If the growing reality that his NFL playing career may be over is weighing heavy on Doug Baldwin’s mind, he didn’t show it Sunday.
Instead, Baldwin had some fun with the rumors and reports that erupted over the weekend about his future with a two-part tweet in which he initially wrote that he wanted to “be the first one to say’’ how a journey that had been developing over the last eight seasons was going to end. The next tweet then revealed his thoughts on what might happen on that night’s episode of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which like Baldwin’s NFL career with the Seahawks, began in 2011.
Like Baldwin himself during his Seahawks career, it was crafty, intelligent and well done.
The finale of “Game of Thrones” is set for May 19.
A resolution to Baldwin’s NFL career, though, might take a little longer, as NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported Monday morning, echoing what Seahawks general manager John Schneider said Saturday.
Asked then if it would take weeks or months for some clarity to Baldwin’s status, Schneider said “weeks.’’
That implies something will be done by the end of May or so, and likely by at least the time the Seahawks take the field for mandatory minicamp in June.
But as Garafolo and others have noted, Baldwin isn’t likely to officially retire because that would leave him at risk of giving up some money.
Baldwin has two years remaining on a four-year, $46 million deal signed in June 2016, when he was coming off a season in which he had tied for the NFL lead in receiving touchdowns with 14.
The contract includes no more guaranteed money, so unlike with Kam Chancellor, in which the Seahawks were on the hook for a combined $12 million in injury guarantees in 2018 and 2019, Seattle does not have to carry to Baldwin on the roster for salary-cap purposes.
But if Baldwin were to retire, he could be at risk of paying back a portion of a bonus he received at the time he signed, which Pro Football Talk estimated at $2.8 million.
The Seahawks did not ask Marshawn Lynch to pay back $5 million in bonus money when he retired in 2016.
But Baldwin is unlikely to take that chance — or at least, not without having it worked out with the team.
As former NFL agent Joel Corry, who works for CBSSportsline.com, also noted, Baldwin would be due $1.2 million in injury protection money if he is released rather than retiring.
As Corry wrote Sunday, that means “the safest thing for Baldwin is to let Seattle cut him with a failed physical designation to potentially collect injury protection under’’ the league’s collective-bargaining agreement (CBA), an amount that would be $1.2 million in 2019.
It’s these factors that are likely what Schneider was referring to Friday when he said “there is a process to go through with that. … There is stuff with the league office, with the union, that you know we need to work through with him.’’
Garafolo also dropped one interesting nugget about a sports-hernia surgery Baldwin had earlier this month.
According to Garafolo, instead of the surgery being aimed at helping Baldwin return to football it was instead done as “a lifestyle thing,’’ meaning an injury he was going to have to get healed regardless.
Baldwin also is said to have had a shoulder surgery and a knee “procedure’’ this offseason, and Baldwin and the Seahawks may be doing what they can to make sure he has as many of his football-injury-related issues dealt with before he would no longer be officially on the roster.
Regardless, all signs — including Seattle drafting three receivers, its most in any draft since 1981 — point to Baldwin sooner rather than later no longer officially being a member of the Seahawks.
The Seahawks also have to figure out the timing of when to make a move with Baldwin in terms of how and when they want to best aid their salary cap.
As Corry noted, the Seahawks will save $6.856 million against the cap in 2019 if Baldwin is released prior to June 2. If it is done after that date, then the team saves $10 million. In each case, though, that number likely then drops by the $1.2 million of the injury protection money Baldwin would be due.
In either case, Seattle will save $11 million against its cap in 2020 if Baldwin is released.
Chancellor is also likely to be removed from the roster soon, but the timing also matters with Chancellor. If he is cut prior to June 2 then Seattle would save $2.3 million against the cap this year. If he is cut after June 2 then that number balloons to $4.8 million. In either case, removing him from the roster saves $12 million in 2020.
Moves with Chancellor and Baldwin would help the Seahawks as they work to re-sign Bobby Wagner and Jarran Reed, the two players now remaining who can be free agents after the 2019 season whom the team has said it would like to sign to extensions.
Trading Frank Clark last week added $17.1 million to Seattle’s 2019 cap, and the Seahawks used some of that in making a flurry of trades that saw Seattle end up making 11 draft picks after entering the week with just four.
Per OvertheCap.com, the amount of cap space Seattle will devote to its rookie class in 2019 (all picks get contracts that are set ahead of time in terms of years and amount and are slotted via the league’s CBA) is $8.8 million.
That number was projected at $4.2 million when the Seahawks had just four picks.
The upshot is Seattle has about $26 million in effective cap space, according to OvertheCap.com, which includes accounting for the draft pool.
Add in what are likely savings from Baldwin and Chancellor, Seattle has some money to work with in negotiating with Wagner (a new deal would almost certainly be structured to bring down his 2019 cap hit of $14 million) and Reed (any extension would likely bring up his current 2019 cap hit of $1.5 million with this being the final season of his four-year rookie deal).
Moves with Baldwin and Chancellor also would help give the Seahawks some additional cap flexibility over the next few weeks and months as they attempt to acquire some veteran free agents who remain unsigned.
Schneider and coach Pete Carroll each specifically mentioned Seattle going after some of the free-agent pass rushers who remain available (top names include Ziggy Ansah and Nick Perry, the latter of whom played for Carroll at USC and visited the Seahawks last month). And who knows? Maybe Seattle takes a flier on someone like Ndamukong Suh, who also remains unsigned but who talked with the Seahawks in 2018 before signing a one-year contract with the Rams.
But the likely releases of Baldwin and Chancellor will also mean an even further changing of the guard from the core group that brought Seattle its first Super Bowl title in 2013.
If Baldwin and Chancellor are indeed soon former Seahawks, that would mean Seattle would enter the 2019 season with just three players left from the team that beat Denver 43-8 that glorious New Jersey February night in 2014 — Russell Wilson, Wagner and K.J. Wright.