Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Can We Afford Both Hill and Peterson?

by: William P. Tomisser

Leroy Hill and his agent seem likely to test the free agent waters unless Ruskell decides to franchise him or take another try at using the transition tag.

The latter action seems highly unlikely, since Ruskell uncovered a big problem with using that tag on guard Steve Hutchinson in 2006 when Minnesota unveiled the "poison pill" contract and life in the NFL became more complicated for GMs navigating the free agent market. Ruskell seems the sort to have learned his lesson.

Hill doesn't seem interested in making any deals until he sees what other teams would pay a linebacker that Seattle's three-time pro bowl middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu calls the best linebacker on the Seahawks. That's pretty high praise when you consider that Seattle's other starting linebacker is five-time pro bowl linebacker Julian Peterson (as most of you already know, three of those pro bowl trips have coincided with the three years he's been with the Seahawks).

Last season the Arizona Cardinals had to pay Karlos Dansby $8.065 million as the going rate to franchise a linebacker in the NFL. This year it will cost more. Seattle is already scheduled to pay Peterson similar money as his contract is escalating moving into its back half, and Tatupu makes enough that the three linebackers could cost well over 20 million of the team's salary cap for 2009 if we franchised Hill and kept Peterson's contract intact.

The big question is, can we afford to do that?

Clare Farnsworth has written an article that helps us understand how important Hill is to the team and discussing the relative merits of keeping Hill and what some of the alternatives would be.

To Continue . . .

While Hill might be the Seahawks' only starting linebacker who has not been voted to the Pro Bowl, there is no denying that he has Pro Bowl talent and potential.

"I'd say Leroy is our best linebacker," said middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, a three-time Pro Bowl selection.

"It's tough to say that. I've got a lot of pride. Julian (Peterson) has got a lot of pride. He probably wouldn't admit it, but he'd be wrong in saying that Leroy isn't our best linebacker."

I'd say that there are a couple of factors that aren't discussed in this article that could have a big impact on the outcome. According to the Commish, the salary cap is going to go up by approximately 7 million per team in 2009. Remember that the Seahawks also wisely applied all of Alexander's dead money to the 2008 cap and finished off Grant Wistrom's dead money, which I believe means all past players are now off the books.

If you take the $7 million in cap increase and add a couple million, that's the franchise tag amount for Hill. As we did with Trufant last year, we could continue to negotiate for a longterm contract with a low cap figure for the first couple of years.

I believe that all of the above puts the Seahawks in good position to franchise Hill if necessary. The big problem with letting Hill hit free agency is that you lose all control over the player's future. At least with the franchise tag applied, even if we decided to trade him we would get some compensation and not just lose a valuable player who would need to be replaced like we did Josh Brown last year.

If we traded Hill and decided to either draft someone like Curry or acquire a free agent linebacker, that could very well cost us in the neighborhood of $10 million per year (McFadden cost the Raiders $60 million for 6 years as last year's 4th round pick). That is probably even more than franchising Hill would cost, so you kind of have to swallow hard and get a grip sometimes when negotiating with top NFL talent on a new contract.

Another big problem in my book with losing Hill and replacing him with that high draft pick is that we lose a quality player off the team that way because we can't spend the high pick on another position of real need. If we can retain our excellent linebacker corps, we will add an elite player to that mix and improve the team overall instead of trying to get back to what we were before losing a player of Hill's talent.

With Mora's defense utilizing the linebackers in the Tampa Cover 2 defense for everything from blitzing to run support to pass coverage to end containment, it's imperative that we have the best if we want to field a top defense. With the cap at around $124 million next year, our starting linebackers could eat up around 17% of it. That's a pretty high number, but doable if the Seahawks feel that the linebackers are that important.

With Mora stating that he feels the defensive line is adequate (although I calculate that he's a DT short) as well as coming out in defense of Russell at safety, I'm not sure what he plans to spend money on for the defense if not linebackers. Even if he did go after a DT and maybe a safety, it seems that they should have the money to afford three highly paid linebackers; I'm sure no one will complain if it brings us success.

So, you capologists out there, should we put 17% of our cap into our starting linebackers and then add to the overall talent level with a much-needed blue chip player in the draft, or do we draw the line and downgrade our linebackers in order to keep our cap more manageable? It's the question of the day.


Bill T