If any team were going to produce drama in the deadest time of the NFL offseason, it was always going to be the Cirque du Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks have proved yet again that chaos is their natural resting state. To go with all the speculation over a Richard Sherman trade this offseason, just in the last few weeks we’ve seen Michael Bennett threaten to boycott The Seattle Times and Frank Clark insult then sort of apologize to Bleacher Report writer Natalie Weiner, who had written about his arrest on misdemeanor domestic violence and assault charges and subsequent guilty plea to disorderly conduct. The latest report of behind-the-scenes commotion comes from Seth Wickersham in his excellent piece for ESPN The Magazine, which details Sherman’s complicated and sometimes strained relationship with the organization and with quarterback Russell Wilson. The feature chronicles events over the past few years that culminated in Sherman’s reported trade request in March (which the team explored before the draft), plus where the team goes now after failing to find a suitable partner. Sherman called the story “nonsense,” and we’ll see if Bennett decides to boycott ESPN now too.
But for Seahawks fans who worry that Sherman’s discontent is a forewarning of Seattle’s downfall, or for fans of just about every other team who hope that’s the case, you might want to wait to see how this all plays out. Seattle has been one of the best and most exciting teams in the league over the past five years, and a constant supply of controversy and turmoil has provided the backdrop to their success. This really is nothing new; hell, the Seahawks’ 43–8 throttling of the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII came the day after Percy Harvin had a physical altercation with Golden Tate.
Let’s go through the different acts that has made following the Seahawks Circus over the past few years a fun-filled adventure:
There’s no better place to start than Sherman’s “U Mad Bro” tweet at Tom Brady after the Seahawks upset the Patriots in Seattle in 2012. He followed that up with a feud with Darrelle Revis, which was followed by a feud with Skip Bayless, a feud with Patrick Peterson, a feud with Michael Crabtree, and a feud with Roddy White. Somewhere along that line, he got his face smushed by Redskins tackle Trent Williams. Of course, Sherman feuded with coaches and teammates before feuding with the media last year too. He’s also been one of the best corners football, mixing in 30 interceptions — 10 more than any other corner — and three All-Pro honors since coming into the NFL in 2011.
In addition to fighting with Tate, Harvin fought with another Seahawks receiver, who’s earned the nickname Angry Doug Baldwin for his intensity on and off the field. Baldwin famously told everyone that Wilson “didn’t have a fucking message” on the Seahawks’ final game-winning drive against the Packers in the 2014 NFC championship game, then later scolded the haters for doubting the team. Baldwin also pretended to poop a football after scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl. Of course, Baldwin had plenty of reason to celebrate — he’d just beaten Revis to get open for that score — and in six years in the league, he has developed into one of its premier slot receivers.
Then there were the last few seasons of the Marshawn Lynch era, which were wrought with tension with the front office and media. Lynch told teammates he might retire if the team won Super Bowl XLVIII, which they did, but instead of retiring, he held out for eight days of training camp in 2014 before getting a slightly reworked deal. He stopped talking to reporters that season, accrued a bunch of fines, then trademarked his “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” line from media day at Super Bowl XLIX. After the disastrous end to that game, Lynch insinuated that the reason he didn’t get the ball on the 1-yard line before the infamous final play was because Seattle’s coaches wanted Wilson to be the hero and “face of the nation.” Lynch threatened retirement again in 2015 before getting a new two-year deal, but suffered a hernia; he rehabbed away from the team for most of the year, then when he returned to Seattle before the team’s wild-card matchup with the Vikings, the coaching staff told media he’d be good to go for the game. But Beast Mode switched course at the last minute, declared himself out, and didn’t get on the bus for the airport. Lynch carried the ball six times for 20 yards in Seattle’s season-ending 31–24 loss to the Panthers the next week, and in perfect Beast Mode style, announced his retirement on Twitter three weeks later during the Super Bowl.
Over the course of Lynch’s final three years with the team, he also stopped talking to Carroll, stayed on the field at halftime during one of the team’s games, and flipped off his own sideline during another. Oh, and his mom called for the firing of Bevell too. Lynch also happens to be one of the greatest players to ever wear a Seahawks uniform, a transcendent talent and stiff-arm machine who scored 51 rushing touchdowns from 2011 to 2015, more than any other player during that time.
Let’s see, what else? There was that spate of PED-related suspensions, the rash of mini-camp practice violations, guard John Moffitt’s public-urination-related arrest, Kam Chancellor’s holdout out for the first two games of the 2015 season, Earl Thomas’s retirement threats, Fred Jackson’s car crash outside the team’s facility, Wilson’s nanobubble technology peddling, and Bennett’s bizarre hatred of Matt Stafford because of the JFK assassination. Oh, and don’t forget about the Fail Mary game, the K.J. Wright batted-ball controversy, and the Julio Jones pass interference scandal. Of course, these moments have been more than balanced out by a short-lived but awesome rivalry with Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers, a multitude of playoff victories — including two absurdly fun NFC championship game wins over San Francisco and Green Bay — and of course, the Super Bowl XLVIII blowout. We’ve experienced the most entertaining era of Seahawks football ever, for so many reasons. For fans, it’s fulfilling and it’s exhausting.
The Seahawks have gone from a group of plucky upstarts with a core of first-contract bargain players with chips on their shoulders to a team of highly paid superstars with big personalities and plenty of ego. The team has never lacked skill, but that transformation in chemistry, along with Carroll’s dogged insistence that everyone be themselves, has meant that he sometimes seems less like a coach and more like a therapist. Of course, he’s had help: Carroll employs sports psychologist Michael Gervais, who often travels with the team and stands on the sideline, and, as Wickersham writes, works with psychologist Angela Duckworth to “instill a mechanism of resilience” into players by “persuading them to believe that they have the natural wiring to ‘allow them to maintain hope.’” It’s a work in progress, clearly — the team has yet to fully heal from the trauma of the XLIX loss, and those wounds were at the heart of Sherman’s outbursts last year, as he lashed out at Carroll and Bevell. But Wickersham’s article ends with a hopeful tone — noting that since returning to the team for OTAs, Sherman has been coaching up young players and going about his job like business as usual.
Carroll’s Southern California–nurtured philosophy of management, heavy on Zen-like introspection but contrasted with his apparent disdain for anything safe, as evidenced by his nickname (Big Balls Pete), trades for Harvin and Jimmy Graham, and a penchant for aggressive play-calling in key situations — reminds me a little bit of Patrick Swayze’s character Bodhi from Point Break. Carroll has determined to live life right there on the edge: He’s talked about how he wants to foster a competitive cauldron, about how he never wants his players to feel comfortable. He has not only embraced the chaos; he welcomes it. Carroll has knowingly paddled his team right into the biggest, scariest wave he could find — this is his 50-year storm — and he’s determined to ride it to the end.
And sure, the Seahawks could see all their off-field challenges finally catch up with them this year, end up flying off that board, and wreck themselves onto a reef. (I personally hope they do not end up like Bodhi.) But this is still a supremely talented squad — they return Thomas and most of their top-tier defense this year, and should improve on offense with a healthy Wilson at the helm — and we’re about to see how long they can ride this thing out.