RENTON – Enter one franchise linebacker … exit another?
Less than 24 hours after selecting Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry with the fourth overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft, the Seattle Seahawks set loose one of their own.
Leroy Hill, who was designated the team’s franchise player in February, had that designation lifted by the team late Saturday night after he failed to sign his $8.3 million contract tender.
“We’ll continue to negotiate,” team president Tim Ruskell said Sunday night, after confirming the team’s decision. “There’s good faith on both sides. I’m confident that this (decision) will probably hasten (negotiations), whereas the tag did not.”
Ruskell admitted that Saturday’s decision to take outside linebacker Aaron Curry with the fourth overall pick in the NFL draft helped pave the way for the move. He also expressed frustration over how the decision to franchise Hill had stunted negotiations on a long-term contract.
“The negative side of the franchise tag,” Ruskell said, “is that it doesn’t promote getting a deal done.”
Hill’s agent, Todd France, confirmed to the Associated Press on Sunday night that negotiations with the Seahawks are still ongoing.
Hill is the Seahawks’ all-time leader in postseason tackles, and he’s had at least 80 tackles in each of the past three regular seasons. After posting 7 ½ sacks as a rookie in 2005, he has a total of six over the past three seasons.
The Seahawks liked him enough to designate him as its franchise player in February. NFL teams get one franchise tag per season, and it’s most often given to a given team’s most important free agent-to-be.
In March, Hill told a Seattle radio station that he was “thankful” for the franchise tag.
But Hill opted not to sign the $8.3 million tender, and he skipped a voluntary minicamp earlier this month. While his agent tried to negotiate a contract with the Seahawks, Hill kept his distance from the team.
But the Seahawks were unable to reach a long-term deal with Hill, and so they exercised their right to pull the unsigned tender off the table a few hours after drafting Curry.
Hill is now eligible to sign with any team, although his contract probably wouldn’t be as lucrative because of the glut of players on NFL rosters and the lack of available money.
The Seahawks believe the move can give them financial flexibility and open the door for the team to add another veteran or two without going over the salary cap.
The Seahawks already have a lot of money committed to the position after middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu signed a six-year, $42 million deal last summer. And Curry’s contract could, according to ESPN.com, earn him $25 million in guaranteed money.
Removing Hill’s franchise tag “was the right thing to do at the right time,” Ruskell said. “Obviously, it would not have happened if we had not taken Curry. That gave us flexibility.”
Head coach Jim Mora said that the Seahawks have a few options at linebacker, should Hill sign with another team. Veteran D.D. Lewis is the most likely candidate to take his starting spot, but Mora also mentioned backups Will Herring, Lance Laury and David Hawthorne as candidates to be promoted to the starting lineup.
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