The changes for the Seattle Seahawks over the past couple of seasons have been massive. Gone are the majority of the starters from both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, as well as both kicking specialist from the season opener against Green Bay in 2017. Names that were mainstays like Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin are playing for other franchises or retired. In their stead is a roster chocked full of youth and upside potential, but what kind of culture has been set for those youngsters?
Players like Tyler Lockett, Jarran Reed, Germain Ifedi and Chris Carson are the new group of team leaders to go along with the likes of Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner, along with a horde of under-25 youngsters who have yet to show much on the field. That leads to the question regarding whether something happened that has caused a culture shift where young players are no longer as committed to the team first.
When the Seahawks put together a dominant team the first time around, the number of young impact players who left in free agency can be counted on one hand. It’s basically Golden Tate. One could make arguments that players like Brandon Browner, Breno Giacomini or James Carpenter were impact players, but those would be extremely difficult arguments to make.
However, this offseason alone Seattle watched Justin Coleman sign with the Detroit Lions, Frank Clark forced his way into a trade to the Kansas City Chiefs and Jarran Reed and Germain Ifedi both stand to be free agents able to negotiate with other teams when the legal tampering period begins nine months from Sunday. Obviously, the team has traditionally reached contract extensions with players later during the summer, so there’s no rush on getting something done.
That said, with multiple impact defenders having scored big paydays with other clubs, is that a trend that could bear watching? Did the culture, which reportedly became toxic in 2016 and 2017 become so bad that the young players who came up through the system are now more interested in getting paid themselves that playing for the Seahawks?
A player with Clark’s or Coleman’s skills would likely have quickly been locked up with a long term contract during the 2013-2015 timeframe, but this go round, the extensions given to young players have gone to Tyler Lockett and nobody. Yes, Duane Brown was given a three year contract extension last August, but he’s not young and represents another point of departure from the team’s habits of the past.
Thus, the question the Seahawks may need to address in the not too distant future is whether the culture has changed to where players are more interested in cashing in than they are in buying in. Even those players who bought in the first time around watched players who weren’t of their caliber get paid handsomely. While Sherman, Thomas and Chancellor all suffered brutal injuries while playing out their second contracts with Seattle, Russell Okung became the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history by not staying in Seattle. Likewise, J.R. Sweezy parlayed his 2016 free agency appearance into more than $14.3M for two seasons that both ended on injured reserve for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In short, the players who signed extensions with the Seahawks watched their teammates sign elsewhere for more money than Seattle was offering, and that may be a lesson they passed down to the current generation of younger Hawks. Obviously, there will be a lot to learn by watching what transpires over the next nine months, but when a player like Reed watches a coworker like Clark sign a contract that is just $500k from the top of the market for his position by playing hardball with the team, it may be difficult to imagine him doing anything but following the path his best friend did to become very, very wealthy.