Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Brandon Mebane was honest and straightforward about his pending free-agent status and where he might end up playing this year – including the possibility he won’t be in a Seahawks uniform in 2011.
The 26-year-old said he’s splitting time between Seattle and Los Angeles, and currently is working out at a Seattle-area health club with teammates Roy Lewis and Will Robinson.
Mebane said he also spent four weeks conditioning in Arizona in anticipation of the league resuming at the end of April, when the lockout was temporarily lifted.
“It’s pretty weird because usually around this time you’re in OTAs (organized team activities) or minicamps or some kind of team activity,” Mebane said. “But right now, due to the lockout and everything, you can’t really make any moves.
“The way I’ve been really trying to handle it is just being patient – that’s all I can really do now. I think God has something good in store for me. Patience is the real key part of it. At times I think about it, but I try not to let it get to me. The good part of it is, I took care of business on the field. So the thing about it now, is what team is it going to be?”
Right now, Mebane thinks there is a good chance his future may not be in Seattle, even though the Seahawks drafted just one defensive lineman last month.
If the current labor dispute ends and the league reverts to rules of the 2010 collective bargaining agreement, then Mebane would remain a restricted free agent – meaning the Seahawks could match any offer from another team.
A third-round selection out of California, Mebane originally signed a four-year deal worth nearly $3 million in 2007. He has been a four-year starter for Seattle, missing five games in four seasons and averaging 37 tackles and 21/2 sacks a year.
Mebane thinks he and the Seahawks had ample time to conclude a deal before the lockout began in March, and that the two sides engaged in amicable talks. However, Mebane said they never reached a point where specific contract numbers were discussed. That leads him to believe his time in Seattle could be coming to a close.
“When you go over that stuff, I guess it’s time to pack up and put the house up for sale,” Mebane said. “I feel like I wasn’t in their plans. And I feel like I have that right to think that because I got a third-round tender. If they really wanted me, they had plenty of time to do what they had to do. Me personally, from my experience, I don’t think I was in their plans. I would love to come back here, but I don’t know what their plans are.”
Mebane had his best season as a nose tackle in 2008 – finishing with a career-high 51/2 sacks and 39 tackles playing next to Rocky Bernard, who played 3-technique defensive tackle (the gap between weakside guard and tackle) and had 55 tackles and four sacks.
Mebane has just 21/2 sacks in two seasons since switching to 3-tech once Bernard left Seattle and joined the New York Giants in free agency. And there’s some feeling around the league that Mebane may be better served as a run-stuffing nose tackle.
“Hold on a second because I want to clear that up,” Mebane said, when asked that specific question. “The production hasn’t been down. The thinking out there that my production was down is probably because my sacks were down. But the thing you have to look at is who I had next to me.
“Rocky Bernard is a well-respected player. A lot of people don’t realize it takes two people to be on the same page to have good production. Can’t one man do it by yourself – it takes two.
“I can play both the 3-tech and nose tackle, and there aren’t too many guys out there that can play both. I feel like my production has been real good the last four years. I put pressure on the quarterback my third and fourth year.”
Mebane said he had to deal with more double teams at 3-tech after Bernard left, which affected his sack numbers. But he believes he still provided a consistent, disruptive force in the middle of Seattle’s defense.
The Seahawks currently have Colin Cole playing nose tackle, and when healthy he has been effective.
Cole, 30, is signed through 2013 and scheduled to earn $3.75 million in non-guaranteed base salary in 2011 – the third year of his five-year, $21.4 million deal.
Under the 2010 CBA, an original-round tender for a player with four accrued seasons – such as Mebane – carries a $1.275 million, non-guaranteed base salary in 2011.
So if another team signs Mebane to an offer sheet and Seattle decides not to match it, the Seahawks would receive a third-round pick as compensation.
However, there’s still some uncertainty whether Mebane would be a restricted or unrestricted free agent once a new agreement between the league and the players is reached. And teams appear to be lining up for Mebane’s services should he be free to fully test the market.
Tennessee could be a natural landing spot because former Seahawks personnel executives Mike Reinfeldt, Ruston Webster and Lake Dawson are with the Titans, along with new defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, who served as Seattle’s secondary coach last season.
For the same reason, Cleveland (team president Mike Holmgren coached Mebane while in Seattle) and Chicago (former Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell is now director of personnel for the Bears) remain possibilities.
Add to that list teams with 4-3 defensive fronts in need of interior defensive line help, such as St. Louis, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Denver and Carolina.
So, under the old league rules interested teams would likely be willing to give up a third-round pick to win Mebane’s services
Along with New York Giants tackle Barry Cofield – who also could wind up as a restricted free agent – Mebane likely will be one of the most sought-after defensive tackles suited for a 4-3 scheme in this year’s free-agent class.
Seahawks general manager John Schneider said after the draft in April that having drafted only one defensive lineman created a bit more urgency to bring Mebane back or find more depth through trade or free agency.
“We’d like to have Brandon back anyway,” Schneider said. “So, it probably does (create urgency) to a certain extent. I’d be lying if I told you any different. But again, we’re not a team that’s going to panic. We’re going to kind of plod through it and see what we can accomplish.”
Mebane said that no matter where he ends up, he’s enjoyed his time in Seattle.
“Just playing at home with the Seahawks fans is awesome,” he said. “That feeling is great. You couldn’t ask for nothing better than that. I’ve been there four years, and I just got used to things. But I know how things go. Right now I don’t know how things are going to play out.
“I’m just sitting back and waiting. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m prepared. I’m going to make sure on my part that my mind and my body are all together, and I’m just ready for whatever.”