By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — Never mind the quickness, the route running or the clutch catches. If you really want to know how Doug Baldwin went from undrafted free agent to this day, which saw him sign an eight-figure contract extension, consider his reaction to coach Pete Carroll’s request that the receiver take a shot at the open punt return job.
Baldwin said he’d give it a try, but was a little hesitant to return punts because it would mean giving up his current role on the punt return team, which involves lining up outside like a cornerback and blocking the opposing team’s gunner.
“He said, ‘I’ll do whatever you want me to, but I love to hold up those gunners on the punt team. I’ve got a passion for it,’” Carroll recalled. “That’s the kind of guy he is. Not many guys would ever state that they love holding up gunners on the punt return team, but he does. You gotta love him, man, it’s awesome.”
Blocking gunners, or being a gunner, for that matter, is unglamorous, sometimes nasty work. To excel in what amounts to a 50-yard, full-sprint battle down the sideline, players need to not just be athletic, but have a certain edge, that grittiness that Carroll so often mentions when talking about the makeup of his team.
Yes, Baldwin signed a three-year extension worth $13 million on Thursday because he is talented, productive, and as general manager John Schneider put it, “clutch in clutch times.” But Baldwin also had cause to celebrate a new deal — with sparkling apple cider, mind you — because the same attitude that makes him enjoy doing dirty work on special teams has allowed “Angry Doug Baldwin” to go from undrafted out of Stanford to Seattle’s most reliable receiver during the past three seasons.
“Doug is really the type of guy who represents what our organization is all about,” Schneider said. “The culture that coach Carroll and I are trying to establish here, the football culture, which is that you play with a chip on your shoulder, you show up every single day, you’re reliable, you’re a smart guy, you’re incredibly passionate about what you do, you act like a pro and you act like champion every single day, and that’s what this individual does.
“That’s a message that should be sent to the rest of the team: show up and be clutch.”
As Carroll put it, the Seahawks were “rewarding the guy for who he is more so than what he does,” when they paid Baldwin, but what he does has been tremendously important. As Schneider detailed in Thursday’s press conference, Baldwin has come up with so many big catches in his young career, and come through with a lot on the line, most notably in the form of a six-catch, 106-yard NFC championship game performance that also featured a momentum-changing 69-yard kickoff return.
But those big-time catches wouldn’t be possible if not for the edge that makes Baldwin enjoy a physical battle on special teams, or that causes him to yell profanities at Richard Sherman, a man he calls his brother, when the two go head-to-head in practice.
“There was a time in (his rookie season) when we realized what kind of competitor Doug is, and there’s nothing we herald more than that in this program,” Carroll said. “He became the epitome of the kind of guys we’re looking for.”
So much so, in fact, that Carroll says the Seahawks try to “make sure we understand the makeup of Doug Baldwin so we can see it in other guys we want to bring into our program.
“We haven’t been able to quite capture it because it’s pretty unique,” Carroll continued. “We can’t quite capture it yet, but it is exactly the kind of makeup and mentality that we seek.”
That same makeup is also why, when Schneider told Baldwin the Seahawks might draft a receiver or two — they ended up taking Paul Richardson with their first pick, and Kevin Norwood in the fourth round — Baldwin responded, “Keep bringing them in. Keep bringing them in, man.”
“They told me they were going to draft a couple of receivers, and I was ecstatic about it,” Baldwin said. “… I won’t repeat what I said, but he knows them bringing in more receivers only drives us and gives us more motivation.”
Baldwin’s new deal continues the Seahawks’ theme this offseason. They’re not spending to add outside help, but rather spending to reward the players who helped lead the team to a championship. Seattle lost Golden Tate in free agency — which made the Baldwin news all the more significant — but they re-signed Michael Bennett, and signed Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas to long-term extensions.
“That’s what John and Pete said — they said they were going to take care of their own guys first, and they were going to find a way to do that,” Baldwin said. “They’ve done that, and they’ve been true to their word.
“I think that that message is spreading across the locker room in that if you continue to put in the hard work and the effort and if you show that you’re willing to buy in to what we have here, that you’ll be rewarded and that you’ll be shown that you’re appreciated, and obviously they were able to do that.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.