Seahawks’ Rice out for season with torn ACL

RENTON — A day after one of their least-productive offensive performances in recent memory, the Seattle Seahawks learned they will be without a key offensive player for the rest of the year.

Receiver Sidney Rice, the team’s prized free-agent acquisition in 2011, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during Monday night’s 14-9 victory in St. Louis, the team announced, an injury that will end his season.

The question now is whether that injury also represents the end of Rice’s tenure in Seattle.

Even before his latest injury, Rice was looking at the possibility of being a salary cap casualty this offseason. He is due $8.5 million in base salary in 2014 and $9 million in 2015, and it’s hard to see the Seahawks keeping Rice around for that kind of money after investing so heavily in receiver Percy Harvin this offseason.

Several of Seattle’s key young players who are currently playing on inexpensive rookie contracts also are going to be getting significant raises in the next couple of years, whether that’s in Seattle or elsewhere. So if the Seahawks want to keep players such as Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman, they’re not likely going to be able to afford a pair of big-money receivers.

Rice, 27, came to Seattle as one of the first marquee free-agent signings of the Pete Carroll-John Schneider regime, signing a five-year deal worth $41 million, including $18.5 in guaranteed money. Rice had played in just six games the previous year before going on injured reserve with a hip ailment. Still, the Seahawks paid big for his services, because young, explosive, 6-foot-4 receivers are a rare commodity in the NFL and because in 2009, Rice showed the type of player he can be when healthy, catching 83 passes for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns.

Fast, tall “touchdown-makers” as Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has put it, are incredibly rare — it’s why top receivers make huge money and are top-10 picks in the draft. While Rice came to Seattle with an injury history, he also possessed the physical traits and catching ability of some of the game’s top receivers.

Rice’s first season in Seattle also ended prematurely, however, lasting just nine games before he went on injured reserve following his second concussion in less than a month. He had surgery on both shoulders that offseason, then started all 16 games last season, catching 50 passes for 748 yards and seven touchdowns. Those weren’t close to the gaudy numbers Rice put up in his best year in Minnesota, but given that Seattle threw the ball fewer times than any team in the NFL, it was still a productive season.

Rice has just 15 catches for 231 yards this season, but his absence still will be a significant blow to Seattle’s offense. Rice did miss some of training camp to go to Switzerland for platelet-rich plasma treatment on his knee and at times this year he’s looked like he wasn’t fully healthy, but he did still have three touchdown catches this season, which is tied for the team lead. More importantly, he has the size and catching radius that no one else on the roster possess.

As of now, Jermaine Kearse at 6-feet, 1-inch, is the tallest healthy receiver on the team, putting the Seahawks in the odd position of having three defensive backs (Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner and Kam Chancellor) who are taller than all of the team’s receivers.

Rice’s loss will be mitigated some when Percy Harvin begins playing again. Harvin underwent hip surgery in late July and has been sidelined since then, but he’s been cleared to play and his return now goes from being a nice bonus to a must-have.

Harvin returned to practice last week, but did not play Monday and his status for this week is still unclear. If Harvin doesn’t return this week, or if he does so in a limited capacity, expect Kearse to take over a good chunk of Rice’s snaps, though Doug Baldwin also stands to see his role increase. Seattle also has two receivers on its practice squad, Arceto Clark and Ricardo Lockette, who could be promoted to the roster if Harvin isn’t ready to return.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com

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