Taking care of their own first

Posted Mar 12, 2012

The NFL free agency period begins Tuesday, but the Seahawks are among those teams that place a premium on retaining their own players.

Ask pretty much any fan of any NFL team about free agency and they want their team to sign any – and seemingly all – available free agents.

Cost and salary-cap ramifications be damned.

But there is a growing trend in the league that goes in exactly the opposite direction, and starts with targeting your own players.

“Our first concern is to take care of our team and take care of the guys that are unrestricted (free agents) on our team and fit that back together,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We have some room (under the salary cap) and we’re going to be able to do some stuff.

“But we really want to focus on the guys on our team, and I want that to be a strong message – that we believe the guys that we have put together here are the foundation of a championship team.”

The free agency period begins Tuesday at 1 p.m. PDT, but this “love the ones you’re with” attitude already is underway. Last week, teams placed franchise tags on 21 players, the highest number since the current system began in 1993. This removed one of the more enticing prospects from the mix – quarterback Drew Brees (Saints) – and also made it prohibitive to attempt signing others: running backs Ray Rice (Ravens) and Matt Forte (Bears); wide receivers Wes Welker (Patriots), Dwayne Bowe (Chiefs) and DeSean Jackson (Eagles); and defensive backs Brent Grimes (Falcons), Dashon Goldson (49ers) and Michael Griffin (Titans).

Because Brees was given the exclusive tag, he is unable to negotiate with another team. The others can sign an offer sheet with another team, but that team would lose two first-round draft choices if the tagging team declines to match the offer.

Clubs also have re-signed players before they could reach free agency – a group that includes Seahawks leading rusher Marshawn Lynch, as well as linebackers Ahmad Brooks (49ers) and D’Qwell Jackson (Browns); wide receiver Stevie Johnson (Bills); safety Thomas DeCoud (Falcons); nose tackle Sione Pouha (Jets); and running back Arian Foster (Titans)

This doesn’t mean teams won’t make runs at the cream of the remaining crop. That list includes defensive end Mario Williams (Texans), guard Carl Nicks (Saints) and wide receiver Vincent Jackson (Chargers).

But the priority for most teams should remain getting deals done with their own free agents.

“There are certainly a lot of players out there, and a lot of players that fit us and can help us get better,” Trent Baalke, general manager of the NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers, said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “But we’re always going to try to take care of our own first. We’re working through that process and then we’ll look to what else is available.

“Our approach isn’t going to change that way.”

It won’t change for the Seahawks, either. Especially because this year’s list of players scheduled to become free agents features defensive end Red Bryant, who developed into a run-stuffing, kick-blocking force in his first full season as a starter. It also includes middle linebacker and leading tackler David Hawthorne; veteran linebacker Leroy Hill, who had his first 16-start season in 2011; Pro Bowl fullback Michael Robinson; tight end John Carlson, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury; and Heath Farwell, who led the league in special teams tackles last season.

Tuesday also is the deadline to make tenders to restricted and exclusive-rights free agents. For the Seahawks, that includes kicker Steven Hauschka and versatile defensive back Roy Lewis (restricted) and the role-playing duo of cornerback Kennard Cox and defensive lineman Clinton McDonald (exclusive rights).

It only makes the team’s pool of free agents deeper and more significant.

“These guys that are here with us are the guys that we’d like to keep around and are crucial, and we’ll do everything we can to make all those decisions properly,” Carroll said.

One change this year is that free agency will have weeks, rather than days, to play out. That was not the case last year because of the 136-day lockout that condensed the offseason into a blur of activity in late July.

“I expect it to be less hectic than last year,” Cardinals general manger Rod Graves said at the Combine. “I think we know what we are dealing with this go-round and I think there will be a certain calmness with how we approach it. I expect it to get back to normalcy.”

With that said, let the calmness and normalcy begin.