Before the Seahawks became known for their crazy-good ideas, they turned Red Bryant into a 323-pound defensive end. He was sort of like the guinea pig for greatness.
Bryant was one of the first experiments of the Pete Carroll era four years ago, and though the Seahawks have done a lot of experimenting since then, Bryant remains one of the best success stories. He seemed headed for the waiver wire, a defensive tackle who couldn’t stay healthy. Then, with one unorthodox move from the inside to outside, he became invaluable. His Seahawks legacy will always be that he was the first convert in the creation of a championship defense.
Now, though, he’s just gone. One of three pre-Carroll holdovers on the Seahawks’ Super Bowl-winning team, the 29-year-old Bryant was released Friday so that the Seahawks could save $5.5 million in cap space. Some players can be replaced. Some, like Bryant, are too rare to force duplication.
It’s conceivable the Seahawks could find another 6-foot-4, 325-pound man to use in the five-technique role. But they’re more likely to be flexible in their thinking, respect Bryant for the unique talent that he is and search for a different type of player in that role. Perhaps that will be a smaller, more versatile end who is good against the run and can rush the passer, which Bryant didn’t do much. Or perhaps Carroll and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn can create a fresh way to look at that position once again.
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But Bryant will remain an original. And though the salary-cap savings is vital, it’s hard to lose an original.
Bryant, the genteel giant, must be the kindest person ever to manhandle another human being. He’s addicted to smiling. He’s thoughtful, capable of taking obvious questions down interesting and unexpected paths. He ends most one-on-one interviews with a “thank you” and a handshake. He’s a Texas gentleman to the core.
He’s also one of the most emotional and intense players in the locker room. He was the team’s defensive captain, and he gave the most spirited speeches. He often spoke for seconds, not minutes, but the message was always well-received and appreciated.
“I talk from the heart,” Bryant said during Super Bowl week. “I believe that resonates with guys. It was hard for me to get to the point where I could speak to a group. That was a big thing in my life.”
Bryant once suffered from dyslexia, as well as the lack of self-esteem it can cause. He said he was diagnosed in the first grade, but it took him until high school to tame the problem. For years, he struggled to read, and his language skills lagged, and so did his confidence. He didn’t feel hope until high school, when he met an English teacher named Sue Brooks.
Brooks died of cancer five years ago, but she was so influential in Bryant’s life that he and his wife gave their son the middle name Brooks.
“I owe so much to her,” Bryant said. “She was always encouraging me, telling me that I wasn’t dumb, that I just learned differently.”
Brooks helped him get into college at Texas A&M, receiving permission to read Bryant the questions when he took the ACT exam. He qualified on his fourth try. And he went on to earn his degree.
“Getting my college degree is one of the proudest moments in my life,” Bryant said.
En route to becoming a Seahawks original, Bryant endured trials that made him tough and learned to trust those who take a special interest in him. If not for Brooks, he might not have listened to Carroll and Quinn four years ago. He might not have maximized the move from tackle to end.
At first, Bryant admits, he thought the Seahawks were moving him to end just because they didn’t have enough bodies.
“I thought I was just going to be a training-camp body,” Bryant said. “I thought they were going to cut me.”
Instead, the move changed the course of his NFL career.
He’ll have plenty of suitors now that he’s a free agent. The Kansas City Chiefs are reportedly very interested. When he was a free agent after the 2011 season, New England and Miami coveted him. He can fit in a 3-4 or 4-3 defensive scheme. If you’re hoping he’ll fall through the cracks and return to Seattle at a bargain price, that’s not likely to happen.
As I wrote last week, you must embrace change and trust that the Seahawks, who are determined to be great for as long as possible, have a solid plan to overcome the loss of productive, popular players. But even if you understand the move, it doesn’t mean you have to like it.
There’s no replacing Bryant, the genteel giant. It’s time to do something different.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
For example, the Seahawks lost the benefit of having the two tallest starting cornerbacks in league history when Brandon Browner was suspended during the season. But somehow, they wound up being even better in the secondary after plugging in Walter Thurmond and, later, Bryon Maxwell.
The Seahawks will reshuffle to account for Bryant’s on-field impact. So the real disappointment is more personal, more sentimental, the realization that a founding member of this championship defense can’t contribute to the greatness anymore.
Well, at least Big Red — No. 79, the son-in-law of Jacob Green — leaves knowing this: He’s a Seahawks immortal. And soon, he’ll have a ring to prove it.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277
On Twitter @JerryBrewer