The team announced on Thursday that it has terminated Baldwin's contract as well as that of safety Kam Chancellor, both with failed-physical designations. It was an expected move with Chancellor, who suffered a career-ending neck injury in 2017 and had remained on Seattle's roster since then purely for salary-cap purposes.
Baldwin's future was up in the air after the 30-year-old receiver endured an injury-riddled 2018 season. General manager John Schneider confirmed during the draft that Baldwin was contemplating retirement, having just undergone his second surgery of the offseason.
In a statement, Schneider called it a "difficult decision" to move on from Baldwin and Chancellor given what both meant to the most successful stretch of football the Seahawks have experienced.
"These are two of the most iconic players in franchise history, and both were instrumental in establishing our championship culture, great examples of competitiveness and leadership on the field and in the community," Schneider said. "These legendary players will always be a part of our Seahawks family."
Baldwin's remarkable story saw him go from an undrafted free agent in 2011 out of Stanford to one of the most prolific receivers in Seahawks history. His 49 receiving touchdowns are second only to Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Largent. That included a career-best 14 TDs in 2015, which tied for the league lead and helped Baldwin earn one of his two Pro Bowl nods. He ranks third on the Seahawks' all-time receptions list (493) and third in receiving yards (6,563).
Baldwin missed three games in 2018 and was physically compromised throughout the year while dealing with injuries to both knees, his shoulder, elbow and groin. He had surgery early in the offseason on his shoulder and more recently had surgery for a sports hernia. He also had what coach Pete Carroll described as a non-surgical procedure on his knee.
Baldwin finished 2018 with 50 catches (his fewest since 2013) for 618 yards (his fewest since 2012) and five touchdowns. He acknowledged late in the year that he was "on the downside" of his career at 30 years old.
"It's been hell," he said in November while describing his injury-filled season, during which his streak of 89 consecutive games played was snapped. That had been the fourth-longest streak among active receivers.
"I've never had this many injuries before," he continued. "So it's been a journey, that's for sure. But it's been a journey that I've come to appreciate because it's taught me a lot about myself not only as a football player but as a man, and how I handle these challenges."
But a source told ESPN after the season that Baldwin's injuries "scared him."
"He has been an extraordinary part of this program since we've been here and he has given us everything he has had, been a great competitor, player and all that," Carroll said during the draft, after ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Baldwin may have played his final down. "We believe in him so much and trust in him so much that wherever this goes, we're going to support him forever. He's been a great contributor in so many ways, not just on the team but in the community and everything else. He's been awesome, so we'll see what happens. He's working through it and we're going to follow Doug on this one."
Baldwin's release leaves Tyler Lockett as the Seahawks' clear-cut No. 1 receiver, a role he ascended to last season. They drafted DK Metcalf at the end of the second round and added two more receivers on Day 3: Gary Jennings (fourth round) and John Ursua (seventh). They also signed Terry Wright and Jazz Ferguson as UDFAs, further protecting themselves at receiver with Baldwin's future uncertain.
Baldwin had two years and $21 million remaining on his contract. It was scheduled to pay him $9.25 million in 2019 base salary with another $750,000 available in per-game roster bonuses.
Assuming the team doesn't use a post-June 1 designation, his release will clear $6,856,250 in 2019 cap space. A post-June-1 release would clear $10 million while pushing half of his $6,287,500 in dead money into 2020. However, Baldwin could potentially be eligible for a $1.2 million injury protection, a collectively-bargained benefit that would count against Seattle's cap. By being released as opposed to retiring while still under contract, Baldwin won't be subject to potential forfeiture of his remaining signing bonus proration.
Like Baldwin, Chancellor is a virtual lock to end up in the Seahawks' Ring of Honor. A fifth-round pick out of Virginia Tech in 2010, he was a founding member of the Legion of Boom secondary that played a key role in one of the best stretches of defense in recent NFL history. Chancellor made four Pro Bowls before his career effectively ended on an innocuous-looking tackle midway through the 2017 season.
He later specified that his neck injury was spinal stenosis, or a narrowing of the spinal canal, and said he also had bone spurs there.
Chancellor had two years remaining on his contract. The Seahawks carried him on PUP last season because releasing him would have caused his 2018 cap number to skyrocket to nearly $20 million. They waited until now, when the cap penalties would no longer be as severe. The team will clear either $2.3 or $4.8 million in 2018 cap space with Chancellor's release, depending on whether they use the post-June-1 designation. Chancellor is still entitled to $5.2 million of his $10 million 2019 base salary because that amount was guaranteed for injury.
With Baldwin and Chancellor no longer on the roster, the only remaining Seahawks from their Super Bowl XLVIII victory over the Denver Broncos are quarterback Russell Wilson and linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright.