The Seahawks have 21 players who could enter free agency after this season. The three biggest names are running back Shaun Alexander, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and left tackle Walter Jones, but other key players may go.

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The Seahawks have at least two games left in the 2004 season. But once it ends, this offseason figures to be one of the busiest in franchise history.

There are 21 decisions to be made, about 16 players who are in line to become unrestricted free agents and five more who will be restricted free agents. The Seahawks have until March 2 to decide whom they want to bring back and whom they’ll allow to hit the market.

More decisions will be made about other team’s free agents the Seahawks might be interested in and about the draft. But the most important decisions are certain to involve the Big Three.

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Running back Shaun Alexander. Left tackle Walter Jones. All are or have been Pro Bowl players. All are established veterans and stars at perhaps the three most important positions on offense. All three will have their contracts expire at season’s end.

Who will be re-signed? Who will test the free-agent market? Who will get the franchise tag? How does the front office choose whom to make the top priority?

Those questions will be answered in the months to come. For now, the debate goes on.

Critics and experts say the Seahawks should have signed at least one of the Big Three to a contract extension earlier in the season. They wonder about coach Mike Holmgren’s future and how that could affect which of the three are re-signed.

“I would never let Shaun Alexander get away,” said Sean Salisbury, an NFL analyst for ESPN who pegged the Seahawks as the NFC Super Bowl representative before the season started. “If I were GM, my first priority is him.”

But Salisbury also made arguments on behalf of Jones and Hasselbeck. Jones has played the past three seasons for the one-year franchise tender, which is the average salary of the top five players at his position. The Seahawks could give the franchise tag to Hasselbeck or Alexander this time around.

“If you don’t have a good quarterback, you can’t win a championship,” Salisbury said. “No team is in a bigger bind. They’re in the worst predicament in the league. New England and Scott Pioli (Patriots vice president of player personnel) would not let this happen. Bill Polian (Colts president) was not going to let this happen in Indianapolis.”

It was Polian who orchestrated the contract extensions given to quarterback Peyton Manning and wide receiver Marvin Harrison, the latter re-signing three weeks ago. The Colts shelled out $57.5 million in guaranteed money for the two, but now their only major concern will be re-signing running back Edgerrin James in the offseason.

The Seahawks don’t figure to spend that much money, but they might have enough to re-sign all three. The current salary cap of around $80.5 million will go up for next season, and the Seahawks, who are well below the cap, could get help from players who restructure contracts.

“I think that we built this team together, and it’s even more than just us three,” Alexander said. “Our front office has a lot of work to do, because they put this team together and we enjoy playing with each other. There’s still bolts we need to fix, but we’ll just kind of leave it in their corner.”

Alexander has had the finest season ever by a Seahawks running back. Hasselbeck has missed two games with injury but has shown a knack for clutch performances and a mastery of the offense. Jones is one of the top three tackles in the game and has five Pro Bowl selections to show for it.

And, as Alexander said, it’s more than just the Big Three. Cornerback Ken Lucas will be a hot commodity if he is allowed to become a free agent. Defensive end Chike Okeafor’s contract is set to expire, and he has a career high in sacks.

Lucas, like so many others, has expressed the desire to stay in Seattle and build on what has been accomplished.

“Money would not be solely the decision for me to go here or go there,” Lucas said. “It’s more than just money. I want to win, I hate losing and I want to be in a place where I feel comfortable. Money doesn’t always make you happy. I want to play for a contending team. If they can keep this team together, I feel like we can do some good things.”

That’s the plan, Holmgren figures.

“That’s everybody’s goal,” he said.

José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or