Less than 24 hours after signing a contract extension that made him one of the highest-paid receivers in the NFL, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, in the midst of a six-week stretch that represents the last significant free time he and his teammates will have between now and the start of the 2016 season, was running routes and catching passes from Jake Heaps at a local high school.
Moments like this, the ones that helped take Baldwin on a journey from undrafted free agent to NFL starter to franchise record-breaker to a contract that will set him and his family up for life, financially, explain why Baldwin has zero concerns that accolades or money will take away the edge that brought him this far.
"The fire and passion will always be there," Baldwin said. "I just stepped off the field throwing with Jake Heaps, and that's where I belong. I can't get enough of smelling the grass and feeling the air, running the routes, catching the football, I can't get enough of that. That passion's not going to go anywhere."
Of course maintaining the passion that made "Angry Doug Baldwin"—or, his preference, "Passionate Doug Baldwin"—into one of the game's best players doesn't mean he's still the same person as the 22-year-old who made Seattle's roster five years ago.
"Obviously my prefrontal cortex has developed," Baldwin said (did we mention he went to Stanford?). "I know I've said that before, but it's scientifically true. The biggest thing is that before I became a leader, success was all about building myself up. I was so focused on what I had to do to be successful. Then I started becoming a leader and wanting the success of the team. Being at the forefront of everything, you start realizing that success is about building others up and bringing others along and pushing them to reach their goals. Pete Carroll has done a fantastic job of demonstrating that. That's one of the things I appreciate about Pete the most—he's a servant-leader. He gives his all to his players, to his staff, to the people in this building so that we can perform at a high level consistently, and that's what I want to do for my teammates in the locker room and on the football field. So I've been able to kind of change my direction in a sense toward, yes, still being able to focus on me and doing everything that I can do to be successful on the field, but also on collaborating that with building up my teammates and helping them be the best they can be.
"It's definitely expressed differently. I put myself in the shoes of my teammates more. Before, I would yell and scream and get in your face, but now I look at it differently. Not everybody responds to the things the way I do, so I have to approach people differently. I've been able to learn that as the process has gone along."
Baldwin's journey from Pensacola, Florida to Stanford—the only Division I school to offer him a scholarship—to where he is now wasn't always easy. Baldwin nearly left Stanford and transferred to Vanderbilt when he clashed with then-Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh but was talked out of it by his mom, then he sat through seven rounds of the 2011 draft without hearing his name called, but as he expressed in a lengthy Facebook post Tuesday, the journey has been rewarding.
"It has been tough, but it has been beautifully rewarding," Baldwin said. "One thing I always say is that nothing worth having comes easy, and to be able to come to such a great organization, have the wonderful teammates that I've had, being able to play in two Super Bowls, winning one, and being a key contributor, I wouldn't take anything back for the world. The struggle is nothing but love, so I appreciate the struggle, and I'm glad I get to struggle with my teammates every day."
While Baldwin has made it clear throughout the offseason that his focus was on preparing for 2016—continuing that struggle, if you will—and not on contract negotiations, he does acknowledge that there is a sense of relief to have this deal done now rather than have it hanging over his head during training camp.
"As time went on and as negotiations ramped up, obviously it was more prevalent on my mind," he said. "So being able to be able to get this behind me and focus on the offseason and training and getting ready for the season, I'm happy about that."
Baldwin, who signed a three-year extension prior to the 2014 season, could have bet on himself and played out his existing contract, which a year from now would have not only meant a chance to test free agency, but also to potentially go to an offense where he would be targeted more often than he is in Seattle's balanced attack. But while Baldwin will admit that at times he wonders what kind of numbers he could put up in a pass-happy offense, that ultimately isn't what he values most as a football player.
"You see the guys like Julio Jones and Antonio Brown getting almost 200 targets a year, and we're barely touching 100 here," Baldwin said. "So yeah, you have to think about it at times. As a competitor, if you don't, you're really not worth your salt. But at the same time, I value this locker room, I value my teammates, I value this organization, the coaching staff, the front office, and everything that has to do with this organization, I value that at a very high level. I love this city. That was more prevalent to me than having the opportunity to test the free-agent market, because I wanted to be here."
Of course, when it came to considering his future, it didn't hurt that Baldwin and the Seahawks passing game finished 2015 on such a high note, with Baldwin catching 11 touchdowns in the final six games of the year.
"I've always said that I thought that we were capable of doing what we did in the second half of last season, and yeah, it's encouraging to see that we're putting it together," Baldwin said. "It's more just us realizing that collectively we are that good. That was encouraging, and that weighed in on any decision. I wanted to see it through—we're capable of doing this, and let's continue to do this into the future."
That future should be bright for Seattle's passing game with key players like Baldwin, Russell Wilson, Jermaine Kearse and Tyler Lockett under contract through at least 2018.
"If you look at it across the board, it's an exciting offense to look at," Baldwin said. "You look at a guy like Russell Wilson who's capable of doing everything in terms of passing the ball, and being Houdini back there when the defense tries to come after him. Then we have so many weapons, Jimmy Graham, Tyler Lockett, Jermaine Kearse, Thomas Rawls and the running backs, we have so much going for us on the offense end. Once our offensive line puts it all together, I think we're going to be unstoppable."
And in addition to setting himself up financially and also further validating his status as one of the game's top receivers, Baldwin's new contract, he hopes, can also serve as motivation to other players who enter the league as undrafted free agents.
"What I want it to mean is hope for the guys who start off like me, guys who are undrafted, who aren't highly-touted, who don't get as many opportunities," Baldwin said. "As long as you keep focusing on your craft and work hard at what you can control, you focus on that and keep going, regardless of the circumstances, the long-term goal is to be successful. I want that to be the message, as long as you keep working hard at your craft and focus on the things that you can control, everything else will fall into place."
A look back at some of the best moments from the Seahawks career of wide receiver Doug Baldwin.