Seattle Seahawks Continue Game of Musical Linebackers

Chris CluffCorrespondent IIApril 27, 2009

SEATTLE - NOVEMBER 02:  Leroy Hill #56 of the Seattle Seahawks stands on the field during the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Qwest Field on November 2, 2008 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Seahawk president Tim Ruskell thinks taking the franchise tag off linebacker Leroy Hill will hasten the completion of a long-term contract.

The question is: Will that contract be with the Seahawks or with some other team?

After the Seahawks drafted linebacker Aaron Curry fourth overall, they pulled the $8.3 million franchise tag off Hill, making him an unrestricted free agent who can now sign with any team.

"We know that obviously he is a free agent," Ruskell said. "Had we not gotten Curry, it probably wouldn’t have been a possibility. We wanted to make sure we were in good shape that way in terms of our linebackers."

"But, the tag just wasn’t working," Ruskell added. "We were kind of leery putting it on originally, to be honest with you. Both sides felt that way.

"But, we thought it would help get a deal done quicker. When that didn’t work, then we started looking at other options, not knowing if Curry was going to be available to us."

Ruskell said he thinks the removal of the tag will hasten contract talks, and he is willing to lose Hill if that's how it works out. Hill reportedly has already turned down a six-year, $36 million deal.

"We wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t say that we can handle losing Leroy," Ruskell said."We don’t want to, they [Hill and his agent] don’t want to, and we think we can get a deal done, but otherwise, we wouldn’t have done it."

Ruskell said the money their linebackers were slated to make played a part, although it was not the major reason the Seahawks pulled the tag.

Last month, they traded Julian Peterson because they felt he was not worth his $6.5 million salary and $8.8 million salary-cap number.

Before trading Peterson, the Hawks had $20 million of the $127 million cap devoted to starting linebackers Peterson, Hill, and Lofa Tatupu. They saved a net $2.2 million by trading Peterson for defensive lineman Cory Redding.

But by drafting Curry, they would have been right back where they started, since he will be due $25 million in guaranteed money and would count at least $3 million in 2009, depending on how the Seahawks structure the deal.

Had the Seahawks not rescinded the $8.3 million franchise tender they offered Hill in February, they still would have had at least $14 million tied up in their top three linebackers.

"Obviously, we budgeted for that, and we could have gone through the season," Ruskell said. "It would have taken away our flexibility to do anything else, and with the way the [salaries of] first-rounders look like they are going to be coming in, it would have been very tough to do.

"It was not the overriding reason, but it does allow us to still take a shot at Leroy and get some other things done. It gave us flexibility and it gave us options, and that’s really what ruled the day when we decided, 'Let’s take the tag off.' "

Hill might be lamenting his decision to not sign the tender, which would have guaranteed the $8.3 million but also would have required him to attend any mandatory team minicamps.

But now he will have a chance to see whether any other team will offer him the money he is seeking, which obviously is over $6 million per year.

Several teams could easily afford the 26-year-old linebacker. Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, and Green Bay reportedly have the most cap space, and all four could use a rising star at linebacker.

If the Seahawks lose Hill, they will be right back where they were after they traded Peterson, with D.D. Lewis being the probable third starter in 2009.

But coach Jim Mora is confident things will work out.

Mora talked to Hill on Sunday morning and said, "He's very motivated to be a Seattle Seahawk. He told me this morning that this is where he wants to finish his career.

"I think he was a little shook up and maybe disappointed," Mora added. "But in terms of being upset or mad, no. At least, that’s not the feeling I got in talking to Leroy.

"He sounded motivated to get something done, get it done quickly," Mora said. "We talked about him possibly being here for minicamp this weekend. ...

"Like Tim said, maybe this hastened the situation; and that’s our hope, because we certainly would like to have him here."

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