RENTON, Wash. — In replacing Mike Williams, the Seattle Seahawks knew that they needed a big receiver who could get yards after the catch in their grab-and-go offense. To that end, they brought two veterans at loose ends into their training camp: Braylon Edwards and Terrell Owens. Edwards, whose 2011 season with the San Francisco 49ers ended early after a torn meniscus, was trying to mirror his season with the New York Jets in 2010, when he had a career high in yards per catch. Owens had been out of the league since 2010, when his 72-catch season with the Cincinnati Bengals led to a year in training after knee surgery.
Both players showed potential, but Edwards made his case more forcefully from the start. Arriving in Seattle in the very early morning of July 31 with a one-year deal in hand, Edwards hit the practice field the same day, wrestled with Seattle’s hyper-aggressive cornerbacks, and developed a chemistry with rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. Owens came in a week later, looked to be in monster shape, and impressed in early practices. But while Edwards was catching bombs from Wilson in preseason games, Owens struggled with the timing and parlance of an offense he should have known in his sleep. He missed out on five targeted passes from quarterback Matt Flynn in his Week 2 debut against the Denver Broncos, and whiffed on two more balls from Wilson in a rout of the Kansas City Chiefs last Friday.
Meanwhile, Edwards started to resemble his best self as a receiver, minus the braincramps and drops that had plagued him through his seven-year career. When Owens was released on Sunday as part of the Seahawks’ move to get to the league-mandated 75-man roster, it was thought by many that Owens’ attitude was once again an issue. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll refuted that notion after Monday’s practice.
“I’m going to say this: Anyone who thinks he had an attitude around here or something like that, is wrong,” Carroll insisted. “They don’t know what they’re talking about. This guy was great. He’s done everything we had wanted him to do. He practiced hard, he studied hard, he asked questions, and worked hard in the games. He did everything. He was terrific. That had nothing to do with anything in this whole decision at all. It was the other guys we have and the way we make up our football team. We thought we would be able to make it with the young guys that we had through here. It was hard for all the guys who came in late for all of the offseason work we have done.
“He was a terrific competitor and if we had a chance to get him back later in the year, I would not hesitate. I don’t think that there is any doubt that he can play in this league. He’s got the competitive makeup to do it. He’s physically fit for a guy of his years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up in somebody’s camp.”
Carroll may have taken a pass on that idea, but the old T.O. did rear his head on a couple of occasions in practice. Soon after he arrived, Owens short-armed a pass from Russell Wilson on a slant route, leading to an incompletion. When Wilson went to another target with his next pass, Owens went into full “Give Me the Damn Ball!” mode. And about a week before his release, Owens started barking at a practice official when he thought there was an uncalled pass interference against one of Seattle’s aggressive defensive backs. Owens carped for a while, walked away, came back, and let the ref have another earful. Upon his return to the “discussion,” Owens was joined by a younger receiver teammate. It was a bad showing all around.
But more than anything, Owens’ release was about Edwards’ excellence, and a simple numbers game. The Seahawks like multi-tight-end sets, and with fellow veteran castoff Kellen Winslow Jr. a near-sure thing to make the final cut, they may have a lot of three-tight-end needs. As a result, receiver space on the roster is prime real estate, and Owens simply couldn’t pay the rent.
Edwards could — without question.
“I like him,” Carroll said of Edwards. “I think he’s played really good football for us. I’d love to see him come out and catch a few balls for us this week. I told him yesterday I’m proud of the way he’s come out and attacked this opportunity. He’s competed everyday he’s been out here and he’s made his plays in games as well. He’s doing a really nice job to help his cause to be a part of this thing.”
Edwards’ next chance comes Thursday in Seattle’s preseason finale against the Oakland Raiders. He will once again connect with Wilson, who’s already discovered that when he throws jump balls to the tall receiver, Edwards will deliver the goods.
“Well, it’s been awesome because Braylon’s a very intelligent person, [and] a very intelligent football player,” Wilson said. “He’s obviously got unbelievable skills. He’s played in the National Football League for an extended period of time now. He’s doing a great job for our football team and we’ve worked on that — ever since Day 1 that he’s gotten here. A lot of great things that he’s doing right now. He’s got unbelievable speed, great hands. He can go up and get the football. When you have guys like that, that really helps, especially playing the quarterback position where you can give your guys a chance. That’s what they’re here for — to make plays and to be great.”
Edwards, who saw another rookie starter in Mark Sanchez with the 2009 Jets, returned the compliment when asked if saw similar things in Wilson.
“I see better things,” he said. “It’s like I said after the Chiefs game — it’s his approach. It’s very veteran-like. He studies film; he breaks it down. He doesn’t approach it like a rookie, and he’s not looking for excuses. He’s very impressive.”
Golden Tate, a third-year receiver of whom much is expected this season, appreciates the leadership Edwards brings to the table. “I like Braylon as a player and as a person. If I have any questions about releases or routes, he’s been around long enough to really give me some insight. It’s good to have another older guy along with Obo and Sid [Ben Obomanu and Sidney Rice] in our room. He’s moved into the leadership role as he feels more comfortable.”
Edwards had his best season in 2007 for the Cleveland Browns, who selected him third overall in the 2005 NFL draft out of Michigan. He’s had his ups and downs since then, and struggled with inconsistency, but he’s been humble, dynamic and a quick study in Seattle. Perhaps it’s because he sees good things in Seattle’s transitional offense, one of five NFL systems in 2012 to start a rookie quarterback on opening day.
“It has the ability to be very special,” Edwards said of the offense. “You’ve got a lot of receivers and tight ends, running backs, quarterbacks getting it done. Line play has been great so far. There’s really no ceiling for what this offense can be this year.”
As for Owens’ departure? Well, Edwards has been the odd man out before. He understands. All he can do now is look ahead.
“They brought T.O. in, and that was on them,” Edwards said. “They let him go, and that was on them. He was fun to be around, but at the end of the day, it was a business. It’s all up to what the people up top want to do. But he was fun to play with, and I wish him well.”
Perhaps as a reminder to those who would choose to take the Owens way out. Edwards also said that he’s looking to help his new team in any way possible. “Even when you’re not getting the ball,” he said. “Blocking, running guys off, catching passes, whatever I can do to help this organization is what I want to do.”