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Danny O'Neil covers the Seahawks for The Seattle Times.

February 15, 2011 at 10:53 AM

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Free-agent uncertainty

Posted by Danny O'Neil

Normally, defensive tackle Brandon Mebane and linebacker Will Herring would be weeks away from the open market, two players who were so important to Seattle last season would be on the brink of a big payday whether it was staying in Seattle or going elsewhere.

But this year is anything but normal.

Uncertainty is the keyword. Not just when free agency will happen, but what the rules will be.

Mebane and Herring have four accrued seasons. Up until 2009, that would have been enough to make them unrestricted free agents, eligible to sign elsewhere without the Seahawks receiving either compensation or a chance to match.

Last year, the pair would have been eligible for restricted free agency, meaning the Seahawks could tender an offer and retain the right to match any contract or receive a draft pick in compensation.

So how does that impact Mebane, Herring and the other players with four accrued seasons?

Well, their bargaining position will be severely impacted. Unrestricted free agents have a huge amount of leverage, not just when they get to the open market, but before because their teams feel an urgency to get something done before free-agency begins and others can wine and dine their stars away.

That was true back in 2008 when Seattle re-signed Sean Locklear in the weeks before free agency. Or back in 2005, when both Matt Hasselbeck and Walter Jones were signed in the weeks before free agency.

Mebane is a four-year starter on Seattle's defensive line, someone who stepped in as a rookie to replace Chuck Darby after a knee injury. After that year, linebacker Lofa Tatupu said the Seahawks wouldn't have made the playoffs were it not for Mebane's performance.

Mebane's impact goes beyond statistics, and in Seattle's wild-card victory over the Saints, he had the stop of the game in the third quarter. His penetration against a double-team block allowed him to stuff Julius Jones on fourth-and-inches.

This past season showed the Seahawks need to add personnel along the defensive line, to improve the depth. They can't afford to lose one of their best front-line players.

Could Mebane be named a franchise player? It's expensive, checking in just a little south of $8 million for a one-year deal that would be guaranteed when he signed it. Does Seattle wait and see if he would be a restricted free agent? Most people expect that a new collective-bargaining agreement would offer unrestricted free agency after four accrued seasons. That would put Mebane on the open market, meaning that waiting entails a risk.

Herring's situation will be different. He is a mainstay special-teams player, and a capable reserve linebacker that assistant coach Ken Norton said he considers a starter. Other teams may consider him that, too.

A safety for much of his college career, Herring is someone who has steadily improved at linebacker. He was an important part of Seattle's depth, someone the Seahawks would certainly want back.

But for now, the Seahawks are waiting for the uncertainties of free agency to be sorted out.

"Teams have told me that if the Seahawks allow Brandon Mebane to hit the free-agent market, he will be highly sought after. Young defensive linemen with some rush ability are a rare commodity in free agency."
    -- Michael Lombardi,

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