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Why Tariq Woolen was better than Sauce Gardner, according to an All-Pro CB
"What in the hell do y'all be watching?" asks Asante Samuel - Seaside Joe 1597
Having been deeply embroiled in the “Russell Wilson is better than Andrew Luck” arguments from the early 2010s, I no longer have much interest in debating that players on the Seattle Seahawks are better than players on other teams. Though I do enjoy the fact that Wilson outplayed and outlasted virtually every quarterback he was compared against*, what I mostly learned is that people’s opinions never change and “I’m now picking fights with this random fanbase that I never talked to before and will not talk to again after this is over” doesn’t really lead to a more fulfilling existence in any meaningful way.
*Luck, Cam, Kap, RGIII, Mariota, Carr, Tannehill, Foles, Goff, Dalton, all to one degree or another
Over the 2023 offseason, I’ve noticed that this social media-aged phenomenon of being able to directly and immediately interact with strangers across the globe has now caused many Seattle Seahawks fans to focus their anger on the New York Jets because a panel of 50 people in the media collectively decided that two of their rookies were slightly more deserving of an award than two rookies on the Seahawks.
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It might feel good to muster up some energy to care about the NFL’s awards, including Offensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year, even if the feeling is that of anger. What is life if you’re not feeling your feelings? But I just can’t do it. I don’t care and had Seattle’s pair of outstanding rookies won awards in February, I would have already moved onto next season anyway.
We don’t feel any differently about Kenneth Walker III or Tariq ‘Riq’ Woolen because they lost out on those honors. The country has mostly forgotten or never cared that Garrett Wilson and Sauce Gardner won those awards instead, just as they would have done with Walker and Woolen. I’ll give $6.5 million to anyone who can name the players who won those awards the previous season.
(Disclaimer: I will not give $6.5 million to anyone, you can’t sue me, I am the law!)
Sunday Seaside Bonus: Seahawks best 2023 bargains, from Tyler Lockett to Ken Walker to Geno Smith and Abe Lucas!
For what it’s worth, the Associated Press installed a new voting system into their awards process, going with a weighted top-5 for the MVP and a top-3 for the rest, and actually it may have worked against Walker: He actually got more first place votes than Wilson, but was crushed in the second place votes.
Woolen didn’t even actually finish in second place on the defensive side of the ball, as Gardner tallied 242 points, followed by Aidan Hutchinson at 129 points, and then Woolen at 73 points. Only one voter put Woolen in first place.
Seahawks report to training camp in: 9 days
I wasn’t able to immediately track down where the one vote came from—if you know, let me know in the comments—but surely they’ve made a lot of friends in Seattle, as much of the blame has been placed on “The New York Media”. I could only find a list of the 50 voters from 2020, and I can guarantee based on some events that have happened since then that this is not the exact same list that it would have been in 2022, but I don’t see anything that is necessarily “New York-based” about it.
Remember, Walker got more first place votes than Wilson and the Jets rarely win much of anything—games or awards. In fact, the Jets are one of only six franchises in the NFL that have never had an MVP winner and of the other five teams (Texans, Jaguars) are relatively new. And Geno Smith just won Comeback Player of the Year, beating out Christian McCaffrey and New York’s own Saquon Barkley.
Quiz: How many of these award-winners can you name in Seahawks history? Seattle has had one MVP, two Coach of the Years, and two Defensive Players of the Year…can you name them and the years they won? I’ll post the answers at the bottom of the article!
So, the “this is the fault of the New York media” argument doesn’t just feel off-base, it reminds me too much of the things that young Seaside Joe got mad about 20 years ago. It feels too much like a kid-based argument to direct anger over being “disrespected” in some direction and who better than the nameless, faceless “evil empire” on the other coast? If it is an ESPN bias, they must have then mistakingly turned in the wrong card a la La La Land because they voted the Seahawks as having the best 2022 rookie class as a whole.
Not even D.J. Reed, who left Seattle for New York, believes that he’s gained any advantages by swapping out the Seahawks for the Jets:
(If anyone actually is more aware of Reed now than they were two years ago, it’s because he didn’t even become a starter until 2021 and then he signed a $33 million contract with the Jets in 2022; my theory is that respect comes more from contract terms and your draft status than awards and lists, which are usually predated by those other things.)
None of this is to say that Woolen couldn’t outplay or outlast Gardner, or that someone can’t make an argument that Seattle’s fifth round pick didn’t have a “better rookie season” (completely abstract and unprovable terms, especially when players are as close in value as these two obviously were in 2022), as many people have already done. Whether they’re Seahawks fans or not.
Truly nothing can inspire fans to actually do some homework than feeling like they need to prove a point after being disrespected. Perhaps my entire writing career emerged and grew out of those types of feelings.
It’s not hard to make an argument that Riq Woolen was better than Sauce Gardner…it’s not hard to make the inverse argument either. It IS hard to make an argument than “winning” such an argument would matter or that it is even possible.
“Hey Seahawks Twitter, gather round, gather round, I have an announcement. As of 11:36 PM last night, I sent a tweet to @NamathNerd69 and “Woolen had a lower QBR allowed” was proclaimed as the final blow. We WON, now EVERY JETS FAN in New York concedes that Woolen is BETTER!”
The Seahawks got a cornerback who they love and they stole him out of the fifth round. The Jets got a cornerback who they love and they’re just happy that they didn’t waste another first round pick after years of Zach Wilson, Sam Darnold, Mekhi Becton, and Dee Milliner. Given that most of Seattle’s fans wouldn’t trade Woolen for Gardner and most Jets fans wouldn’t trade Gardner for Woolen—while the fans of the 30 other teams don’t even know that a rivalry between the Seahawks and Jets is brewing because they both had good rookies who play the same position—there’s nowhere to go for the argument.
It was dead before it started and not even Sauce Gardner or Riq Woolen are invested in fueling the debate.
In an interview clip with Ryan Clark (which is mostly Clark talking, so you have to scroll to almost a minute in before Gardner’s answer), Gardner says he’d rather work with Woolen as a friend so that they can make each other better instead of trying to pull the other down.
“We were just talking about the secret sauce, I can’t keep it all to myself. I got to instill it in other people. If I see Tariq, if he’s got a habit of doing something that’s really not going to work for him, I’m probably not going to tell him mid-game because we’re playing against each other, but after the game I might. We could watch the film, we could talk this over. Because if I wanna be great, I feel like I’d be doing someone a disservice by saying, “I could be telling him this, but I’m not gonna tell him because I want to be better than him.” That’s not the case, we can all be great. There’s enough space in this world for all of us to be great.”
Now you could say that this is a subtle shot at Woolen—”Ah, he’s saying that he could mentor Riq!”—and I might actually even WISH that was true. It seems like it would be more entertaining to have players really take shots at each other because those are usually the stories that last. But it’s just not as often the case in the modern era, as players have taken on this role of a “brotherhood” and that they’re all working for the same bite of the apple; that it is now more “players against owners” than it is “players against players”.
Perhaps then that’s why it is FORMER players who seem to do most of the “real talk” when it comes to evaluating and critiquing CURRENT players. As was the case last week when Asante Samuel, Sr., who himself feels disrespected by the New York media judging on his recent tweets that compare himself to Darrelle Revis, added his opinions to the Sauce-vs-Riq debates.
Samuel, a fourth round pick of the Patriots in 2003 who won two Super Bowls with New England and twice led the NFL in interceptions—10 in 2006, nine with the Eagles in 2009—was a four-time Pro Bowl and likely feels his own amount of “Why not me?” when it comes to awards. Samuel didn’t get a single DPOY vote in 2006, nor did he get one in 2007 despite being a first-team All-Pro. He also didn’t get one in 2009 even though he tied Charles Woodson, the player who won that year, with nine interceptions. Revis, who had six interceptions, finished in second place.
A lot of people are talking about Samuel’s TWEET on the matter—which has been viewed over 650,000 times—but barely anyone has watched his podcast about it, which has been viewed 437 times as of this morning. At least three of the views are me.
According to Samuel, who I think probably has a better view of the argument than the average Twitter user, Woolen wins out because of his versatility in coverage assignments.
“Everybody look at man-to-man-to-man-to-man and thinks, “Woah, he can play man-to-man so good. He ain’t letting them catch the ball. You so good.” What about all the other coverages?! Defense ain’t just based on man-to-man because guess what, if the CB is just playing man-to-man, then everybody else got to play man-to-man. So then the QB could just throw to anybody. That’s why you’ve got to have different coverages out there.”
Samuel notes that Woolen plays with a lot of confidence and that he’s in “attack mode” when the ball is in the air, leading to more turnovers.
As a Seahawks fan, it just feels good to hear experts lavish praise and admiration for Woolen or any other player on the team. Lavish me! Lavish us! Oh, so lavishing! It’s good to hear areas of improvement sometimes too, as we recently covered on another Woolen scouting report, but to hear it from a corner who won as much as Samuel and twice led the NFL in interceptions, I am closer than ever to the blissful blindness of being a fan and expecting nothing but the best.
It is also COMPLETELY independent of how some other player on some other team is doing.
If Woolen is an elite cornerback in 2023, what would I care about the status of Sauce Gardner or any other cornerback? If Woolen steps back for some reason, what would I care how other cornerbacks are doing, better or not? Schadenfreude?
Our sole focus should be on Riq Woolen, so I think the debate side of it should be left for the flailing attempts to swim by ESPN, although it does feel worthwhile to learn from Samuel that Seattle’s young cornerback has displayed unique and valuable traits that go beyond even the highest expectations…whether that’s Gardner, Derek Stingley, or literally Asante Samuel’s own son, a cornerback on the L.A. Chargers.
Sunday Seaside Bonus: Seahawks best 2023 bargains, from Tyler Lockett to Ken Walker to Geno Smith and Abe Lucas!
I recommend watching the whole video, it’s only 10 minutes long and we’ll see if we can’t help Samuel get over 1,000 views even if we aren’t as big as the New York media. I would like to be though, so please consider subscribing to Seaside Joe today as we strive to reach 2,500 total subscribers in the near future. We’re about to hit 1,600 days in a row of sending out a free Seahawks newsletter, but if you can help support with as little as $5 per month or $55 for the whole year, I greatly appreciate it.
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Answers: Shaun Alexander, 2005 MVP; Jack Patera, 1978 Coach of the Year; Chuck Knox, 1984 Coach of the Year; Kenny Easley, 1984 DPOY; Cortez Kennedy, 1992 DPOY (Bonus: Steve Largent, 1988 Walter Payton Man of the Year; Russell Wilson, 2020 Walter Payton winner)