By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 14, 2006 11:38 AM
The curse of the Super Bowl loser is alive and well. The last five teams to lose the Super Bowl have followed up with losing seasons, including the Philadelphia Eagles last season.
Now it's up to the Seattle Seahawks to try to break that string.
The Seahawks might seem poised to end the streak. They re-signed tailback Shaun Alexander before he hit the free agent market. They still have one of the league's most fearsome offenses led by Alexander, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and left tackle Walter Jones. Their defense should be significantly better with the addition of free agent outside linebacker Julian Peterson and the continued maturation of middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, a Pro Bowl selection last season as a rookie.
But if you think it's not possible for the Seahawks to be victimized by the curse, think again. It can happen to any team, no matter how seemingly powerful or stable. There was no reason to believe after the Eagles lost the Super Bowl by three points to the New England Patriots that they would unravel. They had lapped the field in the NFC during the regular season, and they had gotten through the playoffs without injured wide receiver Terrell Owens. Owens had coexisted peacefully with quarterback Donovan McNabb in his first season in Philadelphia. Only a true believer in the curse could have suspected that the Eagles would fall apart, that Owens would feud with McNabb and the front office on his way to being banished and that McNabb would need season-ending surgery for a sports hernia while the club limped to a record of 6-10.
Yes, it can happen to the Seahawks, and there were some ominous signs this offseason for the defending NFC champs. There was a lengthy Super Bowl hangover, with Coach Mike Holmgren and others in the organization having trouble getting over the controversial officials' calls that plagued the Seahawks in their loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. And then there was a significant, unnecessary blunder by the Seahawks in free agency.
Last year, no team's front office did a better offseason job than Seattle's, as salary cap expert and contract negotiator Mike Reinfeldt returned to the club and managed to re-sign Hasselbeck and Jones to long-term contracts while using the franchise-player tag to retain Alexander. When the Seahawks reached the Super Bowl, Holmgren was quick to credit Reinfeldt, and he talked at length about the organization's internal harmony last season after owner Paul Allen had ended a power struggle between Holmgren and former team president Bob Whitsitt by dismissing Whitsitt. Holmgren had worked amicably and effectively with Reinfeldt and new front-office chief Tim Ruskell.
This offseason, however, no team made a more careless mistake in free agency than the Seahawks did. They did re-sign Alexander, agreeing to an eight-year, $62 million deal to keep the reigning league most valuable player off the unrestricted free agent market. But the Seahawks couldn't re-sign guard Steve Hutchinson. They wanted to keep him, and the natural next step would have been to put the franchise-player tag on him and rest easily, given that it's highly unlikely any team would have seriously considered surrendering two first-round draft picks to pry him away.
But the Seahawks tried to get cute and save a few dollars. They used the transition-player tag on Hutchinson instead of the franchise-player tag. That saved the team about $600,000, but it left the Seahawks vulnerable to losing him. The transition tag gives a club the right to retain a player by matching any offer sheet he might sign with another team. But it doesn't entitle the club to two first-round draft choices as compensation if the player is allowed to sign elsewhere, as with the franchise tag. The Seahawks figured that if Hutchinson signed an offer sheet with another team, they simply would match it.
What they didn't figure was that Hutchinson's agent, Tom Condon, would negotiate a seven-year, $49 million offer sheet with the Minnesota Vikings with a provision that the entire deal would become fully guaranteed if Hutchinson was not the highest-paid offensive lineman on his team. With Jones on the roster, the Seahawks would have had to, in effect, give Hutchinson a fully guaranteed $49 million contract to keep him. They weren't willing to do that and, after a case that was brought before NFL special master Stephen Burbank failed to change the Seahawks' circumstances, they allowed Hutchinson to go to the Vikings.
Seahawks officials reportedly were angry at Condon and the Vikings, and people around the league criticized the "poison pill" contract used to lure Hutchinson from Seattle. Even NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said that such tactics are not in the spirit of the rules of free agency. But the Vikings did operate within the letter of the law, and the Seahawks shouldn't have been upset with anyone but themselves. If they didn't want to lose Hutchinson, they shouldn't have taken an unnecessary risk to save $600,000.
The Seahawks got a measure of revenge when they used a poison-pill contract to take wide receiver Nate Burleson from the Vikings. But they had to surrender a third-round draft choice to Minnesota as compensation for Burleson, a restricted free agent, and the Vikings gladly will take the swap of getting Hutchinson and a third-round pick for Burleson.
The money and salary cap space that the Seahawks would have used to re-sign Hutchinson were devoted to signing Peterson, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, to a seven-year, $54 million contract that included $18.5 million in guarantees. The defense also was strengthened when the club used its first two draft picks on Miami cornerback Kelly Jennings and Virginia Tech linebacker Darryl Tapp.
Holmgren signed a contract extension after musing about leaving coaching. His team remains, potentially, one of the league's most formidable. The Seahawks certainly have the capability to be a top contender in the NFC again, and the rest of their division still is less than imposing. They might be a tempting choice to return to the Super Bowl, if only there wasn't that curse to consider.Around the League
Wide receiver Deion Branch is skipping the Patriots' mandatory three-day minicamp that began Tuesday because he wants a contract extension. He's entering the final season of his current deal and has a salary of just more than $1 million for the upcoming season. . . .
The Steelers sent a letter to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's representatives last year alerting them that the club regarded riding a motorcycle as a dangerous activity for Roethlisberger that could cost him future earnings if he had an accident, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Roethlisberger's contract does not explicitly prohibit him from riding a motorcycle but most NFL players' contracts contain a clause prohibiting the player from participating in dangerous activities. The Steelers' letter apparently was designed to dissuade Roethlisberger from riding his motorcycle and to strengthen the team's legal position if he were to be injured and sidelined for significant period.
The point appears moot. Roethlisberger was injured in a motorcycle accident Monday in which he wasn't wearing a helmet but he likely won't miss much, if any, of the regular season. He suffered a broken jaw, a broken nose, a mild concussion and other injuries, according to his doctors, but people close to him are hopeful that he'll be able to play once his jaw heals in approximately seven weeks.
According to several reports, Roethlisberger does not have a valid motorcycle license.