For the Seahawks to win the race against the Cincinnati Bengals to sign Jamie Sharper, it would have to come down to the principle of motivation over emotion.
Fortunately for Seattle, that’s just what happened.
The motivation was for Team President Tim Ruskell to sign Sharper and make him the centerpiece of a linebacker corps that must be overhauled. That motivation, according to Sharper’s agent, Tony Agnone, caused Ruskell and the Seahawks’ organization to woo the former Houston Texan in a way they simply hadn’t with fellow free-agent linebacker (and speculated Seahawk) Edgerton Hartwell. Hartwell left Seattle in late March and subsequently agreed to a $26.25 million deal with an $8 million signing bonus with the Atlanta Falcons – cornerback money for a linebacker that the Seahawks simply couldn’t afford. The Seahawks dusted themselves off and went after Sharper with a vengeance, and successfully so. The terms Sharper agreed to will reportedly pay him $17.5 million over five years, including a $1.5 million signing bonus.
Those who followed the negotiations sensed that Seattle had an elevated focus this time. After first landing at Kirkland HQ last Thursday, Sharper was whisked to a gourmet restaurant in a limousine with Ruskell and linebackers coach John Marshall. Sharper stayed overnight, and spent Friday morning at Qwest Field, listening to taped crowd chants of “Ja-mie! Ja-mie” over the stadium’s sound system – perhaps an audio file borrowed from the Seattle Mariners in one of pitcher Jamie Moyer’s more inspirational moments?
Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com reports that the Seahawks also chartered a plane to pick Sharper up in Cincinnati, where he had visited before meeting the Seahawks.
The emotional side of the equation – the side the Seahawks would have to trump – was that Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was Baltimore’s defensive coordinator from 1996 to 2001 and had a hand in drafting Sharper out of Virginia in 1997. Sharper was the Ravens’ second-round pick that year, and he bonded with Lewis in a way that had some speculating that the Bengals would win Sharper’s vote even though the Seahawks were offering more money. Although Lewis left for Cincy in 2002 –the same year Sharper was taken by the Texans in the expansion draft – the two men remain close.
But in the end, Seattle offered Sharper two things the Bengals could not. The Seahawk deal will reportedly pay him approximately $4 million in 2005, while Cincinnati’s offer was evidently incentive-laden. The challenge in that first-year payday will be for the team to restructure enough current salary - predominantly the current salary of Chad Brown - to make this deal swing and maintain enough cap room to sign their 2005 draft picks.
In addition, Agnone was quoted as saying that the Seahawks will start Sharper at middle linebacker. Sharper played outside for Lewis in Baltimore and switched to the Mike position when he moved to Houston.
The move to the middle proved wise, as Sharper’s three seasons in Houston were his most productive - especially his last two. In 2003, he led the NFL in tackles with 166, and he proved no fluke with 139 stops in 2004. He was the key man in a defense that did little to impress, which will serve him well as he now commits to helping to turn Seattle’s defense – a unit that finished 26th in the NFL overall in 2004 – around.
Although he can cover when asked to drop into a zone, Sharper’s primary asset is his ability to read the run and attack the line. He is noted as an explosive tackler on impact, and he has the agility to slip blocks and evade traffic. Sharper is 30 years old, but the numbers say that he’s in the peak value phase of his career.
And after a notable six-year dearth of quality middle linebackers in the Mike Holmgren era, Jamie Sharper appears to be the answer to many prayers.