely to be a starter right away, the Seahawks landed someone who in their eyes is one of the 10 best offensive players in the league, quarterbacks excluded.
He played six quarters in Seattle’s first 18 games for a total of 33 snaps, yet here he is at the Super Bowl with five more years left on what was a long-term investment.
“I feel bad for him, the way that this has gone,” Schneider said. “I’m sure it’s been tough for him. I’m very happy for him now. I think this is incredibly exciting for Percy and his family and his teammates and the staff and our fans that he has an opportunity to play in the biggest game of the year.
“But I feel bad for him that this has gone the way it’s gone. But the best thing about it is that it’s a six-year contract and he’s a young man.”