Tobeck's leadership needed with new starters

By reaching a contract agreement to re-sign unrestricted free-agent center Robbie Tobeck, the Seattle Seahawks have retained the heart and soul of their offensive line.

Tobeck, the Seahawks' offensive captain and universally acknowledged key leader on and off the field, will sign a two-year, $1.785 million contract. The deal includes a signing bonus of $250,000 and base salaries of $765,000 for 2005 and $770,000 for 2006.

The Seahawks also reached an agreement with unrestricted wide receiver Alex Bannister, a special teams standout who will sign a four-year, $4 million contract that includes a $1 million signing bonus.

Seattle officials continue to whittle away at a group of veterans that included 16 pending unrestricted free agents a little more than a month ago. The Seahawks lost four free agents to other teams but have retained most of their core, particularly on offense. The club was able to reach huge multiyear deals with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and left offensive tackle Walter Jones, and was able to use the "franchise" tag on tailback Shaun Alexander.

While Tobeck's contract doesn't approximate those deals, there is no denying the value of keeping the durable player around for two more seasons.

A 12-year veteran, Tobeck is one of the brightest centers in the NFL, consistently lauded by Hasselbeck and other teammates for making the right blocking adjustments. At 6-foot-4 and 297 pounds, Tobeck makes up for his lack of bulk with superior mechanics, use of leverage and knowledge of the game's nuances.

Tobeck, 35, has started 64 straight games. His importance to the Seahawks is magnified this season because the team likely will have two new starters on the right side of the unit. Floyd Womack, another unrestricted free-agent lineman who re-signed for two years, is projected as the new right guard. Youngsters Sean Locklear and Wayne Hunter, neither of whom has experience as a starter, will compete for the right tackle spot.

A former Washington State star, Tobeck entered the league in 1993 with the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent. He signed with the Seahawks as an unrestricted free agent in 2000, in part because he wanted to return to his Pacific Northwest roots. His résumé features 152 appearances and 142 starts, and he started in the Super Bowl with the Falcons in 1998.

Several teams, including Cleveland, Cincinnati and Dallas, showed interest in Tobeck during his month-long flirtation with the free-agent market.

Bannister, 25, was a fifth-round pick in the 2001 draft and, while the former Eastern Kentucky standout has not developed much as a receiver, he is among the league's top special-teams performers. Bannister, who recently visited with officials from the Kansas City Chiefs, was selected for the Pro Bowl game as a special teams player in 2003.

A four-year veteran, Bannister has 48 career special-teams tackles. Bannister also has nine catches for 121 yards and one touchdown.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Information from ESPN.com senior NFL writer John Clayton and The Associated Press was used in this report.