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PiercingCard77
02-06-2006, 11:45 AM
Hawks focus turns to contracts
By Chris Cluff

Seattle Times staff reporter

Their Super Bowl is not even a day old, but it's not soon enough for the Seahawks to begin preparing for the next one.

Free agency begins March 3, and the team must quickly make decisions regarding 15 pending free agents, with emphasis on All-Pro running back Shaun Alexander and All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson.

The good news is that Alexander, Hutchinson and All-Pro fullback Mack Strong are the only regular starters on either side of the ball scheduled to become free agents.

The bad news is that Alexander and Hutchinson will cost the team a lot of money to re-sign.

The Seahawks did not want to talk about possible offseason plans while the season was ongoing, but they have the money to keep most of their key players and perhaps add a few.

According to an NFL Players Association source, the Seahawks have $76 million committed against the 2006 salary cap, which is projected to be between $92 million and $95 million. That gives the Seahawks at least $16 million to sign Alexander, Hutchinson and any others, including their three restricted free agents and their draft class.

SURVEY


Which free agent do the Hawks need to re-sign?

Shaun Alexander
Steve Hutchinson
Mack Strong


View Results


The futures of Alexander and Hutchinson will be the Seahawks' biggest decisions.

The Seahawks will not be able to rely on the franchise tag to keep Alexander again because the one-year contract he signed last summer prohibits that. So if the team is to prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent, a long-term deal will have to be consummated before March 3.

Playing under a one-year franchise tender that paid him $6.32 million in 2005, Alexander led the NFL with 1,880 rushing yards, scored a league-record 28 touchdowns and won the NFL's Most Valuable Player Award.

That résumé earned him the right to expect a contract like the one San Diego tailback LaDainian Tomlinson signed in August 2004 — an eight-year, $60 million deal that included $21 million in bonuses.




He can expect it, but whether Alexander gets such a deal is another question entirely.

The sticking points figure to be length of contract — Alexander will be 29 when next season begins — and the amount of guaranteed money. The team gave $16 million signing bonuses to quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and left tackle Walter Jones last offseason and is not expected to go nearly that high for Alexander.

If the team can't re-sign Alexander, No. 2 tailback Maurice Morris might become more of a priority to retain. Or the team will look for a back in the draft.

Hutchinson is headed to his third straight Pro Bowl and will command a salary in the neighborhood of $5 million per year, with as much as $10 million in bonuses.

If the team can't get a long-term deal with Hutchinson by Feb. 23 — the deadline for designating franchise players — the guard probably will become the third Seahawk in three years to be restricted by the one-year tender.

That would be an unpalatable and likely temporary solution because the going rate for franchise linemen last season was $7.4 million — a salary that would prohibit the Seahawks from keeping a couple more players. Hutchinson would count much less with a long-term contract.

Like Alexander, Hutchinson has said he would like to stay in Seattle, and the Seahawks figure to make that happen one way or another.

Strong is coming off a three-year, $2.58 million contract and should not be a problem to re-sign considering that he has played in Seattle for his entire 13-year career and that it is doubtful another team would offer a lot of money to a 34-year-old fullback.

The Seahawks also will have to weigh what it's worth to try to keep key contributors such as receiver Joe Jurevicius (10 touchdown catches), defensive tackle Rocky Bernard (8 ½ sacks) and safety Marquand Manuel, who started 10 games for injured Ken Hamlin. All three made between $650,000 and $700,000 and probably earned significant raises, but Seattle will not be able to afford all of them.

Hamlin has said he intends to return from a head injury suffered in a nightclub brawl last October. But Manuel was "better than good" as Hamlin's replacement, coach Mike Holmgren said.

The Seahawks also might have to make a move in the coaching staff. Even if defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes stays on, it most likely will be in a reduced role because of the stroke he suffered Sept. 4. John Marshall, who filled in for Rhodes all season, probably will take over permanently as the coordinator, which might leave Marshall's job as linebackers coach open.