When the Seahawks parted company with Lofa Tatupu this week, there was an understandable level of disappointment among parts of the fanbase. Tatupu had an immediate impact for the team when he was drafted in 2005, helping Seattle to it’s first Super Bowl and making the Pro Bowl in each of his first three years. When he signed a contract extension worth $42m in 2008, he stated he wanted to end his career with the Seahawks. Tim Ruskell declared that Tatupu would be an integral part of the team for years to come - a cornerstone. The contract was signed a year before Tatupu would even hit free agency, a sign of the panic with which Ruskell viewed keeping Tatupu.
Unfortunately, the franchise never truly felt the value of that six-year extension. When he wasn’t missing games through injury, he didn’t appear to be capable of the same impact that made him a star during his early years in the NFL.
Nevertheless, Tatupu had made a connection with Seahawks fans. It was a connection shared also with his teammates, who often credited the player’s leadership on and off the field. Head Coach Pete Carroll inherited Tatupu having already worked with him for many years. He’d seen the guy grow up through high school, enjoy success at USC and go onto the pro’s. Last season Tatupu played every game for his former college coach.
Yet here we are, Tatupu a free agent and in discussion with the Oakland Raiders on a potential move to the Bay Area. A surprise, but also absolutely the right move.
You can’t make room for favorites. You can’t stick by a player that’s earning more than his market value is worth. The best franchises know when to move on, not rewarding mediocre or worse performances simply because the player has an attachment to the team, the coach or the city. Sure, we’d all like to see a 100% healthy Tatupu at his best running this team’s defense. However, it’s not going to happen. Move on and let’s invest the money elsewhere.
We saw a similar move with Matt Hasselbeck. The Seahawks were prepared to give him another year, but quite rightly at the age of 36 and considering recent health and performance – one year was all they could commit to. Hasselbeck got a better offer in Tennessee and moves on.
I suspect we’ll see another example soon if the Seahawks use the money saved on Tatupu to sign tight end Zach Miller, who is visiting Seattle today. Miller is a playmaker and a much greater threat in the passing game than John Carlson. He’s been held back by substandard quaterbacking during his time in Oakland, but he has potential to be a top-end player at his position.
The fans have a lot of time for Carlson, but he’s just an average tight end who had great value for Tim Ruskell because he passed the strict criteria with which he judged his prospects. He’s neither a spectacular blocker or a great receiving threat, decent at both but exceptional at neither. There’s every chance if Miller is signed Carlson will be moved on. His value will not bring much in return, possibly a 5th round pick or maybe even less.
Yet the team will be making a ruthless upgrade, a vital upgrade.
This kind of move is so refreshing in Seattle, at least that’s how I see it. Tim Ruskell threw so much money at the wrong positions and lingered on his favorites. Tatupu got $42m, Leroy Hill was franchised and then signed a $38m contract. Aaron Curry signed a $60m deal when the Seahawks drafted another linebacker fourth overall. That’s a first, a second and a third round pick at the linebacker position, all drafted by Ruskell at huge expense. Look at the numbers – $140m committed to linebackers. The Seahawks also mortgaged a lot on getting a tight end for a coach who everybody knew was leaving in twelve months. The second and third round pick they spent on John Carlson ironically could’ve landed Ray Rice, DeSean Jackson and Jermichael Finley.
Throughout this period of the Ruskell era no quarterbacks came in other than David Greene in round three. The offensive line received barely a passing glance as Ruskell stuck by another favorite – Sean Locklear. Positions like defensive end and wide receiver had money thrown at it in free agency on ageing players past their best. Pete Carroll and John Schneider are now left to deal with the mess and it’s good to see they’re making a fist of it.
Difficult decisions need to be made and that’s exactly what is happening. A new plan is being drawn up.
Absolutely that plan has to include finding stars at the key positions (QB, OL, WR, DL) and being prepared to mix things around in other areas. The OL and WR parts of that equation are being checked off.
I presume the approch may be the opposite of Ruskell’s with other positions. For example, if they find a decent linebacker who does a good job in his rookie contract, they’ll be prepared to move on rather than spend the big bucks just because he’s had some initial success. They won’t panic and re-sign the guy a year before he hits free agency.
Invest your resources in positions that matter and try to re-load elsewhere. Know when a player’s star is waning and be prepared to trade them before the inevitable drop off in performance. New England have schooled so many teams by trading players for high draft picks that never live up to the price tag. The Seahawks need to take note.
And that of course means being prepared to move on from fading stars and fan favorites. Consistent contenders change a lot of the parts around their core, but the key components remain throughout. It’s impossible to have every position on offense and defense filled with a great player. Milking players on cheap rookie deals and selling high is part of the NFL business and it’s what makes great teams. Carroll and Schneider are already showing that willingness to be ruthless.