NFL training camp time must be near. Richard Sherman is tossing tear gas canisters into his old Seattle bunkhouse.
The 49ers cornerback (my spellcheck pops up with this error message: “Say what?”) launched again this week, criticizing some player personnel decisions that led to the decline that dumped the Seahawks out of the playoffs last season.
He made a point that is plain to more than him.
“When you make too many mistakes over a long period of time, you kind of dig yourself a hole,” Sherman said in an interview in SI.com’s Monday Morning Quarterback feature. “And then when you backtrack, you gotta make a bunch of rash decisions to try and fill the hole and hope that it holds up.
“They’ve lost their way. It’s as simple as that. They’ve just lost their way.”
Sherman was careful to avoid identifying specific players as “mistakes,” because his gripe is with coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, who cut him at at what he believes is the peak of his career. But he implied that Carroll betrayed his prime directive of “always compete” by letting things other than the pure head-to-head measurables decide some roster spots.
“When we were rolling, it was an environment for pure competitors,” he said. “When it becomes something else, then it’s more difficult to thrive in, and I think that’s what was tough on Earl (Thomas), that’s what was tough on a lot of guys.
“But I think as it kind of progressed, you start seeing the writing on the wall. You’re like, ‘Not only are they probably moving in a different direction,’ but it’s like, ‘Ah, well, I kind of want to move in a different direction, too,’ so it happens like that. All great things must come to an end, I guess.”
As always, Sherman takes no responsibility for any role he had in the decline with his disruptive behavior, although be may be referencing himself by implying that his words, not his football deeds, helped bring about his unceremonious departure after seven successful seasons.
His remarks followed another SI.com story July 2 that pulled the curtain back on one of the episodes Sherman likely was thinking about — the controversial 2013 trade for receiver/returner Percy Harvin. A spectacular athletic talent, Harvin had run-ins with coaches and teammates throughout his career, helping prompt his trade from the Vikings to the Seahawks for first-, third- and seventh-round draft picks.
His Seattle career, compromised by injuries, lasted eight games before he was dumped for a sixth-round pick in October 2014. His career was also compromised by anxiety disorder, which he told SI was diagnosed by the Mayo Clinic in 2010 and never revealed publicly until now. Apparently the disorder was at the heart of his fights with Seahawks wide receivers Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin.
“It’s different from game anxiety,” Harvin, out of the NFL and doing some coaching at Florida State, told SI. “Game anxiety, you cool. The anxiety I’m talking about is, like, the unknown. You freeze up. Your heart is racing, you want to move around, you can’t sit … You don’t feel like you’re there all the way. The only people who understood were my mom and one or two coaches.”
Apparently the disorder helped bring about migraine headaches, sleeplessness and nutrition problems.
“The best way I can describe it is that I felt ‘out of body,’” Harvin, 30, said of a typical episode. “My heart would be going, I’d be sweating, I felt like everybody in the room was looking at me. My speech was slurring. I didn’t want to eat. I was gasping for air.
“You’re so worked up that it’s hard to spit words out.”
But since NFL medical protocols kept the problem private, and Harvin didn’t volunteer the information, the Seahawks apparently didn’t understand the situation. Had they passed on the trade, they could have kept the first-rounder and used it the way the Vikings did — on cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who was voted first-team All-Pro in 2017.
Can you imagine Sherman and Rhodes in the same defensive backfield?
Instead, the Harvin deal, even though it happened before the Super Bowl triumph over Denver, helped begin the slow decline of the current Seahawks. They have not drafted a Pro Bowl player since 2012, which is part of what Sherman is talking about.
Seattle’s 2013 draft looked like this: running back Christine Michael, defensive tackle Jordan Hill, wide receiver Chris Harper, defensive tackle Jesse Williams, cornerback Tharold Simon, tight end Luke Willson, running back Spencer Ware, guard Ryan Seymour, defensive tackle Jared Smith and offensive tackle Michael Bowie.
Granted, the Seahawks at the time were loaded with young talent, but one or two guys from the class should be contributing in 2018. None are.
Flush with excitement and draft picks, the Seahawks went on a bender with Harvin, who never was a fit. Coupled with the poor results of the draft, the void now screams. Even absent medical evidence of Harvin’s disorder, the Seahawks saw his history of conflicts and ignored it. They invested heavily in a reputation for athletic skill rather than competition.
“It’s just unfortunate. It’s really unfortunate,” Sherman said of the Seahawks’ overall narrative. “I think it’ll all come out when they do the 30 for 30. Mistakes and poor judgment on things ruined what could have been a really special deal.”
Then again, every team overlooks red flags. Ask Patriots coach Bill Belichick about convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez. Sherman can ask around the San Francisco locker room about similar personnel errors in recent years made by a passel of 49ers operatives, including his former Stanford coach, Jim Harbaugh.
Did the Seahawks lose their way? As much as a team with six consecutive seasons of at least nine wins can be said to have lost its way, yes. Does Sherman want to pay back Seahawks bosses at every opportunity for perceived disrespect? Oh my, yes.
Twice a season, the way back goes through the 49ers, who again will be their own special kind of anxiety disorders.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com.