McDowell, the Seahawks’ top draft pick in 2017, suffered a season-ending head injury in an ATV accident. A pattern appears to be developing, one that links their offseason moves. The decks are being cleared of matters that will detract from the on-field development of the team.
The Seahawks’ hyperactive offseason can be viewed through numerous lenses. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that there is one overarching theme.
The Seahawks are dialing down the drama.
They released Sherman rather than take the chance of paying him $11 million while it was unclear if he will recover from an Achilles tendon injury. They traded Bennett to get younger on defense. They shook up their coaching staff because they needed new voices and ideas.
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All well and good, and there’s obvious truth to all those explanations. But I think Seattle Times staff reporter Bob Condotta pretty much nailed it the other day after news broke of the latest pending shakeup, the imminent release of defensive lineman Malik McDowell, as first reported by Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.
Tweeted Bob: “One quick thought is that the Seahawks are just clearing the decks of everything they don’t want to deal with in 2018.”
There’s inherent wisdom in that observation that goes beyond just this move. McDowell, the Seahawks’ top pick in last year’s NFL draft, had his career undone by a head injury suffered in an ATV accident. Throughout last season, Seattle coach Pete Carroll danced around the persistent questions about McDowell’s recovery and potential availability. His status hung over the team like a dark cloud.
Now those questions will be gone, and the Seahawks can put one of the most unfortunate episodes in club history behind them.
The Seahawks, of course, are a team that historically thrives on chaos. Carroll has always encouraged individuality and free expression, and I don’t think that will change, nor should it. Carroll’s way has led to camaraderie and huge success on the field over his tenure.
But after a year in which the team at times seemed overwhelmed by turmoil — and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011 — it sure looks like the Seahawks are trying for a smoother ride.
One of the annual debates in Seattle had been the efficacy of offensive-line coach Tom Cable, and it only grew as the Seahawks running game became even more problematic in 2017. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell had been under scrutiny since the ill-fated end to Super Bowl XLIX. For a variety of reasons, mostly related to X’s and O’s, Carroll and general manager John Schneider decided it was time for a coaching shakeup — one that, as part of the package, will table those particular talking points.
It’s not necessary for me to rehash the distractions that came with Sherman and Bennett, who will be remembered forever, and rightly so, as two of the greatest Seahawks of all time. But they also pushed the envelope in ways that might have finally worn out a Seahawks team weary of endless drama.
And that is why I have slowly come around to the notion that it’s probably not a matter of if safety Earl Thomas will be traded, but when. Thomas represents yet another source of potential distraction and turmoil if he remains on the roster — a protracted negotiation and potential holdout as he seeks a redress of the four-year, $40 million contract that has one year left.
Yes, there also are football reasons to justify a Thomas trade, such as the desire to add high draft picks that hasten and enhance a Seahawks makeover already in progress. Also, the assurance that Thomas doesn’t just walk away at the end of the year and they get nothing.
But if you look through a longer lens, you can see a pattern developing, one that links all these moves. The decks are being cleared of matters that will detract from the on-field development of a team that no longer is regarded as a playoff lock.
I’m also reminded of Schneider’s comment this offseason to the effect that some young players have been too much in awe of the larger-than-life veterans in Seattle’s locker room. As Schneider put it, ‘They are thinking to themselves, ‘Wow, I get to play with Kam Chancellor?’ No, you get to COMPETE with Kam Chancellor. That’s the mind-set we have to get back to. They are a little bit in awe, you know.”
The Seahawks locker room might be a less-charged place in 2018, with more room for young players to breathe and assert themselves. Interestingly, with Sherman in San Francisco, and the Rams loading their roster with talented but volatile players such as Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Ndamukong Suh, the rest of the division might test whether there’s energy and success to be derived from strong personalities.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, will have changed in ways both major and subtle by the time next season rolls around. It should be a much less turbulent ride. Whether it will take them further, though, remains to be seen.