Seahawks fans who comforted themselves in the face of a dismal defense in 2004 with the idea that 2005 would see the dream secondary of cornerbacks Ken Lucas and Marcus Trufant and safeties Ken Hamlin and Michael Boulware will now have to accept the idea that three out of four ain’t bad.
Lucas, the leader of that secondary last season, boarded a plane for Carolina practically as soon as the free agency deadline hit on Wednesday night. On Thursday, he signed a six-year, $36 million deal with the Panthers that includes a signing bonus of approximately $13 million. Carolina coach John Fox had Lucas on his radar screen, and wasn’t going to let the four-year veteran cornerback get out of town without his name on the line. “Our pro personnel department and coaching staff had him very highly rated, and so we expect big things out of him”, Fox said at the press conference announcing Lucas’ deal. “You want all-around guys on your team, guys who can do well against the run and the pass. You better be diverse in the ability to stop both of those. With (Lucas), we feel like we got a great mix of those two things.”
Lucas, for his part, had made up his mind before he touched the ground and spoke to the Panthers. “I knew before I even got off the plane that I wanted to sign with Carolina. As a defensive back, it's your dream to come in and play with a front seven like they have here. It's going to make my job a whole lot easier back there.”, Lucas said. In 2004 Lucas tied for the NFC lead with six interceptions on a defense that finished 26th overall in the NFL. Now, he will be sharing a secondary with Chris Gamble, the Panther rookie cornerback who tied Lucas for that NFC lead. And Carolina ’s defense, long known for a stellar front seven and perhaps the top defensive line in the league, just became even more formidable.
When asked how his role might change in Carolina, Lucas sounded definitive. “ It's the same as the situation I was in this past year. I was a four-year veteran, and all the other guys had two years or less of experience in Seattle. I don't know if the secondary here is that young but I look forward to being put in that situation where I can mentor the younger guys. I like helping other guys, because that helps the team. I look forward to it”, he said. “Hopefully, I can come here and help mentor the younger guys who haven't been in the League as long. I can teach them some of the things I have learned over my career.”
And what does Ken Lucas bring to the Panthers? What will the Seahawks be missing? “I think I'm one of the more complete corners in the League. I can press well. I can play off well. And I'm willing to tackle”, said Lucas. “You have a lot of corners who can cover well in this League who aren't willing to make tackles, or they can tackle but they can't play man-to-man defense. I can do a little bit of everything well.”
In his four years in Seattle, Lucas played in 64 of 68 games, starting 48. He had a great beginning in 2003, but shared time with Shawn Springs down the stretch as Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren and defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes seemed to prefer veteran leadership. When the team signed former Philadelphia cornerback Bobby Taylor to a 4-year, $11.3 million deal with a $3 million signing bonus and incentives before the 2004 season, Lucas took it as a challenge. Providing an absolutely dominating presence from day one in training camp while Taylor struggled through the year with injuries, Lucas asserted himself as the cornerstone of the Seahawks’ defensive backfield – perhaps of the entire defense.
Now, some reports say that the Seahawks may part with Taylor entirely. And the money that could (and should) have gone to Ken Lucas last year will have to be spent elsewhere as the Seahawks look to fill a major hole in their secondary. Given the constantly escalating value of elite cornerbacks in the free agent market, Seattle will have to be satisfied with a second-tier replacement ( Arizona ’s Renaldo Hill has apparently been in Seattle ’s sights) or an adjustment to their thought process in the draft. Either way, yet another defensive rebuilding project awaits.
But how do you rebuild something that was never built in the first place?
- SIGHTLINES AND AUDIBLES: Several Seahawks are spending time out of town these days. DE Chike Okeafor, who led the team in 2004 with 8.5 sacks, visited the Denver Broncos today. Although he has said that he would like to return to Seattle, there won’t likely be any “hometown discount”. The Broncos have already lost DE Reggie Hayward to the Jacksonville Jaguars – via a five-year deal worth $25 million - and are shopping DE Trevor Pryce.
- TE Itula Mili and MLB Orlando Huff spent time in Arizona talking to the Cardinals and head coach Dennis Green. Mili, Seattle ’s most reliable tight end in 2004, seemed very impressed with what he saw. “I had a chance to sit down with Dennis Green and I really felt good about his concept and philosophy and the things he’s got going here and I really believe in what he’s trying to do here,” said the eight-year veteran. “I do notice a difference here because I played in Seattle and was able to play the Cardinals the last couple of years, and this past year I noticed a big difference in the team, and their mindset here.
”I wanted to make Arizona my first stop and hopefully, it if all works out, this will be my last stop,” Mili said.
- The Dallas Cowboys have been in contact with free agent center Robbie Tobeck, and some scuttlebutt has backup quarterback Trent Dilfer on the minds of the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers as a possible starter in a trade scenario. Mike Holmgren has long said that if Dilfer were to receive an offer to start, he would do everything in his power to support that.
Stay tuned to Seahawks.NET for more free agency news as it develops…