The Seahawks on Tuesday completed the first of seven organized team activities -- the NFL’s odd name for offseason practices in helmets and shorts -- over the next two weeks at team headquarters in Renton.
The team’s website posted pictures from Tuesday’s closed OTA practice. (The first one open to the media is Friday).
Those pictures partly answered two questions for these Seahawks OTAs -- including the most popular, controversial one.
1. How is Earl Thomas progressing?
That is, at least according to the picture of him the team posted on its website from Tuesday’s OTA. Thomas was in his white practice uniform, blue number 29, wearing his helmet on the field and talking to coach Pete Carroll.
This week marks six months since the three-time All-Pro free safety broke his tibia. He’s likely to be limited into training camp. Yet all signs continue to point to Thomas starting against Aaron Rodgers in that opener at the Packers.
“Thinking about all my teammates. I'm not gonna let y'all down real talk.” Thomas posted on Twitter in March, under this video of him running on a treadmill.
Now for that popular, controversial OTA question...
2. Will Colin Kaepernick be competing for Seattle’s backup quarterback job during organized team activities?
Not yet, anyway.
One of the photos the Seahawks posted from Tuesday’s first OTA showed Trevone Boykin and Jake Heaps as the quarterbacks with Russell Wilson.
Another photo showed three-time All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman merrily greeting teammate Jimmy Graham. Sherman has been the subject of trade inquiries, weirdly open trade talk by the Seahawks and stories of internal rifts this offseason.
Nothing changed the fact Kaepernick remained unsigned.
The Seahawks have $8,797,000 of space remaining under their 2017 salary cap, according to overthecap.com. They have three more rookie draft picks to sign, after top choice Malik McDowell’s contract for $6.96 million over four years from last week.
Any Kaepernick deal is likely to be low -- perhaps in the $1-2 million range -- in base pay and high in playing-time incentives. Those bonuses would accumulate into a deal more in line with Kaepernick’s starting experience should Wilson, Seattle’s cornerstone with an $87.6 million contract, have a second consecutive season of injuries and Kaepernick have to play here.
The momentum for Kaepernick becoming a Seahawk has cooled. Almost daily, there are postings, opinions and unsubstantiated national reports saying there is nothing imminent. Pat Kirwan, an NFL analyst with Sirius/XM satellite radio and a friend of Carroll’s, posted on his Twitter account Tuesday he didn’t think Kaepernick will get a deal done with Seattle.
Kirwan and Carroll have known each other since 1990, when Carroll was the New York Jets;’ defensive coordinator and Kirwan was a Jets staffer.
The Seahawks have been essentially negotiating against themselves for Kaepernick, while also working out other veteran quarterbacks such as Austin Davis last week. Seattle is the only team known to be even remotely interested in signing Kaepernick. He has angered many in the league and around the country with his kneeling during national anthems before 49ers games last season as a protest to social injustice in America.
While it’d be advantageous for the Seahawks to get a deal done with any new, veteran QB soon so he could learn the offense during OTAs and the team’s lone mandatory minicamp June 13-15, it’s not as if Kaepernick needs offseason time to acclimate. He’d be signing for the No. 2 job, competing with Boykin, the team’s 2016 undrafted rookie backup. Unlike Boykin, Kaepernick’s started in the league for the last five years. It’s not like he couldn’t pick up and hone his role starting in training camp that begins at the end of July.
His desire to accept or reject whatever the Seahawks offer him in the lower range of QB salaries appears to be the determinant whether he signs here. Meanwhile, the Seahawks move along, shopping for backups that would fit their price and salary-cap constraints.
3. Where will Luke Joeckel be practicing?
The former second-overall pick has played 34 of his 39 games at offensive tackle, almost always on the left side. But Seahawks general manager John Schneider has said since signing Joeckel in March -- to a one-year contract with more than $7 million guaranteed -- that he’s liked him more when he’s played left guard. That’s what Joeckel did in the first five games of 2016 for Jacksonville, before a season-ending knee injury then surgery.
Joeckel may not be fully participating in every spring and summer practice coming off that surgery. He is the domino after which the rest of the offensive line will fall into place, at least to begin this season. If Joeckel starts at left tackle, which his money suggests, Mark Glowinski could return to his 2016 starting spot of left guard. If Joeckel starts at left guard, Glowinski could be competing with offseason free-agent signing Oday Aboushi to be the new right guard. The Seahawks have already said they want to try Germain Ifedi at right tackle; last year’s top draft choice started at right guard in his rookie season.
Seattle drafted Ethan Pocic in the second round because at 6 feet 6 the former LSU center can also play tackle and guard. Schneider has called Pocic something of a coup, “2 1/2 players in one guy.”
Second-round picks usually play, if not start, right away. Especially ones that can play multiple positions. The Seahawks know Pocic can play center behind the line’s lone sure thing, Justin Britt. Pocic’s place during spring and summer practices then training camp will give another indicator of how the starting line might look Sept. 10 in the season opener at Green Bay.
4. How tenuous is Jermaine Kearse’s place on the 2017 roster?
Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett, recovering from a broken leg he got on Christmas Eve, are locks. Paul Richardson finally stayed healthy and emerged late last season. The newest, most intriguing additions to the wide-receiver group are rookie third-round pick Amara Darboh, whom Schneider loves for his smooth routes and hands, and undrafted free agent Cyril Grayson.
Grayson was an All-American, 400-meter sprint champion at LSU. Seahawks senior personnel executive Ed Dodds went to Louisiana try him out this spring, then had him on a plane to Seattle before the rest of the league could process his potential as an NFL wide receiver.
Carroll sounds excited and intrigued talking about Grayson, likening his development plan to what the Seahawks did years ago with college track standout Ricardo Lockette. The more Grayson zooms through offseason and preseason practices, the more he makes spins and lightning-like cuts that have teammates "oohing", like he did in rookie minicamp this month, the more likely Grayson wins a spot as the latest undrafted free agent to stick.
That and Darboh’s progress could jeopardize Kearse’s place. The former Lakes High School star and Washington Husky is coming off what he called a “humbling” 2016 with 41 catches and just one touchdown in 16 games, and he lost his starting spot late in the season. He has two years and $7.2 million in non-guaranteed base salaries remaining on his three-year contract extension. The Seahawks could save $2.2 million if they would cut him after June 1. They could save $5 million against the 2018 cap if they cut him next year.
But remember this: Wilson instinctively and implicitly trusts Kearse. It’s a bond they first formed on side fields after practices when they were both trying to stick with the team as rookies in spring minicamps of 2012. They cemented it with their mammoth connections in past playoffs including Super Bowl 49 three postseasons ago. As long as Wilson is throwing Seattle’s passes, it will take a lot (of failures) to let go of Kearse.
“I love playing with him,” Wilson said before Super Bowl 49 in January 2015. “I hope I can play with him for a very, very long time.”