Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill had become an unrestricted free agent Saturday when the team rescinded the franchise tag.
Leroy Hill’s return to Seattle was more than just a metaphor Thursday.
The Seahawks linebacker actually returned to Seattle, flying back into town so he can participate in a voluntary practice this afternoon after he agreed to re-sign.
That ends five days of uncertainty and more than two months of a negotiating stalemate after Seattle designated Hill its franchise player in February. The Seahawks rescinded the tag on Saturday, making him an unrestricted free agent, and now the sides have agreed on a six-year deal that will pay Hill at least $15.5 million and could be worth up to $38 million, according to The Associated Press.
Phone messages and e-mails were not returned by Todd France, Hill’s agent, this week, and attempts to reach Hill were unsuccessful as he was in transit back to Seattle.
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“It’s really a positive thing for this organization, a positive thing for Leroy,” coach Jim Mora said on KIRO (710 AM).
Hill, 27, returns to the Seahawks, who will expect to have one of the best groups of linebackers in the league. Hill joins Lofa Tatupu — a three-time Pro Bowler — and rookie Aaron Curry, the No. 4 pick in the draft, the highest a linebacker has been chosen since 2000.
Bringing Hill back, however, required much more than just a flight reservation. It took five days of brinkmanship.
The Seahawks told Hill repeatedly during the past week that they hoped to re-sign him.
Linebackers coach Zerick Rollins spoke to Hill first after the tag was rescinded, then defensive coordinator Gus Gradley, and Mora talked to his player on Sunday to assure him the goal remained to sign him to a long-term contract.
The franchise tag had become an impediment to that.
Negotiations had stalled as they often do after a franchise tag is applied because there are no other pursuers to establish a fair-market value or get either side to budge from their bargaining position. Tackle Walter Jones spent three years as Seattle’s franchise player, and each one of those seasons he did not sign the franchise tender and chose not to participate in any of the offseason practices or training camp.
Hill was headed down that same path. He had not signed the tender, so he was not subject to any fines for missing activities and would not lose money unless he missed a game. He sat out the team’s first minicamp under Mora at the beginning of April.
The impetus for withdrawing the franchise tag was twofold. First, the selection of Curry left Seattle feeling less vulnerable should Hill not return to the team. Second, Seattle needed additional salary-cap space to sign veterans, which it did with the additions of cornerback Ken Lucas and fullback Justin Griffith.
The franchise tag on Hill counted $8.3 million against Seattle’s salary cap. Because Hill had not signed the tender, the Seahawks could withdraw it.
The risk was that Hill became an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any team, and there was the distinct possibility that he would be bitter about the chain of events.
After all, the Seahawks had kept him from becoming an unrestricted free agent by applying the franchise tag. Then, after two months of largely unproductive negotiations, the Seahawks drafted another linebacker and removed the franchise tag, putting him on the open market after most teams addressed roster needs in free agency and the draft.
The move shook Hill up, but it also provided the impetus for negotiations and finally the Seahawks and Hill reached something that had eluded them for months: an agreement to bring Hill back to Seattle, not only for today’s minicamp, but for the next six years.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org