RENTON — Most NFL owners and general managers would prefer to use a franchise quarterback as the best building block for a sustainable championship team.
An argument exists to support that — just look who is playing in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday in Denver.
That game, featuring New England’s Tom Brady and Denver’s Peyton Manning, will certainly appease those who love watching the mass compilation of yards and points.
If you prefer the complete opposite — two teams who’d prefer to walk on burning coals than surrender a touchdown — then tune into the NFC Championship Game between Seattle and San Francisco at CenturyLink Field.
There will be more than just bluster: expect defenses to hit, claw and try to destroy whatever comes their way. Expect running backs — not quarterbacks — to be the focal points of each offense. And anticipate lots of jawing, pointing, showboating and raw emotion.
Because that is the way Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and 49ers counterpart Jim Harbaugh have constructed them, that is how they want their teams to be.
“There is a fundamental approach to the game of football that we share — it’s about playing tough, playing physical, playing defense and relying on really obvious running-game emphasis, ” Carroll said. “It is historically the best way to win football games … and it continues to show itself again.”
Just how have these two NFC West rivals been built?
Carroll wasted no time overhauling the entire Seattle roster when he was hired in 2010 along with John Schneider, who became the Seahawks’ general manager after serving as Green Bay’s director of football operations the previous two seasons.
The two made 284 transactions that first season, which netted a good portion of the nucleus of the team: Tackle Russell Okung and free safety Earl Thomas were drafted in the first round, followed by receiver Golden Tate (second), cornerback Walter Thurmond (fourth) and strong safety Kam Chancellor (fifth).
They also acquired running back Marshawn Lynch in a trade with Buffalo, and defensive end Chris Clemons in a deal with Philadelphia.
And since that first year, they’ve added to the roster mainly by draft (23) or free agency (18). Cornerback Richard Sherman was drafted in the fifth round in 2011, and linebacker Bobby Wagner (second) and quarterback Russell Wilson (third) were drafted in 2012. Defensive linemen Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Tony McDaniel was signed as unrestricted free agents before this season.
Of the 53 players set to be on Seattle’s active roster Sunday, only four remain from the Tim Ruskell era — defensive tackle Brandon Mebane (2007); defensive end Red Bryant and punter Jon Ryan (2008); and center Max Unger (2009).
Long before Harbaugh arrived in 2011, the 49ers were known for the way they ran the football behind bullish tailback Frank Gore, and how dominant linebackers Patrick Willis and Ahmad Brooks were stopping the run.
“I just know they are consistent with what they do — give Frank Gore the ball, give Frank Gore the ball, ” Avril said.
Yet as former coaches Mike Nolan (18-37 record from 2005-08) and Mike Singletary (18-22 from 2008-10) toiled in mediocrity, 49ers player personnel officials were responsible for drafting stars such as Gore (2005); tight end Vernon Davis (2006), Willis (2007); receiver Michael Crabtree (2009); and offensive linemen Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis (2010).
One of those in the front office was Trent Baalke, who was promoted to general manager early in 2011.
Days later, Baalke lured Harbaugh away from Stanford to a 49ers cupboard stocked with high-end NFL talent.
Unlocking that talent, and unleashing it on the NFC West to the tune of three consecutive NFC Championship Game appearances has been one of Harbaugh’s hallmarks.
“He’s evolved with the talent he’s had and the players he’s had in natural fashion, ” Carroll said. “He does a really good job of utilizing the guys on the field. … You see how they adapt when they have their skill guys in order.”
Like Carroll, Harbaugh increased the 49ers pass-rushing threat by drafting Aldon Smith in 2011, found a raw but high-ceiling quarterback in Colin Kaepernick early in the second round of that draft and retooled the team’s secondary by signing cornerback Carlos Rogers and strong safety Donte Whitner as free agents in 2011, and netting free safety Eric Reid in the first round in the 2013 draft.
“I am not surprised Jim has done such a good job coaching, ” Carroll said. “He’s shown with every opportunity he’s had that he’s got great core principles. … He was raised as a coach’s kid. He had demonstrated savvy as a competitor, as a player and it’s translated into his coaching quite obviously.”