Sidney Rice out for the season with ACL tear, and his career with Seahawks underappreciated

When Pete Carroll and John Schneider took over in Seattle, they took over with something of a tornado of fire. Gone were veterans – only four players remain from the team Carroll and Schneider inherited. Gone were USC alums – Carroll has in some way disposed of Mike Williams, Lawrence Jackson, LenDale White, and some other former Trojans since coming to Seattle.

Those were all players sent packing, but none of those players were guys the Seahawks had taken large financial risks on.

In the Head Coach/GM duo’s second offseason they made one of the most substantial financial risks ever made by the Seahawks when they signed Sidney Rice to a five-year, $41 million contract.

Today we found out that Rice tore his ACL in Monday’s win over the Rams.

In the 2011 offseason Rice was coming off of an injury-plagued season that was preceded by a season with elite production, but also a season in which Rice was catching passes from Brett Favre. We all know how this narrative goes.

The Seahawks were in a circumstance in which they had fired their offensive coodinator in Jeremy Bates, hired former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, and were facing a potential work stoppage. The team not only signed Rice, a former Viking, but Tarvaris Jackson, who had played under Bevell, with Rice, and behind Favre – among a slew of other quarterbacks that seemed to keep unseating him – in Minnesota.

Sidney Rice is a very talented athlete, and Sidney Rice fit an immediate agenda for the Seahawks: making the offense as far from terrible as possible after exiting the lockout. That was the same agenda that Tarvaris Jackson fit. These players were brought here with an agenda, and an agenda they fulfilled.

The Seahawks don’t pass the ball much, and that’s on purpose. If there is anything that this team has done that seems counterintuitive, it’s that they invest high dollars and draft picks into assets and then don’t use them a ton.

They signed Sidney Rice, drafted Golden Tate in the second round, signed Zach Miller, and they don’t pass the ball very much.

They signed Matt Flynn and barely used him.

They drafted Bruce Irvin in the first round and didn’t use him much his rookie year.

They drafted Christine Michael in the second round and he’s got nine carries all season.

The Seahawks do things differently than other teams, and that means that you can’t always compare their stats apples to apples with other teams. Sometimes the Seahawks do things that are clearly poor strategically. Like why the hell didn’t Pete Carroll call a timeout in the final series of the game yesterday with the Rams on the doorstep of pay dirt? Sure, it’s bold, and presents an intriguing narrative, but it’s unnecessarily risky. It’s failing to maximize all possible utility intentionally and blatantly.

According to the metric DVOA, Sidney Rice was the eighth best receiver in football last year. According to most analysts Sidney Rice has physical ability that is matched by only the most elite receivers in football.

But the Seahawks don’t pass the ball very much.

The Seahawks have the 29th most past attempts in the league this year. Two of the three teams below them have played only seven games. The New York Jets have a rookie quarterback named Geno Smith, and the New York Jets have passed the ball 48 more times than the Seattle Seahawks.

Is the Seahawks coaching staff stupid? (Put a sock in it, Bevell haters) Of course not. The Seahawks coaching staff is ostensibly very smart. They have won a lot of games this year. They have been ahead in a lot of games this year. Teams that are ahead pass less than teams that are behind. Teams that are already run-first, or run-heavy teams run even more than average when they are ahead.

At the time of this writing, in the past 24 games the Seahawks have thrown the ball 618 times. In 2012, the average NFL team threw the ball 556 times.

In that time the Seahawks have thrown 41 touchdown passes. Sidney Rice has caught 10 of them and thrown one of them.

In that time Sidney Rices has 65 receptions for 979 yards.

In that time Golden Tate has emerged from the fringe of the roster to become a viable NFL receiver.

In that time Doug Baldwin has risen from obscurity to become the most productive receiver on the Seahawks roster in terms of advanced metrics.

Sidney Rice has been injury prone during his career, but he’s played in each of the last 24 Seahawks games, sixteen of which were started by a rookie quarterback.

With Percy Harvin nearing activation, the team should gain a threat that helps make up for the loss of Rice from a net perspective, if not exactly duplicating the things that Rice does well.

But to think that the Seahawks won’t lose much based on Rice’s numbers is an exercise in ignorance. Numbers are born from skill quite often, but they’re also born from opportunity. Rice has done pretty will with the opportunity he has been given, and he’s a type of receiver for which the Seahawks have no replacement on their roster. If Harvin is activated this week, or next week, the Seahawks may be as good overall as they were prior to Rice’s injury, but they’re most certainly nowhere close to as talented as they would have been if he’d stayed healthy.

For what it’s worth, this injury may have actually improved Rice’s chances of playing for the Seahawks after the 2012 season, especially if the team retains Bevell after this season. As presently constructed, his contract made a ton of sense to be a cap casualty with or without an injury. The injury is likely a nail in the coffin in that regard. But if Rice wants another payday, his chances of showing off his talents are greater in a familiar offense and a friendly city than elsewhere, especially in a circumstance where the context of his injuries are well known, and the depth of his contributions are well-appreciated.

I’m not saying that Sidney Rice’s injury is the difference between a playoff berth and a very sad January, but his injury could prove to be the catalyst for a sad February.