Jimmy Graham shook Pete Carroll’s gloved hand. Then they shared a laugh on the field while players jogged past them.
It was a far better look and feel Thursday than the Seahawks’ star tight end and coach had seven months ago.
So is this: After an offseason of inconclusive statements regarding them and the angst those wishy words caused among some around Puget Sound, the Seahawks now expect Graham and Thomas Rawls back and recovered in time for the regular season’s start in September.
“Oh, I absolutely think that,” Carroll said Thursday of his star tight end and new, lead running back — now that Marshawn Lynch is retired.
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“They would have to incur some issues that we can’t foresee right now for that not to happen.”
The coach’s proclamation came at the close of Seattle’s last practice before training camp begins late next month, another practice that Graham and Rawls watched. Carroll gave his most definitive statement yet on the availability of Graham and Rawls for the entire 2016 season.
Carroll also said the Seahawks and top wide receiver Doug Baldwin are in talks on a new contract and that the pending issue is a “big deal.” The Seahawks’ intend to re-sign Baldwin before he enters what would be the final season of his contract that is paying the NFL’s co-leader in touchdown catches with a franchise-record 14 last season $4 million in 2016.
Baldwin, 27, is finishing the three-year, $13 million contract extension he signed before the 2014 season. He set the Seahawks franchise record with 14 touchdown catches in 2015. He’s said all offseason his contract situation will “take care of itself,” and that he wants to remains in Seattle for as long as he can foresee.
The team is unlikely to let Baldwin begin the 2016 season with just one year remaining on his deal; he could become more tempted by the possibility of a huge contract from someone else in free agency next spring. Indeed, getting a deal finished for Baldwin has been a Seahawks priority since the end of the draft last month.
Carroll’s words Thursday underlined that.
“It is a big deal. It is a big deal. It is a very serious negotiation — as they all are,” Carroll said. “But he’s done an incredible job for us. He’s been a great, great teammate. Hopefully, eventually, we’ll get something worked out. I hope it happens.
“The intent is to get him signed and secured for a good while.”
Carroll’s being so forthright about Baldwin’s contract situation rather than merely shrugging off the question suggests how highly the coach and Seahawks regard the former undrafted free agent as a team pillar — and as quarterback Russell Wilson’s trusted target.
Asked if he expects Baldwin to have a new deal before training camp begins on or about July 31, Carroll said: “I don’t know that. They are meeting right now.”
Graham had surgery after he injured the patellar tendon in his knee in a late November win over Pittsburgh. The $40 million tight end’s recovery has been trickier than that from a more common torn anterior cruciate ligament in the knee. But Carroll said Thursday, for the first time, that Graham is currently ahead of Rawls in terms of being able to run on the field right now.
Rawls broke his ankle and tore ligaments in a win at Baltimore in early December.
Both could begin training camp next month on the physically-unable-to-perform list as a precaution. But Carroll’s “absolutely” comment Thursday should quell fears that either key in Seattle’s offense won’t be ready when the games get real.
“They both have made great progress. Whether it’s the first day of camp or not, or it’s PUP or whatever, we’re going to have to wait and see how these six weeks play out,” Carroll said.
“Jimmy’s a little bit ahead of Thomas in terms of the on-field running, so he’s a bit ahead schedule-wise. But, still, Thomas is in great shape. Both kids are mentally right. They’ve got the great attitude about what they’re going to do in these next six weeks, so we’ll just have to wait and see. We’ll be chronicling their progress through the offseason.”
Carroll said Rawls will remain at team headquarters between now and training camp to continue rehabilitating the ankle. Graham will be at his offseason home in south Florida, with some trips to Renton to check in.
As Carroll noted, whether Graham and Rawls are on the field for the start or even the bulk of training camp is “not going to tell the story.”
“We’ve got a long time here … We’re really 12 weeks away from the first game, or 13, or whatever it is,” Carroll said. “So we’ve got a long time to get this done.”
For all other Seahawks not named Graham and Rawls, Carroll wishes training camp began this weekend. He said the players — especially the rookies — are that ready.
C.J. Prosise scrimmaged fully on Wednesday and Thursday. That was the first extensive practicing for the rookie third-round draft choice since the running back got a hip-flexor injury early in last month’s organized team activities. He displayed smooth speed, a long reach and sure hands — he made several downfield catches with one hand. That’s why Seattle chose him to replace the departed Fred Jackson as its third-down back.
The offensive line will remain an issue into the season. But first-round pick Germain Ifedi strengthened his early hold on the starting right-guard job next to new right tackle J’Marcus Webb, who came back from a calf injury last month. Third-year veteran Justin Britt improved from some bad snaps last month in his transition from 2014 starting tackle and 2015 guard to the new (for now) first-team center.
Behind them, Wilson was as sharp and accurate as he has been in any of his five Seahawks offseasons.
“The whole idea here is for us to prepare them so that when they can get to camp time they can compete and get ready to go,” Carroll said. “And they’ve done everything they can that they could do so far.
“We’ve accomplished what we’ve needed to accomplish at this time.”