Pete Carroll’s Prime Directive for nearly half a generation of Seahawks players is simple: Always protect the team. Don’t say or do anything that jeopardizes the group’s welfare.
Did Russell Wilson’s first-ever public complaints about the team, abetted by his agent’s public, fully attributed suggestion of four teams to which Wilson would agree to be traded, violate the directive?
“The subject matter teetered on that topic, for sure,” said Carroll Wednesday. “Because it looked like there was a problem. But, there really wasn’t a problem. I think that we’re very clear about it now.”
Wilson’s criticisms didn’t come in a post-game outburst. They were part of a carefully planned media tour, organized by agent Mark Rodgers, after the Super Bowl. Laments about playcalling, pass protection and other shortfalls were cited, which sunk his chances for the MVP award, even though the Seahawks finished 12-4 and champs of the NFC West. The unprecedented critique by the game’s most vanilla talker rocked the NFL almost as much as the Seahawks’ 30-20 playoff face-plant against the Rams rocked Seattle.
The criticism “wasn’t a problem for us,” Carroll said, “because we knew the truth.”
But after an hour-long Zoom interview, along with general manager John Schneider at their annual pre-draft media session, it wasn’t a whole lot clearer what that truth was to the rest of us.
More obvious was the eagerness of the pair to blow past one of the more convulsive episodes in their tandem tenure, and look ahead.
“Right now he’s as jacked up as he’s ever been,” Carroll said of Wilson. “He’s in the process of turning over our new offensive stuff that is different from the past, and things that we need to learn. He’s totally after it and doing a great job. His mentality is strong and his conditioning is right. He’s doing a great job.
“So things were said, things were said. Sometimes you have to deal with stuff, and that’s how we take care of our business. We’re in a fantastic place right now and really excited about this team and this season and this draft.”
Schneider tried to play down the episode’s gravitas by saying the club has gone through disruptive times with other players.
“It’s not like our first go-round, you know?” he said. “We’ve dealt with a lot of drama.”
Carroll invoked club history more evocatively: “Maple bars and Marshawn.”
He was referring to an episode when former Seahawks WR Golden Tate was busted for stealing maple bars. And of course, Marshawn . . . well, if you don’t get the reference, there’s not enough pixels in the digital world to explain it.
But this was the franchise QB. How do you bust his chops? Carroll offered a revision to the apparent violation of the Prime Directive.
“If anything happened, it wasn’t a rule number one violation,” he said. “It might have been a rule number two violation, which is no whining, no complaining, no excuses — where you say something that kind of gives you something that could be challenged.”
If you’re getting a little lost here in the sports-speak weeds, let me attempt an act of clarity.
Quarterbacks are held to a different standard. A double standard.
It’s been a fact of NFL life at least back to Johnny Unitas, and likely will be, to infinity and beyond.
The relative handful of guys who can do what Wilson does are an exotic species for whom room is made for eccentricities, tantrums, habits and peccadilloes. Whether it’s hiring dozens of masseuses, guest-hosting Jeopardy!, believing in nano-water or having nine children with the same wife, they are different than normal football players, and indulged like no other.
Carroll and fellow coaches never admit such a thing, but Wednesday he sort of excused Wilson away from serious consequence.
“I think the speculation in the media was really an obvious factor in how his words were portrayed,” he said. “We don’t always say the right thing. We don’t always do the right thing.
“What I do, whenever things come out, whether it was Russell or anyone I’ve dealt with as a high-profile player in high-profile situations, we addressed all of it immediately. He knows exactly where I was coming from. I told him early on, this could be really a long issue that we’re dealing with in the media, and I wasn’t going to say a word. Because I knew what the truth was.
“We had communicated clearly. I knew right where Russ was coming from. Unfortunately, for the people who were following it, reading the articles and whatever people were saying, you didn’t have the benefit of what I knew and what Russ knew. I have never played to those kinds of situations and tried to smooth them out.”
That’s an elaborate way of saying the Seahawks knew right away they weren’t going to be coerced into trading Wilson. Nor were they going to sanction or scold him for 2½ months of turbulence. The Prime Directive remains for sub-immortals, and if fans and teammates don’t like exceptions, you must not like Ken Griffey Jr. or Gary Payton.
Besides keeping Wilson, they kept him happy by hiring a new coordinator he likes, Shane Waldron, a veteran guard, Gabe Jackson, and a veteran tight end, Gerald Everett. And there seems to be a commitment to help the pass protection by throwing more quickly, the one weakness in Wilson’s game.
“A big focus of that is about the rhythm of the ball coming out,” he said. “It’s the reads for the quarterback. It’s the mix of the protection that we use, so we can’t get zeroed in on. It’s the utilization of the players so they’re ready for the ball to be out quick.
“Russ has always been good at all rhythms. But I’ve always felt he’s at his best when the football is coming out of his hand in a hurry. Then he has those enormously long plays that he extends with his movement. It gives us a real great variety and style to our game.
“We’re trying to accentuate the rhythm part, and how that fits with the play-actions and things we love to do down the field and be explosive with.”
Carroll also did a less-visible thing, for Wilson and himself. It may pay off in inscrutable ways.
He re-hired his old friend, Carl “Tater” Smith, as associate head coach.
Smith, 73, was Seahawks QB coach from 2011 to 2017, and associate head coach in 2018 before leaving in 2019 to join son Tracy in Houston coaching with the Texans. Here is how Wilson described Smith to the Seattle Times in 2016.
“For me and him, over the past four years, we’ve been through some amazing times. We’ve won a lot of football games, and a lot of that is credit to him and how he helps prepare me in such an amazing way.
He positively affects everyone around him in everything he does. And that’s the best thing I can say about Tater: He positively affects everyone he knows and everyone around him. I just really believe he’s a true difference-maker for our team.”
Here’s how Carroll described Smith Wednesday:
“It’s like getting the other part of my brain back. I really appreciate him being part of this. Carl is the kind of guy that will tell me stuff like other people might not say it. He has a way of doing it and a way of making the point to me that’s extremely valuable, to keep me from being crazed and half-made out there some of the time. I’m really thrilled he’s back with us.”
Hard to say for sure, but Smith might be the part of Carroll’s brain that will keep the head coach from clock and red-flag mismanagement, data-resistant fourth-down decisions and fear of passing the ball.
Good as Wilson is, it’s not his place to tell the head coach when he’s crazy. Now someone else can help protect the team.
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— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) April 28, 2021