The Elephant in the Locker Room: The Christine Michael Trade Revisited

be-back-smAfter two Super Bowl appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that there’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

By Greg Wright

One can only be so clairvoyant.

While I did correctly anticipate the Seahawks’ release of Robert Turbin (who is now on the Cleveland Browns’ roster… kind of a worst-case scenario for poor Turbo) I did not at all see the other running-back roster moves coming.

Discovering that Fred Jackson was added following his release by the Buffalo Bills was a most pleasant surprise — and the move made even more sense given that the salary cap hit for Jackson’s contract will be almost a wash, even though Jackson’s base salary will be $200K more than Turbin’s would have been.

Fred Jackson

Fred Jackson

As I noted in my last column, the key issue is that Turbin is in the final year of his rookie contract, and would have been due for a hefty pay increase if the Hawks had wanted to keep him around. And as we can see with the stalemate in Kam Chancellor’s holdout, cap dollars are in short supply for the Hawks right now. Every roster move being considered has dollars attached; it’s not just about talent.

Which brings us to the surprise that probably wouldn’t have taken place had Jackson not come on the market when he did.

Christine Michael

Christine Michael

The trade of Christine Michael to the Cowboys for a conditional seventh-round pick brings an end to the “who’s the heir-apparent to Marshawn Lynch” era. The Seahawks drafted Turbin in the fourth round the year after acquiring Lynch in a mid-season trade with the Bills, and then drafted Michael the following year with their first pick, a second-rounder.

The pick was seen as a reach at the time, as Michael was projected to go in the lower rounds due to two seasons ended by leg injuries at Texas A&M as well as off-field personality concerns.

With the trade of Michael coming before the expiration of his rookie deal — and for a low-round draft pick at that — the pick is now being universally labelled a “bust.”

Is that a fair assessment?

Armchair general managing is almost as popular a press and fan pasttime as other Monday-morning NFL-related second-guessing games. In particular, first-round picks are highly critiqued, a habit formed in the days when first-round contracts were open-ended and a first- or second-year player was often getting paid what many ten-year veterans could only hope to earn over the course of their whole career.

Under the current collective-bargaining agreement between the league and players, however, salaries for draft picks are highly structured and very limited. So “missing” on a first-round pick just costs you talent, not talent and a wad of cash. It’s simply true that the stakes are lower these days for general managers…

…particularly when your general manager gets as much mileage as he does out of rounds three through seven.

Which brings us to John Schneider and that Michael pick.

It’s true that Michael was the Hawks’ first pick that year.

But we should remember that he was still a second-round pick… and the last player picked in the second round. You might as well call him the first player taken in the third round.

Robert Turbin

Robert Turbin

So the level of expectation for Michael could be roughly equivalent to what the Hawks expected out of Robert Turbin.

And if nobody’s calling the ouright cutting of Turbin a “bust,” why is the trade of virtual-third-rounder Michael for a future draft pick so labelled?

What were we expecting for the equivalent of a third-rounder? A running-back version of third-rounder Russell Wilson?

Isn’t it more likely he’d be the running back equivalent of fellow third-rounders John Moffitt or Jordan Hill — role players, but not bona-fide starters?

Did we really expect Michael to supplant Marshawn Lynch, a blue-chip high school recruit and consensus first-round selection out of California?

Do we forget that when the Bills traded that very same blue-chip back to the Seahwawks, it was not for a first-round pick but a fourth-round pick and a conditional fifth or sixth-rounder the following year?

Was that because the Bills evaluated Lynch incorrectly? Was Marshawn a draft pick bust?

Or was it because Lynch just didn’t fit with what the Bills were trying to do?

I get that both Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell tinge their talk of the Michael trade with disappointment. They were hoping that Michael would end up doing more for the Hawks than he did. You always hope that. Especially when the guy picked right before Michael was the Packers’ Eddie Lacy.

But neither Carroll nor Bevell, nor John Schneider, has said that Michael doesn’t have the talent they thought he did. After all, he does boast a 4.9 yard-per-carry average for the limited action he’s seen in two seasons. I expect he’ll do just fine in the Cowboys’ system, where discipline doesn’t seem to count for as much. He’ll continue to make unpredictable decisions at the line of scrimmage, carry the ball in his right hand regardless of the direction he’s running or how he’s coached, and put the ball on the ground every twenty touches or so. Dallas thrives on mercurially frustrating players, so expect to see Michael crack the starting lineup and stay there.

Also expect Turbin to be an eventual starter for Cleveland.

Just don’t expect either Turbin or Michael to turn into Lynch. If they could, they’d still be in Seattle.

And you might also expect Thomas Rawls to turn out just as good as either Michael or Turbin. After all, Schneider picked him up as an undrafted free agent. And you know what Schneider can do with UFAs.

Lest anyone start labelling any Schneider/Carroll pick as an out-and-out bust, let’s all just calm down a bit and remember what kind of roster the Seahawks have built, and how.

They don’t build the future of the franchise on first-rounders, because that route spells financial disaster. Instead, they parlay late-round picks and free agents into pure draft gold.

Michael was not a bust. Everyone’s just disappointed that he wasn’t as thrilling a find as fifth-rounders Kam Chancellor or Richard Sherman.

Well, that’s just too stinking bad, isn’t it?

A few weeks ago, I broke down the interception that sealed the loss in the Super Bowl this year. Now, you must know I am no fan of the Patriots, but I am a fan of good football… and the following NFL Films presentation on what happened on that play backs up what I wrote. “The separation is in the preparation” intones Russell Wilson, and the fact is: the Patriots prepared just a little bit better than the Seahawks, and the separation was just enough to turn a score into in an interception. A game of inches? More like a game of fractions of inches.

So I thought I’d try a little prognostication this year. Here we go with Week 1.

Games with the Rams are always ugly, low-scoring affairs… and the Hawks’ offense tends to struggle in the early going of the season. The difference this year will be improved play from the defensive front seven, and a decisive advantage in special teams… a real weakness in recent years against the Rams. Final score? Something like Seattle 13, St. Louis 9.


2 Responses to “The Elephant in the Locker Room: The Christine Michael Trade Revisited”
  1. Gwen says:

    Hey Greg–Love football, love writing. Don’t love football writing. THIS however is an exception. Engaging. You almost make me understand the draft, possibly even care a smidge…way to go. Watched the video. A Pats fan, like, never. But gleaned some great illustrations for other things I care deeply about. Thanks 🙂

    • Greg Wright says:

      Thanks, Gwen! I do try to cover things in a different fashion than what you might read elsewhere. It’s actually pretty hard to be original in thought or delivery when it comes to the Hawks.

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