The echo of the headquarters-wide nervous cough had dissipated by the time I asked LB Bobby Wagner about the cutting Wednesday of Tre Flowers, a fourth-year cornerback with 40 career starts on a Seahawks defense that Wagner captains.
“Have you talked to him?”
“I haven’t had a chance to talk to Tre,” he said. “I heard about it last night what happened. I think sometimes it’s good for people to have a fresh start. Maybe that was the opportunity he was looking for.”
That should tell you something about the awkward crisis on the defense when a rare mid-season firing is cast as an opportunity for the fired player. No effort to even muster a courtesy salute.
Said coach Pete Carroll: “I feel like it’s better for him to get out of here and get going again.”
Well, then. With that don’t-let-the-screen-door-hitcha farewell, another draft choice (fifth round, 2018) has busted.
It’s fair to say that, five games into the season, the Seahawks, nearing mid-terms, are flunking at cornerback. Hence, the nervous cough. The Seahawks’ average of 450.8 yards a game surrendered is the worst in the NFL, and 305 yards passing is 30th.
In the off-season, they hired free agent Ahkello Witherspoon for $4 million to replace Shaquill Griffin, who took a good offer from Jacksonville after four years in Seattle and no apparent effort to keep him. But on Sept. 3, the Seahawks abruptly traded Witherspoon to Pittsburgh, where the Seahawks travel to play the Steelers Sunday. The Seahawks received a fifth-round pick in 2023, so no help comes back for this year. Witherspoon has played four snaps for the Steelers.
The year before, the Seahawks hired free agent Quinton Dunbar, ostensibly to unseat at right corner the enigmatic Flowers, who had a terrible playoff game in Green Bay. But between injuries and a bizarre entanglement with a Florida robbery, Dunbar played six games in Seattle, was not re-signed and is out of football.
In training camp this year, Carroll had good things to say about the progress of Flowers, a star as a safety at Oklahoma State. But at 6-3 and 205 pounds with 4.45-second speed, Carroll spent all of Flowers’ four pro years trying to make him into a corner.
It worked sometimes. Not enough times.
“I love that guy — love the kid,” Carroll said. “I have been working with him as closely as I have worked with anyone since I’ve been here.
“I was so high on him because he had really exceeded the expectations. He came back better, effective, aggressive. In my opinion, it just didn’t stay as much as I had hoped. We gave him a great shot at it and did everything that he could with it.”
He started the first three games, in which poor Seattle pass coverage had numerous other contributors, then was benched in favor of newcomer Sidney Jones for the past two. After the loss at Minnesota, Flowers openly (and politely) questioned schemes and coaching.
Pro Football Focus has him for the season ranked 83rd out of 115 cornerbacks graded. Thursday afternoon, the Cincinnati Bengals claimed Flowers off waivers, picking up the balance of his $2.1 million contract.
“He did a lot of good stuff,” Carroll said. “He was a really good technician, but you have to finish the plays, make the plays, and come back when you don’t. You have to find successful plays to build on. So it was just his time to go on. That’s enough to say.”
Carroll had much more to say about CB Tre Brown, the rookie fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma who has yet to play because of a knee injury, which has healed enough for him to practice this week.
“This is going to be a real week for him; last week was the partial week,” he said.. “When he got hurt (in training camp), he was right on the verge of competing (for) playing time. Like I said to him today, ‘Let’s pick up where you left off, show us you have your stuff together, and let’s see where that leaves you.'”
If it leaves him at left corner or right corner, Carroll wouldn’t say. In the 26-17 loss to the Rams the past Thursday, Jones started on the left and D.J. Reed on the right. PFF graded Reed’s season at 40 among 115, Jones was at 114 and starting slot corner Ugo Amadi at 110.
Jones, acquired Aug. 31 from Jacksonville, struggled most of the day in coverage as the Rams piled up 358 yards passing.
“It was a quiet game for Sidney,” Carroll said. “There were some plays last week where he knocked off some rust, and saw some things (from the previous week) where he did better in this week. He’s a really smart kid and is aware, so we just needed him to get out there with us.”
Would Carroll dare to sit Jones, 26, in favor of Brown, 24, in his first career game on the road at Heinz Field against one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the game in Ben Roethlisberger?
“I don’t have any apprehension,” he said. “If you remember, we started Richard (Sherman) when we had to, back in the day.
“We drafted (Brown) to let him compete for the job, and we would see what would happen. We are sticking to that, and it’s what is happening now.”
It’s what happens when a franchise develops a nervous cough after firing a 40-game starter who’s only 26. It’s what happens when flunking at cornerback.