Who is this John Schneider, and what does he do? Ash Thompson discusses the Detroit Lions GM candidate.
In their search for the best GM they could possibly find, the Detroit Lions have started the process of poaching other team’s front office talent. Premier among the executives who do not have the personnel control that makes them untouchable is the Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider. “But Ash, he’s the GM, doesn’t he have personnel control of the Seahawks? I can hear you asking. “No, other Ash,” because nobody is really reading these, so I’m really just talking to myself here, like a particular Archer character, “Pete Carroll has personnel control in Seattle.” When he came up from USC, Carroll demanded that as part of his contract. Carroll and Schneider are almost always in lockstep regarding personnel decisions. Still, if push comes to shove, Schneider has to beg for the players he desperately wants, as he did for Russell Wilson in the 2012 draft. Carroll thought the Seahawks had their man in Charlie Whitehurst, but Schneider knew that they would regret it forever if they let someone else grab Wilson. Why would Schneider want to leave Seattle? Because he had to convince someone else to make the move that has defined the Seattle Seahawks’ run of success since.
So What Does Schneider do then?
I’m glad you asked, what a great question. According to the Seahawks website: “he manages all aspects of the Seahawks roster and draft process while working collaboratively with Pete Carroll in all facets of the football operations department.” OK… so what does that actually mean? When you look at the Seahawks senior executive structure there are a bunch of people looking at various aspects of the non-football side of the business with various senior-vice-president-chairman-of-the-subcommittee-for-weaving-baskets kind of titles. On the football side, there is: John Schneider, executive vice president/general manager. There are people under him obviously, but Schneider is at the top of the football side chatting with Carroll about the issues the team needs to deal with, setting up the options the team has, and then letting Carroll make the call.
This is typically how organizations with the head coach as GM work. Bill Belichick has Scott Pioli in this role before the latter of the two moved on to Kansas City. Andy Reid has Brett Veach, Belichick has Nick Caserio in that role now. This is how coaches who have personnel control get both of their 80 hour a week jobs done. They farm 79 hours out to someone like Schneider and jump in to take all the glory or blame at the end. Being a GM is not just showing up on draft day and throwing darts at a board. Schneider does all of it that fans don’t see.
So What Has Schneider Done Then?
Schneider was in the Packers scouting department from 1993-1996. The Packers were very good. As a Lions fan I don’t want to get into it and there is no way to really identify anything he had a part in. In 1997, however, he became the director of pro personnel in Kansas City. The Chiefs were in the heyday of Marty Schottenheimer, and they went 13-3 in the first year Schneider was with the team. That offseason, the Chiefs signed wide receiver Andre Rison, a pro bowler from the Atlanta Falcons. To throw him the ball, the Chiefs signed Elvis Grbac, who actually played well as a Chief, but he was constantly injured. Defensive end Dan Williams, a career backup, came on board to replace the departed Neil Smith (best defensive lineman not in the hall of fame) and after a career which had netted 4 sacks in total, put up 10.5 for the Chiefs in 1997. Williams got injured, and only managed 12.5 over 1999-2000 before he finally retired, but while healthy he was a spectacular find. They also signed OG Glenn Parker who started for three years in Kansas City with acceptable play.
in 1998 HOF RB Marcus Allen retired. The team traded a day three pick for Bam Morris who put up 8 TDs in 10 games filling the goalline back role Allen was famous for in KC. that season he had managed only 3 carries in 2 games with the Bears. This was a great midseason pickup. During the offseason, the Chiefs had also signed WR Derrick Alexander to play across from Rison, and Alexander managed seasons of 992, 832, 1391, and 470 with a midseason injury in his time with the Chiefs. They had also signed run-stuffing defensive tackle Chester McLockton, a perennial Pro-Bowler, who immediately got injured and never regained his form. He was still a productive player, just never the star the Chiefs had signed. In the 90s, something like an ACL tear could still end a player’s career, as opposed to being a minor setback as it is now. Interestingly 34-year-old defensive end Leslie O’Neal was brought in and played two productive years as a situational run stopped. O’Neil added 10 sacks in two years to his top five career in the statistic at the time. The Chiefs only went 7-9, and Schottenheimer resigned after the season.
The Chiefs bounced back under newly promoted Gunther Cunningham for a 9-7 season in 1999. Among the reasons they managed that were free-agent acquisitions MLB Marvcus Patton, 32 years old, who put up 424 tackles for the chiefs in four seasons during the era where high tackle stats meant that you were a good run stopper, not that you were a victim in coverage as it often does now. 35-year-old CB Chris Dishman was also brought on board and in his single year with the Chiefs, he grabbed 5 INT, forced one fumble, and recovered 3.
Schneider joined the Seahawks in an undefined role for the 2000 season before reuniting with Schottenheimer in Washington as the VP of player personnel for the 2001 season. That season the Washington Football Team acquired a pro bowl return man, Michael Bates in free agency, and they drafted linebacker La’Varr Arrington in the first round, a three-time pro bowler. They also snagged Fred Smoot in the second round, a corner who grabbed 16 INT during his rookie deal. Undrafted free agent Antonio Pearce also went on to an illustrious career as a player, and he is currently co-defensive coordinator for the Arizona State Sun Devils with Lions head coaching interviewee Marvin Lewis.
Schneider with the Packers
Schneider rejoined Thompson in Green Bay as his personnel analyst in 2002. Schneider was promoted to director of football operations in 2009 before moving on to the Seahawks GM job in 2010. In Schneider’s first season with the team, the 12-4 Packers signed WR Terry Glenn and LB Hardy Nickerson. They drafted future pro-bowlers WR Javon Walker and DE Aaron Kampman. in 2003, they held their roster together and fell to 10-6, drafting Nick Barnett and Hunter Hillenmeier. In 2004 they signed safety Mark Roman and won their third straight division title. The following offseason they made the decision that Lions fans have regretted ever since: they drafted Aaron Rogers. In the second round, they grabbed safety Nick Collins. I could probably track a Lions fan’s age by at what point in this list they start twitching with unhappiness. In 2006, the Packers signed Charles Woodson. they drafted A. J. Hawk and Greg Jennings in the first and third respectively. They went 8-8. in 2007, the Packers went 13-3 after drafting DT Justin Harrell, WR James Jones, LB Desmond Bishop, and K Mason Crosby. This was the season that they famously made Brett Favre angry by not acquiring Randy Moss from the Oakland Raiders for a song.
in 2008 Rogers took over, and the team went 6-10, but they drafted Guard Josh Sitton and WR Jordy Nelson, as well as future Lions wrecker QB Matt Flynn. In Schneider’s final season with the Packers, they drafted B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, and T. J. Lang with their first three picks of the draft. Frankly, it is difficult to judge Schneider’s involvement in the Packers organization. He was Dir of Pro Personnel for a team that hardly signed any free agents. He was more responsible for scouting the Packers’ own players and determining when they needed to be replaced than anything. that is, however, something the Packers were extremely good at during Schneider’s time with the team.
Schneider with the Seahawks
This is the important part when judging Schneider. This was the era where the Lions kept trading for and signing former seahawks for some reason. The Seahawks walked away from Mayhew acquisitions Rob Sims, Nate Burleson, and Lawrence Jackson in 2010. They drafted OT Russel Okung, S Earl Thomas, WR Golden Tate, and S Kam Chancellor during this draft. The team went 7-9 in that first year, and actually won a wildcard playoff game. They also traded for Marshawn Lynch, which in hindsight seems like a no-brainer, but in 2010 he was coming off a 450-yard season where he only started six of 13 games for Buffalo, and he had only amassed 164 yards in four games with the Bills. He went on to four straight 1000+ yard seasons, four pro bowls, and an all-pro nod with the Seahawks in his five years with the team.
In 2011, they blew the first round on bust OT James Carpenter, picked up guard John Moffitt in the second, then grabbed LBs K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith along with corner Richard Sherman on day three of the draft. They also drafted former Lion Kris Durham in the fourth round, but we won’t judge them too harshly for that. Doug Baldwin was an undrafted free agent find. The 11-5 2012 Seahawks drafted core players Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, QB Russell Wilson, and OG J. R. Sweezy all of whom are starting in the NFL somewhere in 2020. They found another great undrafted receiver in Jermaine Kearse.
The 2013 draft class is a lost class. Only fifth-round TE, and former Detroit Lion, Luke Wilson was on an active roster in 2020. The 2013 Seahawks were also a virtually impossible roster to crack to get playing time, they went 13-3 and won the Super Bowl. Cliff Avril had joined up just in time to get a ring. The Lions had refused to pay Avril big money, the Seahawks were the team who took advantage of that foolishness.
In 2014 they went 12-4 and lost the Superbowl to the Patriots, damning Detroit for three years by elevating the reputation of Matt Patricia to the point that he could fool someone into giving him a head coaching gig. This was when the defense really started to lose talent, Brandon Browner was the first domino to fall before the year, bolting to those same Patriots, but Browner was not a good player for the Pats, and that is part of why Malcolm Brown was in the game to make the play that ruined our franchise.
The 2015 Seahawks did not win the NFC West, for the first time in a long time. This is where their rebuild on the fly starts. They drafted Frank Clark, traded center Max Unger and a first-round pick for TE Jimmy Graham, and a fourth. They had lost so many free agents during the 2014 offseason that they had four compensatory picks, and their cap space was dedicated to keeping their own players rather than acquiring new ones. They still went 10-6 and won a playoff game, but the dynasty was crumbling.
In 2016 the players The Seahawks let walk were Bruce Irvin, Russell Okung, and J. R. Sweezy. They had no cap room, and these players were all due hefty raises. They had three more compensatory selections in this draft, from having list another avalanche of talent in 2015. Their early pick was OT Germaine Ifedi, who was no Okung but has been a solid starter in the league. DT Jarran Reid has been by far the better of the two Alabama defensive tackles selected in round two of the 2016 draft, the other being A’Shawn Robinson, the former Lion. Alex Collins was a solid day three grab at the RB spot, but he did his damage in the league elsewhere because he couldn’t crack the Seahawks roster. He ran for 973 yards for the Ravens in 2017. RB former Michigan and Central Michigan RB Thomas Rawls also played well for the Seahawks after signing as an undrafted free agent. Lions fans will recall Rawls’ 161 rushing yards in the playoff loss to the Seahawks in the 2017 playoffs. The Seahawks also had future Lion J.D. Mickissic on the roster.
The 2017 offseason was an interesting one for the Seahawks. They tried to replace the retired Marshawn Lynch with former Packer Eddy “China Food” Lacy. They started bringing in other teams’ reclamation projects like Dion Jordan and the venerable Dwight Freeney. They acquired Justin Coleman for a seventh-round draft pick, who went on to be a stud for them, and then a dud for us. They flipped former UDFA Jermaine Kearse for Jets DT Sheldon Richardson, and they got serious about fixing their offensive line. They signed guard Oday Aboushi to fill their guard spot vacated by R. J. Sweezy and traded second and third-round picks for Texans tackle Duane Brown. They blew their first-round pick on Michigan State Malik McDowell, but they pulled CB Shaquill Griffin, center Ethan Pocic, and RB Chris Carson out of the draft.
In 2018 the Seahawks blew up the legion of boom defense that had been wrecking teams for most of the decade. They lost S Kam Chancellor to retirement, traded CB Richard Sherman, DE Michael Bennett, and released DE Cliff Avril. They also lost TEs Jimmy Graham and Luke Wilson in free agency. They have never really recovered on defense from their losses in 2018. They busted on their first two picks in the draft, with RB Rashaad Penny and DE Rasheem Green, but TE Willy Dissly has been a standout player when healthy. The only solid player the Seahawks managed to find in the 2018 draft. They grabbed undrafted free agent Poona Ford, who has started 31 games for them in three years, but their defense is bad enough it is difficult to tell whether that’s because Ford is good, or they just don’t have other options. They did pick up future Lions RB Bo Scarborough before (in 2018) and after (in 2020) his time with the Lions.
Not much matters at this point about the 2019 draft other than that the Seahawks were the team that looked past the pre-draft idiocy and took D.K. Metcalf in the second round. The Seahawks passed on Metcalf twice to fill needs, one from trading Frank Clark earlier in the offseason. Schneider’s comments about Metcalf tell you a lot about his beliefs on the draft. Schneider told the Seattle Times earlier this year: “The Thing a lot of people maybe don’t necessarily understand about the draft is it’s not necessarily who you think is better than who – it’s not “this guy versus that guy. It’s truly about how you acquire them, and where you think you’ll acquire them. The Seahawks knew that many other teams in the NFL had written off Metcalf because he had a neck injury, and he fell down during a combine drill. The 2019 draft was ludicrously good at wide receiver, so other teams went in a plethora of different directions. When Metcalf fell all the way to the end of the second round, the Seahawks traded their next two picks to grab their man.
It’s easy to look at the current state of the Seattle defense and rip Schneider and Carroll for mismanagement, but every team has limited resources. With that defense, the way the Seahawks have utilized their resources has led to a 12-4 record in a division with two other teams who threatened or made the playoffs in the Rams and Cardinals. The Seahawks traded for Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams over the last two seasons, and Adams will likely fit better after a full offseason with the team. Rashaad Penny did not pan out, but the team has not doubled down on the bad investment, he is behind veteran Carlos Hyde and Chris Carson on the depth chart. By hook or by crook the Seahawks are 12-4 and preparing for the playoffs. and because they have not missed the playoffs very often in the decade that Schneider had been there, he is a man well worth talking to.
Should the Lions hire John Schneider?
I said yesterday that I suspect the Lions are going to have something other than the classic GM as the Tsar football operation they’ve been rolling out for the last three GMs. That’s why they’re interviewing a few coaches before they’ve finished the GM search. Marvin Lewis was the first but there will be others. Schneider knows what that looks like, and while it’s unlikely he would jump from Seattle to Detroit for anything other than a Tsar style GM job, he can provide context and information in an interview with the Lions brain trust.
That front office configuration, however, makes it difficult to judge Scheider as a potential GM. If you’re hiring someone who has never had full roster control, Schneider is the best choice, and it’s not close. But is he the man who keeps finding starters at the offensive skill positions from undrafted free agents, or is it, Pete Carroll? Is it Schneider who drafted a one-handed linebacker, who unsurprisingly was not able to compete with NFL caliber athletes? It was a great story, but a bad business move. Schneider was the one to call Metcalf and then hand off the phone to Carroll, was that his call? The main problem with the Seahawks is that their best draft classes were during the period where they were drafting players Carroll had recruited to play at USC. The 2010-2013 drafts were the basis for their championships, and since they’ve been pretty ordinary. Every team has a couple of drafts in the last decade that produced nothing of great value, but the Seahawks have a lot to answer for in the early rounds of the draft.
That’s the kind of question the Lions would need to have answered by Schneider before hiring him. The only reason we know the Lions reached out to Schneider would be because his side leaked the information. Someone looking to get the job that the interview for would not likely do that. Schneider is likely looking for one of two things, neither of which is the Lions GM job. The first would be a better deal in Seattle: More money, more roster control, more something. The other is that he does want out of Seattle, but he wanted to get the word out to the rest of the NFL that he was available for interviews. There is a third option that I do not like. If Pete Carroll is unhappy with Schneider’s work, the Seahawks leaking that the Lions had reached out for an interview, getting Schneider opportunities elsewhere, would be a way for the partnership to end without any bad blood from either side.
Schneider is the experienced GM candidate with the cloudiest record because in so many cases we just do not know what he actually did. What is Ted Thompson’s Personnel analyst’s responsibility? How many picks did he make for Seattle, and how many were Carroll overruling him? Because we can never know, I will withhold judgment on Schneider, and just say that he’s been as close as a guy can be to being “the man” without technically being “the man.” He’s done it for a team with fewer losses between 2010 and 2020 than the Lions have wins. It would be difficult to argue with handing the GM of a team that has gone 112-63-1 the keys to the Lions franchise. I just do not believe he wants the job.
Ash Thomspon is a substitute teacher in Canada who blogs on the side for the fame and adulation it brings. If you want to discuss the Lions and other (mostly) football-related topics with Ash and all the Patreon crew, you can do so for as little as $1 a month HERE.