By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
When T.J. Houshmandzadeh arrived in Seattle last Friday, he felt an undeniable pull. Something was telling him that, no matter how many other visits he might make, the Seahawks were likely to end up winning the battle for the free-agent wide receiver’s services.
How certain was he?
Let’s just say Houshmandzadeh was willing to leave behind a little collateral.
“He had this beautiful watch on,” Seahawks head coach Jim Mora recalled at a Tuesday afternoon press conference, during which he pushed Houshmandzadeh to show reporters the watch on his wrist, “and so we were talking about him making the trip to Minnesota, and I said: ‘You know what? I respect you as a man, and I think you should honor your commitment to go to Minnesota. But before you do, you need to take that watch off and leave it here as collateral.’
“So he did.”
Four days later, having accepted the Seahawks’ five-year, $40 million offer, Houshmandzadeh got his watch back.
He also got $40 million worth of expectations thrown upon him.
The newest Seahawk has a contract that is the most lucrative — in terms of average annual salary — ever given to a Seattle wide receiver. Nate Burleson’s original contract, which later got restructured, was to pay him an average of $7 million per year over seven seasons. Deion Branch is playing under a six-year, $39 million deal.
Financially speaking, Houshmandzadeh has a lot on his shoulders.
“We made the bolstering of our wide receiver corps one of our top priorities in the offseason,” team president Tim Ruskell said during Tuesday’s press conference, “and obviously this move goes a long way towards doing that.”
Houshmandzadeh said Tuesday that the Seahawks’ offer was not the only enticing part about playing in Seattle. The California native and Oregon State University product said he looks forward to playing with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and play-making receivers like Burleson and Branch.
“When I left for Minnesota, I felt like this was where I wanted to be, but I wanted to make sure that that was the case,” said Houshmandzadeh, whose 294 receptions over the past three seasons are the most of any receiver in the NFL. “That’s why I went to Minnesota: I didn’t want to not go and then regret not going. So I went through the process, and this was still the place I wanted to be.”
And the Seahawks did whatever they could to make sure they got him.
“He brings a physical presence to the field,” Mora said. “He adds toughness to our team, a swagger, and — as we all know — a load of productivity. He’s going to be a big part of our success on the field.”
While Ruskell has not ruled out the possibility of bringing back veteran Bobby Engram, the Seahawks appear ready to go into 2009 with a three-man receiving corps that features Branch, Burleson and the newest addition. Engram, 34, reportedly made a free-agent visit to Kansas City on Tuesday.
If all Seattle’s receivers stay healthy, it would mark a huge improvement over the group that limped through the disastrous 2008 season.
“You’ve got three guys that are a little bit different in stature, probably a little bit different in the way they move their bodies down the field,” Mora said. “But all have been very productive players in the positions they play.
“And it’s exciting. I know it’ll be exciting to get out on the field when we start our minicamps and watch them work together.”
Houshmandzadeh is excited to be in Seattle — not only because of the $40 million, but also so he could retrieve his watch.
“Had he chosen to go to Minnesota, I certainly would have gladly mailed it to him,” Mora said. “But I’m glad that he was able to come back and pick it up in person.”