What's next for Seattle and 16 free agents?


Published: Monday, January 10, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 10, 2005 at 1:16 a.m.
SEATTLE - The Seattle Seahawks are considered one of the NFL's biggest disappointment this season. Matt Hasselbeck believes they're headed in the right direction.
Seattle lost to the NFC West rival St. Louis Rams 27-20 on Saturday in the wild-card round of the playoffs, ending an up-and-down season that opened with talk of a possible Super Bowl run.
"This has been a difficult season for all kinds of reasons," Hasselbeck said.
Hasselbeck's anguish was evident after his fourth-down pass went through Bobby Engram's hands in the end zone from the 5-yard line. Had he caught it, the Seahawks could have forced overtime with a successful point-after attempt.
"We were real close to getting it done," Hasselbeck said. "I could have helped us get it done. We came up short again."
The Seahawks head into the offseason with 16 players - nine starters - as unrestricted free agents, including Hasselbeck at quarterback, tackle Walter Jones and running back Shaun Alexander.
Also on the list are cornerback Ken Lucas, defensive end Chike Okeafor, tight end Itula Mili, center Robbie Tobeck, guard Chris Gray and special teams standout Alex Bannister.
"It feels like a funeral to me because this might be the last time playing with a lot of these guys," said Lucas, who had a rough day. "I wanted to keep going into the playoffs. It just really hurts."
Seattle has about $30 million in cap space, but it's a stretch to think everyone will return.
"It will be our hope and our effort to keep our core together the best way we can," said coach Mike Holmgren, who led Green Bay to a Super Bowl title but is 0-3 in the playoffs during his six seasons in Seattle.
There were rumblings during the season that Holmgren might be on his way out, though he's maintained he hopes to finish his career with the Seahawks. His six-year record is 50-49.
Holmgren has two years remaining on the $32 million contract he signed in 1999. He sounded like he expects to stick around.
"Our challenge as a football organization is to make every attempt to keep our young players on defense with us and continue to coach and develop them," Holmgren said. "It was a very young group out there."
The Seahawks, riddled by injuries, were a pedestrian 9-7 but won the NFC West title by one game over the equally mediocre Rams. But St. Louis won all three meetings, including Saturday's game.
Still, winning the division was one of Seattle's biggest goals back in training camp. Inside the locker room, there was a great sense of pride about the accomplishment.
"We've got something good going here," said Hasselbeck, who hopes to return next season. "The road to the Super Bowl, you have to take steps. I feel like we took a step last year. I feel like we took a step this year."
Alexander's situation is uncertain. He set a franchise record with 1,696 yards rushing - one yard behind NFL rushing champion Curtis Martin - and led the NFL with 20 touchdowns.
But he popped off after Seattle's season-ending win over Atlanta, saying he was "stabbed in the back" by Holmgren because the coach had called a quarterback sneak that, Alexander felt, cost him the rushing title.
Is there room for a standout runner in Holmgren's pass-oriented offense? Can the two even coexist?
Alexander apologized for his comments and insisted he loves Holmgren, but he'll keep his options open. He told reporters after the playoff game he had just met with team owner Paul Allen and president Bob Whitsitt.
"I said that I was probably going to cry for three days, and then I am going to sit down and pray for answers," Alexander said. "I think the Lord is going to tell me where to go. And then whatever He says, they will give me the deal that I am supposed to have."
And what about Jerry Rice? The NFL's career receiving leader joined Seattle in a midseason trade with Oakland, offering his ear and experience to young receivers Darrell Jackson and Koren Robinson.
"I still feel like I have football left in me, a lot of football in me," the 42-year-old Rice said.

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