The Seattle Seahawks and their fan base have been down this road before, and are familiar with a couple of the mile markers.
When the team reportedly inked highly-coveted free agent T.J. Houshmandzadeh to a $40 million contract on Monday night, the ex-Bengal became the latest in a string of wideout signees to descend upon the Pacific Northwest with high expectations packed among their belongings.
When Houshmandzadeh subsequently revealed in a radio interview that he would be undergoing an MRI prior to the deal being made official – on what part of his body remains unknown – Hawks supporters could be seen nodding in a knowing fashion.
The franchise that produced Hall of Famer Steve Largent has had some bad luck with wide receivers of late, and you can bet that any injury maladies that the 31-year old wideout suffers will come as no surprise to those familiar with Seattle’s revolving door at the position.
Exhibits A and B on the wideout-bust front: Nate Burleson and Deion Branch.
It was in the 2006 free agency period that the Seahawks moved on Burleson, in a deal that was a transparent attempt to exact vengeance on Burleson’s original team, the Minnesota Vikings, for the “poison pill” maneuver that sent All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson to the Twin Cities.
Three years later, it looks like the Hawks took a double-dose of that poison.
Burleson (who was coming off a 30-catch, one-touchdown season with the Vikes) was handed a seven-year, $49 million contract to which he hasn’t come close to living up. The wideout and sometimes-kick returner has 73 catches, 946 yards, and 15 touchdowns in three years with Seattle, numbers that might have justified the contract if Burleson had posted them in a single year.
Months later, Seattle dealt for Branch, who was at the time sitting out due to a contract squabble with the Patriots. The Seahawks traded a first-round pick to New England in exchange for Branch, upon whom they subsequently conferred a six-year, $39 million contract in September of 2006.
Like Burleson, Branch has played in 33 of a possible 48 games with the Seahawks during his three-year tenure, and has scored just 12 touchdowns amid injury troubles, though his receiving totals (132 receptions, 1,798 yards) are better than those of Burleson.
To some extent, you could put longtime Seahawk Bobby Engram in the same category with the team’s other veteran WR acquisitions, though Engram was signed to a modest one-year deal when he bolted Chicago in 2001.
Yes, Engram now ranks top-five in franchise history for both catches (399) and receiving yards (4859), but he had roughly the same number of touchdown grabs (17) in his five years with the Bears (1996-2000) as he’s posted in almost twice that time in Seattle (18 from 2001-2008). He’s gone over 800 yards in a season just once in eight campaigns, after doing so twice in his final three years in the Windy City.
Engram, 36, is currently an unrestricted free agent.
Despite this dubious history, the Seahawks had little choice but to follow the same pattern, and hope they weren’t simply throwing good money after bad.
With Burleson and Branch among the players dealing with major injury problems in 2008, it was rookie tight end John Carlson who led 4-12 Seattle in every major receiving category.
Mike Holmgren’s final year on the job saw the team trotting out former wash- outs like Koren Robinson, Keary Colbert, and Billy McMullen at the position, and it was clear that players of that quality weren’t going to cut it in 2009, especially given the unreliability of Burleson and Branch.
Enter Houshmandzadeh, who has elicited questions due to his advancing age and inexperience as a No. 1 receiver, but was still the prize of the free agent class at his position.
The Oregon State product is a sharp route-runner, has excellent hands, and is tough over the middle-of-the-field, meaning he should quickly become Matt Hasselbeck’s top target.
Houshmandzadeh won’t have the luxury of lining up opposite Chad Johnson anymore, and won’t benefit from the double-teams that were rolled to Johnson’s side of the field, but that shouldn’t keep him from at least nearing the 900- yard receiving plateau, which he’s reached for five consecutive seasons.
Remember that with Johnson largely limited due to injury in 2008, and with backup Ryan Fitzpatrick pulling the trigger for most of last season, Houshmandzadeh still managed to haul in 92 passes for 904 yards.
Equaling or improving upon those numbers, of course, will be largely contingent on Houshmandzadeh’s health, already an issue after he revealed to Dan Patrick that he’d undergo an MRI. The Seahawks are likely interested in the condition of Houshmandzadeh’s back, which had him listed on the injury report multiple times late in the 2008 season (thanks to profootballtalk.com for the research).
It is highly doubtful that the results of said MRI will negate the deal, but it’s sure tough to blame Seattle for insisting on one, based on the organization’s track record with pass-catchers.
Maybe a little good news in that area will help the team turn the corner on what has been a stomach-turning past at the position.
Line of Scrimmage: Seahawks Go Back to WR Well – Kansas City Star.