Few NFL teams entered this offseason with as many questions as the Seattle Seahawks. They didn't know if their coach would return. They needed to overhaul their front office. And their list of 16 players eligible for unrestricted free agency included quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, tailback Shaun Alexander and left tackle Walter Jones.
More things have ended up staying the same than changing in the five months since then. Coach Mike Holmgren remained on board, and got a front office more to his liking. The Seahawks retained their most prominent free-agent players, and found comparable replacements for most of the other free agents who departed.
What remains to be seen is whether basically staying the course was the right thing for the club to do.
The Seahawks had a wildly inconsistent 2004 season in which they looked like Super Bowl contenders when they began with three victories followed by a bye week, then unraveled starting with a Week 5 overtime defeat at home to the St. Louis Rams in which they squandered a 17-point lead in the final six minutes of regulation. They won the NFC West with a record of 9-7, but it was an unfulfilling season that ended with another home loss to the Rams in the first round of the playoffs.
Hasselbeck said after that game that he hoped the Seahawks would keep the nucleus of the club intact because he thought the team had a good thing going. That is debatable, however. The Seahawks are yet to notch a playoff triumph in six seasons under Holmgren, leaving the franchise still winless in the postseason since Dec. 22, 1984.
Yet Holmgren emerged as the winner in his power struggle with Bob Whitsitt, the Seahawks' now-former club president. Holmgren stayed, and Seahawks owner Paul Allen fired Whitsitt in January. The Seattle front office was gutted this offseason, as vice president of football operations Ted Thompson returned to Green Bay to become the Packers' general manager, college scouting director Scot McCloughan was hired as the San Francisco 49ers' front-office chief and Bob Ferguson resigned as general manager. The Seahawks hired Tim Ruskell, formerly the assistant GM of the Atlanta Falcons, as their president of football operations, and brought back former front-office executive Mike Reinfeldt, first as a consultant and then in a full-time role as vice president of football administration.
Reinfeldt began paring the team's list of prospective free agents even before being made a full-time employee again. He kept Jones from becoming an unrestricted free agent by signing him in February to a seven-year, $52.5 million contract extension that included a $16 million signing bonus and another $5 million in roster bonuses in 2006 and 2007. Five days later, he got Hasselbeck to agree to a six-year, $47 million extension that included a $16 million signing bonus.
The Hasselbeck deal kept the Seahawks from having to make a decision between Hasselbeck and Alexander. If both had remained eligible for free agency, team officials would have had to choose one or the other to be given the club's franchise-player tag. But with Hasselbeck signed, the Seahawks were able to retain both by using the tag on Alexander.
It has appeared throughout the offseason that the Seahawks were willing to trade Alexander, who still hasn't signed the franchise-player deal that would pay him a salary of $6.323 million next season. The NFL Network reported this week that the Seahawks are discussing a deal that would send Alexander to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a third-round draft pick, but nothing has been completed yet.
If Alexander stays, he and Holmgren will have to coexist after Alexander criticized the coach's play-calling following the win over the Falcons in the regular-season finale that clinched the division title for Seattle. Alexander was unhappy about a quarterback sneak that cost him the NFL rushing title, which he lost to the New York Jets' Curtis Martin by a single yard.
Holmgren was miffed that reports of that incident overshadowed the club's division title, but the controversies didn't end for him when the season concluded. Wide receiver Koren Robinson, a former first-round draft choice who had a 1,200-yard receiving season for the Seahawks in 2002, continued to create headaches for team officials in the offseason.
Robinson served a four-game suspension last season for violating for the NFL's substance-abuse policy, and was benched by Holmgren for two games for violating team rules in separate incidents. Holmgren allowed Robinson to play against the Rams in the playoffs after Robinson promised to seek professional help in the offseason. Robinson reportedly participated in an alcohol rehabilitation program. But only days after telling reporters that he knew he was down to his last chance with the Seahawks, Robinson was arrested in the Seattle area in early May and charged with reckless driving and driving under the influence of alcohol. The Seahawks released him last week.
The team lost significant, contributing players throughout the offseason. Cornerback Ken Lucas, defensive end Chike Okeafor and linebacker Orlando Huff signed elsewhere as free agents. Cornerback Bobby Taylor, safety Damien Robinson, linebackers Anthony Simmons and Chad Brown and right tackle Chris Terry were released, as was NFL career receiving leader Jerry Rice, who had a cameo with Seattle last season after being obtained in a trade with the Oakland Raiders. The Seahawks, in a classy move, traded veteran backup quarterback Trent Dilfer to Cleveland for a fourth-round draft pick because Dilfer has a chance to be the starter for the Browns.
But, for the most part, the Seahawks patched the holes created by those departures. They signed linebackers Jamie Sharper and Kevin Bentley and cornerbacks Andre Dyson and Kelly Herndon in free agency. They got free-agent defensive end Bryce Fisher to replace Okeafor, and they added wideouts Joe Jurevicius and Jerome Pathon in free agency even before they released Koren Robinson.
Ruskell did make a curious initial draft choice with the franchise, using a first-round selection on Mississippi center Chris Spencer, that when the Seahawks kept their offensive line mostly intact this offseason by re-signing center Robbie Tobeck, guard Chris Gray and tackle Floyd (Pork Chop) Womack as free agents. Womack filled in for the injured Terry at right tackle last season.
The net effect is that the Seahawks, if they keep Alexander, probably have a team roughly comparable to last season's version, with a potentially happier coach who won't have as much to worry about in the way of office politics. But they were among the league's most enigmatic and, ultimately, disappointing teams last season, and they don't promise to be any easier to figure out this time around . . . .
Holmgren missed the Seahawks' practice Tuesday after experiencing chest pains following Monday's practice. But doctors found no abnormalities in a round of tests, and Holmgren is scheduled to return to the practice field Thursday after a second day of rest today.
Around the League
The Browns appear poised to release left tackle Ross Verba. The club continued to fortify its depth at the position by signing free-agent offensive tackle Marcus Spears on Tuesday. L.J. Shelton, the former first-round draft choice by Arizona signed by the Browns as a free agent over the weekend, probably will take over as the team's starter at left tackle for Verba, who has been embroiled in a contract dispute with the club and has asked to be released . . .
Rams wide receiver Isaac Bruce was cleared by doctors to resume practicing. He sat out last weekend's minicamp because of an abnormal heartbeat . . . .
New York Jets officials say they have not given up on the proposal to have a $2 billion stadium built for them on the West Side of Manhattan despite Monday's rejection by the state Public Authorities Control Board of a plan to provide $300 million in public funding for the project. The stadium not only is a key element of New York's bid to host the 2012 Olympics, it also would house the Jets and host the 2010 Super Bowl. The NFL awarded that Super Bowl to New York City, contingent upon the stadium being built.
Monday's vote was "a setback, but it is not the final chapter to be written in our quest to build a home for the New York Jets in Manhattan," team president Jay Cross said in a written statement. "Four years of hard work and planning will not be washed away in a single day." . . .
Jaguars rookie Matt Jones is participating in offseason drills after being hindered in recent weeks by a strained hamstring muscle. The first-round draft pick because he's being moved to wide receiver after playing quarterback in college at Arkansas . . . .
Indianapolis Colts officials are consulting with the league office to make certain they're within their rights if they suspend safety Mike Doss without pay for one or more games next season. Colts officials have indicated they plan to discipline Doss, who was sentenced to community service, a fine and suspended jail time after entering no-contest pleas this week to two gun-related misdemeanor charges stemming from a recent incident in Akron, Ohio, in which he allegedly fired a handgun into the air outside a crowded nightclub.