And they're getting one
hell of a bargain.
The details are simple --
six more seasons after his rookie contract ends in 2009. He'll make $27 million
in the first three years of the deal. For a player who instantly became the
heart and soul of Seattle's defense after being selected with the 45th pick
in the 2005 draft -- the Seahawks having traded up to insure that they'd get
the former USC linebacker -- it's a worthy reward.
What the Seahawks are paying
for above all, as Mike Holmgren touched upon in the Friday press conference
announcing Tatupu's contract extension, is the kind of confidence that rare
players bring to the field. After years of trying to find the answer at middle
linebacker, the Seahawks never had another question after Tatupu arrived for
his first minicamp in 2005.
Like Tatupu himself, there's
more to this new contract than meets the eye. Four teammates -- defensive end
Patrick Kerney, defensive tackle Craig Terrill, safety Deon Grant and cornerback
Jordan Babineaux -- restructured their own contracts so that Tatupu could become,
as team president Tim Ruskell put it, "a Seahawk for life". It is
this culture of unselfishness and team-think that is Tatupu's greatest gift
to the Seahawks. In a very real sense, he was rewarded by the machine he created.
The deal had been brewing
since the summer of 2007, as Fletcher Smith (Tatupu's agent) and John Idzik
(the Seahawks' personnel finance man) put the particulars together. "It
kind of epitomizes what we are as a team, and the players who make up our team,"
Ruskell said of the deal's architecture. Tatupu could have delayed the deal
and received more money on the open market with another great season. Elite
middle linebackers aren't exactly common, and Tatupu has never missed a Pro
Bowl. But the man himself wanted to leave money on the table for others -- like
defensive teammates Leroy Hill and Marcus Trufant -- who may sign long-term
deals of their own.
"I don't want to be
anywhere else," Tatupu said. "I'm more than happy here. I don't know
what else you could ask for -- I'm just grateful for the opportunity and the
way things have turned out. I couldn't picture myself in any other uniform,
and now I don't have to. I love my team. I couldn't ask for a better group of
teammates, coaching staff, everything. I'm just grateful to be here, and glad
it could get done."
Ruskell, who cut his teeth
as an area scout and personnel executive for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the
1990s, said that Tatupu's presence in Seattle is as important an achievement
for him as some of his greatest finds for that legendary Bucs defense.
"I couldn't be more
proud of this guy. Everyone knows what we went through when we took him -- we
were blasted for (taking him in the) second round and all that. And that's not
what I'm proud of. I'm proud of what he's done. We made an effort (in trading
up) to get there, and we took some heat, but that's not important.
"What's important is
what he's done, and what he's meant to this football team. He's the heart and
soul of this defense -- I know Coach Holmgren will talk about that. As I look
back on my career personally, in terms of picks I've been involved with, I'll
look back on this one as one of my favorites of all time. When people ask me
about that, I think of John Lynch and Ronde Barber, and Derrick Brooks, guys
like that, and Lofa's right up there with them. There are a couple of Hall-of-Famers
"Having said all that,
we are as proud of what Lofa is as a person and what he's done in the community
in terms of visiting the schools, and when we ask him to see a patient who may
be terminally ill, he's never batted an eye and he's done that. He won't toot
his own horn about that, but if you could read some of the letters and phone
calls we get after that, it's an amazing thing. It just epitomizes what a Seahawk
Holmgren echoed Ruskell's
admiration. "When you get into the draft -- and we're approaching the draft
this year -- you put a lot of work into determining the measurables at a particular
position. Weight, speed, all the things that our scouts work very, very hard
to judge. One of the more difficult things to just with any player is what's
inside of the player. The competitive nature of the player. The intangibles.
Clearly, in Lofa's case, as Tim already stated, we were very sure of the type
of player we were getting.
"He has not let anybody
down in the field -- in fact, he has gone way over what anyone could expect
from any player who's played as long in the league as he has. He's very much
the quarterback of our defense, he's very much a leader of our football team."
Holmgren, who has worked
with some of the NFL's all-time greats, then made a startling admission. "(Tatupu)
is the first player I've seen at any position, as a head coach in this league,
where I don't worry about what he does at all. He's going to get people lined
up, and he's going to play the game the way it's supposed to be played, and
his example on the field and off is what we'd want each of our players to be."
Pretty heady stuff from
a man who's run offenses with Joe Montana, Steve Young and Jerry Rice, won a
Super Bowl with Reggie White, and almost took another one with Walter Jones.
Tatupu takes the compliments
in stride -- for him, it's about what's next. Starting with the task of leading
a defense that's finally rounding into shape after several years of tinkering.
"If you look at all the guys they've brought in -- (Julian) Peterson, (Patrick)
Kerney, even (Leroy) Hill in the same draft with me. The two new safeties (Deon Grant and Brian Russell)… every year, it's just been that much better
as far as defense is concerned. I'm just grateful to work with guys like that,
and those guys who were mentioned -- Craig, Babs, Kerney and Deon. To restructure
(their deals) says a lot about their character and the kind of guys they are."
On this momentous day that
no doubt fills the hearts of every Seahawks fan with a great sense of relief,
it's important to remember just how unpopular the pick was in 2005. Tatupu was
seen as an overachiever by most, a heady player who would run into trouble at
the next level because of his size and speed deficits. Many draft "experts"
thought the pick was crazy. One well-established prognosticator said that Tatupu
was a two- or three-round reach. Still, the Bengals and Colts were watching
Tatupu, and the Seahawks had good cause to move up to get him.
Three seasons, three Pro
Bowls, 337 tackles and one defense defined after that initial selection, the
formerly underrated, too-slow/too-short misfit is among the best things to happen
to the Seahawks in the greatest years of the franchise. NFLDraftScout Senior
Draft Analyst Rob Rang was one of the few who had Tatupu's gifts scouted correctly
from the start. Rang's Seahawks.NET draft-day prediction that "in three
years, everybody in Seattle will be wearing Lofa Tatupu jerseys" proved
supremely prescient, and he has the last word on the early legacy of the Seahawks'
very heart and soul.
Few athletes in Seattle's
professional sports history have taken over a fanbase so quickly and completely
as Lofa Tatupu has over his early career. While it may remain premature to list
Tatupu among the city's all-time greatest sports figures, his production, high
character, and role in the Seahawks' run to the Super Bowl have him on track
to do so.
And fortunately, for many
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET,
a staff writer for Football
Outsiders, and he writes NFL previews for the New
York Sun. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.