Engram gambling on big year

It wasn’t a matter of Bobby Engram suddenly coming to his senses and deciding on a whim to come to Seahawks camp.

It was a little more complicated than that.

Engram sat out the Seahawks past two minicamps and threatened to hold out because he didn’t like his contract.

It was a case in which both Engram and the Seahawks were right and both were wrong. On one hand, Engram wanted to be paid fairly. On the other hand, the Seahawks had a signed contract.

Engram was right, Seahawks were wrong: Did Engram’s two-year, $3.4 million deal reflect his value to the Seahawks? No. Engram caught a franchise-record 94 passes last season. He was 34, ancient for a wideout, and yet, he’s at the top of his game. Not five receivers in the league had better years than Engram in 2007, yet more than 80 receivers will make more than the $1.7 million Engram is due this season.

Clearly, it was only fair to renegotiate his contract.

Seahawks were right, Engram was wrong: Engram played just seven games in 2006 because of a thyroid condition. He also isn’t getting any younger. Yet, the Seahawks signed him to a two-year deal. They didn’t have to make that kind of commitment. They did so because Engram is a solid pro, an asset to the community and a respected guy by both his teammates and management.

Clearly, the Seahawks went out of their way to be fair to Engram. He signed a contract. He signed it willingly. Luca Brasi didn’t hold a gun to his head.

No one saw Engram’s career-high 94 catches coming. His next best season came in 1999, when he caught 88 passes for the Bears. He was 34 and coming off a debilitating illness. Who could predict a breakthrough year, even from Engram, the Seahawks’ most consistent receiver since he joined the team in 2001?

But numbers don’t lie and Engram wanted to be compensated accordingly.

Engram made his statement about his contract when he sat out of the voluntary workouts, a personal strike that was a surprise coming from him. Engram always had been a team guy. He’d always been one who avoided controversy. He always went about his work and eschewed self-promotion. He was the anti-T.O.

Maybe Engram saw the possibility of the Seahawks caving. After all, the team is hurting at the position. Deion Branch is coming off knee surgery and is unable to practice. The Seahawks lost D.J. Hackett to free agency. That left Engram and Nate Burleson as the team’s most experienced receivers.

Ben Obomanu and Courtney Taylor have 17 career receptions between them. Logan Payne and Jordan Kent spent last season on the practice squad.

So the Seahawks may have felt pressure to appease Engram — that or make a deal to bring in another veteran receiver.

In the end, though, the Seahawks held firm and Engram rightly decided to return. By doing so, he is taking the gamble that he will have a similar year to 2008 and cash in on a contract that fits his numbers. After all, a receiver in his mid-30s likely is looking at signing the final contract of his football career.

The gamble, of course, is a 35-year-old playing at a highly dangerous position in a violent sport.

Whether or not he’s thrilled with the circumstances, Engram is, at least saying the right things.

“I’m under contract; I’m going to honor that contract,” he told reporters Friday. “I know after last year, I can play at that level for three-four five more years and hopefully, that’s in Seattle. But if that’s not meant to be, we have to move on and deal with that when the time comes.

“But for now, I’m happy to be here.”

Sports columnist John Sleeper: sleeper@heraldnet.com. For Sleeper[`]s blog, “Dangling Participles,” go to www.heraldnet.com/danglingparticiples.

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