As free agency began Thursday night, the Seattle Seahawks quickly learned a few things: They already need to find a new receiver to replace Nate Burleson; they could be the favorites to sign Aaron Kampman; and they have a surprising chance to upgrade at safety and hurt a division rival in one move.
Surprisingly, Burleson became the first big-money signing of the uncapped free-agency period, and in the process he joined former Seahawks Julian Peterson, Maurice Morris, and Will Heller in Detroit.
With Burleson getting $25 million over five years from the Lions, the market is now set for Kevin Walter, Antonio Bryant, and the other free-agent receivers. With Burleson gone and Walter possibly going to Baltimore, the annoying speculation linking the Seahawks to Denver receiver Brandon Marshall is all of a sudden heating up again.
Denver tendered the mercurial receiver at only the first-round level, which is code for, “We want to trade this punk. And we’ll settle for less than a first-rounder.”
If the Seahawks were foolish enough to want to make a deal for Marshall, they should not offer any more than a second-round pick for the troublesome playmaker. His extensive history of erratic, immature, and illegal behavior makes him way too much of a gamble to use a first-round pick.
If new Seattle offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who worked with Marshall in Denver, thinks he can get Marshall to behave in Seattle, the Hawks should also try to get tight end Tony Scheffler, who isn’t wanted in Denver either but would be a great pairing with Seattle’s John Carlson.
The Broncos need a center, so how about sending Chris Spencer and Seattle’s second-rounder to the Broncos for Marshall and Scheffler? (The Broncos probably wouldn’t go for it, but that’s as far as the Hawks need to go to get two guys the Broncos don’t even want.)
While Detroit put the Hawks in position where they have to find a new wide receiver, the Chicago Bears drove the rest of the free-agent market in the early hours.
The Bears reportedly have a cash budget of $25 million to spend on free agents, and they seem poised to try to do what Washington always fails at: buy a Lombardi Trophy.
The Bears already are talking to defensive end Julius Peppers, the spiciest free agent this year, as well as running back Chester Taylor and safety Antrel Rolle. All positions the Hawks need.
Backed by owner Paul Allen’s major money, the Seahawks could easily be in the bidding for any of those players. But general manager John Schneider has said they will not “go hog wild” and will exercise restraint.
That’s why a Chicago report that the Hawks might be interested in Peppers rang false even before news came out that the Bears were willing to meet Peppers’ financial demands, reportedly $40 million guaranteed and $18 million per year.
Peppers signing with Chicago would be a good thing for the Seahawks, though, because Seattle then likely would be the favorite to land defensive end Aaron Kampman—for a lot cheaper than the Bears figure to get Peppers.
As we previously speculated , the Seahawks are very interested in Kampman, based on his performance in Green Bay (54 sacks) over the last eight years while Schneider also was there. The Packers want the 30-year-old back as their pass-rushing 3-4 linebacker, but he probably prefers to go back to defensive end in a 4-3.
It figures to come down to a physical exam of the torn ACL he suffered in November.
The Hawks could craft a fair contract that pays him a solid base salary, say $5 million, in 2010 and then stacks incentives for games played and performance in 2010.
Safety is another spot where the Hawks need to upgrade. They apparently won’t be in the running for Rolle, who was released by Arizona and is reportedly being pursued hotly by Chicago, Miami, and the New York Giants.
That’s fine. The better option for Seattle might be O.J. Atogwe, the St. Louis Rams’ 2009 franchise player who is rated by Scout.com as the best free-agent safety.
Atogwe is a good player on a bad Rams defense and would easily be an upgrade in the Seahawks' secondary.
Atogwe missed the last four games of the 2009 season with a dislocated shoulder that required surgery, but he tallied 13 interceptions combined in 2007 and 2008.
In a fortuitous turn brought on by the new rules of the uncapped year, Atogwe is a restricted free agent this year. And rather than tender him at a salary of about $7 million, the Rams decided to gamble and tender him at the lowest level, $1.23 million, with no draft-choice compensation due if another team signs him to a deal the Rams do not match.
That RFA tender just begs for a poison-pill contract, and the Seahawks are just the team to do it.
The Hawks could easily offer him a deal averaging $6 million (the going rate for top-10 safeties), front-load it, and stick a clause in it that would make it prohibitive for the Rams to match. Of course, the money itself might be enough to scare off the Rams, but why gamble if the Hawks really want the player?
The Seahawks have played the poison-pill game before, when they lost All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson to Minnesota in 2006 and then reciprocated with their own poison pill in a deal for Burleson, who was restricted.
The NFL chastised both teams for the tactics, but so what? What better way for Pete Carroll and Schneider to make a splash than to make a statement to the NFL that the Seahawks plan to win, not play nice with division rivals?
If Atogwe is the kind of player Carroll could use, the Hawks simply cannot pass up the opportunity to get a top safety for no draft-pick compensation and also rob a division rival of one of its top players in the process.
If the Bears can’t get Rolle, they might go after Atogwe, too, but the Hawks can easily outbid them if the Bears have to pay Peppers $18 million or more in 2010, especially if Chicago also signs Taylor.
It looks like Seattle might not have a shot at the 30-year-old back, but the Hawks are definitely looking to improve that position. They already “sniffed around” Willie Parker, according to Steve Wyche on NFL Network.
Carroll likes the draft class of running backs, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him bring in a veteran to replace Julius Jones.
Next to Taylor, the best back available is Thomas Jones, although it’s doubtful he would be comfortable replacing his brother in Seattle. Besides, he’ll be 32 in August and could crash at any time (unlike Taylor, who has 1,200 fewer career carries).
Parker, LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian, Westbrook and Jamal Lewis have all lost something, and Larry Johnson is a head case (imagine him and Marshall together).
One interesting option is Ladell Betts, an eight-year vet who was released by Washington on Thursday. Betts is a lightly used 31-year-old who can power inside better than Julius Jones.
Outside of signing free agents, the Hawks can look at trades as a way to improve. With so many players restricted, this could be a big trading year.
Trades have become more commonplace in recent years as the salary cap has grown and enabled teams to absorb cap hits for dealing players. But with no cap, it’s a simple salary-for-salary deal, which makes trading even easier. In fact, there were two deals made as soon as the trading period opened at midnight EST Friday.
The Hawks are probably willing to deal Spencer, Branch, and Kerney—if they can find takers.
The New England Patriots are rumored to be interested in reacquiring Branch, and initial speculation had the Hawks dealing the disappointing receiver for a mid-round pick. But the Patriots have three second-round selections, and the Hawks should try their best to get one of them.
They could try to deal Branch and their fourth-rounder. Or Branch and Spencer. Or maybe even Branch and Kerney (hey, Bill Belichick likes old vets).
Getting one of those New England No. 2s would make it easy for the Hawks then to perhaps spend their own second-rounder on a restricted free agent (assuming they weren’t dumb enough to use it to get Marshall).
Among the restricted players who might interest the Hawks for a second-round pick are Denver’s Scheffler, Green Bay safety Atari Bigby, Carolina cornerback Richard Marshall, Baltimore safety Dawan Landry, Indianapolis safety Melvin Bullitt, and Jets running back Leon Washington.
WHAT’S HASSELBECK WORTH?
Mike Holmgren’s Cleveland Browns are planning to start over at quarterback and reportedly are shopping for veterans available in trade.
That brings up the natural connection of Holmgren and Matt Hasselbeck. A couple of weeks ago on KJR radio, Holmgren was asked whether he might consider trading for his old Seattle passer. He said he thinks Hasselbeck should retire a Seahawk. But, he prefaced that statement by saying, “Never say never.”
It is highly unlikely that Carroll will want to get rid of Hasselbeck, especially in light of his very positive comments about the 34-year-old veteran.
Our position on Hasselbeck is crystal clear by now , but let’s appease the HasselHaters and entertain the idea of a trade.
What should it take for the Hawks to let Hasselbeck go? A 2010 first-rounder (and throw in Brady Quinn for the heck of it). Is he really worth a first-rounder? Probably not to others, but he is to the Seahawks.
Or second-rounders in 2010 and 2011, with the No. 2 in 2011 upgrading to a No. 1 if Hasselbeck hits certain benchmarks for his new team in 2010 (Pro Bowl, 16 starts, 26 TD passes, etc.).
If the Hawks don't get any value for their veteran quarterback, there's no reason to send him along. And if they do trade him, they suddenly are in complete rebuilding mode and have to find a young quarterback. Carroll seems to not want to do that in his first year back in the NFL.
MORE HAWK TALK
**The Hawks went the cheap route with their RFA tenders, with Spencer getting a first-rounder for $1.23 million, DE Darryl Tapp getting a second-round tender worth $1.18 million, OG Rob Sims getting a fourth-round offer for $1.18 million, and WR Ben Obomanu getting a seventh-round marker for $1.1 million. Carroll already has plans for Tapp as his “elephant” rusher. Sims is the incumbent at left guard, and Obomanu is the projected third receiver, with Branch probably on the way out.
**Linebacker David Hawthorne’s agent reportedly is making noise about needing a long-term commitment from the Hawks. Fat chance. He’s an exclusive free agent this year, which means he is the property of the Seahawks and cannot entertain offers from other teams. If there is a new CBA next year and the same system remains, Hawthorne would be a restricted free agent in 2011. In other words, the Hawks own him for two more seasons, and Hawthorne’s agent has no ground to stand on this offseason.
**Tackle Brandon Frye was not tendered, which figures since he spent most of last season on IR. But, if his neck is healthy, the Hawks should sign him to a minimum deal ($550,000 for one year).
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