Hamstring and pectoral injuries to Lofa Tatupu opened the door for Seahawks second-year linebacker…
#50 – Lance Laury
Signed through: Restricted Free Agent
Voted a special teams captain for the second straight season, Laury led the Seahawks with 21 special teams tackles in 2009, and also forced a fumble.
#51 – Lofa Tatupu
Signed through: 2015
2010 salary: $1.85M
2010 cap number (approx., if applicable): $8.016M
A hamstring injury in the season-opener limited Tatupu's effectiveness in the early part of the season, and a torn pectoral muscle in Week 6 against the Arizona Cardinals ended his season. Tatupu posted 32 tackles and a quarterback sack in his five games last year.
#52 – D.D. Lewis
Signed through: Unrestricted Free Agent
Released and re-signed at the beginning of the season, Lewis made 9 special teams tackles and forced a fumble in 2009.
#53 – Anthony Heygood
Signed through: 2011
2010 salary: $320,000
2010 cap number (approx., if applicable): $320,000
An undrafted free agent out of Purdue, Heygood spent last off-season and training camp with the Carolina Panthers. Heygood had three tackles for the Panthers during the 2009 pre-season, but he was released at the end of training camp. The Seahawks added him to the practice squad in Week 8, where he spent the remainder of the season, and he was signed to a two-year "Reserve/Futures" deal after the regular season ended.
#54 – Will Herring
Signed through: 2010
2010 salary: $550,000
2010 cap number (approx., if applicable): $590,775
Injuries to Hill and Curry opened the door for Herring to start 6 games at outside linebacker in 2009, as Herring set career-highs with 48 tackles, including 5 for a loss.
#56 – Leroy Hill
Signed through: 2014
2010 salary: $6M
2010 cap number (approx., if applicable): $6.4M
After signing a six-year, $36 million dollar contract last off-season, Hill torn a groin muscle early in Week 1 and would miss the next five games. Hill finished the season with 48 tackles and 1 quarterback sack, setting or equaling career-lows in those categories.
#57 – David Hawthorne
Signed through: Exclusive Rights Free Agent
Tatupu's injuries opened the door for "The Heater" to have a breakout season, leading the Seahawks with 116 tackles, tying for the team lead with 3 interceptions, and posting 4 quarterback sacks, which ranked third on the team and equaled the combined total posted by Hill, Tatupu, and Curry, the team's starting linebackers entering the season.
#59 – Aaron Curry
Signed through: 2014
2010 salary: $395,000
2010 cap number (approx., if applicable): $3.4M
The fourth overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft didn't have the major impact he was expected to during his rookie season. Curry started well, averaging over six tackles and posting a pair of quarterback sacks and forced fumbles, while racking up tens of thousands of dollars in fines for his aggressive play, during the first six weeks of his career. After the bye week, which coincided with Tatupu landing on injured reserve, Curry's play slumped, particularly in pass coverage, and he lost considerable playing time to extra defensive backs and Leroy Hill during the final ten weeks of the regular season. Curry sat out the final two weeks after suffering a stinger during a Week 15 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
One tidbit in the accompanying "snap counts" piece was that Tatupu, Hill, and Curry, who combined to earn $8.35 million dollars in base salary last season, were on the field together for just eight plays during the 2009 regular season.
That's $1.04 million dollars per play from what was billed as the most talented 4-3 linebacker trio in the NFL.
Therefore "health" may be the most important factor for the Seahawks' linebackers.
If healthy, Tatupu and Hill are capable of playing at Pro Bowl, or close to a Pro Bowl, levels. Tatupu has been nicked up the last two seasons—he played one-handed for much of 2008—but he is the unquestioned leader of the defense, and that role figures to increase with the arrivals of his head coach (Pete Carroll) and position coach (Ken Norton, Jr.) from college, as well.
2010 is an important season for Hill.
Paid like a Pro Bowler, despite never having been or ever being seriously considered to go to one, Hill had a disappointing 2009 season. Perhaps he'll benefit from a more aggressive defense that includes blitzing its linebackers, but he'll need to stay healthy to stave off competition for playing time from not just Curry, but from Hawthorne and Herring, as well.
At minimum, Hawthorne, an exclusive rights free agent, should be back on a one-year contract worth $470,000.
After leading the team in tackles, much has been made about the 'Hawks moving to 3-4 defense to get Hawthorne on the field more, but as even Hawthorne has pointed out, he's never played in a 3-4 defense at any level. Considering the Seahawks do not have anyone capable of effectively playing the nose, Hawthorne and Tatupu--neither being very big inside linebackers--would be counted on to win more one-on-one battles with guards.
As far as trading Hawthorne goes, the first question to that is "Why?"
Teams can never have enough quality depth, so why trade a player capable of being your starting middle linebacker, and who is presumably under club control for another four seasons (absent a new collective bargaining agreement), when the Pro Bowl-caliber middle linebacker is coming off two injury-plagued seasons?
Unless a team bowls the Seahawks over with an offer for Hawthorne--which is unlikely considering a.) How deep the 2010 NFL Draft is, and b.) That for as much praise as his play received last year, he struggled mightily in pass coverage--he should back, perhaps captaining the special teams units and seeing action as the fourth linebacker in creative schemes drawn up by Carroll and Gus Bradley.
For as much as Curry struggled when he dropped in coverage, he played well the closer he was to the line of scrimmage, and while he posted just two quarterback sacks on the season, he was frequently removed for an additional defensive back in second half of the season by a coaching staff that was averse to blitzing its linebackers. Curry did show that he's not going to be effectively blocked by a tight end or running back, but there are legitimate questions about how he'll fare in one-on-one match-ups with tackles, and he'll need to develop additional moves to be an effective pass-rusher in the NFL.
Curry should benefit from a healthy return by Tatupu, as well Carroll's intention to devise schemes that suit the strengths of the players.
For the second straight season, Laury is a restricted free agent. The Seahawks did not tender him last off-season, opting instead to re-sign him to a one-year deal at the veteran minimum. With the restricted free agent tender increasing to over twice what Laury made in 2009, it's unclear whether or not the Seahawks would place the $1.176M tender on him, but Laury is a bigger, more physical player who has been one of the more consistent special teams players the team has had the last few seasons.
In addition to writing for NorthwestFootball.net, Brian McIntyre blogs daily at Mac's Football Blog. You can follow Brian on Twitter, and if you'd like to e-mail him, you can always do so by clicking here.