“We’ve got some motivation,” veteran wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. “We had a lot of stuff happen in the offseason.”
By “stuff,” he means the rifts that formed in the Seattle locker room following the Seahawks’ 28-24 loss to New England in the Super Bowl following the 2014 season. Quarterback Russell Wilson had led his team to the goal line, the brink of a comeback win and a second consecutive championship and a chance to steal dynasty rights from Tom Brady and the Patriots. But instead it was cornerback Malcolm Butler who, with 20 seconds to play, jumped in front of Wilson’s pass for an interception to seal New England’s first championship in a decade.
The Patriots were the NFL’s kings again, and according to an ESPN article that thoroughly detailed the aftermath in Seattle, some in the Seahawks organization felt as if something had been stolen from them. According to the ESPN piece, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, one of the league’s biggest stars, blamed Wilson, the team’s most important — and highest-paid — player.
All this following a season that, on the surface, seemed to underscore the health of the Seahawks’ franchise, not simmering locker room drama. The team won 10 games in 2016 and finished first in the NFC West for the third time in Wilson’s five seasons. Seattle’s postseason ended with a division-round loss to Atlanta, the eventual conference champion, but as it turns out, the months after the season offered a more revealing look into the overall state of the franchise.
Fingers were pointed. Sides were taken. Whispers were amplified.
Then, Baldwin said, the Seahawks came back to work and, because of proximity and long hours, had no choice but to confront each other.
“We play a very violent sport,” Baldwin said, “and sometimes it leads to a lot of emotion, a lot of testosterone getting built up, and it comes out in various ways. And we handled that accordingly, in-house.”
If that was handled, the most glaring problem on the field in 2016 — the protection of Wilson, who was sacked 41 times last year and suffered ankle and knee injuries — was addressed but not exactly satisfied. The Seahawks signed free agent blocker Luke Joeckel, a disappointment in Jacksonville considering the Jaguars made him the No. 2 overall pick in 2013, and drafted interior lineman Ethan Pocic in the second round. Seattle’s line coach, Tom Cable, is one of the NFL’s best, but considering the lack of overall talent protecting Wilson, it seems the sixth-year passer could spend another season in escape mode — and, more significantly, trying to stay healthy.
“A couple of them last year were just little freak things,” Wilson said of the injuries. “I’ve always gotten down. I’ve always slid. I’ve always gotten out of bounds. I’ve never really been injured before.”
Wilson, for his part, spent the offseason adapting to a Brady-inspired workout and eating plan to cut extra weight and improve his flexibility. He largely stopped eating sugar, dairy and gluten and reported to the Seahawks’ offseason program having lost 6 percent of his body fat.
“You try to do as much as you can to allow yourself to be at the highest peak of being successful as possible,” Wilson said. “I can watch film all day. I study like crazy. I love to work out. But … I love to eat. I grew up eating whatever I wanted and whatever’s available. Now it’s more focused on, what can I do nutrition-wise and health-wise to increase my ability right now?”
Right now, as he put it, is the operative phrase. Seattle still has Wilson, the suffocating and hard-hitting “Legion of Boom” on defense and Coach Pete Carroll.
But with time passing and key players aging — Sherman will turn 30 in March, and Pro Bowl performers Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are both 31 — Seattle cannot afford the mistakes of 2016. Not if it expects to enter next offseason with something to celebrate, rather than more problems to confront.