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Every April, Pete Carroll has his Seahawks go through an exercise. In the team meeting room, each player gets up from the seats they were in the year before and finds a new spot around different people.

The idea, quirky as it might be, is to send the message to everyone that when a new NFL season begins, a new identity, new roles and new relationships have to be forged, because the team itself is brand new. You’ve heard it before—what happened last season doesn’t matter, past accomplishments don’t count—and this is Carroll’s way of physically demonstrating it for his players.

The Seahawks went through with it again a couple months ago, but the reminder wasn’t really necessary this time around. Richard Sherman is a 49er. Michael Bennett is an Eagle. Cliff Avril is mulling retirement. Kam Chancellor is awaiting scans on his neck to see if he’ll be able to play. Earl Thomas has stayed away, and plans to keep staying away until he gets a new deal. And those five weren’t just a significant part of the team’s title core—they were also all under contract for 2018 just a few months ago, as five of Seattle’s 10 highest-paid players.

“I’m not saying I’m not more challenged this year than some other years,” Carroll said from his office the other day. “But I always feel like, ‘Man, this is my whole deal, to try to figure out how to recapture that.’”

Here’s the curveball: The roster turnover, the departure of all those core players, has actually made it easier for Carroll. Crazy? Not really. As he sees it, this offseason has been and will continue to be a chance, at age 66, to sell the bedrock of his program—competition—all over again. It got a little hard, as the above core came to prominence, to keep selling the idea that every spot was up for grabs. It’s not so difficult to sell anymore.

“It’s pretty plain to see, that when guys have established themselves for four or five or six years at a spot, and they’ve been really effective at what they do, it’s hard to convince the next guy that he’s going to take their spot,” Carroll said. “That’s for sure. So when opportunities are more open, it does create, in the truest sense, the best connection to what the philosophy and the approach is all about.

“And it feels like four or five years ago. It feels fresh and wide open, it’s more of an open competition for some of the spots. And that’s a really good thing for us, because it does feed into the whole approach.”

It’s a big week across the NFL—28 of the league’s 32 teams are in minicamps. The other four are wrapping up their offseason programs with one last set of OTAs. And by the time we get to next weekend, the NFL will be on its summer break. Therefore, there’s a lot packed into this week’s MMQB. We’re going to check in on the Browns, and how Hue Jackson has put last year in the rear-view. We’ll weigh in on the blow up between the Eagles and the White House. We’ll bounce around the league with nuggets on guys who have emerged this spring. And we’re going to share details on a visit Kobe Bryant took to Foxboro in May.

The Kobe visit was an interesting one, because of Bryant’s experience as an athlete who played 20 professional seasons. The Patriots have a guy like that—Tom Brady is approaching his 19th year, and he’s done it a different way in 2018, staying away from all voluntary phases of New England’s offseason program. He was back last week at the team’s mandatory minicamp, as you might have heard. And when he and I spoke afterward, the question that was lingering was what he took from spending the last seven weeks away. The answer was tremendously… normal.

“Just enjoying my time with my family, bringing my kids to school, supporting my family the best I can,” Brady told me. “They’ve been supporting me. It goes both ways. I wish I could be in five different places at one time, but that’s not life. I’ve enjoyed it. I’m never going to look back and regret spending time with my wife and my kids, and being a part of their life.”

And when I asked if this represented an unplugging of sorts, which I’d heard he wanted, he quickly combatted the idea, because it is not as if he disengaged altogether, nor did it look that way on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

“I mean, I’m trying to get to ready to play, doing whatever I can do to get ready to play,” he continued. “I love this team, I love this organization, and I try to be a good example.”

We’ll get back to Brady and the Kobe connection in a bit. But we’re going to start with the Seahawks’ reset, and what it means for Carroll’s program.

Negotiating With The Enemy: Inside the Richard Sherman-49ers Contract Talks

Toward the end of last year, a couple things were happening with the Seahawks. There had been a rash of injuries that put a lot of the foundational pieces of the Carroll Era on the shelf. There was some fatigue on the part of the vets who actually were available to play, to the point where they’d tell younger players, “You should’ve seen what this place was like in 2012.”

Six years ago, the intensity, tension and dog-eat-dog ethos were palpable. And last season, the guys making the decisions heard what the vets were saying—that’s evident in the calls they made this offseason. It started with Carroll’s staff; he hired new coordinators (Brian Schottenheimer on offense, Ken Norton Jr. on defense) and a new O-line coach (Mike Solari). It continued with the players. And it permeated how they drafted.

In fact, if you look at the Seahawks’ rookies, you’ll notice they’re all hardened by something significant they overcame. Shaquem Griffin is the most obvious example, but not the only one. First-rounder Rashaad Penny had to earn his way onto the field at mid-major San Diego State, behind Donnel Pumphery. Third-round pick Rasheem Green battled injury at USC. Fourth-rounder Will Dissly was a zero-star D-line recruit who grew into a great blocking tight end. Michael Dickson went from Australia to Texas to punt.

“We really hit it across the board,” Carroll said. “This year was a really good year for connecting with the right kinds of guys to really compete and add to the mentality. I don’t want to say that we tried harder at it. As always, we refocused, and we did better this year collectively hitting it. That’s why camp is good, that’s why every day these guys are juiced and ready to roll. They just add a nice energy. You can feel it.”

Carroll has seen it with veterans too, most notably in how Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin are working together. It’s there with a crew of running backs that Carroll calls “the most competitive group we’ve had,” with Penny fighting Chris Carson, Mike Davis and C.J. Prosise for snaps. And on defense, the addition of ex-Viking Tom Johnson has helped in pushing young D-linemen like Jarran Reed.

“There’s just been a lot of highlights, a lot of spots that fire me up,” Carroll said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing how we come together when we get to camp.”

Of course, there’s another side to this, and that’s the fact that the previous crew was really, really good. It’s fine to be excited now. It’s another thing to actually win like those Seahawks did over the last six seasons. (A regular-season record of 65-30-1, five playoff appearances, three division titles, two NFC championships and a Super Bowl win.) 

Carroll acknowledges that, of course, but he also doesn’t see this as a teardown. That brings us back to the other piece of last year to remember, which is the rash of injuries the Seahawks went through. It pushed onto the field a lot of guys who will be playing bigger roles this year, forcing them to get their feet wet. And what he saw then, and is seeing now, gives him hope that this could be 2012 again.

“It does feel like that,” Carroll said. “There was a time when our star players weren’t star players yet—they were just coming up, and it was exciting to see that emergence. That’s what we’re counting on in the next year, seeing these guys start to come to prominence and make a spot for themselves. I’m not even concerned about it. I just want to see what the timeline is. I hope it happens now. I want to see it happen right away.”

Last year a lot of people saw the changes looming and thought it was the perfect time for Carroll to walk away—he’ll be 67 in September, and after this year he’ll have been in Seattle as long as he was at USC. He sees it as a new start.

“I was clearly aware of what other people thought from the outside, because it was stated enough. Really, from my perspective, it turned me the other way,” Carroll said. “It made me more jacked up to get back into it, because we were taking all the right steps in the transition we were going to have to face, to make it work out.

“Somebody said, ‘You’re 65, are you thinking of retiring?’ or whatever it was. Who says at 65, you have to retire? What does that mean? It means nothing to me. I’m not old enough to retire. I’m not there at all. I do understand why people thought that. [But] we are not low on juice around here.”


Hue Jackson Jumped in a Lake; Now It’s on to 2018

A couple weeks back, Browns coach Hue Jackson fulfilled a promise to the fans in Cleveland, jumping in Lake Erie as a form of penance for going 0-16. He called it an “outstanding day for all involved,” in part because owner Dee Haslam was there, and in larger part because $30,000 was raised for his foundation.

It’s also the last he wants to hear about 2017. When he and I spoke on Thursday night, Jackson told me the players haven’t heard much from the coaches about it this spring. And they won’t either.

“It’s something we already know we were,” Jackson said. “We want to turn the page on that as fast as we can. Obviously we can’t get the taste out of our mouth until we start playing football games. We all know that and we respect that. But to talk about it, what does that do? It doesn’t do anything but bring up bad memories. We’ve pushed forward from that.”

The Browns’ minicamp this week will wrap up what’s been a much different offseason in Berea. After the Browns took an analytically driven, patient approach to building the roster in 2016 and ’17, new GM John Dorsey showed overwhelming urgency to get the team to 2018.

Yes, 0-16 is still there, but because of all of the activity, and because of Dorsey’s presence, to the people in Berea it feels like it happened longer than five months ago. That’s why I thought to reach out to Jackson this week. Here are a few nuggets from that conversation, straight from Hue to you…

Jackson wants the players to feel the urgency. “That’s the way John’s approached it. I know it’s the way our coaching staff has approached it. We want to get to winning as soon as we can, and the moves signal that. Tyrod Taylor’s our starting quarterback, we drafted a rookie quarterback, and I think it’s a great situation to be in—we don’t have to play a rookie quarterback right away, because we have a proven guy who’s played in the league, won games, played in playoff games. That’s exciting. I also think it sends a message, creates a narrative that this team is gearing up to win, that everything we’re doing is pointing towards winning.”

The talent is better… “If you look across the locker room, every position group has been upgraded with more talent. It’s everywhere. That in itself, when you look from one guy to the next, they can see it, there’s been more talent brought on to this football team. … I’ve been in this for a while, so there are things you can tell. I’m not ever going to say our team is not good enough, or we’re not this or not that. We’ll know when we get to training camp. But I do know there’s talent on this football team. And I think that’s obvious. If you look around the roster, there’s been some players who’ve been really good players on other teams.”

… so is the synergy between scouting and coaching… “When it’s like that—and it is now and has been since John has been here with us—we see things the same. So when you’re trying to acquire players, there’s a reason why we’re putting him on our team. There’s a reason why we’re doing everything that we’re trying to do in the offseason to get this team to be the best they can be. It doesn’t mean we agree all the time, but we have great discussions and great conversations about why. You gotta win your ‘why’ on why we’re doing this.”