RENTON, Wash. — The Seattle Seahawks insured themselves against a potential void at linebacker by placing their franchise tag on Leroy Hill to keep him from leaving in free agency.
The team and Hill’s agent both said they want a long-term contract to keep the playmaker in Seattle.
“Yeah, absolutely. … This is his first chance to remain a Seahawk with a long-term deal,” agent Todd France said Thursday while on his cell phone as he walked off a plane in Indianapolis, where he is attending the NFL’s annual scouting combine.
Seahawks president Tim Ruskell said last month retaining Hill was his top priority for the offseason.
France said Hill isn’t disappointed by the Seahawks denying him his first chance at free agency.
Even if the 26-year-old doesn’t get a multiyear contract, the franchise-player designation guarantees a raise from his $927,000 base salary in 2008 to $8.3 million this year — the average salary of the top five linebackers in the NFL.
Hill will be free to negotiate with any other team, but the Seahawks can match any offer. They would receive two first-round draft choices if they decide not to match.
“If this situation was a choice between the franchise tag or free agency, sure he’d be disappointed,” France said. “But our goal is a long-term deal.”
Yet, France said that’s far from a done deal for Seattle’s third-round draft choice from 2005, who with Julian Peterson and Lofa Tatupu give the Seahawks one of the league’s more formidable linebacking corps.
“We’re still working through it,” France said. “That’s obviously the goal. But there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
For now, Ruskell is excited Hill will stay.
“We believe he is an important part of our defense and will continue to talk with his representative in hopes of securing a long-term deal, which is our goal,” Ruskell said.
Hill has started 50 of 56 career games. He finished third on the team in 2008 with 81 tackles, and was leading the team in stops through 12 games until a neck strain sidelined him for the final four games. The former Clemson star set a Seattle record for sacks by a rookie linebacker with 7.5 in 2005.
Last month, Hill apologized to the team and Seattle’s fans after an arrest in Georgia for investigation of misdemeanor marijuana possession.
The Douglas County sheriff’s office said Hill had apparently fallen asleep behind the wheel at a major intersection in suburban Atlanta. Officers found less than one ounce of marijuana in the vehicle. Hill was released after posting a $1,500 bond.
Two days after the incident, Hill said he was embarrassed by “the poor judgment I showed.” And he added: “Please understand my actions were not consistent with the type of person I hope to become.”
Ruskell said at the time he felt like he’d been punched in the gut.
“We are a team always striving for good, consistent character, so it is disappointing when something like this happens,” Ruskell said.
France said Seattle placing the tag on Hill instead of letting him leave in free agency that begins next week shows the incident is behind the Seahawks and his client remains a valued member of the team.
“You can’t judge a player by one incident that is completely uncharacteristic of Leroy and his four years in the league,” France said. “If they felt even slightly that that was an issue … or cause for any negative feelings, I don’t think they would even put the tag on him.”