RENTON, Wash. — As the Seattle Seahawks wrapped up practice Friday afternoon, cornerback Richard Sherman started making his way inside with his teammates when general manager John Schneider stopped him.
Drawing the attention of reporters and cameras, Schneider pulled Sherman aside, the two chatted for a few minutes, smiled, shared a hug and went their separate ways.
Whether intentional or not, the message to observers was clear: The past is the past and everything is just fine in Seahawks land.
Minutes later, it was Pete Carroll’s turn to echo the same sentiment in a more formal manner.
“I don’t know if you guys get it,” Carroll said.
“We’re in great shape. This locker room’s in great shape.”
It’s hard to believe that only five months have passed since the Seahawks fell to the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round of the playoffs. The period since has been filled with drama — much of it revolving around trade talks with Sherman and the highly public manner in which Schneider and Carroll let teams know that the cornerback was available for the right price.
And it continued recently with Seth Wickersham’s in-depth look in ESPN The Magazine at Sherman’s relationship with Russell Wilson and Sherman’s inability to let go of Super Bowl XLIX.
As the team continues OTAs this week and prepares for the 2017 season, two things are clear. One, the drama is not unusual and sometimes seems almost necessary to the success of this specific group. And two, it would be unwise to dismiss the theme of Wickersham’s article as something that the Seahawks have put behind them.
Consider the events of the past year alone. With three weeks to go until the playoffs, Sherman got into a shouting match with coaches, and instead of burying it afterward, he pointed back to the Super Bowl loss as the source of his anger. Even days after, when Carroll expected Sherman to apologize publicly, he refused to do so and suggested he’d act the same way if the same situation were to arise in the future.
Earlier in the season, an injured Earl Thomas tweeted that he was considering retirement while the Seahawks were still playing the Carolina Panthers. Doug Baldwin gave offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell the middle finger before a play that called for him to pass a touchdown instead of catch one. Michael Bennett got thrown out of practice twice during a training camp that featured a number of fights among teammates. Sherman, Frank Clark and Bennett were all involved in altercations with reporters on separate occasions.
All of those things happened in less than one year, and this list doesn’t include other drama behind the scenes that the public is not privy to.
In many ways, these events are the product of the culture that Carroll has created. He wants a group of alpha males who take competition to extreme levels. Carroll recognizes that they’ll cross the line, and he’s OK with that.
“I know I’m dedicated,” Carroll said. “I’m dedicated to making progress as we go. That doesn’t mean everything’s always going ahead exactly as you planned. Sometimes there’s setbacks and challenges. As a matter of fact, if you don’t count on that, you don’t understand.”
Carroll took time to define his philosophy after being fired from his second NFL job with the New England Patriots in 1999. The focus in the years since at USC and in Seattle has been on doing everything in his power to help everyone in his program find their best. His only rules are: Protect the team, no whining/excuses and be early.
Every coach has to decide what he or she can and can’t live with. Carroll doesn’t sweat the small stuff, realizes he has to treat players differently and manages personalities as well as any coach in the NFL. For example, when Kam Chancellor held out in 2015 and Marshawn Lynch wore Chancellor’s jersey to practice as a show of support, the coach said it was no big deal, that he loved Chancellor just like Lynch did.
When Chancellor returned before Week 3, Carroll showered him with praise publicly and expressed with certainty that Chancellor had a long future ahead of him with the Seahawks.
Whether it’s performance-enhancing drug suspensions, practice-rules violations or player holdouts, drama has followed the Seahawks under Carroll. And yet, in the past five years, no team in the NFC has won more games. The Seahawks have been to at least the divisional round every year since 2012. They have two Super Bowl appearances and one Lombardi trophy to their name during that span.
That’s why the message from now until Week 1 will be that the offseason drama is no big deal. This is a group that’s used to having to perform amid chaos.
But to completely dismiss the events of the past seven months would be a mistake. Carroll admitted in January that Sherman’s sideline tirades were his biggest regret of last season. And if the relationship between Sherman and the team wasn’t strained, then why was a trade even considered this offseason?
Trying to predict what will happen next is a waste of time. This is a team that’s often at its best when it appears to be on the verge of falling apart. Then again, this run won’t last forever, and at some point there may be a breaking point.
“I guess things are a lot different than maybe you guys think,” Carroll said. “I don’t know that. But in here and with us and the work that we’re doing, I think that we’re in a marvelous position. That doesn’t mean that everybody’s on the same page exactly right all the time. I’m not either. We’ve got to work at it. It’s a challenge. It’s about developing relationships and working with people and helping them to find their best. That’s what we’re working at right here. We’re not doing it right all the time. But we’re trying.”