During the early stages of his tenure as general manager of the Seahawks, prior to the 2012 NFL Draft, John Schneider dugs his shoes into the ground and took a hard stance against domestic violence.
“We would never take a player that struck a female or had a domestic violence dispute like that,’’ Schneider told reporters at the time.
Only three years later, Schneider's comments would be put to the test. With the 63rd overall pick in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Seattle selected defensive end Frank Clark, who had been dismissed by Michigan's football program the previous November after being arrested for allegedly striking his ex-girlfriend Diamond Hurt in the face in a hotel room in Sandusky, Ohio.
On the night of Clark's selection, Schneider was again prodded by local media on whether or not it was still team policy not to draft a player who hit a woman. Indicating the Seahawks had done their due diligence on Clark before making the pick - they reportedly did not speak with the victim or witnesses - he defended their controversial decision.
“Our organization has an in-depth understanding of Frank’s situation and background,” Schneider remarked. “We have done a ton of research on this young man. There hasn’t been one player in this draft that we spent more time analyzing and scrutinizing than Frank.”
While Clark wound up finding success on the field and has stayed out of trouble in his six-year NFL career, he wasn't the first player with domestic violence on his record that the Seahawks had signed or drafted since Schneider's initial statement in 2012. Five such players had been signed in free agency in the previous three years, including defensive tackle Tony McDaniel and cornerback Cary Williams, showing that the organization was indeed turning a blind eye to these issues.
Only making matters worse, Schneider and Seattle's front office have continued to sign troubled players with histories of violent behavior, even going as far as signing practice squad players with such checkered pasts.
Long before he was released by the Seahawks in January after horrifying images of his badly beaten girlfriend surfaced on social media and he was charged with three felonies, Chad Wheeler was involved in multiple incidents while playing at USC. Most notably in 2015, officers detained him at an apartment in Los Angeles out of fear he would grab a weapon to use against them and sent him to a local hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.
Despite being one of the better tackles in his draft class, Wheeler went undrafted in large part due to his off-field issues and character red flags as well as a lengthy injury history. Teams were well aware of these issues and yet, Seattle signed him to the practice squad and he spent nearly two years with the organization before his heinous domestic violence crime.
Nearly three months after cleansing their hands of Wheeler, the Seahawks clearly haven't learned from that ordeal. The team agreed to terms on a one-year deal with Aldon Smith on April 15, adding a player to the mix who has been suspended multiple times by the NFL for substance abuse-related issues. He was also arrested in 2018 for allegedly biting his fiancée's wrists and fleeing the scene. He would later be arrested for violating a court order and conditions on his bail.
The fastest player in NFL history to 30 career sacks, Smith has undeniable talent rushing quarterbacks off the edge and he stayed clean in his comeback season with the Cowboys in 2020. Unfortunately, he's now wanted for second degree battery stemming from an incident at a coffee house in Louisiana. He allegedly choked a man until he became unconscious and has yet to turn himself in.
While Smith could still be a difference maker depending on what happens with his latest legal troubles, former NFL coach Jim Mora Jr. sees the potential for continuing to make such moves eventually blowing up on the Seahawks beyond simply the field of play.
"It's risky from the standpoint that you invest in a guy and may not have him, it's risky in how your fan base perceives your decision making, it's risky in how your fan base perceives your culture," Mora said.
On one hand, as Mora noted, coach Pete Carroll has a track record as a coach who advocates second chances in general. In many cases, he's unearthed success stories in that regard, including helping running back Marshawn Lynch become a perennial 1,000-yard rusher. Even in Clark's case, the player turned his life around in Seattle despite all of the negative publicity when he was drafted.
But there have been plenty of instances where Carroll and Schneider's willingness to stick their necks out for players who have been in trouble with the law has come back to bite them. In their defense, they have been quick to move on when those second chances haven't worked out.
Still, if Smith doesn't play a down for the team and ends up serving time and/or serving another lengthy suspension, Mora believes it may be far more difficult to sway the court of public opinion back in their favor.
"I think there's a point of no return where you give too many people too many chances, you get burned too many times and all of the sudden your credibility is just gone," Mora continued. "Or people perceive you as someone who is uncaring about issues of domestic violence, which to me is probably the number one issue we should be concerned with. It's a slippery slope."
Due to their success over the past decade turning the Seahawks into a perennial power in the NFC, Carroll and Schneider have a bit of leeway when it comes to roster construction decisions. This includes the obvious hypocrisy taking place by signing players like Smith who have lengthy criminal histories after stating numerous times they wouldn't pursue such players. If they keep winning division titles and making the playoffs, it's a lot easier to overlook such choices.
But while winning cures most things, it doesn't cure everything. With Smith's status as a Seahawk already in limbo and a fan base that may be running out of patience with these types of risky moves backfiring, Mora thinks Seattle's brain trust needs to look in the mirror and reevaluate where they truly stand in regard to the characters they're bringing into the locker room with the 2021 NFL Draft approaching.
"They have to take a hard look at it and I'm absolutely positive they are because they're good men. They want to do the right thing and sometimes doing the right thing for your organization shuts out a player that you might want on your team because of his ability. Sometimes you just make the wrong decision because it's an emotional decision, but I think they're taking a hard look at it right now."