After rallying to beat the Packers, the Seahawks are headed to the Super Bowl. The Redskins, on the other hand, knew that they would be headed home in late December a couple of months before the season actually ended. Why are the Seahawks where they are and why are the Redskins where they are?
The answer, of course, is complicated but let’s take two players, one from each team, and compare them.
You don’t have to be an expert in analytics to figure out that the two players had comparable seasons. If you're going to give one the edge you'd have to give it to Player A. But the two players really aren’t comparable in terms of what they cost their teams and what they say about how their respective teams were built.
Player A is defensive tackle Jordan Hill, age 23, of the Seahawks. He was a third-round draft pick of the Seahawks in 2013 (87th overall). The Seahawks paid him $495,000 in 2014 and he counted $651,000 against the cap.
Player B is defensive end Jason Hatcher, age 32, a free agent signed by the Redskins in 2014. The Redskins wrote him checks totaling $10.5 million to him this year and his cap number was $3.75 million.
I think you can see where I’m going here. The Seahawks needed a defensive lineman and they had Hill waiting in the wings after he played sparingly as a rookie. The Redskins needed someone on the DL and they had to go throw big free agent money at a 32-year-old coming off of a career year.
To be fair, it’s possible that Hill would not have had as many sacks if he was playing for the Redskins since he was playing on a team that had the lead much of the time. The Redskins trailed much more frequently than they led. And if you put Hatcher in Seattle, he may well have had more sacks.
And it’s not as though the Seahawks have never gone out to sign a free agent defensive lineman. In 2013, they signed Michael Bennett after he had spent a while on the free agent market. He wasn’t cheap--$4.8 million for one year—but he was a player the Seahawks, who had advanced to the divisional round in 2012, believed would push them over the top.
They were right. Bennett was their best defensive lineman, getting 8.5 sacks during the season plus another 1.5 sacks and three forced fumbles during the playoffs. That playoff run, as you know, ended with the Seahawks hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
Back to the original comparison, Hatcher likely will be gone after this year as his cap number becomes untenable for a 34-year-old lineman in 2016. He will leave behind $4.5 million in dead cap when he goes.
The Seahawks will have two more years of Hill at minimum salary before they have to decide what to do with him. If he remains productive, he can be re-signed to what will likely be a reasonable contract. Should they decide to let him go, perhaps because another defensive lineman they drafted in the middle rounds has overtaken him on the depth chart, the Seahawks would not have to deal with any dead money on their cap.
Scot McCloughan was part of the personnel department that drafted Hill. From 2010-2014 the Seahawks drafted 12 defensive linemen. In some years they drafted DL even when it wasn’t considered to be an area of “need”. That’s how you get a Jordan Hill.
The Redskins? They have drafted two defensive linemen since 2010. They also took Chris Baker off of the scrap heap and developed him into a pretty good end. But for the most part when they have needed defensive linemen they have gone to the free agent market, signing Hatcher, Barry Cofield, and Stephen Bowen to big-money deals. And now that age is catching up with all three of them the Redskins have no ready replacements.
It might take a while for the Redskins to get where the Seahawks are. In fact, they might never get there. But if they keep on bringing in hired guns like Hatcher instead of drafting guys like Hill, they will never even close the gap.