Leroy Hill immediately pounced from his linebacker spot, slamming his two hands on running back Justin Forsett. A few plays later, first-round draft pick Aaron Curry chased down a receiver in the open field, followed closely by Lofa Tatupu.
It was just the image that Seattle Seahawks fans worried they might not see after last weekend, when Hill’s franchise tag was lifted and he immediately became a free agent. That risked the dreams fans had of watching Tatupu, Hill and Curry play on the same defense.
But that’s what was seen at the Seahawks’ post-draft minicamp Friday, one day after Hill signed a long-term deal after Seattle took the risk of seeing one of its top young linebacker depart.
“It’s good to see those guys working together. It was great to see Leroy back out here,” Seahawks coach Jim Mora said. “I didn’t spend my whole practice watching those three, so I didn’t see everything they did, but it was a good-looking group.”
Removing Hill’s franchise designation was a calculated move by Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell. By lifting the one-year tender that would have paid Hill $8.3 million next season, Seattle was able to add an experienced, bigger cornerback in former Seahawk Ken Lucas and sign veteran fullback Justin Griffith.
The risk was that Hill would be offended by the Seahawks’ move of making him a free agent at a time when other teams wouldn’t have as much money available to spend and spurn any offers that Ruskell might make.
Hill said plenty of interest came from other teams, but the Seahawks constantly badgered his agent, Todd France. The result, according to NFL.com’s Steve Wyche, was a six-year, $38 million contract for Hill with $15.5 million guaranteed and, on paper, one of the best young linebacking corps in the NFL.
“I still felt like I was going to come back,” Hill said. “Even when they dropped it (the franchise tag), they said, in good faith, we can still try to work out a contract. But they knew they sort of had to speed it up because other teams could come in. It was an interesting process.”
Hill skipped Seattle’s first minicamp last month and balked at signing the one-year tender, hoping instead for a long-term deal. But talks were stalled, and Ruskell took the chance that removing the franchise designation might break the stalemate in getting a deal done.
While some might have been put off by the move, Hill understood the motives. He enjoyed being a free agent for a few days, but he was relieved to have the security of an extended contract.
“I sort of smiled,” Hill said. “I was a free agent. I couldn’t really complain. And I chose not to sign (the tender), so it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I’m crushed, my career is over,’ or anything like that. It was a business decision for them. Like I said, they called and were like, ‘We’re still going to try to work out a contract. Don’t worry about anything.’ That’s what happened.”