Reflections upon learning that the Seattle Seahawks are likely to move on without three-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who refused to accept a reduction from his $4.3 million salary, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter:
Breaking from the past. The lockout gave the Seahawks extra time to consider their long-range plans. The team basically decided to make a clean break from the past. If Matt Hasselbeck's departure over a few million dollars didn't drive home the point, Tatupu's release should leave little doubt. New leadership often prefers operating without baggage left over from its predecessors. Some of that is at work here.
Pride on the line. Cooler heads sometimes prevail when a player has time to think about accepting less pay. That happened in St. Louis when guard Jacob Bell returned to the team one day after initially decided to refuse a pay cut. Instead of testing the market, Bell decided he could live with an adjustment. Tatupu spent the past couple days mulling his options while the team held him out of practice. His ultimate decision to refuse a cut affirms how difficult it can be for a proud player -- particularly one with multiple Pro Bowls on his résumé and a leadership role in the locker room -- to swallow his pride.
Was this necessary? Tatupu was scheduled to earn $4.35 million. The team wanted to save a couple million dollars. Injuries have caught up to Tatupu. He hasn't reached his former Pro Bowl level in recent seasons. The roster is evolving around him. On paper, Tatupu was not worth what his contract was going to pay him. But it's not like he was scheduled to earn $6 million or $8 million per season. In my view, his $4.3 million number wasn't far enough out of line to merit parting with one of the few leaders remaining on the team. Tatupu's contract was scheduled to count $6.1 million against the cap this season. It will count $1.1 million after releasing Tatupu, with another $2.2 million counting against the cap in 2012. So, the team saves about $5 million under the cap, a significant savings. Was it enough to justify parting with him? The answer is "yes" if one removes emotion from the equation.
Who's next in line? Like Tatupu, cornerback Marcus Trufant signed a lucrative contract when working under the team's previous leadership. Like Tatupu, injuries have caught up with Trufant. With a $5.9 million salary for 2011, it's fair to wonder whether the 30-year-old cornerback might be next in line for a reduction. As of Saturday, however, the team had not approached Trufant.
Youth will be served. The Seahawks had the second-youngest roster in the NFL heading into the negotiating period (not counting unrestricted free agents or players who had reached contract agreements before the signing period). Without Tatupu, the Seahawks have only seven players with more than six years' experience. Trufant and Colin Cole have the most, with nine. The contract Cole signed in 2009 carried a $4.25 million cap figure for this season, including $3.75 million in salary. The team recently paid out around $5 million per year to Brandon Mebane, then announced that Mebane would play nose tackle. Seems like something has to give.
It's still possible, at least in theory, that Tatupu could return to the team after considering his options elsewhere. I wouldn't bet on it at this point, however.
By the way, Leroy Hill and Trufant are the only players remaining with Seattle from the team's Super Bowl appearance following the 2005 season.
Note: I adjusted the figures on Cole's salary after previously stating his 2011 base salary as $4.4 million. That is the figure for 2012.