Former Seahawks defensive end Bryce Fisher looked at Seattle's current rookie class and presented them with some blunt numbers.
"There's 24 guys in here, of which eight or nine of you will make the team, of which, a year from now, only five or six of you guys will still be here, because there will be another 24, 25 guys coming in," Fisher said. "They're going to turn over one third of the roster every single year, so every year, one third of the people will be going home. Why do I say that? What you want to avoid is giving them an easy reason to send you home."
Fisher was one of four former Seahawks, along with cornerback Marcus Trufant, safety Jordan Babineaux and Hall of Fame left tackle Walter Jones, who addressed rookies as part of the NFL's Rookie Transition Program, which is new this year to replace the league's Rookie Symposium that in past years took place over three days near Canton, Ohio. Rather than cram a lot of information into three days with hundreds of rookies in attendance, the league now leaves it up to teams to prepare rookies for life in the NFL. In addition to giving teams the ability to customize the information they're passing onto their rookies, this new format also includes undrafted rookie free agents, while the old symposium only included drafted players.
"I think it highlights what we have going on here," said Maurice Kelly, the Seahawks' vice president of player engagement. "We get a chance to touch base with the people we have in our building as well as in the community. I think going away to Ohio is a great idea, but it's not conducive to learning. You're talking about three days, the last three days before they take a break, and we want to give them all this information in a short period of time, it's not conducive to learning. We've had them since May 9, and we've been educating them since Day 1 when they walked in the building."
As Kelly notes, while Monday was the first day of a league-mandated three-day program, the Seahawks have been working with their rookies since they arrived in Seattle more than a month ago to educate them on topics including finances to social responsibility, mental health, character and value, and health and safety.
"It's always important for them to get the information, more so right now, because this is kind of the last couple of days before school lets out," Kelly said. "And they have some money in their pocket now. The stuff we're talking with them about is not made up, this is from years of dealing with players and situations. They laugh at it when you first talk about it, all the different family and friends that'll be coming at them—they think it's funny until they live through it. What we're doing is just trying to prepare them, get them ready for the hard conversations they're going to have.
"Three days is not enough. You talk about three days of covering information, they were with us since May 9, so we had nothing but time. It's a redundancy deal—they can never hear it enough. We've talked to them about finances I don't know how many times, but guess what, they're still going to make mistakes. They're still young men, still growing up—just imagine if you were 21 years old with a lot of money in your pocket… We have to be here to help them when they do make mistakes."
Minimizing those mistakes is the goal in meetings such as the one that took place Monday. Longtime Seahawks public relations director Gary Wright gave a presentation on what it is to be a Seahawk, including a good history lesson on the franchise and the team's unique connection with its fans. That was followed by a panel featuring Jones, Trufant, Babineaux and Fisher, with those four covering the lessons they learned while transitioning to life in the NFL.
"You guys will start to see a transfer in your worlds and the people you hang around with, the conversations you have, the way you walk, the attitude," Babineaux said. "Going back home, you will be challenged to still live in the same kind of environment that you grew up in. I'm not saying trouble isn't everywhere, but the influence is a lot greater when you're around childhood friends.
"You have more to lose now, so what are you willing to bargain? That's the question. Is this position you have, this opportunity that you have in front of you worth it to you? That means a change in attitude, it requires a change in lifestyle, and it requires a change in the way you act, the choices you now have to make, because what you're doing now is investing in your future."
The lessons taught this week aren't just about avoiding trouble and handling money—though that's a big part of it—there was also football-related advice dispensed by the former players. While players are off between now and the start of training camp, the expectation is that they will come back in good shape and also having spent time learning the playbook. Trufant relayed the story of how he came into his first camp thinking he was in good shape, then found out he was wrong when it came time for a conditioning test.
"I'm the first-round draft pick, No. 11 overall, and I didn't pass my test," he said. "That's a terrible look…. I think I'm doing good, so whatever I'm doing, it's not good enough. I've got to go above and beyond."
Current rookies then asked questions of the former players, ranging from how to say no to friends and family looking for money, to how to stay in shape while away from the team, to what they would do differently as rookies if they had it to do over again.
"To be able to hear from guys who sat in the same seat as us and did the same things as us, it's priceless," first-round pick Germain Ifedi said after the Q&A had ended.
Like Kelly, Ifedi saw value in the redundancy of some of the messages: "Most of it is stuff you'd expect. Taking care of your finances, dealing with family, dealing with friends, dealing with women, just things that rookies need to hear and keep needing to have reiterated to them that these are important things to think about."
Members of the Seahawks 2016 rookie class learned all about life in the NFL on Monday, June 20 at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center.