Free Safety – 6’2”, 209 pounds
2007 Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
2007 Age: 26
2007 Service: 4 Years
Ken Hamlin was selected by the Seahawks in the second round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Leaving Arkansas after his junior campaign, the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Year nominee was compared to fellow Razorback alum and NFL safety Steve Atwater for his fearless and combative on-field nature. Most telling, perhaps, of all his college stats was that he was the first player in school history to amass over 100 tackles in three straight seasons. In his collegiate career, Hamlin became the school’s all-time leader in tackles with 381. In addition, Hamlin caused eight fumbles, deflected 28 passes, and intercepted nine.
On the downside, two DUI arrests – one on 2001 and another in 2002 – put some people off, although an impressive piece by Jeff Reynolds of Pro Football Weekly written in September of 2003 related how Hamlin himself put those concerns to bed:
Individual scouts, defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes, head coach Mike Holmgren and other representatives from the organization spent time with Hamlin one-on-one. Slowly but surely, the word “disobedient” disappeared from the Seahawks’ scouting report on Hamlin.
In fact, the more Seattle got to know Hamlin, the fewer concerns they had about Hamlin maintaining the straight and narrow on his own in an NFL environment. Intense background searches led investigators from arresting officers to companions to witnesses. The brass tacks of the probe, as interpreted by Holmgren’s staff, were this: More than anything in life, Hamlin feared losing football. He had been scared straight. After a second arrest last year, Arkansas coaches told Hamlin he would never play football again if he crossed another legal or social barrier.
Hamlin ran to voluntary Alcoholics Anonymous counseling. He met with social advisors — still does — and made philanthropy priority No. 2 (nothing ever comes before football).
“He was mature to see he had to change,” said Will Lewis, Seahawks director of pro personnel. “He was mature to see that and give it more than lip service. You like that about his character.”
Hamlin’s arrests would be re-hashed two years later under entirely different circumstances, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
In his first two games as an NFL free safety, Hamlin distinguished himself on a national level by absolutely de-cleating two receivers - New Orleans’ Donte’ Stallworth and Arizona’s Anquan Boldin. In Stallworth’s case, the helmet went flying, and in Boldin’s case, Hamlin’s hit caused a fumble recovered by linebacker Chad Brown. That was one of four turnovers Hamlin helped create in that game alone, which is how he won NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors in his second professional start. In his rookie season, Hamlin started 14 of 16 games, finished second on the team in tackles behind Anthony Simmons with 96. He also had an interception and seven passes defensed, and those stats led to his being named to the Pro Football Weekly All-Rookie Team. .
2004 was even better, as Hamlin increased his interception total to four, and finished third in team tackles with 80. This marked his move to a more overall sense of versatility, and much was expected of Ken Hamlin in 2005.
After the first six games of the 2005 season, Hamlin was right on pace with 26 tackles. But a few hours after the Seahawks beat the Houston Texans all over the place, 42-10 at Qwest Field on November 16, Hamlin was severely injured in an altercation in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. The full details of the case are still sketchy and lengthy at best, so we’ll simply link to the most detailed summary of the events that Seahawks.NET reported at the time.
In a football and life sense, the prognosis was grim – Hamlin suffered a fractured skull and a small subdural hematoma (a blood clot brought about by blunt head trauma) on the left side of his head and a fractured right hand during the incident. He was placed in the ICU unit at Harborview Medical Center, and a week later, his release began a long recovery process. Hamlin eventually became a bastion of moral support during the team’s first Super Bowl run, and his offseason training resulted in his being cleared by his own and the team’s doctors by early May of 2006.
(Side note: Drew Brees is the 2006 NFL Comeback Player of the Year? Yeah, right.)
Hamlin made it through minicamps and training camp without any problem, and followed up his most challenging year with a fabulous start to 2006. In September’s three games, Hamlin racked up 18 tackles and two interceptions, and was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month. He was the first Seahawk to be honored with that award since Chad Brown in 1998. By the end of the 2006 season, he was all the way back, with 96 tackles (second on the team to Lofa Tatupu’s 122) and three interceptions (leading the team). It was one of the more inspirational comeback stories you’ll find in recent NFL history.
The Case For: First, there’s absolutely no question that at this point, Hamlin is Seattle’s best overall defensive back. That may be akin to finding yourself as the Spice Girl with the finest voice, but it’s still worth a lot to a perennial playoff contender that has struggled to put and keep a solid secondary on the field over the past two seasons. Those who cite Hamlin’s liabilities as reasons to cut him loose for greener pastures generally can’t cite an example of how such new vistas would take shape.
The safety market is pretty rough both in free agency and in the draft, and the Seahawks are still trying to get strong safety Michael Boulware set right after a rough season. There are more pressing positional needs. The fact that the team brought in former Falcons head coach Jim Mora to help with the secondary puts the focus on the fact that position coaching may very well have been a problem. It is possible that Ken Hamlin is one good coach away from elite status? And do the Seahawks want to risk finding that out when he’s kicking butt for another team?
The Case Against: Admittedly, Hamlin’s game is not perfect. He has a well-known tendency to aim for the kill shot instead of wrapping up, and this leads to missed tackles. He can be juked out of coverage more easily than you’d like for his position. After four seasons in the NFL, there’s no doubt that Ken Hamlin still needs refining work. Are the raw materials good enough to make the project worth the effort?
If you ask this writer, the answer is as crushingly obvious as one of Hamlin’s de-cleaters. There are those who say that a free safety shouldn’t have this many tackles every year, and should have more interceptions, but Hamlin’s numbers aren’t altogether different than his college stats. The Seahawks knew they weren’t getting a strict coverage safety when they drafted Ken Hamlin.
Keep or Kick? Keep, and I’m surprised that so many people seem to think otherwise. Frankly, I think there are some misconceptions about Hamlin that have promoted this view. First of all, he’s seen by some as a “thug”, based on his college DUIs (we’ve covered those), the 2005 Pioneer Square incident (ditto, and to this day, nobody’s proven full blame on Hamlin in a public forum when it comes to that night), and the idea that he’s a very penalty-prone player.
Let’s take care of that last one right now.
In 2006, according to the Football Outsiders penalty database, the NFL's most penalized player was a defensive back – Chris McAlister of the Baltimore Ravens, with 18 for 127 yards. Hamlin was flagged four times - yes, four times all flippin’ season – for 53 yards. McAlister’s Defensive Pass Interference yardage alone was more than Hamlin’s total yardage. In fact, one of those penalties against Hamlin was an offsetting personal foul with San Francisco running back Frank Gore in Week 15. His two Unnecessary Roughness penalties did lead the league, but it also tied him with nine other players.
I think it would be an enormous mistake for the Seahawks not to sign Ken Hamlin to a multi-year contract. At the very least, they must franchise him. He could be a tremendous challenge, in a positive sense, for Mora and Seattle’s re-tooled defensive staff. This is a secondary that really needs to move forward if the Seahawks are to challenge for another Super Bowl berth in 2007. Right now, it’s tied with the offensive line as the team’s weak spot. You know that the Seahawks are going to do what’s necessary to re-tool that line after some very hard lessons last year. Re-signing Ken Hamlin will allow the team to put one foot in front of the other when it comes to the other glaring liability.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET and a staff writer for Football Outsiders. He also writes the weekly "Manic Monday" feature for FoxSports.com. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.