Friday, December 26, 2008

Do We Need Elite Players?

by: William Tomisser

After debating the notion that Tim Ruskell has been a bad GM because the team had worse records in the two years after the 2005 Super Bowl year, his first year with the team, I was talking to a friend the other day about the need to maintain elite players (or, as some call them, impact players) on the Seahawks team and it struck me that they are actually part of the same debate.

I thought it might be good to bring up as a topic of discussion, since the Seahawks are in a position where they could lose more of their elite impact players over the next three years to retirement and have already lost elite impact players from their Super Bowl team in 2005, which entered back into the discussion concerning Ruskell. Maybe that makes it a circular discussion? I’m not sure, but what the heck--onward!

We’ll call these players EIPs, which stands for Elite Impact Players. They are the ones who make everyone around them play better, the ones who rally the team around them when big plays are needed and come up big when the legends are made. They are the ones who head for Hawaii at the end of February to play in the friendliest NFL football game of the year.

If you replace them as they are lost with ordinary or even merely above average players, your team production will decline and you’ll lose more games as a result, assuming all other factors are equal. Sometimes you may need to find two lesser EIPs to replace a real stud EIP like Walter Jones, but I'll be using the term to mean equal talent for equal talent as applied to the overall team (but not individuals).

You need to replace EIPs with other EIPs if your goal is to maintain the overall level of play from your team or better it after losing an EIP (and whose isn’t?). You can look at it as a balance sheet where the individual numbers don’t need to be the same on either side, but have to add up to the same value. You don't necessarily need to replace each lost player position for position or even year for year, but the plus and minus tally of the balance sheet should remain constant and can have a bearing on how well your team is currently playing. The sooner you can replace an EIP, the sooner you get your team back close to its previous level.

Right now, the Seahawks are down in the EIP balance book and it’s impacted the team and its ability to win games. We lost the best left guard in football and haven’t had an above average guard in that position since. We lost our all-pro center and haven’t been able to get the line adjustment calls correctly called since. We lost our MVP running back to injury and age and we still have big time offensive line and running back problems.

Remember how the Seahawks functioned in 2006 and 2007 after being an elite team at the top of the league in 2005? They lost a bunch of EIPs from that 2005 Super Bowl Team: Hutch, Tobeck, Strong, Gray, Jerevicius, Alexander, Hasslebeck, Engram, D-Jack, Bernard, Tubbs, and to some extent Trufant were all either injured into retirement, lost to free agency, or injured for a significant period of time during the three years after 2005 and it impacted the team's ability to function at its previous level.

That list of names includes a few of our EIPs from the Super Bowl team that still haven’t been replaced to this day, and you can see the effect that losing that kind of elite talent and production has on your team when it isn't replaced. It can take a 13–3 Super Bowl team and turn it into a 9–7 team.

That is really the major reason our offensive line and running game haven’t been anywhere close to the production and efficiency of the 2005 team. The entire interior of our offensive line was gone, including two all-pros, and our league MVP was injured and never the same again. Now he’s gone, too--that’s three EIPs right there who are still missing from our offense to this day.

If we lose a player like Walter Jones, for example, and the goal is to remain at our current level of play or better it as a team, we need to try and get an EIP (or in Walter’s case maybe even two) at some position to compensate for his loss. You don’t even have to replace them in the same year or at the same position, but the sooner the better.

For example, if we lost Walter after next season (2010), and we get a monster elite DT the following year (2011) or a franchise QB the preceding year (2009) then that's a balancing trade of players that could leave you stronger on defense and weaker on offense or maybe just replenish the offense, but overall you have as good a team as you had before, all other things being equal of course.

We need that handful of impact players on both sides of the ball to keep the team playing at a high level. If we lost Walter and never had a chance at a player of his caliber or someone like Peterson or Hill with no comparable replacement made, the whole team’s level of performance goes down some. If after two or three years, you just have a couple EIPs left like the Seahawks do, the team won't be doing as well and will have a worse win percentage, and that’s exactly what we saw from them after 2005 and until this season.

Those EIPs can be from all walks of NFL life. They can be found in a higher round of the draft as a sleeper like Tatupu or Carlson were or even in a bottom round as Hasslebeck was. They can be traded for like Hasslebeck was from Green Bay or picked up as a free agent like Kerney was. However, by far the most productive grounds for finding one is the first round of the NFL draft--more specifically, right at the very top of the first round.

Baby, that’s where those players hide out, thick as flies and ready to be plucked. Hopefully, Seattle will put a good one on the plus side of their EIP balance sheet this offseason to start replacing some of what we’ve already lost from the 2005 team and to compensate for the eventual departure of Hass and Jones in the next two or three years.

Sometimes there’s quite a few EIPs available in the NFL draft, and sometimes there isn’t. It’s been said that this year is one of the ones where there isn’t going to be too much available; however, the Seahawks are going to be somewhere at the top of the draft and it’s a good bet that they will come up with an above average player and hopefully an elite one.

This is going to be the highest pick Seattle has had in the last decade, and besides, it’s our big chance to get one of those EIP thingies.

Do we need elite players on the team and need to keep ourselves stocked with them? Only if we want the team to improve and do something really crazy like win the Super Bowl.