Commentary: Schneider winning free agency battle with Forty-Niners

March 14, 2013 

Sitting up there at the press conference Tuesday afternoon with Pete Carroll and Percy Harvin, John Schneider looked so genial and pleasant.

Don’t be conned by the youthful looks and mild demeanor of the Seattle Seahawks’ general manager, this guy is a shark looking for his next meal.

Maybe the low-key approach works in his favor, because other front-office types are often unprepared when he reveals himself as a steely-eyed, cold-blooded deal-maker.

After landing Harvin via trade, and thereby adding one of the most dynamic players in the game to the Seahawks offense, Schneider followed up Wednesday by pulling in Detroit defensive end Cliff Avril.

The Seahawks came out of last season with a to-do list that put the need for pass-rushers at the top, and Avril was considered among the most appealing.

He’s youngish, at 26, with 39.5 sacks accumulated in his five seasons, and the Lions thought enough of him to lock him up with the franchise tag last season.

And now he joins a unit that was ranked No. 4 in the NFL in total defense.

It remains to be sorted out whether he’s a replacement for Chris Clemons, who needed surgery for a knee injury suffered in the playoffs, or just a welcome addition.

Either way, he gives opponents one more high-performing player to worry about, and he stands as another example of Schneider’s aggressive guidance of this franchise.

The message is unmistakable to fans and everybody in the locker room: The Seahawks are making their big push right now. The competitive window is open and Schneider intends to capitalize now.

They also have eight draft picks available.

Such transactions carry costs beyond salary and bonuses. When Harvin was unveiled to media scrutiny on Tuesday, veteran running back and returner Leon Washington slipped out the back door.

That’s how these things go. Harvin made Washington expendable. But Washington should not be allowed to leave town without at least an attaboy for his time and contributions.

Washington’s efforts on kick returns were exciting and in some cases crucial momentum-changers.

But more than that, he was one of the all-time good clubhouse guys, team-leader and model of professionalism.

The story I liked best about Washington came in 2010 out of a game against Kansas City. Safety Earl Thomas had just returned a blocked punt for a touchdown and was gassed on the sideline.

Coaches needed a hasty replacement for Thomas on the kickoff coverage unit. Leon Washington ran onto the field, sprinted down and absolutely laid out the Chiefs’ returner.

I asked him about the play after the game. As it turns out, he wasn’t even on the depth chart for kickoff coverage. But there wasn’t time for any discussion, somebody had to get out there immediately.

Asked how he knew where to line up and what lane he needed to fill, Washington said that he attended all the special teams meetings — even for units that didn’t involve him — just in case the team might at some point need him.

You can replace a returner, even one as talented as Leon Washington. But losing a player with that kind of attitude, attention to detail and team spirit is a different story.

Shortly after the Seahawks added Harvin, San Francisco bolstered its receiving corps with a trade for Anquan Boldin.

Boldin is a rock-solid veteran they got for a good price because of his age (32). He’s a physical guy who can help the Niners match up against the bruising Seahawks secondary.

But a healthy 24-year-old Harvin is a game-changing playmaker, and his arrival is made sweeter by some reports that San Francisco also was interested in his services.

Fans are eagerly measuring how these two moves have affected the balance in the NFC West Division.

And that shows exactly how the Seattle-San Francisco rivalry has ripened. It’s not a thing that gets hyper-intensive on two Sundays in the fall, but demands a fan’s year-round attention.

Schneider upped the ante Wednesday with the Avril signing.

Your move, Niners.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@ thenewstribune.com

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