It has become difficult to keep track of all the comings and goings from the Legion of Boom–era Seahawks, who have disintegrated in slow motion over the last two years. The team cut cornerback Richard Sherman, let safety Earl Thomas leave, traded pass rusher Michael Bennett, watched pass rushers Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor suffer career-ending injuries, made Russell Wilson the highest-paid player in NFL history, and saw Marshawn Lynch retire, then unretire before trading him to Oakland, where he is now re-retired. Keeping track of the Seahawks threads is so hard that even the Monday Night Football graphics team played around with it.
The Seahawks officially parted ways with two more key players from that era on Thursday by releasing receiver Doug Baldwin, 30, and Chancellor, 31, with failed-physical designations. The Chancellor release is not news as much as paperwork catching up to reality. Chancellor was a fifth-round draft pick in 2010 who almost immediately became one of the best, hardest-hitting strong safeties in the league. But after he suffered a neck injury in 2017, he announced his retirement in an emotional social media post last July that ended, “P.S. Pray for your boy. I have no clue how these head injuries will go after the game. What I do know is that my God is stronger. Peace and Love ❤️.”
While Chancellor announced his retirement last year, he still had money on his contract guaranteed for injury, so he did not formally retire. Releasing Chancellor in 2018 would have cost the Seahawks nearly $20 million in salary cap space. Releasing him now could create as much as $4.8 million in cap savings, according to ESPN’s Brady Henderson.
Baldwin’s release is new but expected. Rumors around Baldwin’s health circulated this offseason and reached new heights with Seattle’s selection of D.K. Metcalf with the last pick of the second round in the 2019 NFL draft. Baldwin missed the entire preseason last year with a knee injury, and when he returned in Week 1, he suffered an MCL tear in his other knee. He still played 14 of Seattle’s 17 games, including the playoffs, but he admitted in August before the MCL injury he would not be at 100 percent health at any point during the year. Baldwin had multiple surgeries this offseason, including ones on his knee, and sports hernia surgery last month. He described the 2018 season as “hell.”
With the release of Baldwin, who will carry a $6.3 million cap hit for 2019, the Seahawks will have a receiving corps led by wide receiver Tyler Lockett, Jaron Brown, David Moore, and rookies Metcalf and Gary Jennings Jr., plus tight ends Will Dissly and Nick Vannett. It’s an underwhelming group for Wilson to work with, though Lockett proved he was capable of carving out a larger role for himself. Lockett led the Seahawks in receiving in 2018, the first year since 2013 that Baldwin was not Seattle’s leading receiver. Still, when the team needed Baldwin, he always made things count. If Baldwin does not sign with another team, this will go down as the second-to-last catch of Baldwin’s career.
Baldwin was a two-star high school recruit offered just four scholarships. On a college visit to Stanford, he met Richard Sherman, who was still a wide receiver at the time. The two became fast friends, and when the Seahawks drafted Sherman in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, Sherman called Baldwin, who had gone undrafted, and told him Seattle was going to make him an offer and he should accept the deal.
Baldwin immediately became Seattle’s steady hand. He started just one time his rookie year, but he appeared in all 16 games and led the Seahawks in targets, receptions, and receiving yards over Golden Tate, Sidney Rice, and Ben Obomanu. In his first seven years, Baldwin played 123 of a possible 125 games, including the playoffs. Baldwin led Seattle in receiving yards in five of his eight seasons, and in 2015 he tied for league lead in receiving touchdowns. He was also a significant voice off the field, serving as an active member of the Players Coalition, and told 60 Minutes Sports that he received death threats for speaking out on police brutality.
In May 2014, three years after Sherman convinced Baldwin to sign with Seattle, both players signed life-changing contract extensions.
“We talked about it at Stanford,” Baldwin told The Seattle Times. “One of our mottos was ‘Be happy for another man’s success.’ It’s easy in this world, in this business, to get caught up and get jealous of people. But in that moment, because I’ve known him for so long and I’ve known his struggle, I was so happy for him.”
Later that year, Sherman famously walked into a press conference with a life-sized cutout of Baldwin, which Baldwin was hiding behind and voicing, as the two discussed Marshawn Lynch’s $100,000 fine for not speaking with reporters.
It’s a fitting summary of Baldwin’s career: Sherman was the face of the 2010s Seahawks, while Baldwin was in the background.