Winning the Super Bowl comes first. The praise follows. It happens every year. But it never happens to any team without the groundwork that was laid in the years leading up to the pats on the back and teams trying to copy some of your blueprint.
Seahawks General Manager John Schneider was hired a couple of weeks after Pete Carroll was named head coach four years ago. A bit unconventional. But this marriage worked. Bears fans might (or might not) want to know there's also a Packers element to the Seahawks' success, as Schneider was instrumental in forming Green Bay's roster that won the Super Bowl a year after he departed for Seattle. That's the same Packers team that beat the Bears in the NFC Championship Game — after the Bears defeated Schneider, Carroll and the Seahawks the week before.
His roster now is a fascinating mix — half of which is made up of various levels of free agents and one-time practice squad players. We'll get to the draft in a moment, but as Phil Emery, Marc Trestman and Mel Tucker look to revamp the Bears defense, some shrewd moves paid off in getting that 'Hawks D soaring.
In his first offseason, Schneider saw something in defensive end Chris Clemons despite just five starts in his first five season for three different teams. After a trade with Philadelphia for Darryl Tapp, Clemons now has 38 sacks in four years with Seattle. Defensive tackle Tony McDaniel started just five games in seven years with Jacksonville and Miami. He was good enough to start 15 games on that Seattle defense this year. The Bears were quite familiar with Cliff Avril, who tormented them during his time in Detroit. Avril, however, found a soft free-agent market a year ago, settling for a two-year, $13 million deal. Pretty good value. Even better for Michael Bennett, who's back on the market after earning a better paycheck in his first season with Seattle, which is expected to push hard to re-sign him.
But now let's compare Schneider's first three drafts defensively with what's left over from those same drafts now in Chicago.
His first draft in 2010 netted his current starting safety tandem — Earl Thomas (first round) and Kam Chancellor (fifth). Throw in wideout Golden Tate on the other side of the ball (second). All that remains from that draft for the Bears are free agents-to-be Major Wright and Corey Wootton.
In 2011, he didn't even draft for defense in the first three rounds. The result? Four starters. Linebacker K.J. Wright (fourth round), cornerback Richard Sherman (fifth), corner Byron Maxwell (sixth) and Super Bowl MVP linebacker Malcolm Smith (seventh). The Bears players remaining from that draft are Stephen Paea and Chris Conte.
In 2012, Schneider found two more starters for that defense in first-rounder Bruce Irvin, who was converted from defensive end to linebacker this season, just like Emery and Tucker will now try to do with their first-rounder that year, Shea McClellin. Second-rounder Bobby Wagner is the middle linebacker in that defense. Besides McClellin, Emery has Pro Bowl wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and nickel back Isaiah Frey remaining from that draft class. Oh, and Seattle drafted Russell Wilson in the third round, and Carroll had the gumption to start him immediately.
2013 brought two much-needed immediate starters on Emery's offensive line in Kyle Long and Jordan Mills. Linebackers Jonathan Bostic and Khassem Greene were overwhelmed as rookie starters but appear to have significant roles moving forward, and the ceilings for Cornelius Washington and Marquess Wilson are to be determined. Schneider's second-rounder, defensive tackle Jordan Hill, was a regular part of Seattle's D-line rotation but allowed to grow into it at a much slower pace with the talent he had around him.
It can be done in a couple of years. But those three days this May will be absolutely crucial in identifying the correct players to fill their needs through the draft and properly coached-up by Tucker and his staff. If Emery executes the plan — even if it's not to Seattle-like standards — by that point the focus might shift back to the offense and things like the longevity and effectiveness of Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and perhaps a couple of others.