ORLANDO —Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, along with the rest of the league's head coaches, met with the media at the NFL annual meetings on Tuesday morning, an hour-long conversation that covered numerous topics.
In addition to Carroll's desire to get the running game on track, which you can read about here, Carroll discussed everything from players coming and going to leadership in the locker room to significance of Shaquill Griffin's impressive rookie season. Here are six things we learned from Carroll Tuesday:
1. Carroll thinks incoming free agents are going to be "big factors."
While the Seahawks haven't made headlines in free agency in terms of the money they have spent, that doesn't mean they aren't excited about the group of players they have added to their roster this offseason thus far. Carroll talked about Barkevious Mingo having "a big role" as a core special teams player, a candidate for the strongside linebacker job and a situational pass rusher. Carroll called tight end Ed Dickson "a real versatile player" noting he can be both a blocking tight end and a downfield threat. Carroll added that he was "really excited about" receiver Jaron Brown, noting his versatility, speed and mentality. He talked about being "fired up" about guard D.J. Fluker, who he called, "an extraordinary figure. He loves the game. He's outspoken and outgoing and brings a real attitude about it." Carroll also expressed excitement about the two former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackles his team signed, Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen (more on this later), and he raved about safety Maurice Alexander's toughness.
But more than anything, Carroll sees a theme with that whole group that should help the Seahawks in 2018.
"When you look at the guys who are coming to us—you go back to Barkevious, great motor, physical, running and hitting, special teams guy, Jaron Brown is one of those guys as well, versatile, plays all the spots, got the chip on his shoulder, free agent coming out of nowhere—I think that's kind of what you're seeing again and it's part of the makeup of the style of player we're looking for," Carroll said. "I'm really fired up about that. Even in a different sense because he was a high draft pick and all, but D.J. has been a great passion guy, and he has been a great toughness and physical guy. Those are all elements adding to our game, and Mo (Alexander) is one of those guys too, so I think you're going to see an influence by these guys on the guys already in the program. They're going to be accepted readily, our guys are going to see that they're the kinds of guys we like building our team around, and they're going to be big factors."
2. Why the Seahawks parted ways with Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett, and the latest on Earl Thomas.
Carroll recruited Richard Sherman when he was a lanky, athletic receiver at Compton's Dominguez High School; he coached against him in what was then the Pac-10 after Sherman chose Stanford over USC; and then Carroll helped Sherman develop into one of the NFL's best cornerbacks and together they helped Seattle win its first Super Bowl Championship, so to say those two have been through a lot together would be an understatement. Despite all of that history, however, Carroll and the Seahawks decided it was time to part ways with the former first-team All-Pro because of salary cap concerns.
"We had some stuff that we had to deal with cap concerns," Carroll said. "This time of year stuff happens and I think his was a clear situation it was going to be difficult to keep him with the number that he had, we had to do something about it. We had talked through it at great length with Richard the whole process. He represents himself so that caused us to be in the discussion with him throughout. Had to talk to him as Richard the agent as far as some of the stuff was concerned and then Richard the player. But it was a really good process. I don't know how we could have done it any more extensively than we did. Richard and myself and Richard and John (Schneider) we talked throughout. We were very tuned in to what was going on. Tracking his injury and his rehab and all that stuff was a big deal. So just talked a lot through the whole process so it came very smoothly."
Carroll again mentioned the salary cap when talking about the trade that sent Michael Bennett and a seventh-round pick to Philadelphia for a fifth-round pick and receiver Marcus Johnson.
"Again this is kind of that time for us when we're in cap decision making, and that was part of the decision for us for sure," Carroll said. "You get to a point where you have to make some choices. We say the same thing every year because it is the same situation that you've got very difficult choices that you have to make. And you've got to make choices to move ahead sometimes, and sometimes you hang on to people and that's just how it goes. In Mike's situation we felt like it was a time, we could make a little switch, get a pick and get a guy for us and make some sense of it."
Another defensive standout, free safety Earl Thomas, remains a Seahawk and has one year left his current contract, but both Schneider and Carroll have acknowledged that at this time of year, just about everything is up for discussion, including a possible trade.
"He's got a big role," Carroll said. "He's a great player. He factors in to help any team, they all would love to have him, so there's some talk that people are trying to maybe come after him, but he's a fantastic part of our team. We've been blessed with such great safety play for so many years that we recognize and relish the factor of that position. He has done a good job, and he's got another year on his contract, so we're excited for the future."
3. Some big voices have left Seattle's locker room, but Carroll isn't worried about a lack of leadership.
Sherman and Bennett were two of the most vocal and respected players in Seattle's locker room, and the futures of two other defensive leaders, safety Kam Chancellor and defensive end Cliff Avril, remain in question because of neck injuries. But even if the locker room dynamic changes in 2018, Carroll isn't concerned about leadership on his team, not with players like Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Doug Baldwin and K.J. Wright still around.
"Yeah that's a good question because the dynamics do shift," Carroll said. "They shift every year to some extent, but there is a change. There is a change of sorts. So what it does in our situation is it allows for other guys to kind of step forward and speak up. I think you are going to see Jarran Reed have a bigger impact than ever. I think Frank Clark will be a bigger factor than ever on the defensive line stepping up. Russell (Wilson) has been a fantastic leader, the messaging what he stands for, how he brings it week in and week out, year in and year out, he's an incredible leader. Bobby (Wagner) and K.J. Wright, those guys have been great leaders for us. Bobby really has been the voice of our defense for years, so this just accentuates his opportunity and his role. So I think we are in good shape. I don't see any big transition other than those are big personalities and when they are not there, there is a difference. But I don't think it is going to change us.
"I don't know that you can find a better guy to be a voice and representative of your team than Russell Wilson and Bobby. Bobby Wagner is as good of a leader as you could ever hope for. He has done everything in terms of consistency and production and toughness and mentality, everything about him. He and Russell are great leaders, K.J. Wright is a fantastic leader, Doug Baldwin is an incredible leader. We have not lacked for those kinds of players who step to the front and are willing to send the message and stand for what we're all about. I have no problem with the leadership aspect of our team at all. We're in terrific shape."
4. The emergence of Shaquill Griffin "is a really big deal."
While the Seahawks parted ways with a longtime starter at cornerback, they are very excited about their future at that position in large part due to the play of Shaquill Griffin during his rookie season. Griffin, a third-round pick in 2017, took over a starting role early in the season, and played well enough that Carroll compared it to Sherman's rookie season.
"It's a really big deal," Carroll said of Griffin's emergence. "And when we look at it, it has been really interesting to compare his first season and Richard's first season to kind of gauge, what is the impact he is going to have and what kind of player can he become? Because he had a fantastic year and withstood all of the challenge—he had 84, 85 targets this year, and Sherm had 84, 85 as well his rookie season. So you could see him under all circumstances against great players and saw him come through. So there is no indication that he should be anything but on the upswing and the positive, should be factoring into being a dominant football player in time, but it will all come back to how he comes back and how he works and how he prepares, but he is a very level-headed kid and I think he is going to have a chance to have a fantastic career."
5. The Seahawks are "really excited" to get a healthier Tyler Lockett back for 2018.
After his 2016 season ended with a broken leg on Christmas Eve, receiver Tyler Lockett still worked his way back for the start of the season, but despite playing all 16 games, Lockett was still dealing with the lingering effects of that injury into the season. Even so, Lockett had a productive year, catching 45 passes for 555 yards, punctuating the year with a kickoff return for a touchdown in Week 17. And now that Lockett is fully healthy, the Seahawks are looking forward to even more in 2018.
"He's a great player and a great team member, and a very productive player," Carroll said. "He really had a challenging season. He never felt 100 percent. It was really painful to watch him day after day just trying to get warmed up to get out to practice and get going. And then he did it week after week after week to keep coming back and perform in extraordinary fashion. He sounds like he's doing great, he feels great, so it's a great return. He played really good football anyway, and it's just a tribute to the character and the toughness and the grit that that dude has. So we're really excited to get him back. Look at him run a kick back at the end of the year after all he had been through. It was really a remarkable season for him. It was painful to watch because he loves to play the game and he's such a big advocate of working hard, getting out early and staying late and all that, and he really had to kind of find his way last year."
6. The Seahawks "kind of swapped guys" with the Vikings.
The Seahawks lost defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson in free agency earlier this month with Richardson deciding to sign with the Minnesota Vikings. The Seahawks in turn bolstered their line depth by signing two Vikings free agents, Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen. Those two join what will be a somewhat different looking line this season, a group that won't include Bennett or Richardson, or perhaps Avril depending on his health. But even if the line is different, Carroll is still excited about that group.
"Really excited about Dion Jordan coming back with us," Carroll said. "He had a really good finish to the year. Frank (Clark) had a really good finish to the year, as well. Both of those guys give us extraordinary athleticism on the edge. Jarran Reed has had a couple of great years for us and is really the heart and soul up front. I think the two additions—in losing Sheldon we picked up Minnesota's two guys, so we got kind of two for one in this trade. Both guys played a lot, showed a lot of diversity in the running game as well as in the rush game. Tom Johnson is more of a rusher than Shamar (Stephen). Shamar is a big dude, very similar to the guys we've had over the years. If you look at all the three techniques we have had through the years Shamar is a guy that really fits that role, and we'll give Naz Jones a chance to be in the rotation and all that. So I think that worked out beautifully for us. Of course there were cap issues there with Sheldon going at a big number. We were able to bring these guys in, and you watch the Vikings play football these guys are all over their film. They are playing all the time and that's a very good front and a very good defense, so we just kind of shift them into our mode. They are going to fit beautifully, and it's ironic kind of that it worked out that way but we just kind of swapped guys."