The Seattle Seahawks have a lot invested in their starting linebackers.
In 2008, middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu signed a $42 million extension that runs through 2015. Tatupu, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, was drafted in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft.
In the 2009 NFL Draft, the team spent its first-round selection on linebacker Aaron Curry. Curry, the fourth overall pick, was rewarded with a six-year, $60 million with $34 million guaranteed. Several scouts considered him the best prospect available in the draft; despite a rough rookie season, the sky is the limit for the talented Wake Forest product.
Last offseason, linebacker Leroy Hill was designated with the franchise tag. Shortly after the Seahawks rescinded the designation, Hill agreed to a six-year, $36 million deal. Hill’s big contract was agreed upon despite some off-field troubles shortly before the offseason began.
Tatupu, Curry, and Hill were supposed to be the foundation of an elite NFL defense.
Unfortunately for the Seahawks, the trio were only on the field together for eight plays during the 2009 regular season. Given their combined base salaries, that is $1.04 million per play from what should have been a very talented group of linebackers.
Health has been an issue. A hamstring injury in the 2009 season-opener limited Lofa Tatupu’s effectiveness before a torn pectoral muscle put him on the injured reserve. Aaron Curry started fast but struggled through the second half of the season, missing two of the final games because of a stinger injury. Leroy Hill missed five games and set career-low numbers after suffering a torn groin muscle in the first week.
Despite struggles in 2009, this unit still looks promising for next season. Or does it?
Earlier this week, linebacker Leroy Hill pleaded guilty to marijuana possession and was sentenced to 12 months probation. If Hill complies with the terms of his probation, the original charge will be expunged from his record.
The National Football League has not punished Hill for his poor judgment, yet. Hill is a first-time offender, but his actions will probably warrant at least a one-game suspension. Shaun Ellis was suspended for one game and fined $100,000 last season following a 2008 arrest for marijuana possession.
We’ll have to wait and see, but all indications are that Hill will face punishment from the league, probably similar to Ellis’. For the Seahawks, this means one more week without Tatupu, Curry, and Hill on the field together.