The other kind of football returns on Thursday night, when the NFL season kicks off in Denver, as the Superbowl-holding Broncos host the Carolina Panthers in a re-run of last season’s final. The Seattle Seahawks are favourites with most UK bookmakers to carry off the big prize this time but an interesting piece of news about their squad emerged on Sunday. Are they trying to copy the ‘Leicester effect’ asks Tom Simmonds?
43.4% of the Seahawks’ roster (23 players) are undrafted free agents. The NFL draft is a week-long ritual where the leading lights of College gridiron are paraded and discussed like prize bulls as head coaches and CEOs debate which ones to recruit. Much discussion surrounds a player’s “tools”, (physical attributes). Are the Seahawks effectively trying to copy Leicester’s strategy of putting together a bunch of those passed over by others in order to harness that winning spirit?
Players tended to be drafted to the NFL on the basis of three things: their numbers in college ball, their “tools” and whether they are wholesome enough as people to not do anything to embarrass sponsors. It is not new, however, for senior members of US sports organisations to look beyond “tools”, as anybody who has read Michael Lewis’ Moneyball can tell you. NFL journalist Ian Rapoport said on Twitter that Seattle head coach Pete Carroll’s selection was “the very definition of not caring where somebody comes from”. So far, so Moneyball.
The first thing to note to the contrary is that the Seahawks do not remotely resemble Leicester City. Their winning Superbowl 51 on February 5 would be nothing like as seismic an achievement as Leicester winning the Premier League. This is a huge NFL franchise which bestrides America’s Pacific North West. A football club living in the shadow of the city’s historically more successful rugby team, they aren’t.
The other key point is, for all of the unheralded players bulking out the Seahawks’ roster, they have filled the other half with an array of talent justifying their favourites tag. An offense led by the brilliant quarterback Russell Wilson and a defensive unit, the ‘Legion of Boom’, containing three nailed-on future Hall of Famers (safety Earl Thomas, cornerback Richard Sherman and Strong Safety Kam Chancellor). These players are not the equivalent of, say, Marc Albrighton, (as talented as he is). We’re talking gridiron Galacticos.
Here lies the real reason behind the Seahawks’ unorthodox roster; the NFL salary cap, a restriction that the Premier League does not have. To ensure the likes of Wilson, star receiver Doug Baldwin and the Legion can be on the wages they command (and which, in fairness to them, the market deems they are worth), savings have to be found elsewhere, and Carroll has found them by filling 46% of his squad with those who are just grateful to get a chance at the big time. He and his GM, John Schneider, will know that not all of them will come off but some, a la Vardy and Wes Morgan, might.
So the similarity between Seattle and Leicester is that the squads are both full of players given a sniff of something they thought had bypassed them, but for different reasons. Leicester, remember, originally signed Vardy, Morgan and Riyadh Mahrez to get them out of the Championship. All three also all have “tools” which were honed to perfection by Claudio Ranieri to enable their surreal run to the title. Vardy’s extreme pace and opportunism, Morgan’s physicality and Mahrez’s creative spark are all things a successful team needs.
Like their Seattle counterparts, a number of Leicester players were passed over by others for some reason or another but there is a fundamental difference in thinking behind the recruitment policies. Leicester have always taken the best they could get for their situation. At the Seahawks, where expectations are infinitely higher than they were at the King Power last August, Carroll is performing a high-wire juggling act to ensure he retains his stars and is gambling on his backups coming good when he needs them.
Do you follow an NFL team in addition to a football one? What similarities between the two games do you see? Do you see any teams trying to copy the Leicester formula this season?
Read more from Tom here.
Follow Tom on Twitter at @TallulahOnEarth