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Hawks, Jones agree to deal
Seattle Times staff reporters
Walter Jones' trip to the Pro Bowl last week won't be followed by another training camp vacation this August. That's because Jones agreed in principle late Tuesday night to a seven-year contract with the Seahawks worth more than $50 million.
The five-time Pro Bowl left tackle will make about $21 million this year, which includes a signing bonus of between $16 million and $17 million. He figures to make about $27 million over the first three years of the deal.
Jones said he will attend training camp for the first time since 2001, ending the Seahawks' version of Groundhog Day and his three-year reign as the team's designated franchise player.
"Man," said Jones, alternating between sighs and laughter during a telephone interview from his home in Alabama. "I have no choice (but to go to training camp) this year. I tried my best to get it in the contract, but I couldn't."
Jones said he'll also report to team minicamps this offseason.
Jones' agent, Roosevelt Barnes, traveled to Honolulu to see the tackle play for the NFC in the Pro Bowl last Sunday, and the trip became a working vacation. He negotiated Jones' deal with Seahawks consultant Mike Reinfeldt, the same man with whom he could not reach a long-term deal while Reinfeldt was the Seahawks' top contract negotiator from 1999 to 2003.
The two worked out the contract over the phone. It's the Seahawks' first major signing of the offseason, and it keeps Jones from free agency or another year saddled with the franchise tag.
"Without Mike Reinfeldt, the deal doesn't get done," Barnes said. "He was a different guy this time around and seemed more relaxed."
Jones said he would sign the contract yesterday or today.
Jones wasn't the only one sighing yesterday. A Seahawks front office accused of dragging its feet in hiring a team president, among other vacant front-office positions, heaved a collective sigh of relief after inking the first of 16 players eligible for unrestricted free agency March 2.
Who's next? The Seahawks have until Tuesday to designate their new franchise player, if they choose to use the tag. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and running back Shaun Alexander are the likely candidates if neither can be signed. Reinfeldt has already made some headway in negotiations with Hasselbeck's agent, while there have been no talks involving Alexander.
Alexander has stated publicly that he is interested in other teams, and he might not take too kindly to the restrictions of being a franchise player. The Seahawks could trade Alexander even if he is franchised or sign him to the same one-year tender for which Jones played the past three seasons. Alexander would earn $6.32 million if he signed the tender. That figure represents the average of the top five running-back salaries from 2004.
Hasselbeck would cost $8.08 million if he is franchised.
The Seahawks would have negotiating leverage and the right to match any offer from another team within seven days or receive two first-round draft picks from the other team.
The Seahawks were believed to have about $27 million in cap room for 2005 before Jones signed.
Jones earned $4.92 million in 2002, $5.9 million in 2003 and $7.08 million in 2004 after signing the tenders. If the Seahawks had franchised him again, Jones would have been due about $8.5 million this season.
Jones' wish to retire as a Seahawk looks like a solid possibility. The Seahawks selected him with the sixth pick in the 1997 draft, and his original contract expired after the 2001 season. The current contract would likely keep the 31-year-old in Seattle as long as he wants to play.
"It sounded better when the season ended this year than it ever has before," Jones said. "They were trying to get it done. A couple years there they weren't really trying to do nothing. They weren't in a pressure situation, like this year, with all these free agents to get signed.
"I didn't know what was going to happen, man. But I had a feeling. If not, I'm a veteran of this franchise tag. I can take it. I'm blessed to be able to survive three franchise tags."
Jones did not yield a sack last season and is considered one of the best left tackles in the game. He's also one of the two highest-paid offensive linemen in the NFL, joining Baltimore left tackle Jonathan Ogden.
Jones and Reinfeldt expressed hope that signing Jones can go a long way in helping the Seahawks retain other soon-to-be free agents.
"He's such an integral part in what we do, and I hope and think that signing him will give us some momentum to sign the other guys," Reinfeldt said. "He's a good team guy and a good guy in the locker room, so we're excited. Hopefully that sends a message to the other players that we're keeping it going."
Jones said he has already spoken to center Robbie Tobeck, another player who faces free agency. Jones said Tobeck is looking forward to getting a new deal with the Seahawks soon.
As of yesterday, Jones wasn't planning much of a celebration, even though his August vacations are over.
"Time to get back to work," he said. "Hopefully, they can sign a lot of guys, and we can make a run at this thing this year. It's going in the right direction."
Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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