Seahawks will tread lightly in free agency


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 at 9:01 p.m. today.

“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 bringing Hill back in the fold was the team’s top priority heading into the offseason. And Seattle accomplished that by designating Hill with the franchise tag for a $8.304 million, one-year tender.

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 designating him with 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 now turn their attention to signing their own players venturing into free agency. The Seahawks have 16 free agents total, with the latest addition linebacker Lance Laury, a restricted agent that will become an unrestricted agent because the Seahawks declined to tender Laury an offer of just over $1 million.

Heading the list among those candidates will be fullback Leonard Weaver and offensive lineman Ray Willis and Floyd Womack.

Weaver was selected as 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 of the opportunity.

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.

Although they might not be major players, Seattle could make some noise in free agency.

With the salary cap reportedly raised another $4 million, from the expected limit of $123 million to a reported $127 million, the Seahawks could make a play for soon-to-be free agent Cincinnati Bengal receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

The veteran receiver and former Oregon State standout would help shore up Seattle’s wide receiver situation. He’s one of the best possession receivers in the game, catching at least 90 passes in the past three seasons for the Bengals, including last season with Cincinnati playing without star quarterback Carson Palmer out for 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.”