RENTON — Sunday’s loss in Atlanta wasn’t just the end of the Seattle Seahawks season, it may very well have signaled the end of the team’s last connections to the winningest era in franchise history.
For the past couple of years, Seattle’s roster has been overhauled by Pete Carroll and John Schneider and had very little resemblance to the Mike Holmgren-era teams that enjoyed the most success in franchise history. But thanks to the presence of linebacker Leroy Hill and cornerback Marcus Trufant, there continued to be a connection to the teams from last decade that went to the playoffs in five straight seasons and played in Super Bowl XL.
Now Trufant, a first-round pick 2003, and Hill, a rookie on the Super Bowl team, are unrestricted free agents, and there is a decent chance that one or both has played his last game in a Seahawks uniform. If that is the case, Brandon Mebane, who was drafted in 2007, would be the longest-tenured Seahawk, followed by Red Bryant, who was drafted a year later, and Jon Ryan, who was signed in 2008.
Of course, if it were up to Trufant and Hill, they would both love to continue their careers in Seattle. Yet, they also know that in professional sports, and in the NFL in particular, that won’t likely be their decision.
Hill, 30, was still a starter this season on a defense that allowed the fewest points in the NFL this season, but it is entirely possible that the Seahawks could try to get younger — and yes, cheaper — at his spot. The team could go with Malcolm Smith, who started three games this season in place of an injured Hill, or it could draft linebackers.
“I’ll take it in stride,” Hill said of his pending free agency. “I’ll go relax for a while, go take care of my son, and just relax. What’s going to happen is going to happen. We’ll see.
Hill added, “If I do leave, I’d definitely hate it.”
Trufant, 32, lost his starting job because of the emergence of Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, was released in the offseason and then was re-signed later at a significant pay cut. He still played a big part of the defense as Seattle’s third cornerback in nickel packages, and had one of his best games of the season last weekend. The Seahawks, however, have no shortage of talented young defensive backs who they could view as replacements for Trufant.
Trufant, a Tacoma native who played at Washington State, isn’t currently thinking about retirement, and if he does find work in the NFL next season, he hopes it is with the only team he has played for during a decade-long career.
“I would like to play, of course,” Trufant said. “I’m a competitor, so I always want to be on the field. I’ve been doing it for a long time, I love the sport, I love the game, so we’ll see how it goes. I’ll take it as it comes. … (Staying in Seattle) would definitely be my first choice. Here is home, it’ll always be home. To be able to play in my home town, I’ve been blessed for 10 years to do that. I’m just going to take it as it comes.”
Yet even as Carroll and Schneider continue to rebuild the Seahawks as a younger, bigger, stronger and faster team, it would be premature to rule out the possibility of Hill or Trufant coming back. Both have provided valuable leadership at position groups that are otherwise very young, and both have remained productive players, though Trufant did struggle at times adjusting to a new role.
And when it comes to Hill, it would be foolish to declare his tenure in Seattle over until he has actually unpacked his bags in another team’s locker room.
Hill was franchised after the 2008 season when he and the Seahawks couldn’t agree on a deal, then he had that tag rescinded after Seattle drafted Aaron Curry in the first round of the 2009 draft. Hill then agreed to a multi-year deal, but after that, legal problems and injuries hampered his career. His contract was restructured prior to the 2010 season, but he came back in 2011, then again this year on one-year deals. Despite his ups and down, Hill enjoyed one of the best years of his career in 2011, and kept his starting job in 2012 despite the emergence of Smith.
“Whoever thought I’d still be one of the two here from that Super Bowl team after everything I’ve been through,” Hill said. “I take it as a blessing.”
And Hill said that not after this season, or even during it, but before the start of the 2011 season. So while there is a good chance the Seahawks will move on without Hill and Trufant, don’t rule anything out just yet.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.