Doug Baldwin, who set records last season for which he was heavily rewarded in the offseason, is No. 6 on our countdown of the 16 most important Seahawks.
With the Seahawks set to report for training camp Friday (practices begin Saturday), it’s time to look at the players I feel are most pivotal in 2016.
Call it “16 for ’16,” as we count down the 16 most important Seahawks in 2016, unveiling one new player each day until the team reports.
Doug Baldwin, who set records last season for which he was heavily rewarded in the offseason, is next at No. 6 on our countdown.
Player: Doug Baldwin.
Position: Wide receiver.
2016 contract status: Baldwin signed a four-year, $46 million extension in June that will keep him with the Seahawks through 2020. The contract includes $24.25 million guaranteed.
Expected 2016 role: Starting receiver
Why he’s ranked here: Baldwin’s value to the Seahawks hardly needs to be stated after his historic closing rush to the 2016 season when he finished with a team-record 14 touchdown receptions — 10 coming in a four-game span, tying an NFL record held by Jerry Rice and Cris Carter.
Given the possible depth and overall strength of Seattle’s receiving corps in 2016, one that could be the best in the Pete Carroll era, it may not be realistic to expect Baldwin to easily match or top the numbers of last season.
“I think we’re probably as far ahead as any time since we’ve been here,’’ offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said at the end of minicamp of the overall depth and experience of the skill players in the team’s passing game. “When you’re talking about your quarterback who’s been here as long as he has, and the core of the wide receivers.’’
If Jimmy Graham comes back and catches a few more touchdowns, if Tyler Lockett takes the second-year leap the team expects and if Paul Richardson returns from injury and makes a real impact, then Baldwin’s numbers aren’t likely to increase.
Still, Baldwin’s ability to play like a number one receiver — the team is paying him like one now after the contract he received in June that makes him among the top 10 highest-paid receivers in the NFL — will be vital to the Seahawks this season. He will be expected to draw attention that will open up space for other receivers, or take advantage when he gets good matchups.
With each year, though, Baldwin’s intangible value also grows.
In many ways Baldwin is the epitome of the Carroll-era Seahawks, rising from entering the league as an undrafted free agent to now being acknowledged as one of the best in the NFL at his position.
Baldwin’s ability to also accept and adapt to the role receivers play in the Seattle offense — one in which they will never be featured in quite the same manner as in more pass-happy attacks — has also been critical to the team’s success.
All of those factors give Baldwin a leadership presence in the locker room that increases with each season.
Shortly before signing his new deal, Baldwin talked about how his role with the Seahawks has evolved now that he is 27 and a veteran of five NFL seasons.
“Before I became a leader, I thought success was all about building myself up,’’ he said.
“But then once I became a leader, I realized that success is about building others up. That’s where I’m at right now. I’m focused on helping the other guys as much as I can, giving them the tools they need to be successful, just like Sidney Rice did for me when I first came in. That’s the mentality we have as veterans now is that the new guys coming in — there’s a lot of new faces, a lot of new guys — so we want to be able to pass on that experience and wisdom we have growing up in this program to help us ultimately win more games.’’
That role holds particularly true in a receiving corps that aside from Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse could feature only players who have two years of experience or less.
“On the field, Jermaine and I have conversations if the receivers aren’t doing too well. He says, ‘Hey, do you want to bring it up and say something to the receivers right now?’ I say, ‘No let’s not call the timeout, let’s let us play through it,’ ’’ he said. “And that’s something that I wouldn’t have done before. I would have brought us together and yelled at everybody. That’s something we’ve been talking about off the field, is how do we handle the adversity we’re going to face on the field?’’