Seahawks free-agent priorities
Posted by Danny O'Neil
Let's break down the priorities once the league opens for business.
But then you already knew that. After all, Charlie Whitehurst is the only player signed for next season at that position. The team's preference remains re-signing Matt Hasselbeck, but that doesn't mean the Seahawks are inclined to increase the offer they made him in March. In fact, it's quite possible -- perhaps even likely -- they'll hold firm. And if that offer wasn't enough to get a deal done then, will it be enough now, with Hasselbeck the top free-agent quarterback available? Minnesota and Tennessee are teams with rookie quarterbacks who could be looking for a veteran capable of serving the bridge to that future. San Francisco could also be a possibility, though the 49ers are expected to re-sign Alex Smith.
If Hasselbeck isn't re-signed, is Seattle really comfortable with Whitehurst as the starter? That appears to be the case, but don't expect Whitehurst to be handed the job. He will have to compete for it against someone like Tarvaris Jackson of Minnesota. Expect Matt Leinart to get a look, too, and it might even be considered likely that he'll end up in Seattle. Not only did Pete Carroll coach Leinart in college, but Carl Smith -- Seattle's new quarterbacks coach -- was Leinart's position coach in 2004.
Quarterback is the question Seattle wants answered ASAP, so I would expect the Seahawks to have a decision on Hasselbeck before contracts can be signed this week.
II. Defensive tackle
The position isn't as important as quarterback, but this player is as important as anyone Seattle will be looking at: Brandon Mebane. A third-round draft pick in 2007, he will be an unrestricted free agent under the guidelines of the new collective-bargaining agreement. Most consider him one of the top 20 unrestricted free agents, and he will be coveted by teams that run a 4-3 scheme.
Will Seattle pay the premium to keep Mebane? They're going to feel some urgency to do so, given the depth of their defensive line, or more accurately the lack thereof. Through six games last season, Seattle was among the better rush defenses in the NFL, thanks in large part to the trio of big bodies -- Mebane, Colin Cole and Red Bryant. Mebane went down after four games -- missing Weeks 6 through 9 because of a calf injury -- and Bryant and Cole suffered injuries in Week 7. The Seahawks' defense never recovered.
Cole reportedly recently underwent ankle surgery -- his second procedure of the offseason -- and Bryant is coming back from a torn medial-collateral ligament suffered in October. The only defensive lineman Seattle drafted was LSU's Pep Levingston in the seventh round. The Seahawks need to get deeper on the line, and they can't do that by losing a four-year starter like Mebane.
III. Left guard
Expect the Seahawks to spend at this position. That's clear just looking at the contours Seattle sketched out along the offensive line. Rookie James Carpenter was drafted to play right tackle, John Moffitt will be installed at right guard. Max Unger will be the center and Russell Okung the left tackle.
That leaves left guard, a vacancy that Robert Gallery filled in Oakland the previous four seasons. Gallery played with the Raiders under Tom Cable, who is now Seattle's offensive line coach. Gallery turns 31 on Tuesday, and he has played in only 18 of 32 games the previous two seasons so there is a bit of a risk in both age and injury history. But Seattle needs to get veteran leadership on the line, considering the other four starters will have a combined 27 regular-season starts between them.
This might be the deepest pool of talent in the free-agency market, and not just because it includes Nnamdi Asomugha of Oakland. There are others like Johnathan Joseph of Cincinnati, Richard Marshall of Carolina and Ike Taylor of Pittsburgh.
Don't expect Seattle to get in on Asomugha, who could command upward of $15 million. It's not that the Seahawks are averse to spending that kind of top-of-the-line dough. Paul Allen's ownership history is littered with big-name signings from linebacker Chad Brown to defensive end Patrick Kerney. The reality is that Seattle is too early in the rebuilding process to consider buying a premium piece like Asomugha to put the Seahawks over the top.
It's very possible that Seattle will look within for improvement at the corners, seeing if younger players like Walter Thurmond or rookies Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell show promise. One name to keep an eye on: Antonio Cromartie of the New York Jets. He has the size and athletic swagger that Seattle wants from its corners. He's built to play press coverage. He also has what NFL front-office types refer to as baggage, which might affect what he commands on the open market. Seattle could be very interested if it feels the price is right.
V. Others to watch
Safety Lawyer Milloy was a defensive leader who certainly outperformed the one-year contract he played on last season. Does Seattle step up to bring back a defensive leader? Also, kicker Olindo Mare was historically consistent for the Seahawks, but the fact Seattle didn't use the franchise tag on him indicates that there's a spending limit when it comes to bringing him back.
Another player to watch: Fullback Vonta Leach of Houston. Seattle didn't re-sign Michael Robinson, and the Seahawks will need somebody to man that position. Leach is at the top of the position pool, and indicated in a Sirius-XM radio interview that the Seahawks would be a consideration if he didn't return to the Texans.
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