It doesn’t top pass-rushing defensive end on their list of needs, but it should be up there among Seattle’s priorities as the NFL draft draws near.
After his interview with reporters at the NFL annual meetings in Phoenix last week, head coach Pete Carroll told KIRO-AM 710 ESPN Seattle that Baldwin's procedure carries a recovery time of six to eight weeks. That alone wouldn’t threaten Baldwin’s availability for training camp let alone the start of the season.
But it will be Baldwin’s third surgery in three months following a nightmarish season in which he dealt with injuries to both knees, an elbow, shoulder, groin and hip. Those were just the ones that showed up on the injury report. The 30-year-old Baldwin has also had knee and shoulder surgeries since the end of the season.
There’s a cumulative effect of everything he’s dealt with since last summer.
"That it's just taken a toll on him,” Carroll said when asked what his concern is about Baldwin undergoing another procedure. “It was a tremendous toll on him last year during the season. He's such a stud of a kid, and a great competitive kid, that he endured it. ... And it's just been a big burden for him. So we'll just hang with him. If anyone can do it, he can."
Baldwin himself acknowledged in December that he’s on “the downside” of his career. That was a couple days before he caught a pair of touchdown passes in a loss at San Francisco. He had his best game of the season a week later in a victory over Kansas City, with seven catches for 126 yards and another score. So he was still an impact player despite the injuries that kept him out of three games and limited him in others, but his 618 yards were his fewest since 2012. Before 2018, that was the last time he didn’t played a full 16-game season.
For the Seahawks, the question of how much longer Baldwin can remain productive is only part of the equation. Baldwin will be 31 in September and has interests outside of football, including his involvement with the Players Coalition and social justice initiatives. Baldwin described his 2018 season as “hell” in November, and his list of injuries only grew from there.
Of course, NFL money can’t be easy to walk away from. Baldwin is scheduled to make $9.25 million in 2019 salary, with another $750,000 available in per-game roster bonuses. He could make up to $11 million in 2020, the final year of his contract.
But all those injuries and three surgeries (at least) in one offseason will make a man think long and hard about his post-football quality of life.
"He's been challenged by it,” Carroll said when asked about where Baldwin’s head is at after the most trying season of his career. "To be less than he's been in years past -- he's always done everything, never missed a day of practice, always worked in every drill we've ever had. It was challenging for him to have to deal with that. We had to monitor him throughout the year. I have so much respect for the way he was able to deal with it."
Speaking with 710 ESPN Seattle on Monday, general manager John Schneider was not totally concerned with the Seahawks' current receiver corps.
“It’s a solid draft class," Schneider said. "There’s some good unrestricted receivers still out there.”
Tyler Lockett is among the NFL’s best No. 2 wideouts and might be better than a handful of teams’ top options. David Moore emerged last season as a deep threat and overtook veteran Jaron Brown as the No. 3 option, but his inconsistency led to stretches during which he wasn’t much of a factor. Brown, who has a $3.725 million cap charge for next season, seemed like a candidate to be cut until the extent of Baldwin’s injury situation became known. Carroll talked in Phoenix about Brown being underutilized last season.
The Seahawks are high on Malik Turner, but he’s a former undrafted free agent with all of two catches in his career. Similarly unproven options round out the depth chart: 2017 third-rounder Amara Darboh, who missed all of last season with a chest injury; Caleb Scott and Keenan Reynolds.
Pierre Garcon, Michael Crabtree, Terrance Williams and former Seahawk Jermaine Kearse are among the available free-agent receivers. But anyone Seattle would add this late in free agency would likely be a short-term solution. The uncertainty with Baldwin could make it appealing to find his successor in the draft, even if it means spending an early-round pick to do so.
“If he could do it, he will,” Carroll said of Baldwin bouncing back from his injuries. “I have no doubt in that. ... Whatever he has to do we're going to follow, support and believe in it. If anybody can do it, he can get it done."