With a focus on keeping their own players and adding impact guys through the draft, the Seattle Seahawks will not be a major factor in free agency, which begins on Friday.
“Getting Leroy Hill, we’re already big, right?” quipped team president and general manager Tim Ruskell while talking to reporters at the NFL scouting combine last week. “But we’re going to wade in cautiously and use it strategically. And we have to combine what we think we can get in the draft and say, ‘I think we’re going to take care of that here, so we don’t have to do it here.’
“Because we have the high picks, we can play that game. You have a better idea of what’s going to be available to you.”
Seattle has the No. 4 pick overall, and two of the first 37 picks in the draft. Ruskell had said that keeping Hill in the fold was the team’s top priority heading into the offseason. And Seattle accomplished that by designating Hill as the franchise player for a $8.3 million, one-year tender offer.
The move allows Hill and the team to continue negotiations. Hill reportedly turned down a six-year, $36 million offer from the club. However, Hill, who was arrested on a misdemeanor drug charge in Atlanta last month, said he’s thankful for the team giving him the franchise tag.
“Obviously, I’d rather get a long-term deal done, but I can’t complain,” Hill told a reporter with the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph. “They committed to me with the franchise tag. I accepted and I’m going to give a full commitment back.”
With Hill likely staying with Seattle, the Seahawks can turn their attention to signing their other players venturing into free agency.
The Seahawks have 16 free agents.
Heading the list are fullback Leonard Weaver and offensive linemen Ray Willis and Floyd Womack. Weaver was a Pro Bowl alternate last season, and likely will have other suitors because of his versatility as a big back who can block and catch passes out of the backfield. Womack and Willis started the most games in their careers after injuries forced them into duty, and both took advantage. Willis probably has more value on the market and might be harder for Seattle to keep, but Womack’s ability to play multiple positions makes him a key piece for the Seahawks’ offensive line depth.
The latest addition to the list is linebacker Lance Laury, whose status moved from restricted to unrestricted free agent when the Seahawks declined to tender an offer of just over $1 million.
Although the Seahawks might not be major players in free agency, Seattle could make some noise.
With the salary cap reportedly rising another $4 million to $127 million, the Seahawks could make a play for soon-to-be free agent Cincinnati wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The veteran wideout could help shore up a problem area for Seattle. He’s one of the best possession receivers in the game, catching at least 90 passes in eash of the past three seasons for the Bengals, including 2008 when Cincinnati played without star quarterback Carson Palmer most of the year.
However, Seattle will have some competition for Houshmandzadeh’s services, with both Philadelphia and San Francisco showing interest.
Even with Houshmandzadeh, who turns 32 in September, as a possible target, Seattle head coach Jim Mora continues to reiterate that the team’s focus is building through the draft and coaching up the players already on the team in order to improve next season.
“As we move into free agency, there will be some things that we’ll try to shore up that way as well,” Mora said. “And I think the most important thing for us is to get the players on our team playing better.
“I believe that’s the best way you become a better team is to take the players that are on your team and get them playing better. So that’s our number one focus.”