After the most tumultuous half-year of his Seahawks tenure, then a bounce-back season into the playoffs, Pete Carroll has said he’s re-discovered the right championship chemistry and locker room vibe.
“I love this team,” Seattle’s 67-year-old coach said at the end of last season, “and I love where we’re going.”
The Seahawks have ensured Neiko Thorpe is staying on that journey with them.
Their special-teams units—not to mention their systematic remaking of the locker room—will continue to feature their 2018 co-captain Thorpe. The Seahawks re-signed their special-teams leader, backup cornerback and locker room fashion plate/crack-up over the weekend.
It’s yet another move this offseason by Seattle to secure the players of its new foundation. Carroll has often said Thorpe is one of the buy-in guys to his Seahawks program.
Thorpe, 29, had shopped some in the NFL free agent market, visiting with the Buffalo Bills this month.
He signed on for his seventh NFL season. The last three of those have been with Seattle.
From Renton to London, Thorpe has become one of the more popular Seahawks with teammates in a locker room that Carroll has remade since Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas moved on.
Seattle’s leaders are undeniably Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright on defense, Doug Baldwin, Russell Wilson and recently re-signed D.J. Fluker on offense, and now Thorpe for the special teams.
What Carroll has called Fluker’s perfect fit in the team’s chemistry, as well the guard’s style of play on the offensive line, are large reasons why the Seahawks gave him a two-year, $6 million contract this month.
The gregarious Thorpe is as likely to be laughing with, or at, teammates as he is to be boasting about his skills on the ping-pong table that is feet away from his locker at team headquarters. On his way out, he’s likely to be sporting some of the more colorful and symbolic outfits on the team.
Such as this very Seattle one, on his way out of Wembley Stadium following the Seahawks’ win over Oakland in London in October:
Thorpe’s popularity showed when his teammates voted him their captain for the special teams units. He then made five tackles and recovered a fumble on kicking plays. He also was a reserve cornerback who can now be a candidate as a nickel defensive back inside against slot receivers in 2019. The Seahawks lost nickel back Justin Coleman in free agency to a $9-million-per-year deal with the Detroit Lions this month.
With Thorpe back, Seattle has on its roster seven of their top 10 tacklers on special teams from 2018. The exceptions are Coleman, fullback Tre Madden (who remains an unsigned free agent) and Maurice Alexander.
Alexander, a reserve safety who had injury setbacks in his one year with the Seahawks, signed a one-year contract with the Bills on Saturday.
The Seahawks ended last season with 14 players set to be unrestricted free agents when the market opened March 13. Only two remain unsigned: 40-year-old kicker Sebastian Janikowski and often-injured defensive end Dion Jordan.
Seattle has kept its two biggest of those 14 would-be free agents. The team used its franchise tag to prevent top pass rusher Frank Clark from leaving, then re-signed Fluker.
Alexander is the seventh of those free agents to sign with another team. The Seahawks have signed two unrestricted free agents from other teams: guard Mike Iupati from Arizona, and new kicker Jason Myers from the New York Jets. That sets up the Seahawks to gain next year what they noticeably lack in next month’s draft: compensatory draft choices.
Seattle currently is at minus-five in net qualifying free-agent losses this month (assuming Alexander indeed signed above the veteran minimum with Buffalo, as reported; minimum-salary deals do not figure in the formula the NFL uses to determine compensatory draft picks). The Seahawks are in line for the maximum of four comp picks next year.
Without any compensatory picks this year, Seattle for now has just four selections in next month’s draft. That’s the fewest in the league. It would be the fewest picks in any draft in team history.
That makes a trade down from 21st overall in the first round and other deals to acquire more choices Seahawks imperatives over the next four weeks.
Asked three weeks ago at the NFL scouting combine what the likelihood is Seattle ends the draft late next month with just those four picks, general manager John Schneider said: “I hope it’s slim.”