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News » The offseason summary

The offseason summary

The offseason summary
May 2, 2009 (The Seattle Times delivered by Newstex ) --

The Seahawks' offseason ended when the calendar turned to May, and as Seattle began practicing with its full roster, president Tim Ruskell returned to a familiar spot.

He stood on the sidelines. That's where he always situates himself when the Seahawks practice. The president is the silent observer, the man with final say over the players who are practicing but absolutely no voice as those players practice. That is the sole domain of the coach.

This is standard operating procedure in the NFL. Every franchise has personnel men who negotiate the contracts with the free agents and sift through the draft, attempting to separate the wheat from the chaff and then those personnel men turn over the raw materials to the coach who is charged with refining those players into a cohesive team.

The coaches can express preferences as to what types of players they prefer and the personnel men can offer opinions on how players are to be used, but at the end of the day there is a dividing line that is as clear as church and state and on Friday Ruskell stood on the other side of it, on the sidelines as the Seahawks' full roster for 2009 practiced practiced for coach Jim Mora.

In many ways May 1 marked the beginning of Seattle's new season. The draft class of seven players were on the field and so were the free agents added from other teams and the players Seattle re-signed.

And after Ruskell watched that first practice, conducted a radio interview and walked out of the May sun and into the Seahawks' state-of-the-art facility, he was asked to assess this offseason.

"It's too early to do that," Ruskell said. "I will say this, when I evaluate what our plan was and how it came through, I can easily say we did well.

"We had some targets coming out of the season and we hit a lot of those targets."

Seattle ran desperately thin at wide receiver in 2008, and the first free agent the Seahawks pursued this year was the player who's caught more passes than any other over NFL employee over the previous three seasons: T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

He practiced for the Seahawks on Friday, wearing the No. 84 that used to belong to Bobby Engram.

There was Aaron Curry, looking every bit of 255 pounds and showing the mobility that made him the highest linebacker drafted since 2000. And Leroy Hill was there, too, the linebacker Seattle re-signed on Thursday five days after making him an unrestricted free agent by pulling the franchise tag.

That move summoned references to Steve Hutchinson, the great bogeyman of Seahawks' history. It is the biggest error in Ruskell's four years as president, an All-Pro guard allowed to slip out the back door without compensation after the Seahawks misjudged both the marketplace price for an elite guard and Hutchinson's dissatisfaction with negotiations with Seattle.

That comparison is accurate up to a certain point. The Seahawks didn't want to lose Hutchinson just like they didn't want to lose Hill, and they couldn't agree to a long-term contract with Hutchinson any more than they could get one done with Hill before the February deadline for designating franchise players. The difference is what happened after that impasse.

In 2006, Seattle could have designated Hutchinson its franchise player, offering him a one-year contract of $7 million. Trouble is, Seattle didn't want to pay Hutchinson a long-term contract that averaged $7 million and the Seahawks feared the franchise tag would become the baseline for negotiations. So they chose the transition tag with a starting price of roughly $500,000 less, believing they were protected against losing Hutchinson because they could match any offer another team made.

The transition tag offered no protection against a booby-trapped offer and the Seahawks ended up with nothing more than a swift kick in the shorts when Hutchinson left for the Vikings.

Three years later came the impasse with Hill and the same dilemma. Do you name him a franchise player, offer him the $8.3 million tender required with that designation and risk making that a starting line for negotiations or do you kick him into the free-agent market hoping that your offer and his affection for the Seahawks trumps any offer he might receive?

The Seahawks opted to name him the franchise player, offer him $8.3 million and put negotiations on the backburner until the draft. Once Seattle selected Aaron Curry, it felt that it could risk losing Hill to a larger offer and they pulled the franchise tag.

Was it risky? Yes. Was it like Hutchinson's situation? No. In Hutchinson's case, the Seahawks did not foresee a situation in which they lost him without a chance to match. In Hill's case, Seattle knew all of the risks and was confident in its bargaining position.

Back in 2006, the Seahawks took an aggressive tact in negotiations with Hutchinson and did not realize the depth of the risk they took in designating him a transition player. Seattle also underestimated the marketplace price for guards under the new collective-bargaining agreement. Seattle had to designate Hutchinson before the CBA was agreed upon, and when the new agreement was put in place, it inflated the salary cap and money started flowing like water.

Hill's situation was different. Seattle was fully aware of the risks it was taking and instead of leaving Hill unprotected in a bullish free agent market, it let him loose after the draft and when most teams were short on spending cash.

There was a chance Hill would be so embittered he bolted town, but there was also a chance for Seattle to get Hill to come down to its asking price and not only that but sign cornerback Ken Lucas and fullback Justin Griffith to boot.

The reward was worth the risk, Ruskell decided and on Friday he took the field and saw the offseason additions handed over to the coaching staff entrusted to mold that team.

Newstex ID: 34609557

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 2, 2009

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