RENTON, Wash. – For once it wasn’t a pass but a question that Russell Wilson threw Doug Baldwin’s way.
“How does it feel to live in the high-rent district,’’ asked Wilson as he walked by a podium where Baldwin was holding court with reporters following Sunday’s practice.
“I don’t know,” Baldwin replied with a smile. “You tell me.”
Baldwin may not be living in quite the same rarefied air as Wilson, whose four-year $87 million contract signed last season is the largest in Seahawks’ history.
But Baldwin certainly isn’t slumming it after signing a four-year extension with the Seahawks in June paying him $46 million overall with $24.25 million guaranteed.
The contract made him the seventh-highest paid receiver in the NFL and not only secured his future with the Seahawks through the 2020 season but also made a statement about his value to the team.
In what were his first comments to the general media since signing his extension, Baldwin said it was the symbolism as much as the actual dollar signs that mattered.
“It meant a lot just to be recognized, to be appreciated,” he said. “As a human being, all of us want to feel loved and appreciated and valued. And then when you put a number to it – honestly, it’s not really about the money. But the money does equate to response and appreciation and love. So it feels great.”
It’s the kind of contract Baldwin once thought he might have to get somewhere other than Seattle, due in part to the nature of the Seahawks’ offense, typically as run-heavy as any in the league.
“I’d be lying to you if I said that I didn’t (think he might have to leave Seattle to get a big contract),” Baldwin said.
But that changed last season when Baldwin helped the Seattle offense go on one of the most prolific passing stretches in team history.
As Wilson threw for 24 touchdowns in the final seven games, Baldwin went on a tear, catching 10 touchdown passes in four games, tying an NFL record held by Hall of Famer Cris Carter and Calvin Johnson, also likely to be enshrined in Canton someday. When the dust settled, Baldwin had 14 touchdowns for the season, setting a franchise single-season record and tied for the most in the NFL.
Considering the Seahawks’ reputation for brashness, Baldwin gave a somewhat surprising answer Sunday when asked what helped lead to the improved passing game in the second half of last season.
“I think the initial part of it for us to get to that point was realizing that yes, we are truly that good, and not letting outside factors dictate how good we are going to play that week,” Baldwin said.
A few schematic changes also helped – notably, more use of empty (meaning no running back) sets, and a greater emphasis on quick, timing passes.
Opposing defensive coordinators are sure to have spent the offseason dissecting the film of Seattle’s second half, when the Seahawks played largely without Marshawn Lynch, as they will now have to do from the first game of the season.
Baldwin said he’s not expecting that he can reach or top his touchdown numbers of last season “because we are a run-first offense. In the red zone we are going to try to pound it into the end zone by handing the ball off.”
Asked if he thinks defenses will come up with new ways to try to combat what the Seahawks did in the final eight games, Baldwin said: “I don’t know how. When you’ve got a quarterback like Russell Wilson in the backfield and you have all these weapons spread out in front of him – Jimmy Graham, Thomas Rawls, Tyler Lockett, Jermaine Kearse, you throw Paul Richardson into the mix, Luke Willson. There is not a whole lot that a defense can do against us.”
The excitement about the offense is one reason Baldwin said “the energy is much different than it’s been in the past.”
Another reason is the desire for redemption after the disappointment of last season, which Baldwin said “has humbled us.”
What Baldwin insisted he isn’t is content, despite having reached heights that might have seemed unfathomable when he arrived in Seattle in 2011 as an undrafted free agent out of Stanford.
Unfathomable to some, anyway.
“I did imagine it,” Baldwin said. “I didn’t know if it would come true. But I did imagine it.”
Now that it’s reality, Baldwin said “it feels great. But at the same time, nothing really changes.”
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.