Doug Baldwin looked up from his seat at his locker.
As he often does when asked just about any question beyond “How ya doin?” he paused. He often contemplates and formulates a thoughtful response.
It’s refreshing, really. Baldwin is perhaps the most thougthful, insightful athletes I’ve covered in 20 years of sports journalism.
This pause Friday inside team headquarters was after: Has this season, the first one of his eight years in the NFL all with the Seahawks in which he’s dealt with multiple injuries and missed as many as three games, caused him at age 30 to consider the mortality of his football career?
“You know...” the Pro Bowl wide receiver said before a long pause, “you go through the process, you go through the processes of feeling immortal when you are younger. I think we all go through that process, then contemplating where you take this. Then when things start to change and priorities outside of football change and life changes, you start to think about things in a different picture.
“Football is such a small sliver of your lifetime.
“I’ll leave it at that...”
Take that as a yes. He feels his football mortality, now more than ever.
Baldwin knows he’s not going to play many, many more years. This season has reminded him of that. This game reminds that to most players who turn 30 and are fortunate enough to have played in 120 regular-season games, plus 12 more in the postseason including two Super Bowls, as Baldwin has.
Monday night he watched inactive for the third time in 13 games this season as the Seahawks (8-5) won their fourth consecutive game, 21-7 over Minnesota. They are a win Sunday at San Francisco (3-10) away from clinching their sixth playoff appearance in seven years, this one with a young, overhauled team few expected to make the postseason.
And Baldwin isn’t going to miss that chance, a second one in three weeks to play against 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, his great friend and teammate when they played at Stanford and together for the Seahawks through last season.
“I’ve got so much love for him,” Baldwin said Friday of Sherman.
“It’s so much bigger than football, SO much bigger than football.”
Despite not practicing Wednesday and being limited Thursday and in Friday’s light, indoor workout, Baldwin will play against the 49ers Sunday. Coach Pete Carroll said that Friday. Baldwin confirmed it, even though the Seahawks officially listed him Friday as questionable.
Baldwin thinks this season’s team is uniquely bonded, reformed as it was through the offseason of turmoil and overhaul—including Sherman’s unceremonious exit this spring.
He sees it has the same qualities the 2013 and ‘14 Seahawks had on their way to the Super Bowl: youth, loyalty, unity, chips on their shoulders—and talent.
“I think as it’s always been, when we get in the tournament we know we have a shot,” he said. “And with this team, with the young mindset, with the underdog mentality and attitude, and with the true ability that we have, I think that we genuinely have a shot.
“Once we get in the tournament, it’s going to be very hard to beat us.
“A lot of us our getting healthy at the right time. A lot of us are coming into our own at the right time. So I’m really looking forward to, obviously securing our playoff berth first, but then getting into the tournament and actually being able to show what we are capable of against playoff-level talent.
“I’m really excited about our chances.”
Baldwin is the longest-tenured player Seahawk who will be on the field Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif.; Pro Bowl linebacker K.J. Wright, who joined the league and team with Baldwin in 2011, will miss his 11th of 14 games this season following knee surgery.
Baldwin will play through his latest groin injury, which is a different one than the pulled groin through which he caught five passes last month in the key win at Carolina. That victory propelled Seattle into this current push to the playoffs.
After that game, he looked subdued if not completely spent. He sat pushed back into his locker stall at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., talking in relatively hushed tones compared to the off-the-hook scene all around him following the stirring comeback win.
He not only started that game that Carroll said he couldn’t believe Baldwin played, he did it while managing pain he’s had in both knees. He’s still managing those issues each week. He missed all of August because of them, then sat out the second and third games of the season.
Those were the first games he’d missed since 2012, when he missed two games in his second NFL season after Seattle signed him as an undrafted free agent from Stanford. His streak of 102 consecutive games played, regular season and playoffs, ended Sept. 17 when he was inactive for the loss at Chicago.
He’s been on an injury report missing practice time each week this season, except the one following the team’s bye in October. That after the win at London, and before he had two catches in the victory at Detroit after the bye.
The team reported him with a groin issue the first time the following week, in early November. He’s been so banged up the Seahawks were listing him through last week with a hip injury, too, though Carroll said that was a groin issue. Different than the pulled groin he played with in Carolina, that is.
He’s been like the guy in the old kids’ game “Operation” this season. Baldwin has 37 receptions in 2018 inside Seattle’s run-first offense that leads the league in rushing. It’s the second-fewest catches for a season of his career. He’s scored two touchdowns, his fewest in the NFL. In 2015 he co-led the league with 14 touchdown receptions.
He has two years and $19.5 million in salary remaining on his contract after this season. Of course, that money is not guaranteed. Few things in the NFL are.
His current deal is from the $46 million extension he signed in the summer of 2016, a year removed from his and Seattle’s second consecutive Super Bowl. He was still in his prime then, still in his 20s.
“Oh, I am on the downside of my career. I’m 30 years old,” Baldwin said.
“I would not be able to play at the caliber I’m playing now at 38,” he joked.
“I am definitely on the downside.”
He knows he’s at the age the Seahawks waived Sherman. Earl Thomas’ contract is ending with him on injured reserve for the rest of this season with no Seahawks future in sight. He turns 30 in May. Wright is approaching 30, and the end of his contract Seattle may not renew.
Asked if he thinks about his future, whether he will be a Seahawk in 2019 with this team in such a successful youth movement, Baldwin chuckled.
“I do,” he said.
“But if you know me, you know I always have a plan.”
That plan could include politics.
It already includes activism.
Baldwin continues to forge his way past the millions of Americans who either can’t hear his message, or don’t want to.
How? By doing.
For the last three years he’s used his platform as an NFL star to lobby Congress to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for low-level crimes. He’s testified at the Washington State Capitol for police-reform legislation in the training and policies for the use of deadly force. He’s met with law-enforcement officials and community leaders from across the Pacific Northwest on deescalation methods police officers can use to help prevent needless killings in confrontations. He’s met with Washington attorney general Bob Ferguson about these and other issues, as well.
This fall Baldwin has zeroed in on a new target: Fixing what he says is our country’s “antiquated” cash-bail system. Baldwin and many others believe cash bail unfairly jails citizens of lower socioeconomic status for non-violent and minor offenses, simply because they don’t have money to pay standard bail.
“Right now, we are discussing district attorneys and their roles in the criminal-justice system, and treating people fairly, and humanely,” the face and voice for the Seahawks’ protest movement the last two years said in September. “And so one of the things we are addressing right now is the bail system, the cash-bail system, which is an antiquated system. (It) is really exclusive to, or beneficial to, the people who can afford the cash-bail system, right?
“People who are in more impoverished situations, typically, they can’t (pay). I think we have over 100,000 people who are sitting in jail right now who are not in jail because they have been convicted of a crime but because they can’t pay their bail. And it’s not violent offenses, right. These are not violent offenses that I am talking about. These are people who cannot afford their bail, like we probably could.”
Yes, Baldwin has a plan beyond football.
When does he think that might be?
“Dang,” he said Friday, “these are pointed questions.
“Again, if you know me, you know I’ve got a plan for everything. The method to the madness.”