RENTON, Wash. — This was the encouraging scene Wednesday afternoon at Seattle Seahawks headquarters:
Speaking with reporters following practice, coach Pete Carroll expressed his most optimism yet that Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown will play in the team’s Sept. 12 opener at the Indianapolis Colts. Some 50 yards away from the podium, there was Brown, running wind sprints up the berm that borders one of the practice fields at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.
“I’m counting on him,” Carroll said when asked if there’s any more clarity as to whether Brown will play. “I’m counting on him being ready.”
Like most things Carroll has said about Brown during his contract dispute, that comment was nondefinitive. It seemed to convey this much: the Seahawks think Brown will end his hold-in by their opener and they obviously hope their best offensive lineman is there to protect Russell Wilson‘s blindside, but no one can say for sure that he will be.
That uncertainty has hung over the Seahawks since Brown reported to camp but declined to practice in the absence of a new deal. His situation is different than the other contract disputes the Seahawks have dealt with this summer.
Free safety Quandre Diggs put any fears to rest this week when he said he expects to play in Week 1 and return to practice soon, once he ties up a personal financial matter — reportedly the finalizing of an insurance policy that will protect him as he plays out the final year of his deal.
And while strong safety Jamal Adams held in like Brown for the first three weeks of camp before signing his $70 million extension, that deal was always expected to get done before the opener. Everyone knew the Seahawks wanted to pay Adams this year and were working on an extension.
With Brown, they don’t, and they aren’t.
He’s made four Pro Bowls in 14 seasons. He ranked second among tackles last year in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate while not missing a game. And he’s the unquestioned leader of Seattle’s offensive line.
He also turned 36 earlier this week, has dealt with knee issues in recent seasons and has had his workload in practice heavily managed. That’s why the Seahawks believe he’s at the stage of his career where going year to year on his contract makes the most sense.
The $11.5 million average of the three-year, $34.5 million extension he signed in the summer of 2018 now ranks 16th among left tackles, per Spotrac. He’s set to make $10 million in base salary for 2021, the fourth-highest at the position.
That amounts to game checks worth more than $550,000 that Brown would forfeit each game he refused to play in the regular season. That might be enough motivation to end his hold-in by the opener.
But who knows for sure? Brown’s 2017 holdout with the Houston Texans lasted six games into the regular season, albeit under different circumstances than his current dispute with Seattle.
The Seahawks’ unwillingness to give him an extension this year has led to speculation that they could resolve the issue by tweaking his current deal. That’s how Marshawn Lynch’s one-week holdout ended in the summer of 2014. The team didn’t give him a new deal or add new money to the one he was set to play on, but they guaranteed $1.5 million for 2014 that was previously tied to per-game roster bonuses, incentives or 2015 compensation.
That type of adjustment wouldn’t be as easy with Brown because he’s only signed through this season, meaning there’s no money to move up from 2022 to 2021. His deal includes $1 million in per-game bonuses and $500,000 in incentives, some or all of which they could hypothetically guarantee.
Then again, they’re no doubt wary of the precedent they would set — or re-set — by sweetening a deal to satisfy an unhappy player.
In addition to Brown, the Seahawks have two backup left tackles on their 53-man roster in Jamarco Jones and rookie sixth-round pick Stone Forsythe. A third, Cedric Ogbuehi, will be eligible to come off injured reserve in Week 4. The dropoff from Brown to either of those three would be huge, as it would be with pretty much any team that has to play without its Pro Bowl left tackle. All three saw time there this summer in Brown’s absence.
While Brown was sitting out of practice and preseason games, he’s taken part in other preparations.
“He’s been on everything,” Carroll said Wednesday. “He’s been working out, he’s been in all of the walk-through stuff, he’s taken all those reps, he’s done all the meetings, everything, active part in all of that.”
Still, Wilson’s concern about Brown missing games has been evident. Pass protection was among the biggest issues that led his frustration to bubble to the surface earlier this offseason, adding a layer of significance to Brown’s situation.
Brown has always been an athletic marvel — even by the standards of NFL left tackles and even into his mid-30s.
“He’s probably the most physically fit guy on our team,” Wilson said. ” … The guy is doing like 20 pull-ups in here, and at his size, doing 20 pull-ups is crazy. He’ll do three sets of them with a weighted vest on sometimes.”
His point was that it wouldn’t be unrealistic for Brown to end his hold-in at the last minute and play in the opener despite little to no practice time to get ready.
Assuming he’s willing to.
“I think it’s going to work out,” Wilson said. “That’s what I’m hoping for and what I’m looking forward to.”