Dyson, Sharper, Harden Released

Apparently and unfortunately, five years and $17.5 million do not appear to be magic numbers when it comes to signing contracts with the Seattle Seahawks. Today, the team released two players who signed such contracts within days of each other last April.

Cornerback Andre Dyson and linebacker Jamie Sharper were brought in before the 2005 draft to help bolster Seattle’s defense, a unit which finished 26th in the NFL in 2004 and raised its overall ranking to 16th and a trip to Super Bowl XL in 2005. Both players contributed when healthy, but that caveat – “when healthy” – tells a great deal of the tale. The end of the story for both Dyson and Sharper was the cap savings gained by Seattle upon their release.

The Seahawks also released cornerback Michael Harden, a former NFL Europe standout and practice squad player who was active in the final four regular season games.

Like all NFL teams, the Seahawks are working to get their house in order before a Monday, 12:01 AM deadline that will find them with a salary cap of $94.5 million or somewhere near $10 million more, depending on the result of ongoing and extended negotiations.

Impact players like RB Shaun Alexander, DT Rocky Bernard and WR Joe Jurevicius will hit the market when free agency begins on Monday. Seattle may also have to outdo potential suitors for transition-tagged guard Steve Hutchinson. Although the Seahawks were several millions under the cap before these releases, they may need more, depending on their aspirations and the competitive bidding that will ensue.

According to “The Hawkstorian”, Seahawks.NET’s salary cap guru, the Dyson release will save the team $1.86 million – Dyson will be on the books for $2.4 million in 2006. The payroll advantage gained by Sharper’s release is a bit more complicated. More than one report has stated that Seattle will gain $2.5 million in cap room, but that’s based on a bear trap in Sharper’s contract – a 2007 roster bonus based on undisclosed playing time benchmarks. If Sharper did not meet the guidelines of that bonus, the cap gain would be $3.5 million. We will, of course, pass that information on when it has been confirmed. Depending on the status of that bonus, Sharper is on the books for either $1 or $2 million in 2005.

Harden’s cap gain is negligible, so the Seahawks have gained a best-case scenario windfall of approximately $5.5 million.

Sharper was signed in April, 2005 to a five-year, $17.5 million deal with a $1.5 million signing bonus. Through the first eight games of the 2005 season, Sharper manned the strong side admirably for the Seahawks, providing run support and veteran leadership. He had amassed 37 tackles and a forced fumble through the first half of the season.

But Sharper was added to the team’s injury reports beginning on Wednesday, November 9 - just a few days before the Seahawks faced the St. Louis Rams for the second time in 2005. The team announced that Sharper had a right knee infection, and that fluid first had to be drained from the knee on November 8th. Rookie linebacker Leroy Hill replaced Sharper in the lineup, and immediately began making an impact. Hill excelled in blitz packages and helped fellow rookie Lofa Tatupu redefine Seattle’s revolving-door linebacker corps.

Sharper hadn’t played since, and began to appear to be the odd man out with Hill’s ascendance. In December, coach Mike Holmgren made the end of Sharper's season official to the media.

“He had the infection and it was a bad infection,” Holmgren said. “(Recovery) has just taken a long time. They had to switch antibiotics just in the last couple days because he had a little bit of a setback which pushed the whole thing back even farther. It didn’t appear as though we were going to have him this year.” Sharper played in only eight games for Seattle.

Before the 2005 season, Sharper had played in 127 out of a possible 128 regular-season games in his career, and had never missed a game due to injury. Drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 1997, Sharper also played for the Houston Texans from 2002-2004.

Like Sharper, Dyson came to the Seahawks with a reputation for durability. Signed on April 21, Dyson’s five-year, $17.5 million contract included $3 million signing bonus and approximately $6 million in guarantees. As The Hawkstorian wrote in a May 4, 2005 article, the internal wisdom of the deal was predicated on the possibility of Dyson’s release:

If Dyson or suffers a serious injury, the team can release him at the start of free agency for the 2006 season and actually save cap money that year. He would have $2.4 left to prorate from his original deal, but that would be a $1.86M savings over what otherwise would be a $4.26M cap figure.

On the more optimistic front, if Dyson continues to play well, the team could pay the $3 million bonus and count it towards the 2006 cap. Or, they could convert the money into a second signing bonus and spread it over the remaining 4 years of the deal. This move would make sense if the team felt Dyson would be around for the life of the deal and money was needed to add other free agents.

As it stands, Dyson’s $17.5 million deal breaks down this way:

$3 million to sign.

$3 million roster bonus in 2006.

Salaries of $540K, $660K, $3.3M, $3.5M and $3.5M respectively from 2005 through 2009.

This deal is a great example of good cap management by the team and fair dollars for the player. If Dyson plays well, he should see most or all of this money. However, if injuries interfere with his play, the team can get out without too much embarrassment.

Dyson did in fact suffer injuries throughout the 2005 season – after having played in all sixteen games in his final three seasons as a Tennessee Titan (2002-2004), Dyson missed a total of seven games in 2005 with a sprained right hamstring nd a sprained left ankle. The $3 million roster bonus mentioned above was obviously a major factor in the team’s decisions to move on, but Dyson’s numbers were not commensurate with those of a starting cornerback.

He showed flashes of brilliance when he was on the field – most notably against the Philadelphia Eagles on December 5th, when he ran an interception return back 72 yards for a touchdown and scored again on a 25-yard fumble return. But in the end, his stats (21 tackles, 1 forced fumble and one interception), and the specter of those recurrent injuries, had the Seahawks looking elsewhere.

Harden has actually been signed twice by the Seahawks – he was re-upped and placed on their practice squad on December 8th, in the wake of the ankle sprain which ended Dyson's regular season. Harden was originally signed by the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent from the University of Missouri in April of 2004. He spent the regular season on the practice squad and was activated for the wild-card loss to St. Louis. Seattle then allocated Harden to the NFL Europe League, where he played with the Berlin Thunder. Harden played in all 10 regular season games for the Thunder, starting six. He registered 21 tackles, two interceptions and 10 passes defensed. After spending time with the Seahawks during their 2005 training camp, he was released in the final roster cuts on September 4, 2005. Harden racked up six tackles for Seattle against the Indianapolis Colts on December 24, his most notable NFL performance.

Harden was released from the New England Patriots’ practice squad on December 5th. Originally signed by New England on November 16, when the Pats were dealing with injuries to their secondary, Harden was never activated by the Patriots.

Stay tuned to Seahawks.NET and Scout.com for all the free agency and labor news as it becomes available.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at doug@seahawks.net.

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