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Make no mistake, the Seahawks were willing to admit theirs with John Moffitt

Trading guard John Moffitt is another example of how the Seahawks operate differently than most NFL teams. (AP)

By Danny O’Neil

Guard John Moffitt turned out to be one of the biggest draft-day mistakes in John Schneider’s tenure as general manager, but his trade is also one of the reasons the Seahawks have become so successful.

It’s not as contradictory as it sounds. You just have to look beyond this individual transaction and see the larger picture because while the draft will always be the Seahawks’ lifeline, they are not going to be beholden to the position where players were selected.

Not in 2010 when they released defensive end E.J. Wilson – a fourth-round pick – midway through his rookie season. Not the past two years when a pair of fifth-rounders failed to make the 53-man roster. And certainly not this week when Moffitt – a starter less than a year ago – was traded to Cleveland for Brian Sanford, a defensive lineman who has spent most of his three NFL seasons on the Browns’ practice squad.

Moffitt was a third-round pick, chosen the same year as fellow offensive lineman James Carpenter in hopes they would constitute the right side of Seattle’s line for years to come. Now, Carpenter is playing left guard when healthy and Moffitt is headed to Cleveland, and anyone who thinks that coach Pete Carroll’s emphasis on competition is only a mantra or a slogan here in Seattle is advised to check the history.

John Moffitt, a third-round selection in 2011, is the highest draft pick Seattle has jettisoned during the Pete Carroll-John Schneider era. Here are some other mid-round picks they’ve cut loose:

WR Kris Durham | Round 4 (107 overall), 2011
– Cut out of training camp in 2012 after an injury-shortened rookie season.
S Mark LeGree | Round 5 (156 overall), 2011
– Cut out of training camp as a rookie.
DE E.J. Wilson | Round 4 (127 overall), 2010
– Appeared in two games before he was released during his rookie season.

For all the success Seattle has had unearthing Pro Bowlers in the latter half of the draft, whether it was choosing Kam Chancellor in the fifth round in 2010 or Richard Sherman in that same round a year later, there have been some misses, too.

Seattle has cut two of the players it drafted in the fourth round in the past four years: Wilson and wide receiver Kris Durham, a fourth-round pick in 2011 who didn’t make it to a second season with the team. Safety Mark LeGree was a fifth-round pick in 2011 who was cut coming out of training camp while linebacker Korey Toomer, a fifth-rounder last year, was on the practice squad and is currently recuperating from a knee injury.

This is evidence of two things, the first being that the Seahawks are willing to take some risks, and while they’ve found not just starters but stars in the second half of the draft, they’ve also seen some draft picks wash out sooner than you’d expect. That’s certainly true in the case of Moffitt, the highest draft pick in the Carroll-Schneider era to be cut loose by the team.

But the trade of Moffitt is proof of something else, perhaps more important: The Seahawks are actually willing to change the pecking order based on a player’s performance and his fit for the system, not the size of someone’s check or his draft position. That’s not a small thing. Not in today’s NFL.

The reason Moffitt was expendable is because Seattle looked at a roster that included J.R. Sweezy, two rookies in Michael Bowie and Alvin Bailey and decided Moffitt wasn’t going to fit into the final 53.

Now, there’s a risk in trading Moffitt. Sweezy is in his second year after switching from defensive tackle to offensive line and as strong as he can be run-blocking, there are still moments he appears befuddled in pass protection. Bowie played one year of major-college football, and he came as a tackle who was tried out at guard, while Bailey is an undrafted rookie out of Arkansas.

But where some teams would look at the lack of experience among that trio and see a reason to keep an experienced and pedigreed lineman like Moffitt, the Seahawks saw enough potential to decide it was time to move on.

And while it’s addition that gets all the attention, subtraction can be important, too. There are too many teams that remain beholden to a player because of the expectations spawned by his selection in the draft. It’s not easy to trade a third-round pick who was starting as recently as last season for a defensive lineman who has yet to record an NFL sack.

But the Seahawks were willing to do it because as hard as they’ve has searched for the right players on this team, they haven’t been stubborn when it comes to deciding someone was a wrong fit.

It’s that willingness to admit a mistake that has opened the door to some of Seattle’s biggest successes in the draft.

Editor’s note: This column was posted before Moffitt’s trade to Cleveland was nullified by the Browns. He has since been traded to the Broncos.