RENTON, Wash. -- Shaquem Griffin figured he was just getting the grand tour.
The Seattle Seahawks linebacker had signed with Nike in the spring of 2018, shortly before becoming the first player with one hand to be drafted in the NFL's modern era. The company flew him down to its Beaverton, Oregon, headquarters after rookie minicamp. Griffin didn't know it at the time that there was more on the agenda than getting fitted and shown around campus.
He met with the team that runs FlyEase, Nike's brand of easy-entry footwear that's specifically designed with accessibility in mind. They took Griffin to an indoor practice field and had him try on their initial version of what would become the Shaquem Griffin FlyEase football cleat.
"They were just like, 'What ideas [do] you have?'" Griffin told ESPN. "I was just like, 'I've been waiting on this.' I just started throwing [out] everything I had."
Griffin has always been able to tie shoelaces using his right hand and the end of his other arm, where his left hand was amputated at the wrist when he was 4 years old. But that procedure can be too cumbersome in a game. Griffin recalled one such instance from college when a lineman stepped on his foot, ripping the laces out of his cleats. He had to go off the field and put on new cleats he had yet to break in.
That initial meeting at Nike kick-started more than a year's worth of trial runs, prototypes, feedback from Griffin and tweaks from the design team. Nike made its official introduction of the Griffin FlyEase during the Seahawks' Monday night win over the 49ers in Week 10, when Griffin saw his first defensive snaps of the season as a stand-up edge rusher in passing situations.
Laces are replaced by three Velcro straps, including one over what would be the tongue of a standard shoe. A flexible knit opening stretches enough to slide a foot through, then retracts to fit snugly above the ankle.
"It actually was pretty easy," Griffin said of the general design of the cleats. "We created it literally at the indoor, like, 'Let's do straps. Let's do the soccer fit. Let's do something where you don't have to worry about breaking in the cleats. You can just put them on and just go.'"
There was much more work to be done beyond deciding on the cleat's basic features. It didn't just have to be practical for Griffin. It had to feel right on his feet. By his count, the version of the cleats he has worn this season is the fifth one he tried. The previous prototypes didn't feel exactly right, whether due to some pain in his pinkie toe or too much give when he would cut a certain way.
"We just wanted to eliminate all them factors," Griffin said. "So it was just like taking it step by step until it was the right one. I didn't want to be like, 'Oh, it's OK,' but it's not. I just wanted it to be fully right."
To streamline the feedback from Griffin, he was on a group text chat with a Nike designer from the FlyEase team and Erik Kennedy, the Seahawks' equipment manager. Kennedy stayed on Griffin to be honest about how his feet were feeling. He also thought of questions that Griffin didn't.
"In typical innovation, especially with an elite athlete, we usually try to have at least a year under our belts with the athlete before they put it on, whether it's a track and field athlete, basketball, American football, soccer, whatever it is," Tobie Hatfield, senior director of Nike's NXT Space, who worked with Griffin on the FlyEase cleats, told The Undefeated. "That can be our typical timeline, but we've seen it longer as well. In this case, it was a little bit longer.
"We need to give it time, we need to make sure there's no compromise in the performance of the product with the athlete ... When we're working on a product in a pretty violent and strong activity like football, and you're taking away laces -- and the athletes are used to laces -- it still has to perform at the highest level. This one took a little bit longer. We had to make sure it was right before Shaquem got on the field in a game situation."
To put on the Griffin FlyEase cleats, Griffin grabs either the front or the back of the opening with his right hand and uses the end of his left arm to expand the other end.
"Shaquem Griffin, he's at the tip of the spear as far as athletes and the professional nature of what he does at the NFL level; this cleat has to work for him," Hatfield told The Undefeated. "So while we're trying to solve things like getting into the shoe, easier, faster, once it's on, once he takes that first step and gets out on the field, it has to perform like he is expecting it to perform -- no compromise. And so therein lies the challenge for us in innovation and design when we're going through it. Along the way, Shaquem was amazing, because he knows what he likes. He knew what he wanted to improve upon."
While Griffin was talking about his cleats, linebacker Bobby Wagner walked over from a few lockers away and gave Griffin grief about his failure to hook up the veteran and defensive captain with a pair.
"They're dope," Wagner said. "I was giving him trash about it before. He's been such an inspiration from the moment he came into the league, and to watch him grow as a person, have a book ... have a cleat that can help not only him but other people around him is special. I hope I get a pair."
The Undefeated's Aaron Dodson contributed to this report.