Improved Seahawks Are Super Bowl Contenders
By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 8, 2004; 4:33 PM
Seattle Seahawks, prime Super Bowl contenders.
Those are words that haven't gone together very often during the franchise's 28-year history. But the Seahawks were close last season, going 10-6 during the regular season and suffering a gut-wrenching playoff loss at Green Bay on Al Harris's overtime touchdown for the Packers on an interception return. And they have gotten better during the offseason.
Seattle made three significant moves in free agency, adding defensive end Grant Wistrom and cornerback Bobby Taylor and re-signing wide receiver Darrell Jackson.
The Wistrom move came first and showed the Seahawks were serious about building a team capable of reaching the Super Bowl for the first time. On the second day of free agency, the club signed Wistrom, a six-year veteran who'd spent his entire career with the St. Louis Rams, to a six-year, $33-million contract that included a $14-million signing bonus. The previous day, the Philadelphia Eagles had signed defensive end Jevon Kearse, perhaps the top player available in free agency, to an eight-year, $66-million deal that included a $16-million signing bonus and $4 million in roster bonuses. Wistrom, 27, isn't quite the pass rusher that Kearse is, but he isn't as big of an injury risk either. He had 7 1/2 sacks last season and 41 1/2 sacks in his Rams tenure.
The Jackson signing came next, as the Seahawks retained the best -- by far -- receiver available on the unrestricted free-agent market for a six-year, $25-million deal that included an $8-million signing bonus. Jackson led the team with 68 catches for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns last season. And he, Koren Robinson and Bobby Engram give quarterback Matt Hasselbeck a solid group of wideouts to make Seattle's passing game a productive complement to the running of tailback Shaun Alexander.
Taylor came last, leaving the Eagles to sign a four-year, $11.8-million contract that included a $3-million signing bonus. Taylor should provide a steadying, veteran influence to blend with the youthful talents of Marcus Trufant and Ken Lucas. Every top NFL team needs at least three starting-caliber cornerbacks, especially with the league's promised officiating focus on eliminating illegal downfield contact on receivers during the upcoming season, and the addition of Taylor compensates for the free-agent departure of Shawn Springs.
The middle of the Seattle defense suffered its offseason hits, as Chad Eaton and Norman Hand were released and fellow tackle John Randle retired. Middle linebacker Randall Godfrey exited via free agency, signing with the San Diego Chargers.
But the Seahawks re-signed tackle Cedric Woodard to a five-year deal worth $15 million (including a $4-million signing bonus) in free agency, then used the 23rd overall pick in the draft on Texas defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs. Seattle tried but failed to trade up to get the University of Miami's Vince Wilfork, who went 21st overall to the New England Patriots, but had Tubbs rated only slightly behind Wilfork atop its draft board.
The Seahawks also got a potential starter in the second round in Florida State linebacker Michael Boulware, but he'll have to make the transition to strong safety. Seattle didn't address its need for a replacement for Godfrey at middle linebacker. Club officials say they don't intend to sign Jeremiah Trotter, the former Pro Bowler released by the Washington Redskins, despite rumblings around the league to the contrary. If they don't make a veteran addition, the Seahawks likely will go with Orlando Huff or Solomon Bates.
A year ago, many in the league wondered how safe Coach Mike Holmgren's job was. Now Holmgren has what appears to be, entering the season, one of the best half-dozen or so teams in the league. Alexander, who turns 27 in August, just is entering his prime. Ditto for Hasselbeck, who turns 29 in September and threw for 3,841 yards and 26 touchdowns last season. The offensive line, anchored by left tackle Walter Jones and left guard Steve Hutchinson, is good. Wistrom could make the quarterback-pressuring difference for a defense that ranked 27th in the league against the pass last season. If Huff and the rookies -- Tubbs and Boulware -- come through, the unit could threaten to move into the top 10 in the overall defensive rankings, up from 19th last season, and Seattle could challenge for NFC supremacy.
Around the League
Davey Shines in NFL Europe
The NFL Europe story this season has been quarterback Rohan Davey, who completed 126 of 206 passes for 1,676 yards while leading the Berlin Thunder to a 9-1 record and a berth in Saturday's World Bowl XXII against the Frankfurt Galaxy in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Davey threw for 19 touchdowns, with only six interceptions, and had a 105.9 passer rating. Davey's development was good news for the Patriots, who seem prepared to enter the season with him as their primary backup to Tom Brady. New England allowed veteran backup Damon Huard to depart via free agency, signing with the Kansas City Chiefs, and failed to sign veteran Vinny Testaverde after he was released by the New York Jets. (Testaverde landed with the Dallas Cowboys.) All along, Patriots officials told available quarterbacks and their agents that they were giving strong consideration to making Davey their No. 2 quarterback, depending upon his offseason progress.
"That's the next logical step for me," Davey said in a telephone interview Monday from Germany. "I feel I'm close to being a guy who can be depended on to go into a game and play and play well. I feel I'm there. All I need is an opportunity."
He has thrown only nine passes in two NFL seasons since being selected by New England in the fourth round of the 2002 draft out of LSU. But he certainly has the size (6-foot-2, 245) and the arm to succeed in the NFL. He accepted the Patriots' offer to allocate him to the Thunder -- not an automatic choice because it meant missing Coach Bill Belichick's offseason program -- to try to get some game experience.
"It wasn't anything I was told I had to do," Davey said. "It was pointed out to me as an opportunity. That's how I looked at it, as an opportunity to come over here and do some things. I'm a young, energetic quarterback, but I needed to work on my game management -- the detail parts of the game. You can only do that by playing in games. I feel like I've improved my game management. I feel like I've improved my accuracy and my patience. This can only help me accomplish my goals."
The league has been a good developing ground for quarterbacks, including Kurt Warner, Brad Johnson, Jake Delhomme, Jon Kitna, Jay Fiedler and Tim Hasselbeck. Last season, eight of the 32 NFL teams started a quarterback with NFL Europe experience. In all, 26 NFL Europe alums have been NFL starting quarterbacks. Each of the past three Super Bowls has featured a quarterback who played in NFL Europe (Warner, Johnson and Delhomme).
The opposing QB on Saturday will be Frankfurt's J.T. O'Sullivan, the New Orleans Saints' No. 3 quarterback behind Aaron Brooks and Todd Bouman. Some Saints officials liken O'Sullivan to Delhomme, who led Frankfurt to the 1999 World Bowl title as a member of the Saints before signing with Carolina as a free agent last offseason and helping the Panthers to the Super Bowl. O'Sullivan was the second-rated passer in NFL Europe this season, at 91.9. But O'Sullivan's Galaxy lost twice to Davey's Thunder, including by 41-0 last weekend.
NFL to Add Spot for Foreign-Born Players
The NFL is phasing in its plan to add a spot to each team's practice squad for a foreign-born player. The four NFC West clubs will have a ninth spot on their practice squads this season for an international player. The other 28 teams will have eight players apiece on their practice squads, up from five last season.
The players will be Berlin offensive lineman Rolando Cantu of Mexico, Berlin defensive end Christian Mohr of Germany, Rhein Fire safety Richard Yancy of Germany and Rhein offensive lineman Peter Heyer of Germany. Heyer spent the last NFL preseason with the Saints. The players have not yet been assigned to their NFC West teams. They will not be eligible to be signed by another NFL club to its 53-man roster during the season, as other practice-squad players are.
"This initiative is another major step forward for our program," Nick Polk, the senior director of football operations for NFL Europe, said in a written statement released by the NFL. "The idea is for these players to be involved with an NFL team for an entire season, beginning in training camp. It is an opportunity for them to experience the speed of the NFL, to develop their skills, to be challenged physically and mentally, whether it is in the weight room or in learning new offensive or defensive systems.
"Our goal is to have national players participating in NFL games in years to come and this is a significant move towards achieving that goal."
George Sets Deadline
Tennessee tailback Eddie George is getting married June 20 and has set that as an informal deadline for having a new deal with the Titans. He and his agent, Lamont Smith, are talking to Titans General Manager Floyd Reese and Coach Jeff Fisher about a restructured contract that would keep George with the club. Before the parties had a productive meeting last week, it had appeared that George would be released this month. . . .
To most NFL coaches, there is no such thing as a voluntary offseason minicamp. That was reinforced again Monday when defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt rejoined his Green Bay teammates after missing the first three days of voluntary camp. Hunt apologized to his teammates, and had informed Coach Mike Sherman beforehand that he wouldn't be on hand for those practices. But Sherman told reporters: "There's no reason in my mind that's acceptable unless there's a death in the family."
Hunt declined to give the reason for his absence, although there were reports that it was related to a football camp he was conducting.
Maddox Gets a Raise
Quarterback Tommy Maddox's contract extension with Pittsburgh was announced Monday by the Steelers. It contains a $2-million signing bonus and, according to agent Vann McElroy, can be worth as much as $14 million over the next four seasons if Maddox earns the incentives in the deal. The deal kept intact the annual salaries included in Maddox's previous contract -- $750,000 in each of the next two seasons and $900,000 in the 2006 season. . . .
Wide receiver Eddie Berlin, a restricted free agent earlier in the offseason, signed his one-year, $628,000 contract tender from the Titans -- with a twist. Berlin's $628,000 salary for the upcoming season is fully guaranteed, a rarity for an NFL player. In return for guaranteeing the salary, the Titans have an option year in 2005 for a $600,000 salary, half of which would be guaranteed if the team exercises the option. . . .
Jesse "The Bachelor" Palmer was the "starter" for the New York Giants during Monday's practice, working ahead of fellow quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Eli Manning. But that means little for the season. Coaches often give the player with the longest tenure with the team the privilege of lining up with the starters during offseason practices. Warner and Manning remain in line to vie for the starting job to open the season, and Palmer remains in danger of being released.
Next: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
© 2004 washingtonpost.com