In the wake of Seattle's Super Bowl win, we are likely to hear a number of generic talking points beaten into the ground. We'll hear about Peyton Manning's and Russell Wilson's respective legacies. We'll continue our ESPN fueled national dialogue about Richard Sherman. We'll hear about defense vs. offense.
Let me give you my takeaway. Seattle showed us the importance of homegrown talent. Their scouting and player development was probably the biggest reason they won the Super Bowl. There are two keys to winning in today's NFL. The first is having a good quarterback. You don't necessarily need a great one, but you do need a good one. The second is drafting and developing your own talent.
Let me show you why. Let's just look at Seattle's incredible secondary. It has three 2013 All Pros, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Cam Chancellor. They cost a combined $7.3 million in 2013. This is because all three were drafted by Seattle. Thomas and Sherman are playing on rookie contracts. Chancellor signed an extension that boosted his 2013 salary by a bit with bigger increases to come in future years.
How much would it have cost to get this kind of secondary on the open market for one All Pro corner and two All Pro safeties? Let's look at a few comparable players Darrelle Revis has an average $16 million cap hit over the life his his contract. Troy Polamalu's is $9.8 million, and Eric Weddle's is $8 million. That is $33.8 million or $26.5 million more than what Seattle is paying. We can argue on the edges about whether Sherman would make as much as Revis, but we're in the ballpark.
So think about that. Not only does Seattle have that kind of All-Star secondary. They are also better off than they would be signing those guys in free agency because now they have an extra $26.5 million to spend on other areas.
Let's give an example of one Seattle might like to have back. Percy Harvin had a great Super Bowl, but in hindsight maybe they would have been better off keeping their first round pick and taking Cordarrelle Patterson. Harvin cost a shade under $5 million against the cap, and his number won't be below $11 million for the rest of his contract. Patterson cost $1.3 million and won't cost more than $2.6 million on a contract running through 2016. He was the best kickoff return man in the league and an offensive weapon. He contributed all year, not just for one game. That isn't knocking the Seahawks. Everybody loved the Harvin move at the time. It just shows how much more efficient the Draft is.
It isn't just about the secondary. The Seahawks have done a great job adding homegrown talent. What are they doing right? Well, everything. First, everybody from the general manager to the head coach needs to be on the same page. The coaching staff implements a system. Each system requires players with certain traits. Some skills are emphasized more than others in certain systems. Some players might be talented but don't fit a system. It's about finding somebody whose skills fit the system. It's about the general manager and the front office finding supremely skilled players. It's about the coaching staff honing and developing those skills. Two of the three Seattle secondary All Pros were fifth round picks. We have talked about how cost-effective the Draft can be, but you only get one first round pick per year. Finding premium talent in later rounds is essential to building a team like the Seahawks.
Now eventually that talent the Seahawks have will not be so cheap. Players will start either needing a big raise or hitting the open market. The NFL is built to take down the strong teams. If you have enough good players, the salary cap will prevent your team from being able to afford them all. What is the solution? It's the Draft. You replace expensive talent with cheap talent. Either the Seahawks will have to replace a piece from that great secondary, or they will have to spend so much to keep the secondary intact that they will not be able to afford to pay top dollar at other spots. Either way, they will need to keep adding cheap, premium talent through the Draft. If they keep doing so, there will not be a dropoff.
Obviously there is a time and a place to add players through free agency. There are certain players for whom paying top dollar is worth. There is simply no substitute for drafting well and developing homegrown players, however. This is easier said than done. If every team could build that like Seattle, the Seahawks would not be so special.
Here's hoping John Idzik learned a thing or two from his time with that franchise.