By SCOTT M. JOHNSON
KIRKLAND – Cortez Kennedy won’t be riding any $252 million carpets out of town after this weekend. He probably won’t even get carried from Husky Stadium in Jerry Rice fashion, much to the delight of his teammates’ chiropractors.
But there is a chance Kennedy might be making his final appearance in a Seattle Seahawks uniform Saturday, a possibility that would deprave the city of one of its few remaining marquee names.
Kennedy’s contract is not up until after the 2001 season, and he had planned all along to hold up his end of the bargain. But subpar play this season and a large salary cap number next year could spell the end of Kennedy’s career in Seattle.
“There’s only a few guys who get to leave on their own terms, especially now days,” said former teammate Jacob Green. “It’s going to be sad to see him go if he has to leave this year.”
“It’s terrible to even think about,” cornerback Willie Williams added. “But you look at the salary cap. Ever since they’ve made the salary cap, it’s been hard to play with one team your whole career.
“I feel bad for Jerry Rice not being able to finish his career as a 49er. As far as Cortez, I don’t know what will happen. Guys like that, they make a lot of money, and (the Seahawks) might need that money. You just feel bad for those guys.”
If Kennedy sees the end nearing, he isn’t saying. He declined an interview earlier this week so that he could finish out the frustrating season quietly.
That’s typical “Tez.” He does almost everything quietly.
Kennedy has always let his play speak for him. An 11-year veteran who has spent his entire career in Seattle, he was one of the best players at his position – a fact proven by his selection to the NFL’s all-decade team for the 1990s.
“Tez may be the best player to ever come through Seattle – ever,” said Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Sam Adams, who played alongside Kennedy for six seasons. “And not just defensive tackle. Wide receiver, running back, whatever. Cortez Kennedy is the best player ever to play football for the Seattle Seahawks. He’s brought publicity to the organization, he’s brought success. Without Cortez Kennedy, they wouldn’t be where they are.”
Kennedy’s age (32) and salary situation ($2.5 million next season) make him a candidate for being released. He hasn’t been the dominant player he once was, often getting overpowered by younger offensive linemen this season. Kennedy ranks 10th on the team with 46 tackles and has only one sack.
“I don’t think he had as good a year as we’re used to seeing,” defensive coordinator Steve Sidwell said, “but he has definitely been a great player in this league.”
Sidwell did not want to discuss Kennedy’s future, which is consistent with the team’s stance. For the next three days, the coaching staff’s only focus is the season finale against Buffalo on Saturday night.
In his first year as coach/general manager of the Seahawks, Mike Holmgren set a precedent by releasing high-priced veterans like Kevin Glover and Brian Habib. Without mentioning Kennedy, Holmgren said there will be additional changes this offseason, perhaps even more than the previous one.
“Clearly, our record is not what I wanted this year,” Holmgren said Wednesday. “I have to change some things. How many players? We won’t know until later in the spring.”
Holmgren added that the team’s salary-cap situation is better than it was last season. But clearing Kennedy’s $2.5 million would make the Seahawks even bigger players in the free-agent market, especially when considering their overabundance of needs.
If Kennedy doesn’t fit into next season’s plans, it would be as tragic as Rice’s impending separation from the San Francisco 49ers. Kennedy holds the Seahawks record for most consecutive games started (100, from 1990-97), has appeared in a franchise-best eight Pro Bowls, and ranks sixth on the team’s all-time list of games played (166). If he were to return for one more season, Kennedy would have a chance to move up to fourth on the games played list.
As the Rice situation has proven, even the great ones aren’t guaranteed any loyalty these days.
“All that kind of remains to be seen,” said defensive tackle Riddick Parker, Kennedy’s teammate for at least one more game. “The same thing might happen to Jerry Rice, it happened to Bruce (Smith) last year. It just happens. It goes to show, no matter how good a player you are or what you’ve done for an organization, when your time comes and the team needs to go in a new direction, those things happen.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be here or not. But if I’m here, I’d love him to be here with me.”
Green, a longtime Seahawk who played with Kennedy for two seasons, went through a similar situation before playing his final season with San Francisco in 1992.
“Tez is old enough now that he knows the nature of the business,” Green said. “It’s nothing personal. It’s tough to acknowledge that.
“It was tough when I had to leave there. I always felt that I would always be a Seahawk. I felt I would retire and stay on there. It didn’t happen for me, and I don’t know whether it will happen for Tez or not. With the salary cap and all that, it’s difficult.”
Difficult for the Seahawks to keep him. But maybe more difficult to say good-bye.
“If it happens,” defensive line coach Larry Brooks said, “it would be different. He’s kind of the guy that keeps everybody loose. He’s always got a joke and a smile. You always end up missing those kind of people.”