Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Decision '09: Unrestricted Free Agents

by: Michael Steffes

What a day to be talking decisions and change, right? Much like the country right now, we can guarantee one thing about the '09 Seahawks: there will be changes. Who and why are what we will be discussing today. This is a look at those players the Hawks will be making decisions on come February and my opinion on what the Hawks will and should do. The decisions come in all shapes and sizes--big, little, tough, easy, and even tricky--so let's take a look. To Continue . . .


Here are the players who will be unrestricted free agents next year:

Maurice Morris- Mo Mo is going to get his shot on the open market this year. It will be fascinating to see if there is much interest in him. He has been a serviceable backup here, but it is hard to imagine anyone seeing him as something more. The Hawks started revamping the RB position this year and the results have been pretty good. Jones has run tough, and Duckett is getting first downs when asked. They also managed to get Justin Forsett back, and if he continues to excel in return duties the team could use him as a backup instead of Morris, thus saving a roster spot. They may also draft a more dynamic back. The trend is to go young at RB, and Jones is only signed for a few years.

VERDICT: Mo Mo is a Holmgren guy. Without Holmgren he loses his biggest proponent. I expect him to sign elsewhere for a small deal.

Rocky Bernard- The Sugar Bear was resigned following his excellent 2005 season. However, he has been banged up and never quite reached that same level of production since. He is still a good defensive tackle, it's just that he needs a one-on-one match-up to create pressure. With the Hawks getting Mebane and Bryant in recent years and re-signing Craig Terril, it would appear that they have some bodies at that position. They may look to draft another DT this year, too.

VERDICT: Rocky is most likely gone after this year. It is possible that he could come back as a role player, but I suspect that there will be enough interest in him on the market that he may take a new gig. Plus, the team is probably looking to go in a different direction after his most recent arrest.

Leroy Hill- 56 is the big decision for the Hawks. There will definitely be interest in him on the open market. He is going to get paid, but by who is the question. There are two schools of thought on this. The first is that the Hawks have to re-sign him--he is a crucial piece to their defense, and you never want to let good young players that you stole in the draft leave. The other side is that the Hawks have a lot of money invested in linebackers already and will use their money on other positions instead. To go along with this, Leroy may want to be the star somewhere as opposed to the third wheel in Seattle.

VERDICT: I think the Hawks are going to tag Hill and then work out a long term deal with him, much like they did with Trufant. The question is whether the new regime will use him more effectively. He has been a dynamic pass rusher when asked, but the team favors Peterson in that role and Hill leaves the field when the nickel defense is in. A lot of this will depend on the team's evaluation of Julian Peterson at the end of the year. JP has yearly base salaries of 6.5, 7, 8, and 8.5 million going forward. That is top 5 linebacker money. Will he remain a top 5 linebacker? Will Hill become one?

Bobby Engram- We all know Bobby's deal is up, and he wants to be shown some respect. However, he isn't quite playing at the same level as last year. How much of this is the eventual decline of an older player and how much is due to the Hawks' QB issues? Those are questions the front office will have to make the call on. Bobby is not going to get a big deal elsewhere, and if Matt is still the QB he will have an important voice in his corner. Ruskell and co. may have been turned off by the way he handled things this offseason, though. This may be one of the toughest decisions when you consider how Matt and the fan base will feel.

VERDICT: I think Bobby walks. The team seems to have faith in Logan Payne as a slot receiver, and Bumpus also seems to have the ability to play in the league. They also HAVE to get younger on offense, even if it means the unit struggles again for a bit. The Hawks will almost certainly be drafting a receiver or two, and probably higher than they have in the past. Jordan Kent will no longer be eligible for the practice squad, and he is showing value on special teams. All this spells trouble for Bobby.

Charlie Frye- Frye has been serving as the third QB for the better part of two years now. He has really had one decent preseason game and not much else. It seems that the Hawks will be drafting a possible QB of the future this year. However, Seneca isn't exactly making a case that he is the guy to play behind Hass, either. The question will be whether or not he is open to a position change, and if his body could withstand such a change. Charlie is not going to get a big deal on the open market, but teams always need QBs so he might get an offer or two.

VERDICT: I think the Hawks go in a different direction regardless. Even if they move Wallace to a WR role, I think they will look for a better backup for Matt. They will also add a rookie for sure. I could see the QB position being one position targeted by the team for aggressive changes. Matt should be here if he is healthy, but it will be a new system and they might want a better reserve option, preferably someone the new OC has worked with. Of course, that option may not be out there.

Leonard Weaver- The Church Van is one of the trickiest decisions the Hawks will have to make. He is a valuable asset to the team, but they also have Owen Schmitt behind him. There was interest in him as a restricted free agent, but no one was going to give up a second round pick to get him. Mike Holmgren values the fullback a lot more than some other systems. In fact, many seem to think the position is nearly extinct. Weaver could fit in as an H-back though, as he was a TE in college. He would also likely put up better numbers in that role. His versatility as a back is something that will also intrigue teams.

VERDICT: The Hawks will want him back, but someone will offer him money based on his potential in the offensive game. In the end, they won't match it, thus opening up the way for Schmitt to start. The team isn't likely to use the fullback as much without Holmgren around, and thus Owen will be enough. I think if Weaver was really in the team's long term plans they would have tried to work out something longer with him and then spent their 5th round pick on someone else.

Ray Willis- Another tricky decision for the front office. Willis came on and played well this year in his first real chance to start. Also, Locklear has been underwhelming. This probably lessens the belief that he could become the left tackle to replace Walt. Because of this, the Hawks may look long and hard at the top tackle prospects in the draft, as this may be their only chance to grab one. If they plan to take one, then either Lock or the rookie would be the swing tackle waiting for Walt to retire. Willis isn't likely to be interested in playing a deep reserve role, so in that situation he will likely be looking for somewhere else he can start. However, the Hawks do have a bunch of needs. If they still feel confident in Locklear, then Willis is a keeper at right tackle. Either way, this is a hard one to figure.

VERDICT: The Hawks should be looking to make changes to this unit. Even though Willis played well early, he was beaten badly in SF. It is still hard to figure if he would be a quality starter in this league. Someone will see it that way though, and the Hawks will let him walk. They don't have a ton of money and this will be a spot they can skimp on, choosing instead to reload with younger players. They also have Kyle Williams, who would be less expensive as a backup.


Floyd Womack, Jeb Putzier, Howard Green, Will Heller

If any of these players come back it is likely because no one else was interested and it was an easy, inexpensive deal. Heller is probably the most likely to return, but blocking tight ends are available every year. Womack has never really interested any other teams, and if the Hawks need a vet linemen to fill out the roster they may bring him back again. Of course, he might try to parlay this year into a little contract security, too. Putzier has disappeared and Howard Green has faded after his early season performance. Both might be out of the NFL next year. ~END~