RENTON — Seahawks cornerback Tre Flowers is at a career crossroads as he enters his third season in the NFL.
After starting two years at right cornerback, earning the spot as a fifth-round pick in 2018, Flowers is now fighting for his job with one of Seattle’s marquee offseason acquisitions, Quinton Dunbar.
With Dunbar’s $3.4 million cap hit this season and his pedigree as one of the top-performing cornerbacks in the NFL a year ago with Washington, the expectation all along has been that he’ll take over that spot, despite an unexpectedly chaotic offseason that delayed his arrival to training camp by about a week.
And with Marquise Blair appearing to have sewn up the nickel cornerback spot, there may be no real place for Flowers in the secondary other than as a backup.
But if all of that’s bothering Flowers, he isn’t letting on.
Flowers has had what coaches have said is a solid training camp, consistently working with the first team as Dunbar has rounded into shape and begun to learn Seattle’s system.
“Tre has really come a long way and he’s gotten better,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said last week. “He’s sticky and he’s doing really well with his technique.”
Maybe that’s because instead of the heavy weight he said he carried at times last season, he now feels lighter in his mind.
“I come in here with a smile every day,” Flowers said.
That wasn’t necessarily the case last season, Flowers said, when he admitted that he let some of the struggles he had on the field get to him, especially the two pass interference penalties late in the playoff win over the Eagles, or the times he got beaten in the playoff loss against the Packers.
As he met the media via Zoom before practice Tuesday, Flowers was asked to assess his 2019 season.
“Last year probably asking me that question I probably will focus on the bad,” Flowers said.
But after sitting down and reviewing every play of the 2019 season, Flowers said he thinks he sometimes was too down on himself, which may have created some self-imposed indecision, hesitating too much at times to make plays that were there to be made.
“I went back and watched all the plays, of course, and the plays I hate the most aren’t the ones that were like bang-bang plays (but) the ones where I second-guess myself,” he said. “I did that a lot last year. I knew a play and I could have went for it, but I played it safe. So that’s one thing I focused on this year, just cut it loose.”
What also altered Flowers’ outlook was a relationship he built with Bryce Wisdom, a 17-year-old high school player from Judson High in San Antonio, Flowers’ alma mater.
Wisdom died in July of Wilms’ tumor, a form of kidney cancer, after a more than a yearlong battle.
Flowers began communicating with Wisdom late last season, wearing “Bryce Strong” cleats for a few games.
“I’ve still got his message in my phone,” Flowers said Tuesday. “… I was talking to him a little bit before he passed, and he meant the world to me, really. I was always seeing him with a smile on his face … I couldn’t imagine what he was going through, but he always had a smile, and he always was happy. And he really changed my life. The Year 3 you all see is definitely because of that. I can’t overthink things seeing a kid go through that. He’s my angel forever, for real.”
Flowers’ relationship with Wisdom also reinforced trying to only control what he can control.
Which is where the trade for Dunbar comes in.
Flowers admits that when he first heard of the trade and the plan of the team to play Dunbar at his spot, “I felt some type of way.”
But that feeling quickly morphed into determination.
“All I can do is compete and try to win a spot,” Flowers said. “That’s all I can do. I try not to get too down, to get sad, get mad. Not too high. Never too low.”
That seems in contrast to the vision media saw of Flowers appearing dejected in what was an otherwise happy Seahawks locker room after the playoff win over the Eagles, when his penalties helped give Philly some late life.
The next week was just as much of a struggle. Flowers often matched up against Davante Adams, who responded with a Green Bay playoff record 160 receiving yards as the Packers held on late to win.
Those games may not have been all that prompted the trade for Dunbar — the Seahawks gave up a team record in passing yards in 2019 — but they certainly left a final impression of a team that needed help in the back end.
Flowers said he and Dunbar willingly help each other, joking “competition doesn’t mean we hate each other.”
He’s also had long talks with fellow corner Shaquill Griffin, who also faced a career crossroads last year in his third season after a tough second year adjusting to a new position (though without the challenge of fending off a new player).
Tuesday, Flowers said he also realizes the Seahawks “trusted me to play” as a rookie cornerback and that “it’s time for me to believe in me” like Pete Carroll did in throwing him into the starting lineup entering the league as a fifth-round pick who had played safety in college.
But then, inevitably, there’s the memory of how last season ended. Flowers can’t change that, but he can decide not to let it serve as his Seahawks legacy.
Trickier is how he will do that this season — he doesn’t figure to beat out Dunbar, and at the moment any specialty-package use is unclear.
But when called on this year, Flowers promises to be ready.
“Knowing that that was my last game going off my second year, it bothered me but it fueled me too,” he said. “So I’m all good.”
- As Carroll said would happen, receivers Phillip Dorsett II, John Ursua and Cody Thompson all returned to practice Tuesday after recently missing time with injuries.
- Also back was defensive end Benson Mayowa, who had been out with an undisclosed injury.
- RBs Carlos Hyde and Travis Homer, who had been held out of Sunday’s mock game, were also back.
- Cornerback Shaquill Griffin, however, did not practice for undisclosed reasons. There was no evident injury to him in the mock game.
- Left tackle Duane Brown, whose usage has been limited in camp, also sat out Tuesday for an apparent maintenance day. Also out was his usual backup, Cedric Ogbuehi, who hurt his shoulder in the mock game. Jamarco Jones has also gotten work at left tackle.