Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Cost of a Millennial Life...

 How I hate those moments, when life - the course of a life lived - hurls itself at me... Yesterday, a young man - I've known since he was 6 or 7 years old - took his own life. How I'll grapple with the event itself isn't why I'm writing this though, because there's something else nagging at me. I think young men (and women) like the one I mentioned are at risk from something that's going to be parsed and defined more often as time goes on. Some use the term "Millennials" to describe the current crop of young people between the ages of 16 to 30-ish...

Often labeled as a generation of concern by people labeled "Baby-Boomers," and the offspring of the  late 1970's to 1990's parental tree, Millennials are the cultural shift off shoot of an America transitioning through a myriad of social changes at the family level. The family unit changed drastically, with both parents working more and more, while child rearing began to shift toward an arm's length approach out of necessity. The family unit itself became even more nondescript as marital divorce became more acceptable - and in many instances, rightly so. Technology has lent an odd hand in all this, but more on that at another time...

The Millennial child gets a bad rap. Many in my age sphere lament how ill-focused and prepared young people are today. Yet, I can't help but think we don't take into consideration just how we've set Millennials up for failure? We somehow allowed the thinking that Millennials - like other generations before them - should be able to find their way as we have, and it's just idiotic...

This current world is so infinitely more complex than the one I, and those of my own generation, had to handle growing up that it borders on the absurd. It's overwhelming to take a glimpse at yourself, and try to fit how a child of the "Cold War" era would handle everything being thrown at today's young people. "WE" had both parent - divorce being a social "no-no" - and far less of what's going on  in the world pounded on us ever second of the day. Information technology was in its infancy, so there was kind of a layer of forgiveness built in. Today, a small criminal misstep can literally end a young person's future prospects in the blink of an eye. When I was young, you were more likely to get a ride home by a law enforcement officer for youthful indiscretions. No paperwork, just a stern talking to, and that uncomfortable - and unforgettable - time as the officer told your parents what you'd done... Today, everything a child does is documented and stored. It's available for anyone to see, with stale facts precluding any hint of becoming a better person later in life being left left out.

Yes, I'm more than a little alarmed at just how thinly prepared "Millennials" appear to be to take on life in an infinitely complex world. But all the problems aren't of their making, and the solution set has somehow alluded falling at the feet of those who've put them in this position...

If I could speak to the masses of Millennials, I'd tell them to set aside thoughts of trying to push through life on their own. The old line "It takes a village..." applies more now, than ever. The African proverb holds true through time. The Bible embraces this wisdom too:

"Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken..." - Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

It's simple enough, but how thinly Millennials consider history - and what can be learned from mankind's thousands of years of successes and failures - could very well be a tipping point for this generation. While current educational focus has been squarely set toward math and science to compete in the global marketplace, the lack of emphasis on history and reading - especially beyond 140 characters in length - leaves a vast pool of pool of untapped knowledge laid to waste in libraries and search engines. Millennial disdain for expanding their minds to broaden their base understanding of the world, drastically effects their ability to cohesively interact and excel with the community as a whole. They bring less to the table when wisdom is called for, and it limits their available solutions sets.

This world swallowed a young man I cherished. Overwhelmed by his circumstance, he didn't reach out to family and friends. But let's be clear, his life's end falls on my, and everyone else's shoulders who knew him. As I look back, the space between myself and this young man was far too broad. The sad thing is, as I look around me, the single point I can readily tie to him is a phone number, in a cell phone list hundreds of names long. The numbers in everyone's phone represent an instant epitaph of how minuscule and shrinking human interaction has become. I know I'm not the only one who's seen families sitting next to each other, and no one is speaking. They're all texting someone, or living their lives on some social media stream. There may be some who are satisfied that 140 characters on a small screen is interaction, and if you're one of them I feel sorry for you. If you are, you will remain outside the village we all so desperately need to survive...

So what's the cost of a Millennial's life? How much does it cost to reach out and help, because it's a price I, and everyone else fail to think worthy...










Saturday, March 12, 2016

NFL Weekend: Free Agent Shop 'Til You Drop

...The 2016 NFL free agency scene had some teams throwing cash around like sailors on leave. The New York Giants spent a whopping $204.5 million to rebuild a sagging defense. Miami hit the "gotta wonder what they're thinking" button when they signed Mario Williams, C.J. Anderson, Jermon Bushrod, Isa Abdul-Quddus, and swapped first round pick in the 2016 NFL draft with Philadelphia to acquire Bryon Maxwell and Kiko Alonzo. The evil schadenfreude in me wants to be the fly on the wall when Ndamukong Suh knocks heads with the mercurial Mario Williams...

**
Speaking of "Butts", the Denver Broncos sent a conditional 7th round draft pick to Philadelphia for quarterback Mark Sanchez...



Yes, this monkey is going to be on Sanchez's back forever. If he should somehow blossom into the greatest quarterback in NFL history - and make into the Hall of Fame - at his induction ceremony they'll play this infamous moment over and over again. No doubt Baby Got Back - "I like Big Butts" - will be playing in the background... Denver fans have to be reeling, as they transition from Peyton Manning to having one of the biggest "fill in the blank" questions ever at quarterback for 2016. They'll be going cold turkey after riding the high of having one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, to one who gave us a Thanksgiving Day football game that'll be etched into our minds forever...



***
Quite a few NFL teams have stayed quiet during the free agent maelstrom so far. Baltimore, Green Bay, New England, Los Angeles, and Indianapolis have concentrated on re-signing some of their players. The Rams took a hit in their secondary, losing Janoris Jenkins and Rodney McLeod - the latter being the more damaging loss for Los Angeles. The secondary for the Rams was just starting to peek out from behind a dismal decade of terrible pass coverage; especially at the safety position.
New England did add a wide receiver. Buffalo's Paul Hogan will join the Patriots after impressing head coach Bill Belichick with his football savvy.
So now a quarterback/wide receiver "Barbershop Quartet" will see if they can sing for Bill Belichick in 2016. Sunscreen dependent, I think this may become a very interesting group to watch this season...

6387499183_865a22a5ed_z.0.jpg

Green Bay needs to re-sign James Jones, who was one of the best stories to follow in 2015. His 890 receiving yards, 8 touchdown on 50 receptions came after his being ignored by teams during free agency. After Jordy Nelson went down, it still took the Packers weeks to bring back one of Aaron Rodgers' favorite targets. He's sitting in the unemployment line right now, but only teams with an elite quarterback need come calling. Jones won't wow anyone with his speed, but he seems to find a way to make the best quarterbacks better...

****
The best free agent signing by a team thus far? My vote goes to the Pittsburgh Steelers inking tight end Ladarius GreenWith the retirement of Heath Miller, Green was a flat out bargain: 4 years/$20 million. An example of pre-determined and focused free agent shopping, the Steelers never wavered in who they wanted. Green played in the shadow of future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates, who re-signed with San Diego after an injury marred 2015 season. Now he'll join one of the best aerial attacks in the NFL. I give this signing a solid gold: A+
The worst free agent so far? I know this is just my opinion, but the money paid by the New York Giants for the Rams' Janoris Jenkins is down right absurd. I'll eat my words if he somehow avoids getting regularly burned long in 2016, but I really think that won't happen. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo needs shutdown corner backs. Jenkins has the ability to do just that, but it's his tendency to sprinkle in ill-timed gambles that'll have Giants fans cringing. His own comments at a Giants presser should set off warning flags, when he said he needed to "stop being lazy at the end of games..." Now that's what you want to hear after signing away $62.5 million, right...? I give this signing a: C-

*****
Have a great weekend! Follow me on Twitter: @thenovelroad

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Narrative Distance: A Place To Start

Narrative Distance...

While some think less about this key piece in the writing puzzle, it's where the tipping point exists between great works, and the rest. In an e-mail to a young writer, I tossed him a basic starting point for grappling with Narrative Distance. Right or wrong in my direction, I think it's a good enough reminder for any writer to occasionally peruse... 

***

Don't confuse "Narrative Distance" with objectivity, or editorial distance. This aspect of writing is usually explained in two parts: Narrative Voice and Narrative Distance. The "Voice" is the easy one. It's the character POV (Point of View), meshed with the innate tenor each writer brings to a piece. "Distance", is something I like to explain as "the fly on the wall" narrator. How far away the "fly" is from the action dictates how much scope the reader is provided. It's tricky, because some writers fall into a "wordy" trap, thinking "Distance-set" means prolonged setting details. While you can use setting (lighting, geography, time of day, ect...) to frame your character's or subject's tenor, too much will draw the reader too far away; minimizing focal points.

In every story or article, there is - without exception - an inherent Narrator. News stories written are offered from close POV, but the "Distance" the writer has to take is dependent on the facts at hand. If the facts in evidence are indisputable - not needing observation to glean what is, or isn't true - the writer can write unequivocally. If the facts aren't absolute, or are vague, a good writer creates distance by stating sourced observations of the subject, or event. In each case, the writer is the narrator.

Opinion based pieces need to have "Opinion Dependent Distance". How much of what the writer says is based on facts - set off against judgement inspired by personal thoughts, passions or morays - will actually set the POV, and even the overall tenor of a piece.

 Let's look at Narrative Distance in a "beginner" way...  Think of a zoom camera lens for a minute. Now, think about Narrative Distance in these three aspects: (1) Close, (2) Near, (3) Far

"Close" - This is either the writer acting as narrator, or one of his characters. The camera lens zooms in close, framing faces, and not the outside world around them. There is no sound, or exterior noise other than the strictly narrated facts or dialogue.

"Near" -  Observed action effected by immediate surroundings is key here. If the writer has two people talking in a crowded room, the people around them, the purpose of the room itself, and even the time of day (among a myriad of other reasons) can set the narrative distance. But let's say the room has a window? What's "outside" this room defined world is sliced out, narrowing the focus of the lens...

"Far" - The key here is to know "far" isn't about "physical" distance. The same two people mentioned earlier in the room are talking, but the thoughts going through their heads as they speak now comes into play. The narrator draws out the "How-s" and Why-s" of what's being said, then adds in observational aspects to set tone, tenor and intent... 

The pieces I write - and you're able to read, since most of what I write you don't have access to - feature a variety of Narrative Distance-s. In the Front Office Fiction pieces, the Distance used is "Close" and "Near". I've written features like my "The NFL and CTE" interview in "Close" and "Far", with zero "Near", which is VERY tricky to do. My novel - Devin Briar - is a character-driven story, so it's written in "Close", Near" and "Far".  

A good writer uses the zoom lens to shift in and out across a broad set of circumstances posed. How you slide between these three aspects of Narrative Distance will determine the flow of what - and how - you write...

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Tao of Chip Kelly

...The sudden purge of talented veteran players by the Philadelphia Eagles caught every NFL fan by surprise. Then came the curious additions to offset the subtractions: LeSean McCoy is traded to Buffalo, and DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews are added thru free agency. Quarterback Nick Foles bops his way via trade to St. Louis for oft injured Sam Bradford. I could go on listing the moves by Eagles' head coach Chip Kelly, but you've see it all as its streamed in headlines across sports-pages. A life long NFL fan, I've never seen anything close to what's been going on in Philadelphia...


So is Chip Kelly a genius, or mad man?

What intrigues me most, is trying to glean just what he saw - or didn't see - in players most fans thought were pretty damn good? LeSean "Shady" McCoy is one of the elite running backs in the NFL. Why did Chip Kelly opt for Dallas' Murray and San Diego's Matthews; both of whom have had checkered injury histories? Linebacker Trent Cole - now with Indianapolis, and is going into his 11th NFL season - was a key component for a middle of the road defense in Philadelphia. While they added Kiko Alonzo from Buffalo in the McCoy trade, and the competition for linebacker spots looks decent, Alonzo is coming back from injury.  So Kelly shifted from a solid veteran "maybe", to a second year linebacker with potential/injury "maybe"?


"...Kelly gave a contract extension in between raving about the veteran’s leadership qualities. Kiko Alonso is the only return Kelly managed to acquire while parting with LeSean McCoy,Trent Cole, Todd Herremans, Evan Mathis and Cary Williams. Meanwhile, Kelly has commented on how much time Mychal Kendricks missed last year with a calf injury."ESPN.com

While the 49ers have lost loads of players this off season, it's nothing close to Philly. Players left San Francisco of their own accord. Not so in Philly, where Chip Kelly has made sweeping changes based on his view of what kind of team he wants to coach... He signed a 5 year/$32 million contract in 2013 with the Eagles after flirting with Cleveland. In his first year, his offense piled up big numbers. Averaging 417.2 yards per game put the Eagles just behind Denver and Peyton Manning for the most prolific offense in the NFL. Nick Foles finished with 27 TD passes, only 2 interception, and a league best 119.2 QB rating. A more balanced attack than most thought would happen, Kelly's offense generated 2,566 yards on the ground, and 4,110 in the air. That's 6,676 yards combined, folks!

Then, it happened... Kelly wanted more. After a front office shake up left Kelly with more overall control of team direction, players began to to be shipped out, in what came to look like a wholesale house cleaning. In 2013, wide receiver DeSean Jackson had a career best 1,332 receiving yards. He was quickly shuttled out of town after the season. The most interesting - and for me, down right puzzling move - was the trade of LeSean Mcoy to Buffalo. Over the last two seasons, McCoy's production was fantastic: 2,926 rushing yards/694 receiving, and 16 touchdowns. The stat that may be hardest to replace though, is his 179 first downs over the last two seasons... Lots of moves have happened for the Eagles, but these two kind of set an interesting stage for what followed.

I'm actually enjoying watching what Chip Kelly does. He's kicking over the conventional wisdom table. He's in one of the toughest NFL fan towns though. So many would think the Philadelphia fans would be on the verge of rioting in the streets, right? Not so fast. SBNation's Eagles blog - Bleeding Green Nation - has run a month to month job approval poll regarding Chip Kelly. Take a look at the numbers:

So, do you approve of the job Chip Kelly has done as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles?
Chip Kelly Approval Polls:
Interesting? Add in Kelly's signing Tim Tebow to the quarterback mix, and at times it seems he's going to great lengths to keep the Eagles' fan base guessing? The Philadelphia media - long known for being one of the toughest crowds around - has been held in check by Kelly... For now, anyway. I can't help but think the media hounds in Philly won't allow Kelly much leeway going into the 2015 season. If his great experiment falters even the slightest bit, they're going to pounce on him...

I like the idea of a head coach attacking his job in his own way. Kelly's gone at this with his hair on fire, and foot mashing the gas pedal to the floor. "Great experiments" in the NFL are fairly rare. Conventional wisdom, and conservative moves are the standard for the most part. I'm rooting for Kelly to succeed, simply because he's created an air of unknown possibilities. Will he? I don't know, but it's going to be the biggest story line in the NFL for 2015. Now, let's sit back and watch...

*** A big thank you to Pete Dunbar for the great pictures!***

Saturday, June 6, 2015

NFL 2015: What's Going On With The 49ers?


When San Francisco's linebacker Chris Borland announced his retirement after only a single NFL season, it seemed well reasoned, but odd at the same time. What no one saw at the time is how it cracked open a floodgate...

Patrick Willis, the perennial All-Pro middle linebacker - followed Borland into AARP-land. Losses in free agency added to woes being felt by first year head coach Jim Tomsula. Justin Smith called it a career after 14 NFL seasons. Frank Gore hit the road to Indianapolis, and Michael Crabtree headed across the Bay to Oakland, while guard Mike Iupati wandered off to Arizona. Now, starting right tackle Anthony Davis announced his retirement, though he left the door open for a return...
If you want to look at all this honestly, drawing the line back to last season - when rumbling of player/front office dissatisfaction began to bubble up around then-head coach Jim Harbaugh - makes some sense? From a distance, I can almost see the 49ers players were split into two camps: Pro-Harbaugh, and Con-Harbaugh... Then again, is it reasonable to look even further to a dysfunction in the front office and ownership?

One thing seems to have an underlying truth to it though: Players are leaving in droves regardless of money concerns. In an age where players seem overly craven where $$$dollars are concerned, the 49ers have people simply walking away...

Health concerns - when it comes to playing the game of football - are very real, and I respect anyone who makes the tough choice to stop playing a game that's been something they've loved. Willis' decision to retire is understandable. He's been struggling with foot issues for a number of years, and pain takes a toll on anyone. Davis' sudden decision is tougher to understand, especially when you consider his hint at a return in the future. Players who are injured get put on Injured Reserve; they don't have to retire to heal. It makes me wonder if Davis' is really injured, or simply trying to gain his release from the 49ers? He did suffer a substantial concussion last season that caused him to miss four games. Is this a response by Davis to resist efforts by the 49ers to force him to play when he thinks he needs more healing time? Could be, but it's just speculation...

Yet, what's going on with the 49ers right now has stepped beyond an aberration. No other NFL team is going through anything close to this. Add in how young the 49ers players who are retiring, and it has to make you wonder what's going on in San Francisco? Not to stir the pot even further, but is anyone else thinking some of this represents a broad showing of a "lack of confidence" in Tomsula/Baalke/owner Ted York?

One of the most storied NFL franchises is in deep trouble. The San Francisco 49ers are still a formidable team, but how much more disarray can they handle?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Jeff Somers on Book Promotion

The Jeff Somers 10 do's and don’ts when it comes to book promotion:
(FYI - Remember to read the footnotes)
The Terminal State (Avery Cates)

DO

1. ... get a haircut. Whatever that means to you. Shave your head, dye your hair, buy a new wig, *make* a new wig from the shedded fur of your cat -- whatever. Just do some hair maintenance. Nothing makes you look crazier when standing up in front of a room of people than Crazy Hair [a].

2. ... remember that most promotion has no immediate return. Readings, interviews, web sites, videos, podcasts, advertising - it will all seem to disappear into the endless void without a ripple, and you will despair. All you can do is try everything and hope it has an effect down the line.
3. ... readings, but temper your expectations. I have read to packed houses with standing-room-only crowds, I have *literally* read to my wife and two bookstore employees, neither of whom seemed impressed. Readings are hard to predict, so be prepared for despair.
4. ... couple Readings with something else. Even a packed reading will only move a few copies of your book - if you can get some local news coverage you've hit PR gold!
5. ... make a web site. Incredibly cheap, permanent promotion with potential to reach everyone in the universe. Don't go crazy - it's better to have a simple site with boring design that works than some crazy, animated-GIF hellhole of a site.
6. ... have a few drinks. Before appearances, during readings, afterwards if someone is footing the bill. While you don't want to be disastrously drunk when doing a reading or other appearance, you don't want to be sober either. Sobriety is terrifying.
7. ... learn to dance. Nothing will save a bombing public appearance like sudden and inexplicably entertaining with break-dancing. Watch old episodes of "What's Happening?!" and learn moves from ReRun. Trust me on this.
8. ... prepare for readings. When doing a reading, select the portion of your book you're going to read. Time it so it's around 5 minutes of reading time. Try to end on a strong beat. Try not to choose a section that has a lot of dialog. DO NOT EVER DO VOICES FOR YOUR CHARACTERS. Print it out on letter-sized paper in a big font. Practice a few times. Even reading it once will save you from stumbling over your own words like English is your third or possibly fourth language.
9. ... be prepared for people to laugh at the wrong times. Just go with it, and pretend you meant your dramatic moment to be hilarious.
10. ... prepare for interviews, both in-person and via email. Have *interesting* answers to the standard questions. Trust me when I say that telling us you started writing as a kid and would write for free, because it is your passion, is NOT interesting. In the least. [b]

The Final Evolution (Avery Cates)
Available June 28th


DON'T

1. ... spend money. Well, not much. Some bookmarks and business cards, a web site registration and hosting -- fine. But self-funding an ambitious book tour or advertising campaign will only end in tears.
2. ... use every communication you have with any other human being on the planet to plug your book. People are pretty understanding that you want to get the word out, but there is a line. Find it, fix it's location in your head, and never cross it.
3. ... attempt black magic or deals with the devil to make your book a bestseller. This does not seem to work, no matter how often I, er, people try [c].
4. ... respond to bad reviews. Ever. No matter how insulting, puerile, or obviously personally motivated they are. You will come off looking like a prick, and the bad reviewer will simply post your arguments as proof of your immaturity. Take it lying down and don't worry about it.
5. ... obsess over your Amazon sales rank. Amazon is still a small portion of the book market overall, and their sales rank algorithm is Fancy Math that no one understands. It may actually be witchcraft, or completely random. No one knows.
6. ... spam. Mass emails are only acceptable if you have a list of people who have volunteered for such atrocities, and even then should be used sparingly, to announce things that are coming up too quickly for people to discover for themselves.
7. ... assault people physically or scream at them, demanding they buy your book in bulk. This results in more arrests than sales, believe it or not.
8. ... make it all about selling your book. Sure, that's the goal and you shouldn't be shy/ashamed about it, but you have to offer people more than a sales pitch. Entertain them. When you're reading or signing books, be fun and interesting. If you're making a video or web site, give away some content and have fun.
9. ... take yourself too seriously. The only people who like serious writers are no one ever. No one likes serious writers. People like their writers humble, inebriated, and jolly. And, if my own experience means anything, pantsless.
10. ... buy a trained monkey. You might think he'll dance and jig and amuse the crowd, and then be trained to fetch you whiskeys when you're home. But in reality he will soil every surface of your house, steal things from your wallet/purse, and then run away at the first opportunity, breaking your heart [d].

[a] I myself had Crazy Hair continuously from 2004-2009. No power on Earth could tame it. My career suffered accordingly.
[b] It is okay to make stuff up when applying #10. Create your own backstory. You're a writer, after all.
[c] Plus, all those dead sacrificial chickens. Yuck.
[d] COME HOME, BONGO! All is forgiven, I promise.
                    

Saturday, July 26, 2014

NFL Fines List: Where You Pay To Play...

During my Saturday morning Interwebs cruise, I happened upon a Tweet by the Boston Globe's Ben Volin. He posted the NFL's fine list for those slap-happy moments when emotions and lacking self control sneak into the game of football...
Some of the fines I can easily understand. But the thing which kind of jumps out at me is the "down to the last dollar" amounts? Make contact with a game official: $27,562... What's the last $62, a way of making a player reeeealy think about what he's done as he fills out the check? Paying that last $37 for having a foreign substance on your uniform is for the cleaning bill, right?
Fighting and touching the men who throw penalty flags are the biggies at $55,125 for a second offense. The real bargain on the list is standing too close to a fight: $2,756. Ringside seats don't come cheap, but if a player must mill around a brawl - and many of them MUST -  it will only cost them a few grand.


"Gang Signing"? My mind - being a titchy thing anyway - veered away from what this really means to an absurd image of a player being fined after being drafted by the "Eastside Whatevers", ect. He gathers with the gang at a tattoo parlor and has his new affiliation inked next to his barbed wire "tat", just below the picture of his Mom. Then he gets fined, and throws a party...
I can't help but wonder where all this fine money goes, not to mention just how much is gathered each year? Maybe it's a part of Rodger Goodell's bonus package, or donated to charity? Then again, is it a tax deduction for the fined player? Is his insurance carrier notified? Every time I get fined my insurance seems to go up, so it's only fair, right? When a player tries to get his child into a nice private school, will the principle whip out a fine sheet and read off his many violations? "I see here you "leg-whipped" a player in Philadelphia, and failed to attach your chin strap 17 times! Can we expect the same thing from young Buford, because that's not going to be tolerated here at the Wellington Academy preschool..."
What fines catch your eye? Let me hear about your thoughts on the NFL's "cash for bash" penalty system...

Sunday, June 15, 2014

NFC West: Seattle Seahawks


 I recently had the opportunity to chat with Field Gull's columnist Kenneth Arthur. If you aren't familiar with "FG" - and you happen to be a Seattle Seahawks fan - you're missing the boat. It's packed with "12th man" crazy people. I talked with Ken about a few topics heading into the 2014 NFL season...

  While sorting through all the off season moves and losses via free agency, then adding in the recent NFL Draft, most teams have new questions in 2014? How did Seattle do overall on each side of the ball? Give me a 1 to 10 grade, with 10 being best.

 Ken : Defense - 9 and Offense - 8

It’s tough for me to “grade” the offseason moves because the Seahawks didn’t make a lot of them. At least, not externally. They didn’t go out in free agency and get much, though they made a serious effort to sign Jared Allen. Even though the defense lost three “starters” with Chris Clemons, Red Bryant, and Clint McDonald (And Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond, but both were on their way out), the front office did what it most wanted to do: Sign Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, and Pete Carroll to long extensions, plus re-signing Michael Bennett.
That’s really the main reason that the other NFC West teams should be saying “Damn it!” when it comes to Seattle’s offseason. They didn’t really replace Clem, Bryant, or McDonald either, but they’ve been stashing players on the depth chart and practice squad. Players like Jordan Hill, Jesse Williams, Benson Mayowa, and the re-signed O’Brien Schofield will compete for spots, plus rookies like Cassius Marsh and Jimmy Staten. The crux of the defense — the secondary — is going to be as good as ever. That’s huge.

On offense they lost Golden Tate and Breno Giacomini, while not yet extending Doug Baldwin (if they even do) but also re-negotiating Zach Miller’s deal down without having to release him. Instead, they drafted Paul Richardson and tackle Justin Britt to compete for starting roles. The loss of Giacomini on the right side of the line is more than survivable, though Tate’s loss is certainly not to be overlooked. That being said, Percy Harvin can come in and play 16 games (technically he could do that!) and it’ll be like upgrading over what Tate did in 2013 in a major way. They also released and re-signed Sidney Rice to a more reasonable deal and will be hoping for a big sophomore season from Christine Michael at running back.

Seattle’s offseason won’t seem like much if you just compare the 2013 roster to the 2014 roster, but in reality, they were busy and got almost everything they wanted.

 After studying the NFC West teams, I think they all - particularly the St. Louis Rams - have offensive line needs. In fact, it looks like the position of need they all have in common is Guard (Right or Left)? How did your team address it's offensive line needs this off season?

The Seahawks lost Giacomini as the starting right tackle, but he may have been close to losing his job last season anyway. 7th round pick Michael Bowie looked just as good, if not better, in place of Giacomini last season, while undrafted free agent Alvin Bailey was one of the breakout stars for the team in the 2013 preseason. So if those two competed for the starting RT job, the team would probably be okay, but they also drafted Justin Britt at the end of the second round. The team did not pick up the fifth year option on James Carpenter, which likely means that unless he has a great preseason and season, he’s done with Seattle. In fact, if he loses his job in the preseason, he will probably just be released. 
He was the starting left guard last season and JR Sweezy was the starting right guard. Sweezy also struggled and so the team might be looking for other players to step up and force the issue. It’s possible that Bowie wins RT, pushing Bailey into the RG competition, and Sweezy into a battle for LG. I’m keeping an eye on Stephen Schilling, a local kid that ended up getting released by the Chargers. It’s not weird to think he can compete for a starting job; after al, Giacomini was just a guy that Seattle picked up off of the Packers practice squad a few years ago.
Overall, the line is probably the weak link on the team. That being said, it was good enough to win a Super Bowl and can only get better. People often forget that left tackle Russell Okung was placed on IR last season, only to return before the playoffs. There were injuries all over the line, including Pro Bowl center Max Unger, so it’s fair to think it’ll be getting better.

  The NFC West appears to be sliding ever farther into a "run first" division. The Seahawks have the best running back (Marshawn Lynch) who fits this bill, with San Francisco's Frank Gore not far behind. The Rams have a promising second year RB in Zac Stacy, and Arizona's Andre Ellington showed flashes in 2013.
 Arizona may be the last holdout to "the run", since they really haven't added any running back depth via the draft or free agency? San Francisco is so deep at RB, that it's hard to see how they can keep all of them on the roster. Seattle has proven depth at the position, after hitting prior drafts for quality running backs to groom behind "Beast Mode". The Rams have Stacy, and a marginally proven Benny Cunningham to go with recent draftee Tre Mason, but the signs are there that Sam Bradford will be edging more toward handing the ball off more often than passing this season.

  How do you evaluate the Seahawks' run game for 2014?

  The Seahawks run game was surprisingly inefficient at times last season, and overall, the passing game actually had a higher DVOA than the running game. (8th in run DVOA, 7th in pass DVOA.) Marshawn Lynch really did beast mode the offense into points in 2011 and 2012, but in 2013, Seattle was all about their ridiculously great defense and big plays on offense. By adding Richardson in the second round and getting Harvin back to full health, they expect to stretch the field out, open up the box, keep safeties deep, keep linebackers honest, and then punch Lynch down a defense’s throat. The play of second-year back Michael will be huge however, because he’ll add a different element of explosion from the backfield. However, it’s concerning that he played almost never as a rookie. Even if they didn’t need him, there were certainly times where they COULD have played him and opted not to anyway. His blocking may be a concern, but if it’s an attitude problem, that’s much worse. Overall, if the line stays healthy, and if the receivers can stretch the field, then Seattle will probably be an improved running team in 2014.
Yep, improved!

 Defense is literally the watch-word for the NFC West. How did Seattle improve on defense this off season? What were the biggest additions or subtractions in the off season? What's the weakness on defense for your team?

A weakness? Not bloody likely. The Seahawks had arguably the best defense EVER last season. I know that people are going to hate that buzz phrase, and they’ll point out teams in history that did things that may have been more impressive (I love certain defenses of past eras, like the 2002 Bucs) and I’m not saying that Seattle definitely did have the best defense of all time, but I’m saying they have an argument. Why? 
43-8 against the “best offense ever.”
The biggest problem is that the Leo position is a critical one for this defense and we don’t know yet if they replaced Clemons with someone great. That being said, Clemons may have lost a step for part of last season due to ACL recovery, and the Seahawks still won the Super Bowl. Seattle likes to add young players and mold them into greatness. That’s what they did by adding Clemons when no one had heard of him in a trade with the Eagles. That’s what they did when they moved Bryant from DT to DE. That’s what they did by trading Kelly Jennings for McDonald. They signed Bennett to a one year contract for FIVE million dollars. They drafted Sherman and Chancellor in the fifth round. They added KJ Wright in the fourth and Byron Maxwell in the sixth and signed Browner from the CFL. So the “low key” draft picks and signings of 2014 may turn out to be the reason that the Seahawks continue to dominate under Carroll and Schneider. We don’t know that yet for sure, but I feel very confident. Why?
43-8.

 The NFC West will be playing outside of division games against the AFC West and NFC East. Which opponents in these division look like the biggest problem for your team?

  If anyone answers anything other than “Broncos” for the AFC West, I am worried for their health.
In the NFC East, I actually have the Giants winning the division. I think the East is a crappy division and I think that’s why teams rise up and down so quickly year to year. The Giants get a slightly easier schedule than Philly and Dallas. I think the Eagles are fun to watch, but I think the Giants might be better.

 Give me your win/loss forecast for each team in the NFC West, and more importantly, the team to watch in the division other than your own?

1. Seahawks 13-3
2. 49ers 11-5
3. Rams 9-7
4. Cardinals 7-9

   I don’t know if that math checks out but it seem fair to me. I don’t know if the Seahawks are six games better than the Cardinals though. Again, I’m not sure if the math checks out. But I think that’s how I’d rank the teams in order. I’m fine with Arizona, they might actually finish in second, I guess I just think the Rams schedule sets up nicer and their first round additions were much better than anyone else in the division. The division is good enough that I don’t know what’s going to happen but I would say this:
Seattle can finish in first or second, but not third or fourth.
49ers can finish in first, second, or third.
Rams can finish in second, third, or fourth.
Cardinals can finish in second, third, or fourth.

I think only SEA and SF can win it, and only STL and AZ can finish in last, but all teams have a good shot at the playoffs. I still think the Seahawks are the team to beat in the whole NFL. Why?
43-8.