Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill.
Tatupu was a second-round selection, taken as the 45th player in the 2005 draft. Hill was a third-round selection, taken as the 98th player in the same draft.
Tatupu has been named to three Pro Bowls in four years. Despite an embarrassing offseason incident involving marijuana and a 4 a.m. nap at a stoplight, Hill recently was designated the Hawks’ franchise player. Ruskell might have been tempted to hold his nose while guaranteeing Hill a salary of $8.3 million in 2009, but after a face-to-face interview, the general manager determined the linebacker to be both awake and contrite.
(Jack Zduriencik, who generally manages the baseball team that plays across the street from Qwest Field, has a simple philosophy about the tug-of-war between character concerns and talent: Talent prevails. Case closed.)
Peterson also has talent – he was the Seahawks’ only Pro Bowl representative last month – but he turns 31 in July and is scheduled to earn $8.8 million for his ninth NFL season. Ruskell reportedly asked Peterson to submit to a pay cut, and when the request was denied – this just in: veterans who go to the Pro Bowl don’t do pay cuts – he was sent to the Lions for defensive tackle Cory Redding and a fifth-round draft choice.
Redding, on the cusp of stardom in 2006 before double teams, injuries and the pervading climate of Detroit Lions miasma rendered him inconspicuous, figures to bolster a Seahawks defensive line that’s already been upgraded by the free-agent signing of Colin Cole.
“Cory Redding is a guy we’ve had our eyes on for some time,” Ruskell said in a statement released on Saturday. “We liked him coming out of Texas because of his versatility to play inside and out, and also because of the type of person he is.”
While I’ve got no reason to doubt Redding’s status as an upstanding citizen and noble pillar of Seahawks virtues, I suspect the opportunity to acquire a 28-year-old defensive tackle was not the motivation behind this trade. I suspect the motivation was to replace a $6.5 million linebacker with somebody who, well, won’t stand to make $6.5 million.
Remember, if there’s one thing Ruskell has done exceedingly well in Seattle, it’s finding high-quality linebackers beyond the first round of the draft. The 2009 class is loaded with prospects who can fill in for Peterson, at a fraction of the cost.
Some candidates to consider:
• Marcus Freeman, Ohio State. Overlooked on a defense that boasted fellow linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, Freeman is versatile and coachable. Projected a few months ago as a third-round draft choice, Freeman’s impressive performance at the NFL combine likely vaulted him into the second round.
• Nic Harris, Oklahoma. A Sooners safety – he can backpedal as effortlessly as anybody in the draft – Harris’ size (6-foot-3, 234 pounds) is better suited as a linebacker. One concern: He’ll be playing out of position in the NFL. Then again, former college safety Brian Urlacher managed to make the transition to linebacker without too many problems.
• Jason Williams, Western Illinois. He didn’t show up for the NFL combine, but he had a pretty good excuse: He wasn’t asked. At his pro day, the 6-1, 238-pounder ran faster than any of the linebackers who scored invitations to Indianapolis.
“I feel like I got snubbed at the combine,” Williams told reporters the other day, “but I’ve learned throughout my life that everything works out.”
Williams’ 40-yard dash was timed between 4.42 seconds and 4.48, amazingly fast for somebody with chip on his shoulder.
• Cody Brown, Connecticut. Brown (6-2, 242) was a defensive end at UConn, where last season he was credited with 10 sacks and four forced fumbles. Again, we’re talking about an NFL linebacker in theory only – Brown remained at defensive end in the Senior Bowl – but if any of these guys were perfect linebacker specimens, they wouldn’t be available past the first round.
Take, for instance, Tatupu. At 6-0, 242, without blazing speed, most scouts determined him to be a wee bit short and a wee bit slow for the NFL. Ruskell determined him as a prototypical middle linebacker, and arranged a draft-day trade to snare Tatupu while he was still on the second-round board.
Despite Hill’s stellar collegiate career at Clemson, he was a mere 6-1 and 224, and ranked in one pre-draft evaluation as the 15th best inside linebacker prospect in 2005. If Ruskell saw that projection, it’s likely he giggled.
As for Julian Peterson, the 16th overall pick of the 2000 draft, he parlayed the great expectations foisted upon him in San Francisco into a productive and lucrative NFL career. But the challenge of replacing him with a second- or third-rounder is a pitch Tim Ruskell can’t resist.
It’s in his wheelhouse.