The main issue with Tatupu is his health. He had arthroscopic surgery on both of his knees in late January, validating his consistent struggles in 2010. Tatupu simply showed the wear and was unable to play anywhere near the level he began his career.
There is no denying the impact Tatupu has had on the development of David Hawthorne as a backup and his importance as captain of the defense; in 2010, he was a main messenger of the Pete Carroll locker room mentality.
But he’s coming off dual knee surgeries and the Seahawks drafted two players at the linebacker position.
The role of Will Herring remains to be seen, but the Seahawks did draft Malcolm Smith with the intention of grooming him to become the every down weak side linebacker; Carroll praised his natural third down abilities after drafting the USC product. Fourth round pick K.J. Wright has the versatility to play multiple positions along the defensive front seven.
Furthermore, Hawthorne has outperformed Tatupu the past two seasons; the former TCU product filled in admirably at his natural ‘mike’ position in 2009 after Tatupu tore his pectoral muscle.
Hence the question; is Lofa still an every down player for this defense? He struggled with his range and drop depth in 2010, and he was often overmatched on delayed blitzes. Yes, he wasn’t healthy, but he hasn’t been for nearly two years.
If he can bounce back in 2011, he will see the field; does Seattle choose to move him around or play him as a sub package linebacker? If he returns to full health, maybe he retains his middle linebacker job.
Tatupu is slated to earn $4.35 million in 2011-2013, his salary rising in 2014 and 2015. Those numbers would suggest he remains the Seahawks starting middle linebacker.
It’s not a given he is the middle linebacker on opening day; how much longer can Seattle hold an unhealthy Tatupu is a tough question to answer.
I think both parties would ultimately try to re-structure Tatupu's deal before an out-right release or trade, but unfortunately his value to this organization peaked in the years before the injuries; his trade value is tied to his health and its not a given that Seattle will receive value in line with their evaluation of the former all-pro.
Tatupu has been associated with Pete Carroll long enough to know competition will decide who starts for Seattle, but also to understand that prior performance doesn’t mean a job in the present; Carroll discarded former Trojan Lawrence Jackson before the 2010 season, and if Tatupu can’t re-gain his form, he could be the next former Trojan to strikeout in Seattle under Pete Carroll.
It’s now or never for Tatupu to re-assert himself as the leader of the Seahawks defense.