It’s all fine for Nick Vannett right now.
Last season he was the Seahawks’ No. 3 tight end. Then in March Jimmy Graham signed as a free agent with Green Bay. Luke Willson left in free agency to Detroit. And Ed Dickson, the free agent from Carolina Seattle signed to a three-year contract to replace Graham, has yet to practice in training camp that’s in its third week.
Dickson has been out with a quadriceps injury; coach Pete Carroll says “it’s still a bit” before Dickson will be able to practice.
“It’s not happening,” Carroll said of Dickson’s recovery so far.
So it’s been Vannett and rookie Will Dissly from the University of Washington as the tight ends with the starting offense. Thursday, Vannett caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson early in Seattle’s preseason opener against Indianapolis.
Vannett is another example of how the Seahawks are so changed and younger from last season, when they failed to make the playoffs for the first time in six years.
Seattle’s third-round pick in 2016 from Ohio State is suddenly the longest-tenured Seahawks tight end. That status comes with perks—including being the chief assessor, judge and jury of the tight ends’ daily kangaroo-court fine system.
“The most common one is probably the ‘homeland fine.’ That’s probably the one I dish out the most,” Vannett said Monday following the 13th practice of Seahawks training camp at team headquarters.
The “homeland fine?”
“So for me, for example, if I were to wear anything Ohio, Ohio State, if I were to mention anything ‘Ohio,’ any city in Ohio, I get fined for that,” the native Buckeye said.
Tight ends coach Pat McPherson, 49, gets fined a lot for mimicking sound effects, especially during review of practice and game film.
“Ninety percent of his fines are from sound effects,” the 25-year-old Vannett said.
“We’ve got ‘Uncle Rico’ fines, where if you tell a high-school story that we all just really don’t care about, that’s a fine.”
That’s how coach McPherson also gets dinged for mentioning his playing days at UCLA and Santa Clara, or when he signed in 1993 as a rookie free agent with the San Francisco 49ers.
“We have a no-fine fine. I mean, if you go the whole day without getting a fine, you’re getting a fine,” Vannett said.
“That just goes to show, you are going to get fined.”
The going rate for fines is $20 per infraction, with what Vannett called a $1,000 “initiation fine” for incoming rookies, depending upon whether they were drafted or undrafted free agents. The leader entering the third week of training camp? Dissly. By a lot. Vannett estimates the rookie was up to $2,700 in fines as of Monday.
The ultimate authority of assessing the fines says he’s probably at $2,000. Vannett is the collector and keeper of the fine money, too. He inherited that responsibility when Willson, the previous longest-tenured Seahawks tight end, left.
“Since I’ve been here the longest, I’m sitting in the throne now,” Vannett said.
“I mean, what I say, goes. Sometimes I run it (by those) in the room, if I’m on the fence. But usually what I say is a fine.
“I mean, hey, I’m a leader. So I’ve got to act like it, right?”
No, Vannett is not pocketing the cash to spend on the newest plasma televisions or whatever, either.
“It goes towards charity, at the end,” Vannett said. “We have peoples’ foundations that it goes to. Half of it goes to charity, and half of it goes to the tight ends’ trip at the end of the year.”
Vannett said the most common charities to benefit from the tight ends’ missteps have been those that benefit children.
“In the past we did it for cancer,” he said. “It’s always going toward a good cause.”
Vannett is rising to meet his increased opportunities in the Seahawks’ kangaroo count and on their field after two seasons marred by a herniated disk in his low back. He said getting into a three-point stance was often painful. That and his limited chances behind Graham and Willson in 2016 and ‘17 are why Vannett has just 15 receptions in 24 games so far in his career.
Before training camp began, Vannett finally got an accurate diagnosis for his pain. He also got a new exercise plan and physical therapy that avoided surgery. He says this is the best he’s felt in years.
His rise and return to full health are timely. They are coinciding with the renewed value and emphasis tight ends have in the Seahawks’ offense this year.
Graham and Willson were essentially wide receivers in tight-end alignment in the last past seasons under coordinator Darrell Bevell and line coach Tom Cable. Those two were down-filed pass catchers who blocked only when they absolutely had to. Vannett was the lone “blocking” tight end of those three.
New coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and new line coach Mike Solari have their tight ends being, well, tight ends. They are focal points in run blocking and in pass catching, particularly right now with lead wide receiver Doug Baldwin out indefinitely with a left-knee injury.