Leroy Hill Case: Good Business Off Field, Not On It

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Leroy Hill Case: Good Business Off Field, Not On It
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The bottom line on the Seahawks letting linebacker Leroy Hill become an unrestricted free agent: It might be good business off the field, but they're shooting themselves in the foot on the field.

President Tim Ruskell said the Seahawks rescinded the $8.3 million franchise tender because it was hindering negotiations and preventing the Seahawks from making a few more moves.

First, let's do the math so everyone understands where Seattle sits under the $127 million salary cap.

Adding Hill's $8.3 million gave the Seahawks over $15 million. They spent $3 million to sign cornerback Ken Lucas and fullback Justin Griffith this week. They'll spend about $5 million on their rookies, and they like to enter the season with an emergency fund of $2 million or so.

That leaves about $5 million to re-sign Hill (the Seahawks couldn't have found $3 million elsewhere to keep the tag on him?).

This is very much like the Steve Hutchinson case in 2006, when Ruskell didn't want to franchise the All-Pro guard because it would have meant the negotiations would start at $7 million. Little did Ruskell know that by the next year $7 million a season would be the going rate for any good guard, let alone an All-Pro.

Ruskell has more of a case this time, because Hill is not worth $8.3 million a year. It was simply the amount the Seahawks had to guarantee to keep his rights. But Hill's agent apparently thought it was fair to start negotiations there.

The Seahawks reportedly offered $36 million over six years, which certainly seems fair for a guy who has yet to make a Pro Bowl and who was recently arrested for marijuana possession and will now be in the league's drug-testing program. But Hill's agent turned it down.

Assuming Hill doesn't care whether he plays in Seattle anymore, it might have been a smart move.

It sure seems like some team will be willing to pay Hill more than $6 million a year. Too many teams need a linebacker and have the money to pay for one like Hill. Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Philadelphia and San Francisco would seem to be potential forerunners in any bidding war.

It's hard to imagine that the Seahawks might lose both Julian Peterson and Leroy Hill this offseason. The Peterson trade (i.e., release) was enough of a head-scratcher, although it became easier to accept when the Seahawks seemingly replaced Peterson by drafting Aaron Curry fourth overall last weekend.

But now it looks like middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu will lose both of his running mates from the past three years and will be helping a rookie along instead.

The major drawback to not keeping Hill is that Curry now faces more pressure to perform like a star in his first year. He might do it, but it would have been nice to have a very talented veteran on the other side to take some attention off Curry.

If Hill doesn't re-sign, D.D. Lewis probably will start on the weak side and the Seahawks will need to find a veteran linebacker to replace Hill.

Some wonder why the Seahawks didn't try to trade Hill during the draft. The answer is: It's hard to trade a veteran who needs a new contract in that short amount of time.

Negotiations typically take a lot longer than a few hours or a few minutes, making it difficult to flip a player who is not already signed. And the Seahawks didn't know Curry would be available until Kansas City drafted LSU end Tyson Jackson with the third pick.

Of course, the Seahawks could have spent this week or longer talking with other teams—Tampa Bay, Atlanta, et al.—and might have gotten something in return for Hill. But they chose simply to rescind the tender.

Now, if he leaves, they won't get anything. No, not even a third-round compensatory pick next year, as John Clayton erroneously reported this week.

Clayton wrote: "Hill is the best player on the market and should command a big contract. He’ll also become the eighth free agent to leave [Seattle] this offseason and should command a third-round compensatory choice next year. Once Hill signs, the Seahawks will have a net loss of five free agents, so they could get four compensatory picks next year."

Some of Clayton’s math is right: If Hill leaves, the Hawks would be minus-five in free agency.

But for purposes of the compensatory formula, they would be minus-three because two of the players they lost signed minimum deals, which do not count in the comp formula. And, any deal Hill might sign would be washed out by T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s huge contract, thus no third-round pick.

Seattle's additions and subtractions, with average value of contract in parentheses:

Added: WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh ($8m), DT Colin Cole ($4m), TE John Owens ($800k).

Lost: DT Rocky Bernard ($4m), RB Maurice Morris ($2.3m), RB Leonard Weaver ($1.75m), WR Bobby Engram ($950k), OG Floyd Womack ($750k), DT Howard Green ($620k), TE Will Heller ($620k).

Green and Heller would not count in the formula because they signed one-year deals for the veteran minimum.

Assuming Hill got a deal that averaged more than Bernard’s, Hill would be canceled out by Houshmandzadeh, Bernard would be nixed by Cole and Womack would be offset by Owens.

That would leave the losses of Morris, Weaver and Engram to be counted in Seattle's comp equation in 2010. Morris and Weaver each would be worth a sixth- or seventh-rounder, and Engram might net a seventh if he played enough for the Chiefs.

But, no, the Seahawks will not get anything for Hill.

Two former sports reporters freed from the constraints of traditional print media write about the hot topics on both the Seattle and national sports scene. No deadlines, no word count, no press box decorum—we're Outside The Press Box.

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