The Seahawks might be finished re-signing their own unrestricted free agents after reaching contract agreements with C Robbie Tobeck, G Chris Gray and WR Alex Bannister. Gray is expected to sign the same deal that Tobeck signed late last week. A two-year $1.785 million deal, that includes a $250,000 signing-bonus and salaries of $765,000 and $770,000. Gray adds depth and leadership to a line that looked to get a face-lift when free agency started. The only starter who will not be back is former RT Chris Terry who was released last month. The rest of the line remains intact, including all of the backups as well.
Tobeck, 35, has been a valuable part of the Seahawks' offense in recent seasons. Seattle needed him back because the organization has done a poor job developing a replacement. Coaches spent several years grooming Dennis Norman for the job, but the former seventh-round pick from Princeton never panned out. Tobeck's age and desire to remain in Seattle allowed the Seahawks to re-sign him at a bargain price. The Seahawks will probably need to draft a center this year, but Tobeck should remain productive enough to man the job ably for the coming season.
Bannister, meanwhile, found no takers in his quest to become more than just a special-teams mainstay. Teams simply weren't willing to promise him a spot in their receiving rotations, particularly after Bannister suffered a broken clavicle last season. Seattle valued Bannister's contributions on special teams, as reflected in his four-year, $4 million contract. The deal included a $1 million signing bonus, one of the largest in league history for a player whose contributions fall almost exclusively on special teams.
--The future of running back Shaun Alexander appears to be a dead issue until the draft. That could change if something happens regarding Colts RB Edgerrin James and Bills RB Travis Henry, who are also seeking trades.
"I think something is going to happen where one of those guys is going to move and the other teams are either going to sign their guy or he wants to stay," Seahawks president Tim Ruskell said. "Something is going to have to happen because everything is stuck."
Alexander has refused to sign his one-year franchise tender. The Seahawks have given him permission to seek a trade for less than a first-round pick, but there have been no takers.
The situation is complicated by Alexander's contract situation. He wants a lucrative long-term deal. Seattle has been reluctant to reward him with such a deal, and other teams have been reluctant to give up a draft choice for a player without a long-term deal.
"Teams are convincing themselves that there are some great running backs in the draft and 'We're going to get one of those and our problems are going to be solved,' " Ruskell said. "In reality, when you look at it, you're only talking about three guys."
Ruskell was alluding to Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams of Auburn, and Cedric Benson of Texas .
"Unless I'm mistaken, they are going to go pretty quick, so not everybody is going to take care of their deal," Ruskell said. "At that point, I think this thing will start moving again."
Ruskell described the current situation as a "slow dance" that could quicken dramatically on draft day.
"That could easily happen," Ruskell said. "I can't predict where or which team or which guy, but that could easily get the ball rolling and then I think you could see it snowball."
Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren has said he hopes Alexander returns next season. The team has not offered a long-term deal, however, leading some to think Holmgren is being more polite than heartfelt. Ruskell has remained vague on the issue.
"Extremely talented guy and he can obviously play the game," Ruskell said of Alexander, "but as you know, there is so much more that goes into it than that. A lot of these guys ( Seattle coaches and personnel people) know him better than I do, so I am learning the whole dynamic of this situation."
--Ruskell wasn't particularly happy when the public became aware of the letter he sent to players last month. But he confirmed that the organization has taken a firm stand on character issues. "Talk is cheap and we'll have to follow it up as a staff with putting teeth in the things we have to say and we will do that," Ruskell explained. "Then it will take hold and be a thing for the team." The philosophy was behind the team's decision to release LB Anthony Simmons and RT Chris Terry.
--WR Joe Jurevicius said he expects to flourish in a system similar to the one he ran in Tampa Bay . He also said health won't be a problem. Knee and back injuries slowed him last season. "Believe me, the fact that I am here in a system that is so similar to what I ran in Tampa , I will be able to do some things," Jurevicius said. "Whether it's working in the slot with Bobby Engram and the other guys outside or maybe add a little bit bigger target in the end zone, I think there is some things I can do. I'm not here to step on toes, I'm just here to help the Seahawks win football games."
--Ruskell brushed off suggestions he hasn't done enough to upgrade the team's defensive personnel in free agency. Seattle parted ways with three defensive starters, including CB Ken Lucas and DE Chike Okeafor, while adding CB Kelly Herndon, DT Chartric Darby, DE Bryce Fisher and LB Kevin Bentley. "Defense is about the attitude," Ruskell said. "That's a big part of what we're trying to do is bring guys in that have that attitude and character about them. That will improve the defense even though it may not be a marquee guy that you are bringing in to change everything." Seattle ranked 26th on defense last season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The key is the fit. You've got to know your scheme, have the coaches address that and articulate that to you and that gets passed to the scouts to know exactly what the fit is for this scheme. If you don't have good communication with your coaches, then that's when you make mistakes." -- Ruskell on the draft.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
1. Linebacker. Teams generally don't reach too high for linebackers in the draft, but Seattle will have to consider the position early and often. OLB Chad Brown is coming off an injury-shortened season, and Seattle is light in the middle. The release of OLB Anthony Simmons made this unit even thinner.
2. Defensive line. Losing DE Chike Okeafor hurt, and newly signed DE Bryce Fisher must challenge himself to reach Okeafor's level. DT Rashad Moore is coming off shoulder surgery and might take a while to ramp up. Also, 2004 first-round DT Marcus Tubbs gave the team less than expected as a rookie. Tubbs will look to rebound, and initial 2005 reports are positive.
3. Wide receiver. The off-field troubles of 2001 first-round WR Koren Robinson have turned this position into a potential liability. Seattle needs someone to challenge WR Darrell Jackson as the No. 1 wideout, although running back could become the greater concern if Shaun Alexander doesn't return.
--RB Shaun Alexander (tendered at $6.323M).
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--QB Brock Huard is looking like the fourth-best option on a team that keeps three passers.
--DE Brandon Mitchell has played more than the Seahawks would have liked. His return seems uncertain.
--LB Curtis Randall (not tendered as ERFA).
--P Tom Rouen is probably finished in Seattle because coach Mike Holmgren plans to go with second-year pro Donnie Jones.
--P Ken Walter performed poorly last season and won't be back unless Seattle suffers through more problems at the position.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--DT Rocky Bernard (tendered at $656,000 with 5th-round pick as compensation) shows pass-rush potential but hasn't been very consistent.
--SS Terreal Bierria (tendered at $656,000 with 4th-round pick as compensation) flamed out as the starter in 2004 and won't see playing time now that Michael Boulware has emerged as a potential star.
--S Marquand Manuel (tendered at $656,000 with 6th-round pick as compensation) earned some playing time down the stretch last season.
--CB Kris Richard (tendered at $656,000 with 3rd-round pick as compensation) has been injured and largely ineffective. The Seahawks won't have trouble finding a better nickel corner.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--G Chris Gray: UFA ; $1.785M/2 yrs, $250,000 SB; 2005 cap: $890,000 (speculated)
--WR Alex Bannister: UFA ; $4M/4 yrs, $1M SB.
--RB Kerry Carter: Potential ERFA; $380,000/1 yr.
--TE Ryan Hannam: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.
--QB Matt Hasselbeck: Potential UFA ; 6 yrs, terms unknown.
--LT Walter Jones: UFA ; $52.5M/7 yrs, $16M SB; 2005 cap: $4.9M.
--TE Itula Mili: UFA; $6M/4 yrs, $1.5M SB; 2005 cap: $1.175M.
--DE Ron Smith: Potential ERFA; $305,000/1 yr.
--C Robbie Tobeck: UFA ; $1.785M/2 yrs, $250,000 SB; 2005 cap: $890,000.
--WR Jerheme Urban: Potential ERFA; $305,000/1 yr.
--WR Jason Willis: Potential ERFA; $305,000/1 yr.
--OL Floyd Womack: UFA ; $5M/2 yrs, $2M SB; 2005 cap: $2M.
--P Leo Araguz (FA; terms unknown).
--LB Kevin Bentley: UFA (not tendered as RFA by Browns); $650,000/1 yr, $150,000 SB.
--DT Chartric Darby: UFA Buccaneers; $3M/3 yrs, $800,000 SB.
--DE Bryce Fisher: UFA Rams; $10M/4 yrs, SB unknown.
--CB Kelly Herndon: RFA Broncos; $15M/5 yrs, $3.6M SB.
--WR Joe Jurevicius: FA Buccaneers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--CB Omare Lowe: UFA ; terms unknown.
--FB Heath Evans: UFA Dolphins; $540,000/1 yr.
--MLB Orlando Huff: UFA Cardinals; $2M/2 yrs, $400,000 SB.
--CB Ken Lucas: UFA Panthers; $36M/6 yrs, $13M bonuses.
--DE Chike Okeafor: UFA Cardinals; $25M/5 yrs, SB unknown.
--WR Jerry Rice (released).
--S Damien Robinson (released; failed physical/shoulder).
--LB Anthony Simmons (released; failed physical/wrist).
--OT Chris Terry (released/failed physical).
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.