SEATTLE – It’s one of the rites of summer in Seattle – the Mariners fade from the pennant race, smoke from wildfires choke the air, and a blockbuster story detailing dissension on the Seahawks hits the web.
Here we go again – another compendium, this one in Sports Illustrated by Greg Bishop and Robert Klemko, laying out the bitterness, petty jealousy and dysfunction that thwarted the would-be dynasty that was building in Seattle. That’s on top of the article in May 2017 by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham that laid out the bitterness, petty jealousy and dysfunction that, well, you know.
It’s indisputable by now that the locker-room culture in Seattle has been flawed, to say the least. The burning question moving forward is whether the offseason roster transformation has cleansed the Seahawks of the sources of irritation and conflict, or if they are so systemic – and so centered around the franchise quarterback – that they continue to fester.
The fate of the Seattle season that opens Sunday in Denver may well depend on the answer to that question. Asked Friday about the state of the team’s camaraderie and togetherness, coach Pete Carroll replied, “I think it’s extraordinarily on it. I think the leadership and the daily attention to one another, and taking care of each other, and looking after one another, and that understanding and respect runs throughout this locker room and this program.”
Of course, to read the SI story on top of the one on ESPN.com, Carroll is the captain of the Titanic (as several players began to refer to the organization last year, according to the article) who has been tuned out by some players.
A couple of thoughts on this whole mess, the public re-emergence of which, two days before the season opener, will either be a cathartic opportunity for healing, an unwelcome distraction or – my guess – something that the vast majority of the locker room will be able to shrug off because they’ve heard it all before.
The same two issues keep emerging often enough to believe they are at the very core of it all. First, some players seem to have a major problem with Russell Wilson and especially what is perceived as favored treatment by Carroll. And second, the players really, really, really hated the play call at the end of Super Bowl XLIX.
In fact, I would maintain the latter is the real crux of whatever discord that has prevailed in Seattle. Though there were clearly internal issues that existed before the Super Bowl interception in the final seconds from the 1-yard line, I firmly believe they would have fizzled out or been solved over time. But the sheer agony of having victory (and a dynasty) so cruelly snatched away, and on a call that stunned the players for not being a handoff to Marshawn Lynch, has made it nearly impossible for some to let go of their anger.
Both by choice and by circumstance, fewer players with links to the Patriots loss remain. There seems little doubt that in choosing sides in the Wilson dispute, the Seattle organization has backed Wilson. That is an understandable call as the core defensive pieces get older and succumb to the ravages of NFL life. Wilson may be quirky and polarizing, but he is undeniably tough, proficient and successful. He WAS the quarterback for two Super Bowl teams, after all, and is only now reaching what should be a quarterback’s prime years.
There also seems little doubt that one overriding Seahawks goal this offseason was a kinder, gentler, more cohesive locker room. Gone is Richard Sherman, who has been portrayed as one who had issues with Wilson’s treatment and who also never shook the Super Bowl loss. Also gone is Michael Bennett, another strong personality.
Will the Seahawks be a happier and more functional team? While praising the leadership of Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Doug Baldwin, K.J. Wright, Tyler Lockett and Jarran Reed on Friday, Carroll left no doubt where he comes down on that question.
“As we go through the ups and downs and challenges and all that, how we hang and how we support one another, how we demonstrate the type of team we can be, we’re going to benefit from the time we’ve spent and the way we’ve done it,” he said.
Then again, is a happier team necessarily a better one? You could argue that the Seahawks thrived on the creative tension that existed in their glory years. Or you could argue that this is all nonsense, and they thrived on one thing alone: the superior talent they amassed in 2013 and 2014, the kind of talent that the NFL legislates against keeping together for too long. Once the Seahawks had to start choosing which players to keep, the cracks began to show.
Carroll said the revelation of these rifts is a sign he did an inadequate job of imparting the Seahawks’ ethos to his squad.
“Because one of the main principals in our teaching,” he said, “is that we’re not going to worry about what’s happened; all our focus is on what’s coming right now. That’s the discipline we learn. I just haven’t taught it well enough.”
What’s coming now is a season that will determine if the Seahawks can pivot from the grievances of the past and forge a new, rancor-free path to success.