2011 Free Agents: LB

The current state of the Seahawks’ linebacker corps is weird to say the least.  I always used to point to the ‘backers as a position of strength, and I did so with pride.  Leroy Hill, Lofa Tatupu, and Julian Peterson were amazing to watch just a few years ago.  You knew that any one of them could change a game in just a single play.

Then we traded Peterson to the Lions, partly because he was getting older and partly because Tim Ruskell wanted to make room for Aaron Curry.  We have yet to see Curry reach his full potential. (I know this isn’t a shock to anyone, but the previous front office didn’t draft well.)  He’s been a decent starter for the Hawks, but we all expected much more from him.  For one, I think the hype we heard from Mora and company after the draft made us all assume that Curry would be able to pass rush better than he has.

I think I’m finally starting to realize that Curry is never going to be the second coming of Lawrence Taylor or Derrick Thomas.  Instead, he is going to be a good stay-at-home linebacker who plays well against the run.  Who knows, he might be able to add a little weight to his frame and become a good “Leo” end in Pete Carroll’s defense, but for that to happen he will really need to work on his pass rushing skills.

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Leroy Hill is currently out of favor with the Hawks due to legal troubles, plus he’s now a free agent thanks to a reworked contract.  Let’s be honest, anyone dumb enough to fall asleep behind the wheel at an intersection while high on an illegal substance deserves to be shown the door by any NFL team.  I think the kicker for the new front office was the domestic abuse allegation that was made against Hill last offseason (while he was on probation, no less).  I don’t know if Hill is guilty or not, nor do I really care.  All I know is that because of his decisions, he won’t be back in Seattle.

Next up is the Heater, David Hawthorne.  You have to love an undrafted free agent who makes it big — because of him, I’m starting to feel hopeful and optimistic about every undrafted guy the Seahawks bring in.  If Lofa Tatupu can’t return to form, Hawthorne will probably end up replacing him at middle linebacker.

Let’s face it, Tatupu has been in decline since his all-pro years, 2005 – 07.  He’s been plagued by injuries the last few seasons, so much so that I’m starting to lose my jubilation over him being a Seahawk.  He needs to regain his form and stay healthy, otherwise I’m going to start begging the new front office to put the Heater in the middle of our defense.

Will Herring is a restricted agent whom Seattle gave a fifth round tender.  There are people who suggest that he should be our starting weakside linebacker.  I can’t say that I agree with that, but I do love Herring’s coverage skills and his contributions on special teams.  I do believe that he could start for most teams running a 3-4 defense, so he should draw a lot of interest in free agency.

The Hawks’ previous front office used to favor players who might have been on the small side but had heart and could play football, Tatupu being the prime example of that approach.  Ruskell was also known to always be on the lookout for high-character guys who had been four year starters at good football schools.  Now Carroll and John Schneider are in charge, and they seem to care more about a player’s athletic ability than whether or not he is a Boy Scout.  I personally favor this approach; the Hawks could use more athletic linebackers.

I dove in with this longwinded intro to give us a good understanding of where the Seahawks stand with their linebackers.  At first glance, many of us are tempted to say that the Hawks are pretty much set at linebacker, but I disagree with that assumption.  Lofa can’t stay healthy, and Curry is taking his sweet time developing into the pro bowler we all expected to get when he was drafted.

However, I would not be happy with Carroll and company if they spent all of our cap room on a position that wasn’t a strong need.  We have bigger deficiencies, most notably at quarterback, cornerback, strong safety, and along the offensive and defensive lines.  The team would be best served by focusing on adding depth rather than high-priced talent (the top two free agent LBs this year, Lamar Woodley and Chad Greenway, have already been franchise tagged).  If anything, the Seahawks should use a late round pick on a talented player who has dropped because of an issue of some sort, much like they did last year with Walter Thurmond.

I also would love to see the Hawks make a serious attempt to bring back Will Herring, Leroy Hill, and Matt McCoy.  Each provided quality depth last year (or at least Hill would have, had he not gone on IR), but now all three could walk out the door in free agency and the front office hasn’t done much to stop that from happening, at least that we know of.  Hill could be brought back at a bargain price due to his moronic choices the last few offseasons, McCoy is a solid contributor on special teams, and Herring is a special teams ace with coverage skills.  If just two of them are brought back next year, we could be looking pretty good at LB, especially if we can also pick up a rookie free agent with enough potential to be groomed as a future starter.

The Top Tier Free Agent Linebackers:
Will Herring (SEA)
Leroy Hill (SEA)
Matt McCoy (SEA)
Tamba Hali (KC)
David Harris (NYJ)
Stephen Tulloch (TEN)
Paul Posluszny (BUF)
James Anderson (CAR)
Rocky McIntosh (WAS)
Barrett Ruud (TB)
Takeo Spikes (SF)

And the Rest:
Stephen Nicholas (ATL)
Mike Peterson (ATL)
Tavares Gooden (BAL)
Keith Ellison (BUF)
Jamar Williams (CAR)
Pisa Tinoisamoa (CHI)
Nick Roach (CHI)
Dhani Jones (CIN)
Brandon Johnson (CIN)
D’Qwell Jackson (CLE)
Chris Gocong (CLE)
Matt Roth (CLE)
Jason Trusnik (CLE)
Landon Johnson (DET)
Zach Diles (HOU)
Kevin Bentley (HOU)
Clint Session (IND)
Justin Durant (JAC)
Kirk Morrison (JAC)
Mike Vrabel (KC)
Quentin Moses (MIA)
Ben Leber (MIN)
Erin Henderson (MIN)
Tracy White (NE)
Danny Clark (NO)
Scott Shanle (NO)
Chase Blackburn (NYG)
Keith Bulluck (NYG)
Thomas Howard (OAK)
Kamerion Wimbley (OAK)
Stewart Bradley (PHI)
Ernie Sims (PHI)
Omar Gaither (PHI)
Antwan Barnes (SD)
Kevin Burnett (SD)
Stephen Cooper (SD)
Brandon Siler (SD)
Travis LaBoy (SF)
Manny Lawson (SF)
David Vobora (STL)
Quincy Black (TB)
David Thornton (TEN)

(Thanks to Football’s Future for the free agent list.)