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Originally published Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 8:05 PM

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Linebacker David Hawthorne leaves Seahawks for Saints

Hawthorne agrees to five-year deal with New Orleans, but has great appreciation for time in Seattle

Seattle Times staff reporter

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David Hawthorne showed how valuable he can be to a defense the past four years in Seattle, as the undrafted rookie blossomed into the Seahawks' leading tackler.

It was a five-year contract offer from the New Orleans Saints, though, that made him feel most valued.

"From Day One, they were one of the first teams to contact me in free agency," Hawthorne said in a telephone interview. "I think they valued me and my body of work, and I had never played a snap for them."

Hawthorne, who agreed to terms with the Saints Tuesday, said he was happy to have his future resolved and also expressed appreciation for his time in Seattle.

"Seattle welcomed me and showed me a great deal of love from the top down," he said.

His decision came down to the fact that New Orleans' offer was more attractive.

"I had to make a decision based on my future," Hawthorne said of the deal, for which terms were not available.

Hawthorne's departure leaves Seattle in the market for multiple linebackers, as K.J. Wright is the only one of last year's starters currently under contract. Leroy Hill is an unrestricted free agent.

Seattle holds the No. 12 overall pick in the draft, where Luke Kuechly of Boston College — widely considered the top inside linebacker available — could be an option. Or perhaps the Seahawks will bank on their ability to find capable starters later in the draft.

Wright was a fourth-round choice a year ago out of Mississippi State, and he was a starter in Week 1, filling in at middle linebacker while Hawthorne was out with a knee injury. Wright eventually replaced Aaron Curry at strongside linebacker. While coach Pete Carroll has stated he thinks that is Wright's best spot, Wright is capable of playing inside linebacker, too.

One way or another, the Seahawks are going to need a new man in the middle of their defense with Hawthorne's departure.

He made the team in 2008 as an undrafted rookie out of Texas Christian as a special-teams player. He became a starter in 2009, filling in at middle linebacker when Lofa Tatupu was out with injuries. In 2010, he started at weakside linebacker, and last year moved back to the middle after the team released Tatupu.

For all the millions of dollars Seattle spent on its linebackers, from re-signing Tatupu in 2008 to drafting Curry in 2009, it was Hawthorne who had more than 100 tackles each of the three previous seasons. He also had six sacks and intercepted seven passes, including one he returned for a touchdown last season.

At 6 feet tall, Hawthorne is shorter than many middle linebackers. He turns 27 next month, and he played through a knee injury last season after straining his medial collateral ligament during training camp.

Hawthorne is the fourth unrestricted free agent to leave Seattle this offseason. Tight end John Carlson left for Minnesota, guard Mike Gibson is in Philadelphia, and defensive end Anthony Hargrove has agreed to terms with Green Bay.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @dannyoneil.

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