Extra Points: "Seattle's Sweet Sixteen"

With apologies to the NCAA and the incredibly exciting March Madness, the real drama involving the Sweet Sixteen won't take place in a basketball arena. It will unfold in Seattle over the next few weeks and it will shape the future of our beloved Seahawks for years to come.

We've got key players that must be re-signed. We've got a few who I'd really like to have back but wouldn't shed any tears if they left. And we've got some who just need to leave. Before I give you my opinion on who fits into each category, I want to start by saying that I think our Seahawks have made one brilliant move already this off-season by letting Bob Whitsitt go. By all accounts this guy was a big reason why we are in the horrible free agent shape we're in right now. So having him gone and bringing a real football man into the organization should do wonders for us. We still have a lot of important work ahead of us but at least we're off to a good start.

With all of that said, here's my list of who needs to stay, who can leave if they want to and who really doesn't matter in the big picture. In order of importance:

1. Matt Hasselbeck- This one should be an absolute no-brainer for Holmgren and the front office guys. He's one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league in my opinion, and he's going to keep getting better. For all of you guys who are so caught up in statistics, can you imagine even how much better Hass's stats would be if he had receivers who could actually catch the ball? Matt has a passion for this team as evidenced by his anguished screams on the field as Engram dropped the last pass of the season, and I believe he really wants to be a Seahawk That means something in my book. If we don't sign this guy we'll have to start over with a new quarterback trying to learn the nuances of this West Coast offense and it will take years just to get back to where we already are. It's the most important position on the field so we should look to take care of it first. Sign Hasselbeck first and then let's move on.

2. Walter Jones- I know, I know. Here we go again with this annual merry-go-round with the training camp holdout. I just don't understand why Walter won't sign a lucrative deal with multi-millions of dollars of guaranteed up-front money. It makes no sense from a financial standpoint but hey, that's just me. Jones is the best left tackle in Pro Football and he deserves to get paid. Losing him shouldn't be an option for us. Tackles of his quality are in short supply so we had better wrap him up for a long time and stop the annual headache of dealing with all of this. Without the offensive line, of which Walter is the rock, our potent offense will spit and sputter. If we do sign Hasselbeck like I'm hoping and praying we will, then we'd better turn our attention to Walter Jones so he can protect our quarterback for years to come.

3. Ken Lucas- Shutdown corners are very hard to find and we've got one already wearing the Seahawks uniform. Why would we let him leave? He really came into his own this season and is still getting better. The problem with our defense this season had less to do with Lucas as much as it did with schemes and game plans and the inability to change or adjust as the game went on. I'd much rather see Lucas playing man to man defense and getting in the face of opposing receivers instead of that soft zone crap that Ray Rhodes forced us to play last season. This guy is a vital piece to a defense that's going to be rebuilt this off season. Why have to go looking for another starting cornerback when we've got one of the best already here? There's nobody else out there that's available that's any better in my opinion.

4. Shaun Alexander- What a year he had. Now the question is, did he run harder because it was a contract year or did he adjust his game to be a little more tough to bring down on a permanent basis? It's going to be an expensive answer. Shaun's going to want a king's ransom to return and I'm not sure we're going to pay it. I put him fourth because I think we've got a good thing going with our offense and to lose a productive player like Alexander would hurt us, although with his reputation growing as a 'me first' kind of guy, you have to wonder if he's going to be worth the money he's going to command. But his numbers are very hard to ignore. He runs like a beast near the goal line and if can learn to block and catch a little better he could put up MVP type numbers. Still, a running back is generally the easiest position to replace…but the problem is, there isn't anybody else available that is as good as Shaun is right now. But of all of our free agents, I think Shaun is the most likely to leave.

5. Chike Okeafor- I probably wouldn't have said this at the beginning of the season (or at the midway point of the year for that matter), but Chike really came on strong down the stretch and played like a man possessed in the Wild Card game against the Rams. He's got speed on the outside pass rush and a non-stop motor. I know we want to get better up front, and maybe we'll draft a young stud defensive end but I think we'd be wise to pony up the cash to keep Okeafor in Seattle for a few more years. He had a career high 8 ½ sacks and appears to be getting better. I'd hate to lose him to another team and watch him blossom into an all-around terrific player. We've seen that before haven't we?

6. Floyd Womack- Pork Chop wants to get paid and I'm all for keeping this guy in Seahawks blue. He stepped in for the unreliable Chris Terry this year and played well. Plus, if Terry gets his act together and comes back strong I think Womack would make one hell of a right guard for us. Again, without a strong offensive line we won't have a chance to be a consistent contender. Womack isn't the best right tackle in the game but he's good enough for us to keep and be successful with.

7. Robbie Tobeck- Another offensive lineman that we need to resign to keep the continuity that offenses strive for. He has a very good rapport with Hasselbeck and has been serviceable for us for a few years. Now I'm not saying we should break the bank for Tobeck or any center for that matter, but he's a pretty darn good player and Hasselbeck trusts him so that says a lot. I hope we find a way to keep him.

8. Itula Mili- We keep trying to replace this guy but he always seems to be the starter when games matter the most. He's really the most reliable tight end we have and if it's possible then I would like to keep him. We're still waiting for Jeremy Stevens to have his 'break out' season or even a 'break out' game for that matter while Mili continues to catch pretty much everything in sight and gets tough yards after the catch. I wouldn't blame him for leaving though as it seems that we're always trying to replace him and I'm sure that has to get old after a while. I don't think he'll be that expensive so if we can re-sign him then I'd be all for it.

9. Orlando Huff- Now begins the segment of players that I won't cry too much if they were to leave. It's no secret that our linebacker corps is a mess. Injuries and a lack of talent and speed really hurt us this year. Huff had his chance to step up and make a difference but ended up splitting time with a much smaller but much more effective and active rookie in Niko Koutouvides. I don' t look for us to re-sign Huff unless it's for the league minimum or something close to that. I think we can do better in free agency or the draft plus Niko will continue to get better as he gets more playing time.

10. Alex Bannister- Our special teams this year were pitiful and some of the reason has to be because Bannister was hurt for most of the season. This guy is a terrific 'gunner' on special teams but can we afford a roster spot for someone who's so limited? I think he only catches about 2 or 3 passes a season. Still, his special teams play can't be overlooked, but I think we can draft enough guys who can upgrade our special teams without overpaying Bannister to stay and simply be a 'gunner' for us. If he comes at the league minimum then I wouldn't mind keeping him - otherwise, he's gone.

11. Chris Gray- It's hard to believe that he's started 90 straight games for us. I think he still gets pushed around a little too much so if we can get a replacement for him then I'd be all for it. He's been okay but I think a right side of Terry and Womack would be much more formidable. Maybe even Sean Locklear can step in to Gray's spot. He showed promise in his limited action this season. I'm not talking bad about Chris but I think we can definitely improve ourselves at this position.

12.Brandon Mitchell- Does anybody really notice when this guy is on the field? I think we have to get better up front and letting Mitchell leave via free agency might be a step in the right direction. I don't mean to pick on the guy but I sure don't want to overpay for his services either. I say let him walk.

13. Heath Evans- In my opinion the only reason this guy is still with us is because Holmgren doesn't want to admit to making one of the dumbest draft picks of his regime. There was absolutely no reason to draft this guy in the first place and his play (or lack thereof) has only proven that. He may be a decent blocker but he has hands of stone and can't come near to reaching the playing level of Mack Strong. Bye, Heath.

14. Tom Rouen- Sure, we desperately need a punter but this guy isn't the answer in my opinion. He was already on the downside of his career when we picked him up off the scrap heap and now that he's coming off an injury, he should only be worse. Bye, Tom.

15. Ken Walter- Late season fill in hopefully won't be back. He's way past his prime and we can definitely do a lot better. Bye, Ken.

16. Brock Huard- Why is this guy even on our roster to begin with? Shotgun for an arm but that's about it. Bye Brock.

So there you have it. My version of the Sweet Sixteen and how I personally hope it shakes out for us in the upcoming few weeks. I think we need to move quickly to avoid all of the bidding that's bound to take place for some of our guys. Can you imagine how many teams are lining up and licking their chops for Hasselbeck, Jones, Lucas, Alexander and Okeafor? To use another basketball analogy, "that's a starting five we can't let get away!"

It's a great time to be a Seahawks fan, always has been, always will be.

Micky James writes for Seahawks.NET. You can reach him at teamjames4@yahoo.com.

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