RENTON Sheldon Richardson was barely settled into his new seat in his new building for his first team meeting with his new team, when his new Seahawks teammates clowned him.
Pranks a lot.
“These guys are crazy,” Seattle’s latest, centerpiece defensive tackle said Monday following his first Seahawks practice. “In a good way.”
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“Team meetings are nuts. Team meetings are crazy,” Richardson said, laughing. “They got me today, cracked a little joke on me. I won’t go into it.”
Hours later, he was still beaming over it.
“It was fun. It was fun,” he said. “Fun environment.”
Given the Seahawks have free-throw and jump-shooting contests before team meetings, I asked Richardson -- a four-sport letterman at Gateway Tech High School in St. Louis a decade or so ago -- if he had a jumper.
“Do I have a jump shot?” he said, not expecting the question but appreciating it. “I’ve got a little chop on me.”
Then he pantomimed his shot.
“I’ll show you sometime,” he said, smiling.
No doubt, Richardson had reason to smile on day one of his new football life. It came following a flurry of key events in a couples hours of Friday morning. Seahawks No. 1 wide receiver Doug Baldwin agreed to turn salary into signing bonus money to allow his team to free $5.2 million under this year’s salary cap. That gave general manager John Schneider the green light to trade a second-round draft choice and five-year wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, the team’s career co-leader with six playoff touchdown receptions, to the Jets for Richardson.
How big an opportunity is this for him, age 26? How great a chance is leaving a Jets team that is rebuilding and is not expected to win much this season to this and joining a Seattle team with an at-times dominant defense that has been to two of the last four Super Bowls and is a championship contender again this season?
“Huge,” he said. “It’s huge.”
“It’s a good opportunity here. I plan to make the most of it.
“I’m very excited. The organization itself, I’m excited. Everything about it. Watching those guys on film those get after it, I feel like I can fit right in. They compete every play, play in and play out, you can’t find that very much in the league right now.”
So where exactly will he play?
For now, as a tackle on every down, inside in three technique between the opposing guard and tackle. He’ll be a run stopper on early downs and next to Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett inside on passing downs. But don’t be surprised if by late this season he and Bennett are moving up and down the defensive line picking out favorable match-ups for Seattle and potential migraines for offenses.
“I’m playing three technique. That’s all I know,” he said.
“That’s it,” he said with a grin. “This defense is kind of stacked.”
Richardson went to the Pro Bowl in 2014 after having eight sacks as a tackle who could also go outside at end for the Jets. He had five in 2015, when he only played in 11 games because of a four-game drug suspension. He’s played inside as a three-technique defensive tackle between the opposing guard and tackle, head up on the center as a nose tackle, outside as an end, even as a linebacker with New York.
While saying he will play anywhere, he said “my home is three-technique. They know where I’m best suited.”
That’s all the Seahawks have told him he’ll play so far. That’s the role Ahtyba Rubin had until the Seahawks released the 31-year old on Saturday because they now had Richardson instead.
“He’s really played all over the place...they’ve even dropped him in coverage,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We’ll start him off playing him inside; we’ve got to get him ready to play in a week’s time. And then we’ll progress from there, as we always do. But he’s truly going to play three technique for us now, to get started, and we’ll find out as we go down the road here what else makes sense.”
Carroll acknowledged losing top rookie draft choice Malik McDowell, who Seattle expected to be its new, versatile, pass-rushing defensive tackle this year, to an ATV accident and major injuries in July created the team’s need to acquire Richardson.
“When we realized we weren’t going to have him, it made us realize and look to see if we could find someone to fit that spot,” Carroll said.
McDowell has been recovering at home in Michigan. Carroll said he will begin coming around Seahawks’ headquarters in the coming days and weeks but “with no demands on him physically.” The team still doesn’t know when McDowell can play again, but it still doesn’t sound like it will be any time this season.
“I have nothing else to say about the injury itself; nothing else has been reported,” Carroll said. “But we are trying to work him back in with us, just reconnect and make sure that he has a sense of coming to work and all that stuff ... with no demands on him.”
Richardson said he’s not thinking about his future beyond this season in Seattle. All of his $8,069,000 salary is guaranteed for 2017. That is partly why Carroll chuckled and said Richardson is “definitely” an every-down player for this defense.
His contract expires after this season, when he could become a free agent starting down a potentially huge payday if this season goes as he and the Seahawks hope it does. He says he’s not thinking about that now, days before he lines up for his new team at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers.
“Let the Lord take me on that one,” he said of his contract future.
Richardson had nothing but positives to say about his four seasons with the Jets, who took him 13th overall in the 2013 draft and then, using his words, stuck by him through “tough times.”
“I’m going to ride with them for the rest of my life, because they looked out for me in tough times, my tribulations and trials and stuff like that,” he said.
The NFL suspended him for the 2016 season opener for violating its personal conduct policy. Richardson pleaded guilty in January 2016 to resisting arrest after speeding in St. Louis in a Bentley to as fast as 143 mph while police chased him. That was in July 2015. He didn’t go to jail but was sentenced to two years of probation and 100 hours of community service. He was fined $1,050 for four traffic violations. His 12-year-old nephew was in the car at the time of the incident. So was a loaded, semiautomatic handgun registered legally to him, according to prosecutors. Officers reported a strong marijuana odor in the car.
Prosecutors did not charge Richardson with drug possession or child endangerment because they cited a lack of sufficient evidence.
Carroll said the Seahawks looked deeply into that incident.
“What I know about it is that they went through the process. All of the things he had to do to take care of business, he did,” Carroll said. “It was a pretty crazy situation that he was in. They took all of the steps they needed to take.
“He responded the way he was supposed to and from that point forward, he has done an incredible job taking care of business.”
Richardson missed the first four games of the 2015 season after testing positive for marijuana.
He said that was about the time he thought the Jets might give up on him.
“At one point, yeah,” he said. “That was, like, two years ago.
“But other than that they kept it real honest with me. And I can’t ask for anything more than that.”
They did, until Friday, when the Jets got a second-round pick and a veteran wide receiver they needed to rebuild in return for sending him here.
Richardson said he is already fitting in with the Seahawks. He went to Mariners game at Safeco Field over the weekend with a friend he calls a brother, Seahawks center Justin Britt, Richardson’s former University of Missouri teammate.
“Everybody is laid back,” he said of his new team. “Everybody is family. They are real big on that.”
He’s known Carroll for about a decade. Sort of.
When Carroll was in one of his final recruiting seasons leading USC, before he took the Seahawks’ job in January 2011, he tried to get Richardson to sign with the Trojans.
“Yeah , he did,” Richardson said. “He was late.”
Carroll actually had his young assistant back then, Lane Kiffin, make the Trojans’ recruiting pitch to Richardson at his home in St. Louis. But it was three days before national signing day in college football. So, yes, far too late.
Carroll joked Monday he blames his son Brennan, now a Seahawks assistant offensive line coach and then his dad’s recruiting coordinator at USC, for not recruiting Richardson quickly enough.
Richardson went to junior college in Visalia, California, at the College of the Sequoias before eventually coming home to Missouri to play for former University of Washington assistant Gary Pinkel.
He’s a long way from Visalia and Missouri now. Sunday, he’ll start in one of the NFL’s most, yes, “stacked” defensive fronts.
“They already had a dominant defense,” Richardson said of his new, pranking, “crazy” Seahawks.
“I’m just going to come in and contribute and help this team get Ws.”