Seattle pulls Hill's franchise tag

RENTON, Wash. -- The Seattle Seahawks rescinded their franchise tag on Leroy Hill and made him a free agent, one day after saying how happy they were that Hill was part of a dynamic linebacking corps that now includes fourth overall draft choice Aaron Curry.

Sunday's surprising move gives Seattle salary cap space of $8.3 million -- the value of the guaranteed contract for 2009 the team was obligated to offer Hill as its franchise player.

Curry, the top-rated linebacker in the draft out of Wake Forest, is expected to get at least $25 million guaranteed in his new contract.

Seattle president and general manager Tim Ruskell said yanking Hill's tag was done to give the team flexibility to potentially sign other free agents, and to possibly unlock the stalemate in talks for a long-term deal with Hill. Hill had refused to sign the Seahawks' tender offer and decided to skip this month's voluntary minicamp for veterans.

Next to nothing has happened in those discussions since the Seahawks designated Hill as their franchise player for 2009 in February.

Todd France, Hill's agent, confirmed Sunday night to The Associated Press that a long-term contract for Hill in Seattle remains a possibility.

"We're in communication with the team," France said by phone. "Negotiations are ongoing."

Ruskell said the Seahawks -- and, of course Hill -- were leery of the franchise tag to begin with. Seattle's reluctance was for fear of alienating the play-making, four-year veteran. Hill's was for losing his first chance at free-agent riches.

Hill was often all over the field while making 81 tackles in 12 games of 2008. Then he missed the final four games of the season with a pinched nerve in his neck.

Coach Jim Mora marveled after selecting Curry on Saturday that Seattle's defense now has, along with Lofa Tatupu, "three good, young linebackers who are all impact-type players and it is an exciting group. It will be fun to watch them grow together."

The fun could stop before it begins, yet Mora said he talked to Hill Sunday morning and the player remains "very motivated to be a Seattle Seahawk."

Hill has said he'd love to stay with Seattle and would give the team an extra listen in contract talks.

At the end of last season, he wasn't worried some team would be giving him a rich deal soon.

"I think I set myself up good," he said in January, smiling. "If Seattle decides not to go forward with me, I think I'll have a job next year."

He had a guaranteed one waiting for him in Seattle -- until Sunday.

"The tag just wasn't working," Ruskell said. "The tag was put on originally to try to get a long-term deal done. And that didn't happen. We got to the point that Leroy wasn't showing up to offseason camps and what have you.

"There's good faith on both sides to get something done. We'll have talks tonight and in the morning. I'm confident that this will probably hasten it, whereas the tag did not."

The Seahawks traded Julian Peterson, a five-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker, to Detroit this offseason. That is why they drafted Curry with their highest pick in 12 years.

With Hill's status in doubt, Seattle's current possibilities to start opposite Curry are veteran backup D.D. Lewis, who is rehabilitating from injury and missed this month's minicamp, plus unproven special teamers Will Herring and Lance Laury.

Herring has made one NFL start. Laury has not started a game in his three pro seasons.

Not only are they raw, they -- and Lewis -- are trying to learn the terminology and schemes of new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, whom Mora has brought in for his first season as Seahawks' coach.