Despite immense talent, Michael never caught on to all of the intricacies the Seahawks demand of their running backs, and he was traded to Dallas for a conditional seventh-round pick.
It was accepted as gospel — from coaches, scouts and nonpartisan evaluators — that running back Christine Michael oozed talent. He walked into a room or onto a field and his potential demanded to be seen. It was that obvious.
Former NFL scout Louis Riddick once called Michael the most gifted running back drafted in the last five years. A strength and conditioning coach who worked with both players once said Michael was just as explosive as Adrian Peterson.
And yet on Sunday the Seahawks traded Michael, a second-round pick in 2013, to the Dallas Cowboys for a conditional seventh-round pick. It’s the kind of trade teams make for players they’re about to release, and it marked an end to a frustrating and unfulfilled two years of promise.
Christine Michael file
Height: 5-10. Weight: 221
Age: 24. School: Texas A&M
Drafted: Second round in 2013 by the Seahawks.
Traded: Seattle sent him to Dallas for a conditional seventh-round pick.
2013 season: 18 carries for 79 yards.
2014 season: 34 carries for 175 yards.
Michael touched the ball only 53 times in two seasons, but the play that defined his tenure in Seattle was a 12-yard catch last year in San Francisco — the only catch of his career.
As Michael neared the first-down marker — it was second-and-13 — he slowed up and stuttered before stepping out of bounds. Had he lowered his shoulder, had he used his powerful 221-pound body, he would have easily picked up the first down.
But as inexplicable as that decision was, it was what happened right after that cemented the play: Michael kept running into the end zone, yelling all the way, celebrating his run — and he hadn’t picked up the first down. He was immediately taken out of the game.
It was always that way with Michael, a strange cocktail of talent, potential, immaturity and inconsistency.
There was the time in Philadelphia last year when he picked up 7 yards and then tried to wave off starter Marshawn Lynch as Lynch jogged onto the field. Michael lost that battle, although safety Earl Thomas remarked with admiration, “That took balls.”
There was the time the Seahawks fumbled the snap in the red zone in Carolina last season, and Michael, the presumed ball carrier, repeatedly waved his hand in disgust, like a fan disagreeing with an official’s call.
He admitted after his rookie season that he wasn’t a “complete pro.” But the same problems that plagued him then haunted him throughout his career.
The Seahawks have to trust their running backs, and that trust plays out in many ways. Michael struggled with most of them. He fumbled in the preseason, something coach Pete Carroll and his staff won’t tolerate.
He didn’t always hit the right holes or follow the specifics of a play. Seattle running backs are asked to hit “dark creases” — designated spots in the line where a hole might not exist one second before opening the next. Lynch does that better than anyone, and fullback Derrick Coleman once said the backs who don’t do that aren’t here anymore.
Those intricacies, the finer points of the position, evaded Michael, and even his vast amount of talent couldn’t overcome his shortcomings.
“You might see the great cut one time and then not the next, and it’s the exact same scenario,” offensive-line coach Tom Cable said last year. “He comes across and makes a great blitz pickup one play and then he’s supposed to chip and then, ‘Oh, I’m going to get out for my route, and oops I forgot to chip.’ It’s just being able to put a good play together and then a good one the next time and the next time. When that becomes his habit, then he owns it. Right now he doesn’t own it.”
Or, as former Seahawks fullback Kiero Small put it last year, “Once he gets to point B, his God-given ability takes over. It’s getting from A to B with him.”
Michael never got to point B with the Seahawks, at least not with any consistency. He was the logical heir to Lynch’s throne, the next engine to power the Seahawks’ offense.
It was a whiff, perhaps the biggest of the Carroll-John Schneider era, and now the Seahawks have to look for another young running back next offseason (undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls has looked promising, but the Seahawks will need more options).
Michael gets a fresh start with the Cowboys and their top-shelf offensive line. Maybe it will work out. But he will have to solve the puzzle of his talent, the one he never resolved in Seattle.
“It’s that delicate balance between his functional football playing ability and his makeup,” said Riddick during Michael’s rookie season.
“You have to tie the two together so you have someone who isn’t just going to tease you with potential and not turn that into sustainable talent. And that’s what people were scared of with Christine.”