In the spring of 2005, several issues that had been infesting the Seahawks’ corps of receivers for quite some time began finding their unwelcome way to the surface. #1 wideout Darrell Jackson, unhappy with certain promises made to him regarding the scale of his contract by the Whitsitt Administration, staged various minicamp holdouts. Talented but troubled Koren Robinson finally wore out his welcome with the team that had played wet-nurse since his ascent to the NFL in 2001.
The Seahawks released Robinson in June of 2005. Though one specific DUI and reckless driving arrest in Medina in May facilitated the last straw, Robinson’s Seattle career was a tragic and ridiculous litany of substance abuse, run-ins with the law, and league- and team-mandated suspensions.
Slot receiver Bobby Engram was the relative Rock of Gibraltar in this group, but even he was remembered more by some for the dropped pass that ended the Seahawks’ 2004 season in their wild-card playoff loss to the St. Louis Rams. That drop was not indicative of Engram’s tenure with Seattle, but it was certainly a mark of the Seahawk ballhawks on the whole – the team led the league in dropped passes in both 2003 and 2004.
While the modus operandi of new team president Tim Ruskell was to point the way to a new value placed on toughness and character, it seemed that such concepts might be beyond this group of receivers. Nonetheless, the Seahawks moved Engram outside in Robinson’s place as the #2 man and searched for the man who could provide the reliability sought by the new paradigm, the ability to play inside and outside, and the stabilizing force few thought possible.
On March 25, 2005, Tim Ruskell got his man when the Seahawks inked Joe Jurevicius to a one-year deal. Ruskell knew Jurevicius very well from their days in Tampa Bay – the Bucs acquired the former New York Giant before the 2002 season when Ruskell was the team’s Director of Player Personnel. Released by Tampa Bay on March 1, 2005, Jurevicius was signed after the Seahawks considered the possibility of Rod Gardner, and flirted with a few other second-tier receivers.
In 2003, Jurevicius suffered a torn knee ligament and was limited to just five games. In 2004, he had surgery for a herniated disk in his back and missed the first six games of the season. But the executive who helped bring him to Tampa Bay was convinced that lightning could strike twice – during the 2002 postseason, Jurevicius caught fire and was a prime catalyst in Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl run.
"He is a selfless player who understands what it takes to win in this league," Ruskell said in a statement after Jurevicius was signed. The Seahawks would soon find out just how prescient those words were.
From day one in training camp, when he seemed to catch everything even remotely thrown his way, Jurevicius brought a new determination and toughness to the position. When Jackson and Engram missed a total of twelve games in 2005 due to injury, Jurevicius held things together. He stabilized the offense, provided Matt Hasselbeck with a tall, tough target in the red zone, and showed an impressive propensity for blocking with controlled, violent abandon. The Seahawks rode Jurevicius’ tough hide to Super Bowl XL, and the team’s dropped passes were halved in 2005.
He was everything the Seahawks could have asked for, and then some.
That he is no longer a Seahawk is a shock to those in the Emerald City who had hoped he’d find a way to stay on…but for those who know the man’s character and history, the reasons behind the change are not too terribly surprising.
During his introductory press conference in Cleveland on Saturday, Jurevicius spoke of his true motivation in accepting the Browns’ 4-year, $10 million offer: his desire to play in his hometown. Jurevicius grew up in Timberlake, Ohio and played at Lake Catholic High School in Mentor, Ohio. His son Michael, who succumbed to the neurodegenerative disease sialidosis in 2003, is buried in Cleveland – “right down the street from his grandma and grandpa,” Jurevicius said in January of 2006. “As soon as I go back to Cleveland, I go there every morning and I go there every night,” Jurevicius added.
In the end, the decision seemed as much or more about sentiment, emotion and homecoming as football-related concerns. Jurevicius could have stayed with Seattle, a legitimate Super Bowl contender, secure in the knowledge that his role as mentor and situational receiver would continue to garner the respect of coaches, fans and teammates. He could have moved to a city like San Francisco and played an increased role with a team who would desperately need him to put up some serious numbers.
He received competitive offers, and may have taken less money to land where he did. In Cleveland, where he could start but still be overshadowed by the hyper-talented Braylon Edwards and the hyper-problematic Kellen Winslow, Jurevicius seemed to side with his heart over his head.
"I have every inclination in my body I'm going to come here and help the Cleveland Browns get better and make my personal dream become that much better," Jurevicius said during his Saturday night press conference. "It took me nine years. They (the Giants, Tampa Bay and Seattle) were all great places.
"This is where it all started for me, though. I had opportunities to go to a couple different places. It was first and foremost in my mind that I wanted to become a Cleveland Brown, put on the orange helmet and play in front of Lake Erie and enjoy the feeling. I'm not going to be a pro forever, and I feel, if anything, this is going to add years to my career just because of the excitement that comes along with it."
The Seahawks will go on without Jurevicius’ stats – 55 catches for 694 yards and 10 touchdowns are fairly impressive numbers, though hardly impossible to replace. Young receiver D.J. Hackett could probably meet or exceed those totals over a full season, and he may be asked to do just that in 2006.
What the Seahawks will miss is Jurevicius’ toughness, veteran savvy and true leadership. As his new teammate Trent Dilfer did last season upon his departure to Cleveland, Jurevicius leaves the Seahawks with a void that may be felt as much off the field as on.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.