Seahawks’ handling of Doug Baldwin latest chapter in manual of NFL success
Doug Baldwin’s deal is another example of how well the Seahawks unearth and deploy talent, but another key is the trust management is building with players.
Seattle Times columnist
The message of Doug Baldwin’s contract extension Thursday was two-fold, and both elements came through loud and clear as the latest real-world affirmations of the Seahawks mantra.
Perform, and you will be rewarded. And it doesn’t matter how you were acquired, as touted draft pick or obscure free agent; you will get a chance to perform.
“I think that message is spreading across the locker room,” Baldwin said.
Sitting through the latest of these winter news conferences, following ones to herald the return of Michael Bennett and extensions for Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman, it struck me that numerous elements of the Seahawks’ runaway success were on display.
Mind you, the Seahawks will not always be perceived as so smart and infallible. These things tend to be cyclical in sports, and incredibly difficult to sustain over the long haul. The shelf life of organizational genius tends to be short-lived. Look at the 116-win Mariners for a case study of that phenomenon.
But right now, the Seahawks have it going on. And Baldwin is emblematic of their incredible knack for not only unearthing talent, but for manifesting the Darwinian forces that allow smart, tough, motivated players to thrive. Even if they’re undrafted free agents, like Baldwin, and even if it’s at the expense of a flashier teammate.
“He’s the epitome of the type of guy we’re looking for,’’ Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Thursday. “I’ve said it many times: Let’s make sure we understand the makeup of Doug Baldwin so we can see it in other guys we want to bring into our program.”
But testimonials for the Seahawks’ scouting acumen are getting to be old hat. I was more interested in some of the podium interplay between Baldwin and his bosses, Carroll and general manager John Schneider. The easy banter seemed so genuine that it was clear that this relationship went beyond the norm.
“Not only are they my bosses, they are my friends,’’ Baldwin said. “I like to call them teammates, to some degree.”
Thomas, Sherman and others along the way had expressed similar sentiments. It stands to reason that players who are happy in their workplace, who buy into the program and who have a personal bond with their superiors, will be more productive.
Creating such an environment is one of the towering achievements of this Seahawks regime, and Baldwin dug into what he feels makes it work: Trust. When the offseason began, Schneider laid out to him the order in which they would do their business. Thomas would be done first, because he had seniority. Then Sherman, then Baldwin.
“They’ve been forthright with all of that, and honest,’’ Baldwin said. “I was kind of surprised when he said it. I didn’t believe it, to be honest. But here it is. It actually happened the way he said.”
Baldwin talked further about how fostering such a “trustworthy relationship” emboldens players to come forward with any issues that might be festering.
“Or you may just have a normal conversation with them about family and friends,’’ he said. “It builds an environment here where everyone wants to play for each other.”
That’s a fine line to walk, of course, because the time will come, inevitably, when friendship and camaraderie won’t be enough to stave off the harsh business realities of the NFL. A player’s prime can be shockingly short-lived, and there’s always a younger, cheaper model waiting to compete his way into the mix.
Golden Tate’s departure is an example of the sometimes coldhearted nature of the business. Though he had the sentimental attachment of being in the first Schneider/Carroll draft class, he didn’t fit into the Seahawks’ financial model, and so out he went.
Schneider said that he strives for honesty in his dealings with the players, the timetable he gave Baldwin being an example.
“You’re not always going to like what you hear, but you’re going to hear the truth,’’ he said. “The guys know going into the offseason what our plan is. If we can get there, great. If we can’t, it’s still OK; no hard feelings.”
The crux of the Seahawks’ plan, after wrapping up the Super Bowl, was locking up as many of their own players as they could. It meant making hard choices on which ones to let walk, and an even harder show of restraint regarding tantalizing free agents.
“You can kind of go down a road that’s a little bit fantasy football, but you can’t do that,’’ Schneider said. “You’ve given people your word. We’re building something special. We want to be a consistent-caliber team, and we’re trying to do that with our own players.”
You could write an organizational manual on the elements of team-building that came into play Thursday. Maybe when this extraordinary talent cycle has passed, no one will want to read it. But right now, it’s powerful stuff.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146
On Twitter @StoneLarry
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives his take on the local and national sports scene.