RENTON Dion Jordan is as he’s always been: Quick.
Quick to give thanks for the Seahawks making him their unlikely, emerging pass rusher.
He’s also thankful for not needing another knee surgery. For not just being known anymore as a failed first-round draft pick. Or as a drug abuser.
“I’m grateful, man,” Seattle’s newest--and tested--defensive end said. “I’m thankful I can put on a helmet and shoulder pads for a living.
“I’ve decided I’m going to strive. I’m going to do better. In everything.”
Jordan was the third-overall choice in the 2013 NFL draft, a unique blend of size, speed and blur exquisite at dumping quarterbacks. USA Today’s Tom Pelissero detailed in the spring of 2016, Jordan overcame his mother’s drug addiction. He overcame an accident when he was a senior at Chandler High School just outside of Phoenix that left him with second- and third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body.
He became a star linebacker and All-Pac-12 pass rusher for the University of Oregon. The Dolphins traded up nine places to make Jordan the third pick in the draft then gave him to a $20.5 million contract over four years. It was fully guaranteed when he signed it.
He had just two sacks in 16 games, none of them starts, as a rookie. In 2014 he had one sack and missed six Dolphins games because of suspensions for positive drug tests. One was for MDMA (also known as ecstasy), the other for marijuana. Enrolled in the league’s substance-abuse program, he gave a diluted sample at a test late in that 2014 season. The NFL’s policy and program for substances of abuse treat diluted samples like positive ones.
That third positive test resulted in the league suspending him for the entire 2015 season. It also voided that $20.5 million contract with the Dolphins. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell eventually reinstated Jordan in July 2016, on the condition he undergo counseling and pass a league evaluation. He did.
Last season, new Dolphins general manager Chris Grier and coach Adam Gase decided to keep him while he recuperated from knee surgery because of a non-football injury. He started the 2016 season on Miami’s non-football-injury list. He returned to practice late last fall, but the Dolphins decided he wasn’t fully ready physically to return to the field. So he missed all last season, too.
The Dolphins finally gave up on him and released him this March. He played in just 26 of a possible 65 games, started just one and had only three sacks for Miami, where he’s derided as a first-round bust.
The Seahawks signed Jordan on April 11 to a no-risk, minimum-salary deal as a forgotten free agent. Then Seattle’s doctors told him he needed another knee surgery, to clean up the previous one. That kept Jordan from practicing with his new team all spring and summer, through the preseason and into this regular season.
“I had a couple other options. I still had faith in my abilities, man,” he said. “And I think a lot of other people did, too. And they’d seen or heard how hard I was working outside of (the NFL). I still had some chances.
So why did he sign with the Seahawks?
“One, there were on the West Coast, and I wanted to be on the west side again,” Jordan said. “And they just had faith in me, to be honest. I decided to take it to that chance with them. They decided to do the same with me.”
Last month, nearly three years since his last game, Jordan practiced for the first time with the Seahawks. On Nov. 9, he played in his first game since Dec. 28, 2014. That night he got his first sack since Dec. 21, 2014, of Arizona’s Drew Stanton. Jordan annihilated Cardinals left tackle John Wetzel on the play, bulling him backwards as if Wetzel was on skates.
It wasn’t just a sack. It was a validation.
“I marvel. I marvel at watching him battle in coming back,” Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard. “A true competitor.
“He’s recapturing his life, in essence.”
That sack against the Cardinals wasn’t the moment Jordan felt he was back, that his long road was worth it.
“I had the moment when I hopped on the team plane to go to Arizona. That was my first moment,” he said.
“I think the second one was when I was able to run out there with everybody (onto the field). You know, I felt like one of the guys.”
His return to the NFL game about 35 minutes west of where he grew up, in Chandler, Arizona, just outside Phoenix. He had friends and family at his comeback game.
“Everything has panned out, just because of the work,” he said.
That, and Seattle’s patience. All this spring and summer, coach Pete Carroll and the Seahawks kept faith in Jordan’s wowing physical potential, even though it’s been shelved for going on three years now.
“I’m ecstatic for him,” Carroll said. “It’s been such a haul. I’m really proud of that whole thing.”
“It’s been a long haul just with us. Watching him as far set back as he was early on after he got here and then he encountered some issues that he had to deal with. We were real excited about it to start then he had kind of some setbacks that he had deal with and he did. He did extraordinary work to make it back through all of the stages of it.
“He feels almost like a rookie now. It’s a young guy that is kind of a raw player that we’re kind of figuring out where he fits and how we can utilize him and all of that. But he’s really hungry and his mentality is great.”
The Seahawks love what they’ve already seen out of Jordan so much, he was one of the reasons the team waived future Hall of Fame pass rusher Dwight Freeney on Tuesday. Jordan played 19 snaps Monday night in the loss to Atlanta, to Freeney’s 17. Jordan is 10 years younger and 40 percent cheaper than Freeney. Jordan is costing Seattle $379,212 this season, a proration of the minimum salary of $615,000 for a player the league has credited two accrued seasons.
Part of Jordan’s comeback was spent with trainer Tareq Azim in San Francisco. Azim, a mixed martial arts trainer and owner of a gym, has worked with Marshawn Lynch, when Lynch was still the Seahawks’ iconic running back and franchise cornerstone in Seattle’s Super Bowl seasons of 2013 and ‘14. Lynch’s agent, Bay Area-based Doug Hendrickson, helped get Lynch involved with Azim. Hendrickson is also Jordan’s agent, and he got Jordan in touch with the MMA trainer in the spring of 2016.
Azim has another link to the Seahawks: He had gotten to know Seattle offensive line coach and assistant head coach Tom Cable when Cable was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, across the Bay Bridge from Azim’s gym.
Jordan has gained about 30 pounds since he was playing for the Dolphins three years ago. Yet he says he doesn’t feel like he’s lost his speed that made him a star at Oregon.
What was his thinking behind the weight gain? To be less of a do-it-all, end-linebacker hybrid whom Miami sometimes had covering receivers on pass plays? To focus on being a down lineman and pass rusher, because sack guys get the big bucks in the NFL?
“No, I didn’t have a chance to run for a long time. The only thing I was able to eat and lift weights, man,” he said. “And that’s what happened.
“But I feel like my body had changed a lot, because of age and everything.”
His mind has, too.
I asked Jordan if the Seahawks told him when they signed him in April that this was his last chance, that the team would have zero tolerance for any off-field issues.
“I knew that. I knew that,” Jordan said.
“I mean, this is my career. And my life.
“I knew that already.”
EXTRA POINTS: Luke Joeckel practiced fully for the second consecutive day on Thanksgiving. That’s a sign he will start at left guard Sunday for the first time since Oct. 1. He had arthroscopic knee surgery last month. Rookie Ethan Pocic has started the last five games at left guard. The Seahawks will decide between the second-round draft choice and Mark Glowinski at right guard the 49ers game. … Starting defensive tackle Jarran Reed (hamstring) was full go in practice. … LT Duane Brown, LB Bobby Wagner, DE Michael Bennett and TE Jimmy Graham did not practice to rest soreness.