By Brent Stecker

The three seasons that Eric Wedge served as the Seattle Mariners manager were trying ones, to say the least.

The Mariners constantly lacked production in their lineup, and young players like Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley struggled to find consistency as everyday players early in their Major League careers. It caused a lot of friction for Wedge and the organization, and he decided he wouldn't return to the the franchise after the 2013 season.

Ex-Mariners manager Eric Wedge told 710 ESPN Seattle's "Brock and Danny" that leaving the team's younger players was the toughest part of his decision not to return to the team after 2013. (AP)

Earlier this week the Mariners began their first regular season since Wedge's departure, and the results from those once-struggling prospects and the team in general have been promising. Considering the early success, which included a three-game sweep of the Angels in Anaheim, and the manner in which he left Seattle, nobody has as interesting a perspective on the Mariners in 2014 as Wedge.

Now an ESPN analyst, Wedge is obviously keeping tabs on his former team, and he was plenty willing to address the Mariners' hot start and his reaction when talking to 710 ESPN Seattle's "Brock and Danny" on Friday.

"I've been excited for Justin Smoak and the early success that he's had. Mike Zunino and (Brad) Miller, all the kids, really," Wedge said. "That was the toughest part about me leaving, was just all the kids."

The treatment of those "kids" was the biggest reason Wedge left Seattle, and while he was quick to explain that he still believes the Mariners' core of young players will turn into a strength, he hasn't forgotten about what led him to leave.

"I've said time and time again that you have a solid group of young players there. Just because people weren't strong enough to be patient and believe in them like they should doesn't mean they're not good players," he said. "It takes time and baseball's a difficult sport."

That time may be here, or it may still be a year off. But Wedge believes that patience will pay off sooner or later in Seattle.

"I think this year and next year you're gonna see performances like you're hoping to see. Patience is rewarded in baseball. It just takes strong people to be able to have that patience, and then it's gonna pay off for the kids and the organization."

So, with the Mariners suddenly giving fans a reason to be optimistic, does Wedge wish he was still with the club?

"Absolutely no second thoughts," he said about his decision to not return to the team. "I left for all the right reasons. I talked to the kids about living by a code and that's what I do."

He's not above acknowledging that getting a fresh face in new manager Lloyd McClendon may have been the right thing for the franchise, though.

"I think that with the decision I made, it probably pushed them in a different direction, and maybe indirectly it's gonna help them."

Follow Brent Stecker on Twitter @BrentStecker.

The ideal situation Pete Carroll has with the Seahawks made his contract extension a foregone conclusion. (AP)

By Danny O'Neil

The most significant thing about Pete Carroll's contract extension isn't the length nor the size nor is it even the timing of the announcement.

The most important facet of this deal is the complete and utter lack of suspense.

Carroll wasn't going anywhere. This was as close to a multi-million dollar formality as you get in the NFL, which has everything to do with the way this job was structured upon Carroll's hiring and stands in stark contrast to the last time the Seahawks extended their coach's contract.

It wasn't nearly so easy back in 2006 when Mike Holmgren was coming off three straight postseason berths and a Super Bowl appearance, but still had a latent desire to have a say over personnel. It took a month and a half of uncertainty before he decided to accept a two-year extension to remain Seattle's coach and just the coach.

Carroll has his ideal job. It was the reason he cited for leaving USC in 2010, a position that was exactly what he wanted right down to the fact that he got to help hire the general manager he would work alongside.

Four seasons, three playoff berths and a Super Bowl victory later, there's no way that he can move up. The only question is how long he can stay on top.

Money is part of this, too. Just not necessarily the biggest part. Carroll's contract in 2010 was to pay him $35 million over five years, which already put him in the upper tier of coaching salaries. No word on the size of his next deal, but Paul Allen is the richest owner in the league, and a Super Bowl would seem to warrant a raise. Carroll's contract extension was first reported by the league's official website.

But money wasn't really the issue for Seattle's last coaching extension for Holmgren. The tension there regarded to power, Tim Ruskell having been hired a year earlier to serve as the president and general manager.

At the NFL's owner meetings that offseason, Holmgren confessed to feeling an itch to make personnel decisions again, something that wasn't going to happen in Seattle. At least not then.

Remember, Ruskell was riding high. The Seahawks reached the Super Bowl in Ruskell's first season as GM, a year marked by the drafting of linebackers Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill as well as the free-agent signing of receiver Joe Jurevicius.

The Seahawks' roster eroded considerably over Ruskell's final four years to the point that Seattle turned to Holmgren in hope he could return to the franchise in 2009. When the two sides couldn't agree on a contract, Seattle decided for a hard reset in its football operations.

Starting over in Seattle started with the hiring of Pete Carroll, and the way that job was structured in the beginning made his contract extension so very straightforward.

He has the job he wants, written exactly to his specifications.

By Brady Henderson

Highlights from the latest edition of "Hawk Talk" with Danny O'Neil:

Feeling like the Seahawks will take a wide receiver with one of their top two picks, Gaeleck Eylander asked if this could be the year that they finally trade up and draft someone like Mike Evans from Texas A&M or Odell Beckham Jr. from LSU.

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Texas A&M's Mike Evans is one of the top wide receiver prospects in this year's draft. (AP)
O'Neil: We haven't seen them trade up in the order ever. And John Schneider comes from Green Bay, where the Packers almost never traded up. One of the only exceptions to that: Clay Matthews. The Packers traded back into the first round to get him. Why? Because they evaluated him as a top-12 talent who was still on the board in the 20s. Don't know how the Seahawks have evaluated Mike Evans, but it's the kind of talent -- if he is a top-12 talent -- they could make a vault. I don't think it's likely, though.

Jeff noted the Seahawks' track record of hitting on later-round picks but said they should expect to have "a few bad drafts" because of how rare that is.

O'Neil: Certainly it would be foolish to expect Seattle to continue to have such amazing success at finding not just starters, but Pro Bowlers, in the back half of the draft. But I'll ask this a different way: Why can't we assume that the Seahawks will be just as successful at finding those successes. I mean, they're not required to get dumber are they? And they're not flipping coins or scratching Lotto tickets. There is some skill and projection involved there.

Bend, Oregon asked if Schneider pays attention to the opinions of draft analysts like Todd McShay and Mel Kiper.

O'Neil: I can answer this. He's aware of what they say. It would be silly for him not to because those guys do have information and opinions. Between the two, Kiper tries to do more doping out of where players will be taken while McShay really tries for a personnel evaluation. Which guy is best, and his big board is not so much an anticipation of where players will be drafted, but his opinion of where they should be drafted. The one thing the Seahawks demonstrate, though, is a discipline in not sharing their assessments and information. They don't reach out and try and offer information -- whether it's misleading or true -- about who they're looking to take.

Evil Penguin asked whether cornerback Richard Sherman or safety Earl Thomas will make more money in 2014, assuming each receives a contract extension this offseason.

O'Neil: Ooooh, great question. Let's rephrase it, though. Who signs the bigger contract, Richard Sherman or Earl Thomas? Cornerbacks tend to be more valuable on an NFL payroll. But I would also argue there's a larger gap between Thomas and the rest of the safeties in the game than there is between Sherman and the other cornerbacks. Still, my answer on who winds up with the larger contract: Sherman.

Jeff asked if coach Pete Carroll might be "ready to take the training wheels off of the offense" and place an emphasis on making plays instead of avoiding mistakes now that quarterback Russell Wilson will be in his third year.

O'Neil: I'll believe it when I see it. As long as Pete can win the game by running as often as he throws it, he's going to do it. Now, you can ask the question that when Seattle gets to the point that a healthy chunk of its salary cap is going to Wilson, will the Seahawks be able to afford a defense that allows the offense to play as conservatively as it did? But I don't think it's preference (or Wilson's maturity) that will lead to a shift in passing frequency, but necessity.

Prich asked how left tackle Russell Okung fits into the team's long-term plans.

O'Neil: Probably the single toughest question to answer. He has two more years left on his current contract. He will count more than $11 million against the cap this season. He has struggled with injuries, but he's also a unique talent at Pro Bowl. Tom Cable said -- and he's not prone to exaggeration -- that he believed Okung was the best left tackle in the league in 2012.

By Brady Henderson

Every NFL team's worst nightmare is an injury to its starting quarterback, so you could imagine why general manager John Schneider might have been uneasy about Russell Wilson taking part in infield drills with the Texas Rangers last month, as harmless as it was.

But what about Wilson participating in a slam-dunk contest? That's a whole different ballgame, one that Schneider or anyone in his position would never want Wilson to try his hand at.

He won't. It was part of an April Fools' Day prank that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll pulled off Tuesday with the help of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez and 710 ESPN Seattle.

Carroll planted the seed Tuesday morning with a tweet noting that Bo Ryan, the head coach of Final Four-bound Wisconsin, had invited Wilson to practice with his alma mater's basketball team.

Schneider was an in-studio guest on "Brock and Danny" along with his wife to discuss their efforts to help families with autistic children. Alvarez called in and thanked Schneider for allowing Wilson to not only practice with Wisconsin but compete in a dunk contest. Schneider, perhaps wary given the date, figured it was an imposter who was in on a ruse until he realized it was, in fact, Alvarez.

"That was really Barry Alvarez you guys had on right there," Schneider said. "I thought you guys were completely playing a joke on me right there."

"So wait, you did not know that he was going to do the slam-dunk contest?" co-host Danny O'Neil asked.

"No – well, they want him to, but that's not happening," Schneider replied.

Carroll called in a few minutes later, and if the jig wasn't already up when he began talking about Wilson and the dunk contest, it was when he delivered the punch line: "You just got punked, man. Happy April Fools."

Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.

By Brady Henderson

NFL teams don't stay the same from one season to the next. Especially not Super Bowl champions, who typically experience a significant amount of turnover as their players become more attractive and their rosters becomes more expensive.

So while the Seahawks have lost several key players, general manager John Schneider says the team's offseason is going according to plan.

"What I would say is that we're pleased with the way things are going," Schneider told 710 ESPN Seattle's "Brock and Danny" on Tuesday. "The way they've gone is part of the model that we've created over the last, I would say, year and a half. So we expected some attrition along the way. It's always very hard to make those decisions and move forward, but we're very excited about the young players that we have on this team."

The number of players Seattle has either released or lost in free agency is up to 10. It includes starters like Golden Tate, Breno Giacomini, Chris Clemons and Red Bryant as well as backups who played significant roles like Walter Thurmond and Clinton McDonald.

Along with re-signing starting defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Tony McDaniel as well as kicker Steven Hauschka, Seattle added a trio of players who combined for two starts in 2013. But while the new additions have been minimal both in terms of volume and name value, Schneider said he's excited about the players who could make an impact after spending most or all of 2013 on the sidelines. That list includes defensive lineman Greg Scruggs and cornerback Tharold Simon, who didn't play a down last season because of injuries.

"We're really excited about the young core of players that we have. We feel like two of our most explosive offensive players barely even played last year in Christine Michael and Percy (Harvin)," Schneider said. "So (we're) just excited about our plan and moving forward, and we're blessed enough to have young, talented team and we need to be able to plan accordingly in terms of being able to reward those players."

Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.

Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley combined for six RBIs and 10 total bases in the Mariners' opener. (AP)

By Danny O'Neil

Seattle's patience was rewarded.

At least it was for one night.

The Mariners have spent years waiting for Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley to blossom into big-league difference makers. They only had to wait until the ninth inning in Monday's season opener when the pair of former prospects erased any hint of doubt about the outcome.

Smoak's three-run home run didn't decide the Mariners' victory in Anaheim. Neither did Ackley's bases-loaded triple, but those two hits served as twin exclamation points on a comeback victory: Mariners 10, Angels 3!!

Sure, it's only Game 1. Yes, it's premature to talk about anything even resembling a trend. Heck, it's not even April.

But given how familiar the first six innings of Monday's game felt, it was hard not to be encouraged by the result. I heard that from the crowd of more than 10,000 watching at Safeco Field for the Mariners' open house. I saw it from Felix Hernandez as he stayed in the dugout after pitching his six innings, standing on the top step and pumping his fist in celebration when Mike Zunino's seventh-inning triple scored Ackley to tie the game 3-3.

For six innings, Hernandez put up the kind of effort Seattle has grown accustomed to. He gave up a two-run homer to Mike Trout before recording an out not to mention that he consistently spiked his changeup in front of the plate. But after allowing base hits to the first two Angels he faced, Hernandez only allowed two more hits while walking just one and striking out 11.

It wasn't quite dominant, but it was in the neighborhood, and this time his efforts earned him the victory after Abraham Almonte singled in Zunino for the Mariners' second run of the inning. That gave Seattle a 4-3 lead when Yoervis Medina came in to replace Hernandez.

Fernando Rodney was warmed up and ready to enter the game for the bottom of the ninth when Seattle's bats took him out of a save situation. First, it was Smoak with his second extra-base hit of the night, this one a towering three-run home run. Then it was Ackley with his second base hit of the game, a bases-clearing triple.

And Seattle's patience paid off. At least for one night, and as first steps go, this one felt pretty good.

By Danny O'Neil

I began rooting for heartbreak right around 9 p.m. on Saturday.

I'm talking about teeth-gnashing, bracket-busting disappointment. The kind that makes children in the crowd cry and grown men curse.

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When his championship pick of Arizona was knocked out of the bracket, Danny O'Neil started depending on a loss for No. 2-seeded Michigan in the Elite 8 to keep his own hopes of winning alive. (AP)

I became a fan of misery once Arizona was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament by Wisconsin because at that point my chances of winning the pool composed of my high-school friends went from depending on how well my picks did to how poorly their projections fared.

Don't worry, this story isn't about my tournament bracket. It's about me. More accurately, it's about the dirty little piece of coal that I sometimes mistake for a soul.

I'm a hater. That became clear Sunday afternoon when I was rooting harder for Michigan to lose than I ever cheered for Arizona to win. The Wolverines' loss not only kept me in first place in my pool, but it showed me that it's not as important for me to be right as it is for others to be more wrong.

It also made me wonder why.

Maybe it was because the university I attended, the one I cheer for, was not in the field, Washington having missed the tournament for a third successive year. Or perhaps it was the years spent working in press boxes across a number of sports where cheering is forbidden, objectivity is the goal and cynicism reigns.

But all that is just a way of me trying to justify how much satisfaction and enjoyment I can draw from results that bring misery to others like Oklahoma City, for instance.

My dislike of the Thunder borders on pathological, especially when you consider the fact the Sonics were never my favorite NBA team. Not since I grew up in Oregon with a mild affection for the Trail Blazers before moving to Northern California and becoming a Golden State Warriors fan.

Yet over the past three years, I think I've rooted harder against the Thunder than I have for any other team. Like 2011, when I wrote this for The Seattle Times. Or 2012, when I wrote this.

See? I'm ugly on the inside.

And while I don't feel great about Saturday's discovery of just how much I like rooting against other teams, I don't feel bad enough to reconsider this approach, either.

And when Florida plays UConn in the Final Four on Saturday, I won't be cheering for the Huskies nearly so much as I'm rooting against the Gators. I've got a one-point lead in my bracket pool, and if Florida loses, I win.

You know what that means? Pass the Haterade, because I'm hoping for heartbreak in Gainesville, Fla., and I'm not making any apologies for it. In fact, I kind of prefer it this way.

By Danny O'Neil

The market came to them a year ago.

That's the only way to explain how the Seahawks walked into free agency with some short-term spending room last March and ran out with two of the top four pass rushers.

The Seahawks almost pulled off a similar deal this year. Almost. But when Jared Allen agreed to join the Bears, the Seahawks waded out of the first wave of free agency without a single addition to show for it.

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Jared Allen and the Bears agreed to a four-year deal that is reportedly worth as much as $32 million and includes $15.5 million guaranteed. (AP)
That's an observation, not a criticism, and it's important to recognize the difference in assessing how Allen's decision is significant to the Seahawks.

Seattle didn't need to add Allen, but that doesn't mean the Seahawks couldn't have used him. That was especially true after Seattle released starters Red Bryant and Chris Clemons and lost backup nose tackle Clinton McDonald to Tampa Bay.

That leaves some openings in Seattle's defensive-line rotation at everything from interior run stuffers to outside pass rushers. The Seahawks have some young candidates, one of which is Benson Mayowa, who was promising enough as an undrafted rookie last season for Seattle to keep him on the 53-man roster throughout the year even though he appeared in only two games. Greg Scruggs was emerging as a rookie in 2012 before missing last year because of a knee injury, and Jesse Williams could be a force in the middle if he's ever able to play on that chronically sore knee.

Every one of those players has a chance to blossom. All they will get opportunities. None are a proven commodity at this point.

The Seahawks believe they can replace the defensive linemen who've left the roster. They just don't know who will. That's why Seattle was looking at veterans on the free-agent market, scheduling visits with defensive tackles Jason Hatcher and Vance Walker.

It was the courtship of Allen that was most enticing, though. He has posted 10 or more sacks in seven successive season and when he visited Seattle twice in the span of a seven days, it looked like the Seahawks were on the brink of pulling off a pass-rushing coup for the second consecutive year in free agency.

The free-agent market was more frigid than expected last year with a flat salary cap, and after Paul Kruger went to Cleveland, the Seahawks were able to sign first Cliff Avril and then Michael Bennett. It was a double play no one saw coming as Seattle parlayed the two years of salary-cap room and a great home-field advantage into a pair of top-shelf pass rushers.

The free-agent market was more lucrative this year whether it was Michael Johnson heading to Tampa Bay, DeMarcus Ware landing in Denver or Julius Peppers going to Green Bay.

Seattle wound up priced out of the pass-rush market because while the Seahawks could have signed Allen this offseason, that doesn't mean they should have. Not at the price Chicago paid, and certainly not when you consider the players like Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman that the Seahawks must still sign to extensions.

Understanding the rationale the Seahawks used in free agency doesn't change the reality, however. They have three different spots to fill in their defensive line rotation, and with Allen headed to Chicago and the first wave of free agency finished, Seattle must find its answers elsewhere.

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Brock Huard

Brock Huard has co-hosted the show since 2009. After earning Gatorade Player of the Year honors at Puyallup High School, Brock went on to a record-setting career at Washington and then spent six years in the NFL, including four with the Seahawks. Brock also works for ESPN as a college football analyst in the booth and the studio. He makes his home on the Eastside with his wife Molly and their three young children.

Danny O'Neil

Danny O'Neil, the new co-host of "Brock and Danny", is the son of a logger, a graduate of the University of Washington and has been a working journalist in Seattle since 1999, first at newspapers and since 2012 at 710 ESPN Seattle. He is married to Sharon Pian Chan, associate opinions editor at The Seattle Times. They live on Capitol Hill with their wrinkled, smelly dog.

Tom Wassell

Tom Wassell has produced the show since 2011 and also co-hosts "Seattle Sports at Night" with Colin Paisley and Matt Pitman. A native of Connecticut, Tom came to 710 ESPN Seattle after working at ESPN Radio's headquarters in Bristol, Conn. for five years. Tom studied communications at Indiana University, is color-blind and has a weak sense of smell.
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