Mailbag: Seattle's running back landscape

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Steve from Bellingham, Wash., writes: I read something in your column that frightened me. You suggested that the Seahawks are going to let their best RB go and keep the grossly overpaid, unproductive ones. Please say it ain't so. Julius Jones produced very little in games and game situations that mattered, just like in Dallas. TJ Duckett made several million dollars to touch the ball twice a game. Please, please tell me that the Seahawks have learned from their mistakes and will move to improve, not mediocritize, the running game.

Mike Sando: Maurice Morris is eligible for free agency. The Seahawks moved to sign Jones and Duckett even before they released Shaun Alexander. They even brought in Duckett for a visit a year earlier, when they had no spot for him. General manager Tim Ruskell was clearly angling to change up the running game.

Morris lost his most important supporter when Mike Holmgren left the team. Holmgren was GM when the Seahawks drafted Morris. Holmgren played Morris extensively down the stretch. Holmgren did not immediately find a role for Duckett. With Holmgren gone, the Seahawks appear less likely to re-sign Morris.

We also must consider the financial picture at running back.

Duckett's contract carries $800,000 in salary proration for each of the next four seasons after the Seahawks exercised an option to treat a guaranteed roster bonus as a signing bonus (a common tactic that allows teams to avoid initial salary cap consequences). Duckett has a $2.5 million salary in 2009. He will very likely be on the team.

The Seahawks made a similar move with Jones in November. His contract now carries more than $1 million in proration for each of the next three seasons. His base salary in 2009 is nearly $2 million. He will very likely be on the team.

It's tough to see Morris fitting into that financial landscape, particularly if Seattle is open to selecting a running back with the fourth overall choice in the draft.

That's how I see it, based on the evidence.

Drew from Buffalo writes: Sando, thank you for all the work you have done this season. The Cards don't get covered much out my way. Reading your blogs are always a pleasure. I hope you will be able to continue writing about the Cards games for the next month. As the game gets closer I'm getting that nervous feeling in my stomach (perhaps due to the massive amount of whiskey i consumed last night).
I don't want the Cards' season to end. Worst of all- I have to work! Stupid Buffalo Bandits season opener. I'm sure not much will get done anyway. Well, I'll stop rambling, just too excited about this game. Had to get it out somewhere. Thanks and keep up the good work! I hope you and your family have a blessed new year.

Mike Sando: Thanks for sharing, Drew. I remember that feeling well (the part about being a die-hard fan anticipating a high-stakes matchup, not the part about consuming too much whiskey ... although I did sample a few Keystone Lights in my college days, sad as that sounds now).

I'll share one of my worst experiences as a fan. As I've shared in the past, I grew up in Northern California following the Raiders. They stood one game from the Super Bowl after the 1990 season. You probably know where I'm going from here. We had a party at a friend's house. Smack was talked. Bets were made. Insults exchanged. You know the drill. I was 20 years old and right in the middle of it. The anticipation grew as the game approached. My friend and I sat there stunned as Buffalo delivered one of the all-time NFL whippings, 51-3.

It's a lot less stressful watching games without worrying about which team wins. Here's hoping you make it through the weekend with your nerves intact.

Charlie from Lexington writes: Mike Singletary mentioned that Shaun Hill won't be named the starter for next year until they see who they can get... is this a wise idea? I mean who is out there that is better than Hill? I feel like we can get a good rookie later in the draft, but surely he wont be ready to pass Hill. I believe we can mold him just like the packers did Aaron Rodgers and the Chargers did Philip Rivers. We also know that Hill is not a practice player, so how does this factor into the decision making. I just hope this year they make the right decision at quarterback, and not another JTO year.
Mike Sando: Yes, I think Singletary is taking the right approach here. The team has plenty of time to commit to a starter. I see no strategic advantage in declaring Hill the starter at this point. I see the 49ers hiring an offensive coordinator before they make lineup declarations.

Rich from Bellevue writes: Let's talk about high-priced free agents. Said you: "When Mike Reinfeldt was managing the Seahawks' salary cap, he helped open my eyes to the mistakes teams often make in overpaying for free agents. Recent history has made him look like a pretty smart man on that front."
The thing is, every intelligent person knows this. It only takes a casual glance at the track record of high-ticket free agents to see that they are usually a mistake. The consistently good teams (Patriots, Steelers, Colts...) never go after expensive free agents, they're usually the ones letting their own expensive-and-no-longer-worth it guys *go*. This is not subtle or secret, it's plain as day to anyone who follows football.

So here's the part I don't understand: The only reason these guys are so expensive is supply and demand. They only command whopper contracts because there *always* seems to be some team dumb enough to pay one.

WHY? The people doing these signings and writing the checks are smart people. They're personel people with more in-depth football knowledge than you or I will ever have. They're owners who didn't get rich enough to own an NFL team by being dummies. So why, oh why, do these guys keep making signings that even the casual fan can see are foolish? Why hasn't reality set in, with free agents generally paid more or less what they're really worth?

Mike Sando: Every intelligent person did not know this eight or nine years ago. People are coming around to the idea now, but emotions get involved. And some teams are more willing than others to put future salary cap ledgers at risk in landing high-priced free agents.

The Seahawks did this when they signed Patrick Kerney. Kerney's contract included a $5 million guaranteed roster bonus in 2008 (treated as signing bonus beginning in 2007 for cap purposes) and another $3 million guaranteed roster bonus in 2009. Seattle recently converted that second bonus to a signing bonus for cap purposes, bringing Kerney's cap value for 2009 to around $10 million. The Seahawks still must account for more than $12 million in bonus proration over the remaining four years of Kerney's contract, without knowing how well he'll bounce back from his latest surgery.

Such are the risks often associated with investing heavily in high-profile free agents.

Teams sometimes convince themselves they need a certain player to take the next step. Teams feel pressure from fans. And they see that some free agents indeed help put a team over th
e top.

There's a balance on how much to pay such a player. I think that's where teams err. Teams decide they want a player and they pay what they think it's going to take to get that player. And all it takes is one team.

Mike B. from Los Angeles writes: Sando, do you know when Matt Hasselbeck's roster bonus is due? With a huge cap number of $9.45 million this year, it seems likely that he'll be dumped before that is due to be paid, assuming that's what the Seahawks have in mind (oh, please, please...).
Mike Sando: The roster bonus is only $1 million, a lot of money to you and me but not a prohibitive amount for a starting quarterback. The Seahawks expect Hasselbeck to bounce back from his injury.

Mike from Seattle writes: Mike, How much do you think Jim Mora will shake up the coaching staff beyond changing coordinators on both sides of the ball? Or do you think that will be it for the changes?
Mike Sando: I can provide some perspective on this issue after hearing from two sources with ties to the Seahawks' coaching staff.

The team has not fired any assistants outright. However, some assistants have been told they will not be back in the same capacity, if they return at all. These assistants -- including coordinator John Marshall, defensive line coach Dwaine Board and receivers coach Keith Gilbertson -- received clearance to consider jobs with other franchises. That doesn't necessarily prevent them from returning, but the writing is on the wall, so to speak.

I do expect the Seahawks to hire new coordinators. Those coordinators will then go about putting together their staffs. Some coaches, notably offensive line coach Mike Solari, will be part of the new staff no matter who the Seahawks hire for the coordinator spots. Others probably will not be back.

Rick from Los Angeles writes: Mike, What are your thoughts about the potential hiring of Rod Marinelli as defensive coordinator of the Seahawks next season? There are also reports of him being the DL coach as well as assistant head coach, very similar to the role Mora had with the secondary the past 2 seasons.
I have heard Warren Sapp publicly credit Marinelli over Kiffin for fashioning the '02 Tampa Bay defense that led them to the Super Bowl. That is a pretty strong endorsement from a HOF player.

I've also read the article where Holmgren tried to pry Marinelli away twice when he was with Tampa Bay and was cut off by their management. Aside from Marinelli's close relationship with Lovie Smith and Chicago, I think this would be a very nice fit for him to come to Seattle. He has old ties with Ruskell and Webster and Marinelli would finally get the talent pool to really make an impact. This would also give him a great opportunity to prove to the naysayers that Detroit's 0-16 season wasn't necessarily all his fault.

Mike Sando: Yeah, I think adding Marinelli would make some sense. The ties you mentioned are to Seahawks management and not to the head coach, which may or may not be significant.

Head coaches like to hire their own staffs. If we see a coaching staff filled with former Bucs, then I think that tells us management is getting involved in hiring the staff. That's fine if the head coach is on board. If not, a team risks not having everyone on the same page.

We're still in the early stages here, but that's something to keep in mind and something to ask Mora about when he finally holds his first news conference as head coach.

Steve from Issaquah, Wash., writes: Mike, The NFC West takes heat for being a "poor divison" although the team that has made the playoffs has not lost in the first round in the last 5 years, made the Super Bowl 1 year...playoff performace should have something to say for divisional success shouldn't it? thanks!
Mike Sando: I'll buy that to a degree. We are not seeing NFC West teams winning road playoff games, however. They've managed to win some home games.

Steve from Issaquah writes: Mike, The Seahawks have gotten predictable in the draft, a 4 year defensive player from a big school, Malcom Jenkins fits that mold ... could the Seahawks target him? Mora and Ruskell are defensive minded coaches and the Hawks were one of the worst in the league in passing defense.
Mike Sando: I think there's something to be said for draft-day patterns. That's one of the reasons I track draft choices by school, conference and other criteria.

Harold from Columbia writes: Sando - I'm dreaming of a home NFC Championship game - closed roof. Give the Cards coaching staff some credit for inspiring such an effort. Also - I noticed the tight ends blocked much better against the Falcons. The personnel groupings were also different.
I thought putting Ralph Brown at the MIKE LB position to create an interception was huge. Rookie mistake by Ryan. Big play - and moving Antrel Rolle to the slot was effective. I am very interested in the defensive front rotations - and wanted to evaluate that for you - it seemed like the Cards used more 4-3 fronts - with two big Defensive Tackles for run support.

I thought they may take that approach due to recent run deficiencies and thought they may have used Alan Branch in that role with Gabe Watson - apparently they can't trust him enough or he doesn't contribute on special teams as does Iwebema. I believe the Cards can play with Carolina. They are going to have to stop the run. I also believe the emergence of DRC will give them a better chance at preventing long TDs to Steve Smith.

Mike Sando: I'm nominating you for coach of the blog. Hopefully I'll have a chance to rewatch the game on video with an emphasis on watching the defense.

Quigibo13 from parts unknown writes: why should 4 playoff teams pick ahead of the patriots? 12 playoff teams should pick last 12,or is the nfl admitting the system is wrong?
Mike Sando: The draft-order criteria indeed differs from the playoff-seeding criteria. Whether that inconsistency reveals an admission is for you to decide.

Shane from Tempe writes: First, Mike, I can't tell you how awesome it is to read a detailed Cards-Panthers preview less than an hour after the matchup was determined. Thanks a lot for your hard work.
Simple question ... I've been telling anyone who will listen that DeAngelo Williams deserved some MVP votes. The man led the league in TDs, was third in rushing yards and was third in yards per carry (No. 1 in YPC among RBs with 200-plus carries). And he did all that while splitting a significant amount of his workload. Am I nuts for suggesting some MVP recognition, or is Williams really that good? And for that reason, will he be tougher than Michael Turner for Arizona to stop on Saturday?

Mike Sando: Thanks much, Shane. I love this job and do not consider it work, so it's a pleasure putting together a quick look at a matchup. The most enjoyable part from my perspective was being fami
liar enough with the Cardinals to write about them more authoritatively than I ever could have in past years. Watching teams and studying them week after week leads to a level of familiarity I hope continues to grow over time.

Sometimes I think these awards should wait until after the playoffs. Peyton Manning was a deserving MVP for the regular season, in my view, but his team lasted one game. If Williams leads the Panthers to the Super Bowl, his value increases significantly. The MVP race favors quarterbacks because the position is more important than other positions. Also, having two productive players at one position sometimes affects the perception of each player individually. Jonathan Stewart has also produced for the Panthers.

Toni from Seattle writes: what do you think of Marinelli possibly becoming the Def. Coordinator for the 'Hawks? Head coach results aside how did he do when he was the Bucs D coordinator? thanks
Mike Sando: He was never the coordinator in Tampa Bay, and that's one of the question marks relating to his candidacy. Marinelli was, by all accounts, an outstanding position coach for defensive linemen. I would think he could handle coordinating duties, but not all good coaches have a knack for play calling. The Seahawks would be taking a bit of a risk that way.

Bornhawk from parts unknown writes: I have been hearing that their is talk that Matt Hasselbeck could be traded or realeased, is their any truth to this story and if so what direction do you think the team will go?
Mike Sando: Hasselbeck's injury situation and large salary, coupled with Mike Holmgren's departure, are feeding the speculation. It's possible Seattle could make such a move, but that talk strikes me as premature. My understanding is that Mora is looking forward to having a veteran quarterback, and the team expects Hasselbeck to overcome this injury and perform at a high level again.

Jasen from Las Vegas writes: Sando, I'm a season [Cardinals] ticket holder, and Saturday's game is the first time I remember the victory formation at UoP (except the Seattle game, when we used it only b/c DRC got a pick). Normally our offense stalls and puts it back on the D. If we can run that 4-minute offense like that and our run D shows up, we can beat anybody, even the Giants. But don't tell anyone, let's stick with the "Cards don't belong in the playoffs" theme that was so widespread last week. These guys respond to that stuff.
Mike Sando: They do indeed respond to it. At least they did against the Falcons. I'll admit I was surprised to see the Cardinals execute the 4-minute offense so effectively and aggressively. The reverse to Steve Breaston put the "cute" in execute, but the rest of that drive showed great promise. It was one of those markers Ken Whisenhunt and Kurt Warner have talked about occasionally. I'm not sure the Cardinals can pull off such a feat at Carolina, where the Panthers held the ball for the final 6 minutes in beating Arizona in Week 8. But what we saw against the Falcons was a start.

Noah from Tucson writes: correct me if im wrong but if the eagles beat minnasota and the new york. and the cardinals beat the panthers, we would get another home game against philly right?
Mike Sando: Correct.

Greg from parts unknown writes: Mike, Wrote a piece over at Fanster.com about the 5 reasons the Cards could shock the NFL world. Thought you might find it interesting.
Mike Sando: Thanks for sharing.