If the NFL indeed takes away a second-round draft pick, Carroll’s unsolicited blabbing about Richard Sherman’s injury will be another example of the coach’s boundary pushing having a good side and a costly side.
The Seahawks’ No. 1 rule, Pete Carroll has said many times — and reiterated in his season-ending press conference — is “always protect the team.”
Carroll must have thought he was doing that when he dropped the news to Brock and Salk on ESPN 710 on Monday that Richard Sherman had battled a previously undisclosed knee injury during the second half of the season.
My hunch is that Carroll wanted to take some heat off Sherman, who has been under fire for a variety of reasons, by showing his dedication and resolve. And it’s true, knowing Sherman had a knee injury that was “serious” and “legit” — Carroll’s words — does change the prism through which I view his season.
Yet that disclosure by Carroll, repeated later in the day at his presser, might have the consequence of violating the cardinal team rule I mentioned earlier. According to an ESPN report, the NFL is considering saddling the Seahawks with the loss of a second-round pick in the 2017 draft as a penalty for violating league rules about reporting injuries.
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That would be a hugely damaging blow to a team that is counting on using the draft to help fill several blatant holes on a roster that has an increasing number of them. If the NFL follows through, Carroll’s unsolicited blabbing would be just the latest instance in which his penchant for pushing the boundaries will have cost the Seahawks dearly.
The second-round pick in question would be an elevation of the fifth-rounder they were docked last September for violating the NFL’s work rules on offseason contact (for which they were also fined $400,000 and forced to give up a week of organized team activities, known as OTAs) .
Losing a fifth-rounder for allowing a practice the previous June to get overzealous was damaging enough. As I pointed out at the time, Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Luke Willson were all fifth-round picks in the Carroll/John Schneider regime. If that becomes a second-rounder instead, now we’re talking Bobby Wagner, Golden Tate, Justin Britt, Jarran Reed, Frank Clark and Paul Richardson, among others, who were all taken by Seattle in the second round.
The NFL was no doubt so harsh in issuing that initial penalty because the Seahawks, under Carroll, had also violated the offseason workout rules in 2015 and 2012. Each time, he promised to do better in the future, saying after the latest infraction, “I’ve got to make sure I do a better job of this.”
Carroll would no doubt respond that it’s all done in the service of his primary tenet of team-building: “Always compete.” Sometimes, he has explained in the past, you can unwittingly take it too far, but it’s never for nefarious purposes; simply competitive juices run amok as they search out the limits of propriety.
It’s important to note that the NFL has made no decision on a penalty for the Sherman incident, and the team is cooperating in the investigation.
The Seahawks have some powerful counter-arguments, including the fact that Sherman is going to compete in the Pro Bowl, having not missed a snap in either practice or games. How impactful of an injury could it have been, in that light?
Yet the NFL has some ammunition of its own that seems to make it likely the Seahawks will not escape this unscathed. Their status as habitual offenders of offseason workout guidelines will no doubt work against them. And the rules pretty clearly state that significant injuries — again, Carroll’s word — must be disclosed, for the sake of transparency, and to err on the side of inclusion. Sherman’s knee injury never showed up on any reports. In fact, the statement on the radio was the first anyone had heard of it.
The league might well decide that letting the Seahawks skate would embolden other teams to try the same thing — though it’s likely that many of them are already, in some fashion. Gamesmanship and testing the rules can be a way of life in pro sports. If Carroll hadn’t spilled, no one would have been any the wiser.
All this incident does is add another layer to a chaotic Seahawks season that often seemed on the verge of skidding off track. Periodic eruptions, such as Sherman’s two sideline tirades, can be the flip side of the culture Carroll has created in which players are given incredible latitude to express their personality. He believes that is the optimal way for them to find “the best versions of themselves,” a phrase Carroll uses often.
It’s hard to argue with Carroll’s success, either at USC or Seattle. But he’s also run up against rules violations at both places. Six months after Carroll left for Seattle in January of 2010, USC was saddled with harsh penalties and cited for lack of institutional control — a punishment Carroll has repeatedly said was unwarranted and poorly handled.
What has happened in Seattle has been a comparative wrist slap (though with an increasing sting). And the Sherman outbursts, along with Michael Bennett’s locker-room blowup after the season-ending loss to Atlanta, show that an open culture can, on occasion, lead to something less than the best version of players.
“I’m disappointed that we weren’t able to control it and the guys weren’t able to keep it inside,’’ Carroll said Monday, speaking of the various incidents throughout the season. “These guys have been very emotional players, and it’s part of the thing that we like about them. There’s a point where you go too far, and our guys are working on figuring that out.”
And once again, it appears, Carroll is trying to figure out how he got himself, and the Seahawks, in another mess.