Pro Bowl kick returner Leon Washington, who was released by the Seahawks on Tuesday, has signed with the Patriots.
The move is a return to the AFC East for Washington, who was acquired by the Seahawks in a trade with the Jets during the 2010 NFL Draft. Washington became expendable after the Seahawks obtained Percy Harvin in a trade with the Vikings this week.
But Washington’s three-season stay in Seattle was memorable, and productive. He returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in 2010 and added another last season – the eighth of his career to tie the NFL all-time record. Washington also led the NFC in kickoff return average (29.0) last season, when he was voted to the Pro Bowl.
“This is the hard part. These are people’s lives,” general manager John Schneider said of releasing Washington. “We have a very special place in our hearts for him. The hardest part of the business is calling somebody and telling them that we’re going to go in a different direction.
“Leon did a phenomenal job here. The fans love him. He’s such a pro; he really handled himself with extreme class. He understood what we were doing. The first thing you could say about him is he’s a pro.”
With the Patriots, Washington joins a team that has advanced to the playoffs in nine of the past 10 seasons, but averaged 21.2 yards on kickoff returns in 2012 to rank 25th in the league.
“This is the hard part. These are people’s lives. We have a very special place in our hearts for him. The hardest part of the business is calling somebody and telling them that we’re going to go in a different direction. Leon did a phenomenal job here. The fans love him. He’s such a pro; he really handled himself with extreme class. He understood what we were doing. The first thing you could say about him is he’s a pro.” – Seahawks GM John Schneider on the release of running back/return specialist Leon Washington
Schneider isn’t the only member of the Seahawks organization that expressed difficulty with yesterday’s release of Washington. After hearing the news, several players took to Twitter to send their best wishes to the seven-year veteran whose impact will be missed both on and off the field:
The addition of Percy Harvin in today’s trade with the Vikings has made Leon Washington expendable.
Despite being voted to the Pro Bowl as the NFC kick returner last season after leading the conference with a 29.0-yard average, Washington was released.
Washington, 30, was obtained in 2010 draft-day trade with the Jets. He returned three kickoffs for touchdowns that season and averaged 25.6 yards on 57 returns. Washington also averaged 11.3 yards returning punts in 2010 and 2011.
Last season, Washington returned the eighth kickoff of his career for a touchdown to tie the NFL’s all-time record.
Sensing that Harvin’s arrival would lead to his departure, Washington tweeted, “Seattle. It’s been Awesome A Ride. Got nothing bad 2 say about the Gr8 NW. 12th Man standup!!! Like always.”
Harvin averaged 27.9 yards on 114 kickoff returns in four seasons with the Vikings, and was averaging 35.9 yards last season before being sidelined with a high ankle sprain for the final seven games. He also has returned five kickoffs for touchdowns, the most of any player in the league since 2009.
Not that we needed someone to tell us this, but the Seahawks’ special teams were among the best in the NFL during the 2012 season.
The Seahawks’ units that are coordinated by Brian Schneider finished fifth in the rankings compiled by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. He ranks each of the 32 teams in 22 categories, awarding points on those rankings – one for the best, 32 for the worst.
In Gosselin’s rankings, the Seahawks had 302 points to finish behind the Vikings (253.5), Bengals (276), Ravens (277) and Dolphins (296) – who were the only team among the Top 5 that did not advance to the postseason.
The Seahawks’ special teams scored 24 points, to tie the Titans for most in the league. And the Seahawks’ four scores came from four different facets as Richard Sherman returned a field goal that was blocked by Red Bryant 90 yards for a touchdown in Week 16 against the 49ers; Malcolm Smith recovered a muffed punt as he was crossing the goal line for a TD in Week 14 against the Cardinals; Jeron Johnson returned a punt that was blocked by Smith for a score in Week 3 against the Cowboys; and Leon Washington returned a kickoff 98 yards for a TD in Week 12 against the Dolphins.
“We were very consistent this season,” Schneider said. “Very consistent. We had the big plays, but the thing that jumped out at me was the consistency.”
Schneider’s units also were ranked No. 3 by Football Outsiders, who factor five elements in their rankings – field goals and PATs, kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts and punt returns. The Seahawks had ranked No. 16 in 2011.
“This thing could be going on for a while,” punter Jon Ryan said. “It’s not a flash-in-the-pan type thing, where it’s just a one-year fluke that we played well on special teams. We’re going to just keep building on this and keep on working on that goal of owning the NFC West.”
The Seahawks were eliminated from the NFL playoffs three weeks ago in the divisional round, but they emerged from the postseason as the No. 1-ranked defense – allowing an average of 310.0 yards in their Wild Card win over the Washington Redskins and oh-so-close loss to the Atlanta Falcons the following week.
They also were No. 5 against the run and No. 2 against the pass. Offensively, the Seahawks ranked No. 4 overall in average yards generated (435.5), as well as No. 2 rushing and No. 7 passing. They tied for third in turnover ratio at plus-1. The Seahawks also led the 12 teams in the playoffs by averaging 7.73 yards on first down plays (66 for 510).
Individually, rookie quarterback Russell Wilson’s 385-yard passing performance against the Falcons ranked second-highest to the 396 that Atlanta’s Matt Ryan put up the following week in the NFC Championship game against the 49ers. And Marshawn Lynch’s 132-yard rushing performance against the Redskins was third-highest in the playoffs behind the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick (181 against the Packers) and Texans’ Arian Foster (140 against the Bengals).
Wilson’s two-game passer rating of 102.4 ranked third among the 12 QBs in the postseason behind Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco of the Ravens (117.2) and Ryan (105.2). Those ranking behind Wilson? In order, Kaepernick (100.9), the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers (97.6), Broncos’ Peyton Manning (88.3), Texans’ Matt Schaub (87.5), Patriots’ Tom Brady (84.7), Redskins’ Robert Griffin III (77.5), Colts’ Andrew Luck (59.8), Vikings’ Joe Webb (55.9) and Bengals’ Andy Dalton (44.7).
Free safety Earl Thomas shared the postseason lead with two interceptions, while Leon Washington ranked fourth on kickoff- and punt-return average (27.7 and 10.8).
We haven’t exhausted the coverage from our trip to chronicle the Seahawks Six in the Pro Bowl just yet.
For one last farewell to Paradise and the Pro Bowl, we asked each player for his favorite memory from the week in Hawaii:
Quarterback Russell Wilson: “Just to be with these guys, the other Seahawks Pro Bowlers. And then just being around Drew Brees and Eli Manning and Peyton Manning, it’s really special. Especially this being my rookie year, it just means a lot. It’s just a joy to be here.”
Tackle Russell Okung: “The impact we were able to have on the game. Marshawn (Lynch) did a great job. Leon (Washington) had a great return. Max (Unger) pretty much played the whole game. Earl (Thomas) had his interception. And Russell Wilson really got off.”
Center Max Unger, who grew up on the Big Island: “I don’t know what to say. The whole thing was just really cool. Just being able to have the best football players in the world be in Hawaii and having the fans be able to come out and see these guys and kind of interact with them at the practices and finally at the game, it’s cool. It’s kind of trippy seeing everybody here in Oahu.”
Safety Earl Thomas: “Just sharing this experience with my family and my teammates. It’s something you’ll never forget. You’re playing with some future Hall of Famers out here and when you get out here and play with the best it brings the best out of you.”
Kick returner Leon Washington: “Just having fun and enjoying this moment with my family and teammates. It’s a blessing. I’m so fortunate.”
Running back Marshawn Lynch: “Not talking to the media. That’s pretty much it, just being able to be away from everything and having some time to kick back with family, just hang out and get to meet some of the guys.”
Twitter chatter from the eve of the 2013 NFL Pro Bowl in Honolulu, Hawaii:
From free safety Earl Thomas’ Instagram: “Mom and Lil duece !!”
From free safety Earl Thomas’ Instagram: “12′swayyyyy in Hawaii..”
From free safety Earl Thomas’ Instagram: “Had a great time meeting all the fans….”
As the seasons pass I can see just how much my understanding & feel for the game has changed. Ever evolving into a better player…..—
Earl Thomas (@Earl_Thomas) January 27, 2013
Beautiful day in Hawaii! So Blessed to be here as a Rookie with my Seahawks teammates.
Earl Thomas and Russell Okung:
Our most valuable players:
Aloha Stadium, the site of the 2013 NFL Pro Bowl tomorrow:
HONOLULU – Hawkville has moved to Paradise this week, as the Seahawks have six players preparing to participate in the Pro Bowl on Sunday at Aloha Stadium. Today was ’Ohana Day at the stadium. ’Ohana? It means family in Hawaiian, in an extended sense of the term. And today’s practices were open to the public:
Marshawn Lynch. So, how is the Seahawks’ Beast Mode running back enjoying his third Pro Bowl experience?
“It’s great,” Lynch said at the conclusion of the NFC practice at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on Thursday. “Except for the media.”
That was typical, as Lynch would rather let his actions speak for him. And during the 2012 season, he was downright boisterous while producing career-high totals in rushing yards (1,590), average per carry (5.0) and 100-yard rushing games (10).
While he has shied away from interviews this week, Lynch has displayed just the right mix of sass and wit, as well as charisma, while dealing with his teammates and the fans.
Now that those defenders in the NFC are his teammates rather than opponents who are trying to tackle a back who does everything in his considerable power to prevent that from happening, that is.
“He’s a great running back, so it’s a good feeling when you get him down obviously,” Ndamukong Suh, the Lions’ defensive tackle, said after today’s practice. “He’s one of those guys who just runs the ball really hard.
“He’s a rare breed of a back. He’s compact, and strong, and fast. At the same time. He can beat you on the edge. He can beat you up the middle. He’s a great combination of everything you’d want in a running back.”
When asked what it was like to try and tackle Lynch, Bears cornerback Charles Tillman offered, “It’s hard, because he’s a very powerful running back. He’s very strong. So it’s doable, but it’s hard.”
Lynch did agree to do one interview after practice today – with the Cartoon Network.
“It’s great to get a chance to meet everybody, because you play against so many of them during the season,” Lynch said. “So now is a time to kick back and enjoy the festivities and meet all the players.”
And Lynch’s favorite Cartoon Network character? “I used to watch Johnny Bravo,” he said.
A RAINBOW BACKDROP
Aloha Stadium is the home field for the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, and today several thousand fans were wearing a rainbow of NFL jerseys. A quick scan detected the colors of more than two dozen NFL teams – and the Seahawks were among those teams with the most fans.
It comes with growing up in The Islands. Just ask Seahawks center Max Unger, who grew up on the Big Island.
“There’s no pro team in Hawaii, so you just kind of pick one,” Unger said before today’s practice, explaining that his uncle has been a lifelong Vikings fan. “Then you’re a big fan of that team. So when you look in the crowd, you’ve probably got every team in the league represented here in a very small group. So it’s pretty cool.”
Not to mention colorful.
WILSON TO … MONIZ?
Following the NFC practice, Seahawks rookie QB Russell Wilson aired it out to some fans who had been selected for a “Play Catch with a Quarterback Experience.” Among them was James Moniz, who made a juggling catch of a deep ball from Wilson.
“I made one catch, dropped three,” Moniz said with a laugh as he was trying to catch his breath. “I thought we were just going to play catch, and he’s got us running deep routes.”
That’s Wilson. But that’s also why Moniz has become a fan of the QB, despite being a fan of the Dolphins.
“Russell Wilson is awesome,” Moniz said. “I have lots of friends from Wisconsin who are Badgers. So we’ve been cheering for him the last couple of years.”
LET’S GET MORE PHYSICAL
The message has been delivered by the league and received by the players: The effort level in tomorrow’s game must increase if the Pro Bowl is to continue.
“I plan on playing,” Seahawks kick returner Leon Washington said. “I plan on coming out here and having fun. But have respect for the game and play this game hard. We’re trying to win this game – NFC, and let’s beat this AFC team.”
Is that possible when Priority One remains not getting injured, or injuring anyone else?
“Hopefully guys take care of each other, but at the same time play hard,” Washington said.
How fine is that line? “You treat it like a thud practice,” Washington said. “You go hard. But I talked to one of the Green Bay coaches (who are coaching the NFC squad). For instance, say if you’re tackling a guy and you know you can have him in a vulnerable position. OK, tackle him. But other than that, between the plays, play full speed, play hard and go out there and protect yourself.”
STAT DU JOUR
Champ Bailey is at his 12th Pro Bowl, which has allowed the Broncos’ cornerback to climb to the top of a very impressive list. Here are the players who have been voted to double-digit Pro Bowls since 1971:
Player Pro Bowls
OG Randall McDaniel 12
OG Will Shields 12
CB Champ Bailey 12
QB Peyton Manning 11
DE Reggie White 11
TE Tony Gonzalez 11
LB Junior Seau 11
CB/S Rod Woodson 11
LB Lawrence Taylor 10
S Ronnie Lott 10
LB Mike Singletary 10
OL Bruce Matthews 10
WR Jerry Rice 10
LB Ray Lewis 10
Where’s Walter? Left tackle Walter Jones holds the Seahawks’ franchise record with nine Pro Bowl berths. Hall of Fame defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy is next with eight, while Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent is next with seven.
STAT DU JOUR, PART DEUX
Since the NFL moved the Pro Bowl to the Sunday before the Super Bowl in 2010, an average of 29 players who were voted the game have not participated in the past four Pro Bowls. In 2009, when the Pro Bowl was played the Sunday after the Super Bowl, 11 players decided not to participate.
This year, there are 31 players not participating – 15 from the 49ers (nine) and Ravens (six), who will play in the Super Bowl next Sunday; and 16 others, including all three quarterbacks who were voted to the NFC squad.
These nuggets were gleaned from … The Wall Street Journal.
The game, of course. That’s what this week is all about. Kickoff on Sunday is set for 2 p.m. here, or 4 p.m. in Seattle.
YOU DON’T SAY, SEAHAWKS EDITION
“It wasn’t too far out there for me. Probably for a lot of other people. But I always believe in myself and I always believe in my talent.” – Russell when asked if it was “too far out there” to imagine that he would conclude his rookie season by playing in the Pro Bowl
YOU DON’T SAY, NFC EDITION
“We as players feel like we owe it to our fans to play better than we did last year. It’s an honor and it’s a privilege to be here. I don’t want to be a part of taking this honor and this privilege away from the future Pro Bowlers. I don’t want that to happen on my watch.” – Tillman
Twitter chatter from Seahawks Pro Bowl Blue Friday in Honolulu, Hawaii:
Leon Washington’s wife, Charity, posted to Instagram this photo of their time at Larry Fitzgerald’s Luau:
Big Daddy Russ with 2 Chainz at a Pro Bowl concert last night:
Friday in Hawkville: Larry Fitzgerald says it’s ‘surprising’ that Richard Sherman was not voted to the Pro Bowl
KO OLINA, Oahu – Hawkville has moved to Hawaii this week, as six Seahawks are preparing to play in Sunday’s Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium. Today, we visited the J.W. Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa as the NFC and AFC squads stayed “home” to practice:
Richard Sherman. What? The Seahawks’ cornerback isn’t even here. But then, that’s the point.
After intercepting a career-high eight passes during the regular season to tie for second in the NFL, Sherman was voted All-Pro, but not to the Pro Bowl – where the Bears’ duo of Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman are the starters for the NFC and the Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson is the third corner.
So we felt compelled to ask, “What’s up with that?”
“He had a phenomenal year. He really had a breakout year,” Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said today after the NFC’s 15-minute on-field session. “So it is surprising that he’s not here. But I know he’ll have many more moving forward.”
Fitzgerald has gotten to know Sherman quite well the past three times the NFC West rivals have met. In the 2011 season finale in Arizona, Sherman and fellow Seahawks corner Brandon Browner were so physical with Fitzgerald that he was coughing up blood on the sideline. This season, Fitzgerald caught four passes for 63 yards in the opener in the desert, with Sherman intercepting one pass and breaking up another. During the December rematch in Seattle, Sherman intercepted two passes, broke up a third and also recovered a fumble, while Fitzgerald caught one pass for 2 yards – despite being targeted 11 times.
“Hopefully, I won’t contribute to his stats as much in the future,” Fitzgerald said with a laugh.
Kick returner Leon Washington, one of the six Seahawks who are on the NFC squad, can relate to Sherman’s Pro Bowl snub.
“My first year in Seattle, I scored three touchdowns and didn’t go,” said Washington, referring to his trio of kickoff returns for scores in 2010. “It’s so weird. It works like that sometimes. But Richard is All-Pro. And that’s big. That’s almost bigger than the Pro Bowl.
“He’ll be here next year.”
MATT THOMAS HIRED TO REPLACE JOHN IDZIK
The Seahawks didn’t wait long to re-hire Dan Quinn as their defensive coordinator after Gus Bradley was named head coach of the Jaguars last week. They followed the same path after John Idzik left to become general manager of the Jets later in the week, as Matt Thomas was named today as the team’s new vice president of football administration.
“Matt is a well-respected salary cap expert and was recommended by many top-ranking NFL executives,” general manager John Schneider said. “I am excited to welcome him to our football family.”
Thomas joins the Seahawks after spending the past three seasons with the Browns in the same capacity as their salary-cap expert and chief contract negotiator. He began his NFL career in 1998 with the Dolphins and spent 12 seasons with the club, including being the vice president/general counsel & football administration in 2009.
A LITTLE ASSISTANTS, PLEASE
The NFC squad is being coached by Mike McCarthy and his Packers’ staff, which includes assistant head coach/inside linebackers coach Winston Moss. He played linebacker for the Seahawks from 1995-97 and finished second on the team with 106 tackles in 1996.
Greg Knapp, the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator in 2009, is a member of John Fox’s staff with the Broncos that is coaching the AFC squad. Knapp just joined the Broncos after spending the season as offensive coordinator of the Raiders.
AN EVEN DOZEN FOR CHAMP
Speaking of the Broncos, cornerback Champ Baily is taking part in his 12th Pro Bowl. But he definitely is not taking a ho-hum, just-another-week-in-Hawaii approach.
“I had a veteran tell me a long time ago, if you are willing to stop coming, you stop coming,” Bailey said. “Any time I’m invited to do something this special, I’m coming. Unless I’m really hurt, that’s the only way I would miss this game.”
STAT DU JOUR
Russell Wilson will become the fourth Seahawks quarterback to play in the Pro Bowl, as the rookie joins Dave Krieg, Warren Moon and Matt Hasselbeck. Here’s a look at how those other QBs have done in their Pro Bowl appearances:
Player, (season) Att. Comp. Yds. TD Int.
Dave Krieg (1984) 10 4 32 0 0
Dave Krieg (1988) 14 3 21 0 1
Dave Krieg (1989) 23 15 148 0 0
Warren Moon (1997) 8 4 89 0 0
Matt Hasselbeck (2003) 9 4 51 0 1
Matt Hasselbeck (2005) 17 10 85 0 1
Matt Hasselbeck (2007) 9 7 78 1 0
Both Pro Bowl squads will hold their final practice on Saturday morning at Aloha Stadium.
After practice today, Wilson took part in a roundtable with Broncos QB Peyton Manning, Redskins linebacker London Fletcher and Packers center Jeff Saturday that will air Sunday as part of NBC’s coverage of the game.
YOU DON’T SAY
“It’s extremely unlike me. You know me, man. Me and media, we never mix. But this is a great opportunity.” – left tackle Russell Okung on the media attention that comes with being at his first Pro Bowl