RENTON Got to peel back the curtain on the Seahawks today. I and other local media members sat at team headquarters for a behind-the-scenes look at Seattle’s first in-house rookie transition training.
Monday’s program was the first of three days the league is mandating each team give its rookies this week in life- and career-skills training. But the Seahawks, led by vice president of player engagement Maurice Kelly -- whom I called “the most important Seahawk you’ve probably never heard of” last month in this profile -- have been giving such training to the first-year players since May 9. That was the start of rookie minicamp the weekend after the draft.
This year the NFL ended its program it started in 1997 to gather all the league’s drafted rookies at one location for three days of transition training. Now the league has decentralized that role to each of its 32 teams, and all rookies -- those drafted and undrafted -- get trained on benefits, workplace conduct, mental health and financial responsibility, among other subjects.
In Seattle, that’s appropriate. At the end of last season the Seahawks had 24 players on the 53-man active roster who entered the league undrafted, by far the most undrafted free agents in the league.
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Monday’s lineup for the Seahawks included coach Pete Carroll kicking off the talk:
Then original Seahawks public-relations director (from 1976) and 30-plus-year executive Gary Wright gave the rookies an anecdotal history of the franchise.
The best part of the session was a panel discussion on advice for starting a pro-football career. The panel got the rookies’ attention. All 24 new Seahawks were sitting up at the edge of their seats in the team’s main auditorium/meeting room for the 45-minute Q-and-A:
Money management, knowing the playbook, taking care of your body and taking care of Mom were the dominant themes of the ex-players’ talk with the newest Seahawks.
The soft-spoken Jones, the Hall-of-Fame left tackle who paved the path to the Seahawks’ first Super Bowl in the 2005 season, carried the most clout with the rookies. He told them the way he held off the many friends and extended family members in and around his hometown of Aliceville, Alabama, that wanted handouts once he signed his contract as Seattle’s sixth-overall pick in 1997.
“I trained them. I trained my family,” Jones, now retired, 42 and raising high schoolers in Renton, said of small-town Alabamans who swarmed Jones once he got rich at age 23.
He told those people he was going to take care of his mother with a new house and car. And that, at least until his second contract, was it.
“It’s going to be tough, man,” Jones said. “You are going to have people tuggin’ on you. You have to take care of the people you want to. I took care of my mama. Everyone else was on the wayside, waiting.”
Jones gave this advice to the rookies who are about to head home for six weeks before the start of Seahawks training camp July 29: Train your friends and family that you and your life isn’t the same it may have been before:
Trufant, from Wilson High School and a Seahawks’ first-round pick like Jones, said he had friends from Tacoma coming at him with all kinds of asks for money -- including one to start a record label for him.
“We say, ‘You have to say ‘No.’ That’s easier said than done,” said Trufant, 35, Seattle’s 11th-overall pick out of Washington State in 2003. He became a Pro Bowl and Super Bowl cornerback in his 10 seasons with the Seahawks.
“I had my mom and my dad who (said no) for me.”
Babineaux chided Jones and Trufant for making financial mistakes with their first contracts, errors Jones and Trufant did not specify to the rookies.
“I did some things with my first contract that were probably a little premature,” Trufant said.
Kelly was wise having Babineaux and Fisher on the panel. Their advice came from that of a former undrafted rookie free agent (Babineaux) and seventh-round draft choice (Fisher). That hit home to much of the room Monday: 16 of the rookies in last week’s mandatory minicamp were either a seventh-round pick or undrafted.
“My signing bonus was $5,000. I was rich!” the 33-year-old Babineaux, who entered the league in 2004 out of Southern Arkansas University, joked to the Seahawks’ 2016 rookie class.
By comparison Trevone Boykin, the undrafted quarterback from Texas Christian No. 2 on Seattle’s depth chart right now behind Russell Wilson, got $15,000 to sign immediately after last month’s draft.
“What the game meant to me was proving people wrong,” Babineaux said.
Fisher, 39, was the 248th-overall pick in 1999 -- he said he remembers that because the television coverage of that draft was over and analysts were already recapping it when Buffalo selected him in round seven. That gave the native of Renton a chip he carried on his shoulder from the Air Force Academy through an eight-year career in the NFL.
He gave the advice that made the rookies laugh -- and learn.
“I had a budget for it,” Fisher said of his first year in the NFL. “This is how much I can give my mom. Everyone else gets a flat ‘No.’ That was my budget.”
And his mindset for each day of practice and games that allowed him to play eight seasons and in the 2006 Super Bowl as a seventh-round draft choice?
“I got a mama. And my mama’s more valuable than your mama.”
Fisher also echoed a mantra Kelly said he’s been giving these rookies for the last month: “You can make a career out of knowing your assignments, and being on time.”
Undrafted fullback Brandin Bryant from Florida International asked the four ex-Seahawks whether they would advise getting a personal trainer with the money from their first contract, to stay in competitive shape all year round.
Babineaux shook his head.
“I was cheap as hell,” the fellow undrafted entrant to the NFL told Bryant. “I wouldn’t go pay someone to tell me how to do something I already knew how to do.”
Instead, Babineaux said, he invested in regular treatments by a chiropractor, a massage therapist and a physical therapist.
As Trufant was leaving the auditorium, he was asked him how he thought his and his fellow ex-Seahawks’ messages were received by Seattle’s newest players.
“It was great,” he said. “I was expecting them to be more slumped in their chairs, almost half asleep. I think they were really engaged. They asked a lot of good questions, and they really wanted to know about being in the NFL.
“There’s more to it than just having a childhood dream and being on the field. You have to put a lot of stuff together if you want to succeed.”