The Seahawks' busy offseason didn't kick off with a major re-signing or a splashy trade. Instead, shortly after the team's early playoff exit, news broke of a horrifying and cowardly act by one of their backup offensive lineman, Chad Wheeler.
On the morning of January 23, Wheeler was arrested after nearly beating his then girlfriend to death after she refused to bow to him, according to the police report.
It wouldn't be until three days after his arrest that it became public knowledge and disturbing images of the survivor's wounds were subsequently released. Yet another day went by, with all of this damning evidence making the rounds, before the Seahawks sent out an official statement other than the typical 'gathering more information' spiel.
In it, the organization provided a disappointingly canned response. One statement in particular stands out amongst the rest, in which they take a stand against Wheeler's heinous act.
"The Seahawks are saddened by the details emerging against Chad Wheeler and strongly condemn this act of domestic violence."
The use of the word 'this' is very important here, because it specifically denounces Wheeler's crimes and not domestic violence as a whole. Sure, it could simply be chalked up to poor wording or attempt to face the issue head-on, but it perfectly exemplifies the ongoing problem of the Seahawks' actions speaking far louder than their words.
First and foremost, let's not get it twisted—the Seahawks didn't do anything deserving of praise for waiving Wheeler or releasing the aforementioned statement. This wasn't them stepping out of their comfort zone to make a difficult choice. It was, at best, the bare minimum.
Cutting Wheeler was as easy of a decision as they'll ever make. He was merely a backup tackle set to become a restricted free agent this offseason. The NFL is littered with player profiles similar to Wheeler's, making him the furthest thing from 'irreplaceable' to Seattle.
But as we've witnessed for some time now, domestic violence isn't the death knell it should be to some players' careers. If you're good at football, odds are some team will opt to ignore your disgusting nature and empower you in order to win games. The Seahawks aren't the exception, no matter how much they want you to think otherwise.
Immediately following the second-round selection of Michigan defensive end Frank Clark in the 2015 NFL Draft, Seattle general manager John Schneider was faced with many questions about the choice. Clark carried several red flags heading into the draft process that year, namely allegations of domestic violence in 2014. Schneider was adamant they had done their due diligence on the matter, claiming the organization has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to hitting women.
"In my opinion, if you strike a woman, you're off our board."
However, upon further review, it becomes clear Schneider's statement about the policy only takes the draft and incoming prospects into consideration. As the Seahawks have repeatedly exhibited, they'll make an exception for those already in the NFL.
It didn't stop them from hiring coach Tom Cable in 2011, despite having just been fired by the Raiders in part to an altercation with an assistant and several allegations of domestic abuse against three women.
It didn't stop them from signing cornerback Tramaine Brock in 2017, just four months removed from his arrest on suspicion of domestic violence and child endangerment.
It didn't stop them from bringing cornerback Cary Williams aboard in 2015, despite committing an act of domestic violence of his own six years prior.
It didn't stop them from rostering defensive tackle Tony McDaniel on two separate occasions when he was charged with battery for pushing his then girlfriend to the ground in 2010.
Nor did it stop them from continuing to employ defensive tackle Jarran Reed, who allegedly assaulted his girlfriend the same year they signed Brock. In the police report, Reed was described to have dragged the woman by the wrist, eventually breaking down the door of the bathroom she later fled to. While the charges against Reed were dropped for unknown reasons, the NFL was confident enough in his involvement to suspend him for six games nearly two years later.
Reed was in the final year of his rookie contract at the time of his suspension, giving the Seahawks an easy path to move on. Instead, they gave him a new two-year contract the following offseason. Although the deal was cut short by a year for salary cap purposes last month, Seattle did attempt to retain Reed with hopes of restructuring. However, the Alabama alum declined, thus becoming a free agent to eventually sign with the Chiefs.
Seemingly having washed their hands of players with this kind of history - at least in terms of what is publicly known - the Seahawks quickly went back to the well. After making countless attempts to acquire Aldon Smith dating back to last offseason, Seattle finally came to an agreement with the troubled pass rusher on a one-year deal yesterday.
Of the numerous off-the-field incidents Smith has been involved in since the start of his NFL career in 2012, none is more glaring than his last. On a March evening in 2018, Smith reportedly struck - and bit the wrists of - his then fiancée while under the influence of alcohol. He would then be arrested on three separate occasions in a little over a month's time; one for the crime itself, and two for violating subsequent court orders.
Smith was already serving a suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. This was initially supposed to hold him out for just one season, but the NFL never reinstated him through the 2016 and 2017 campaigns. Then this happened, seemingly putting any ideas of a comeback to rest.
But as we've gone over, the NFL is a very forgiving place when it comes to these situations—if you're deemed 'irreplaceable.' It's the reason players like Smith, Tyreek Hill, Ben Roethlisberger, Kareem Hunt, Antonio Brown, and others have been afforded second, third, fourth, fifth, and even more chances to continue making considerable amounts of money playing a game.
Smith was finally reinstated last May after signing a deal with the Cowboys. He also received interest from the Seahawks, who would later attempt to trade for him before acquiring defensive end Carlos Dunlap near the midseason deadline. Smith went on to put up 5.0 sacks and 48 combined tackles, along with a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown.
Seattle's interest in the Missouri product remained, with the team extending him a contract this past March. Those talks fell through, however, with Smith reportedly - and curiously - dealing with undisclosed "issues," per Mike Fisher of CowboysSI.com. But after visiting with him this past Wednesday, the Seahawks determined Smith to be worth signing.
The buck doesn't stop there, unfortunately. Over the past year, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has pounded the table for the team to sign the aforementioned Antonio Brown. They reportedly considered the move before Brown eventually signed with the Buccaneers last season, and have been linked to him once more now that he's a free agent again.
A civil trial centered on allegations of sexual assault and rape filed by Brown's former trainer is set to take place this December. Also spotlighted in his laundry list of incidents is the endangerment of a 22-month old child when throwing furniture out of a window, as well as the physical assault of a moving truck driver.
Yet, with all that out there, the NFL, nor the Buccaneers or Seahawks, seem to care. While Brown hasn't been convicted, the league has suspended and/or blackballed players for far less, even going as far to punish specific players for simply standing up for what they believe in; do I need to mention Colin Kaepernick?
The problem here really isn't that the Seahawks have shown interest or signed players with this kind of history. That's a systemic issue brought upon by the NFL, who don't eliminate these players from the equation and restrict teams from keeping them relevant. Therefore, it's hard to fault team executives, whose livelihoods depend on the success of their respective teams, for doing whatever it takes to win.
The problem, however, is that the Seahawks have led those who follow them to believe they're different than the other 31 teams—that they hold some sort of standard when it comes to domestic abuse. They don't.
The illusion of a zero-tolerance policy is not a well-kept one. It's an unnecessary falsehood, and for what purpose? Even if they have done their due diligence on each and every single one of these players throughout the years, no one on the outside can see the results of that kind of extensive research, and that's who this illusion is maintained for.
How can they expect fans to take their word for it when, on the surface, they continue to violate their own policy?