Seattle-area reporters talked with Seattle Seahawks president and general manager Tim Ruskell about making the decision to franchise linebacker Leroy Hill, along with the team's preparation for the draft and free agency.
The conversation lasted for about 20 minutes, so I thought I would share that with you here. The full transcript is offered below. I'll touch on some of the highlights.
Ruskell said it was imperative that the team have a face-to-face conversation with Hill after his transgression in Atlanta before the team made the decision to franchise him. Ruskell said they wanted to see if Hill was sincere and apologetic, and they also wanted the new coaches to meet Hill to make sure that Hill fit the new system.
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"I had to see him face-to-face and hear that from him and see that sincerity, which I saw, and other people saw, including Jim Mora," Ruskell said. "That was very important.
"Had he said, 'No, I'm not coming in.' We'd be going down a different path right now."
Ruskell said the priority with the No. 4 overall pick, should Seattle keep it, is getting the most impactful player available to the Seahawks, and not necessarily the best player available.
"You've got to get the most impact guy for your football team," Ruskell said. "You can't get focused on the darn need, that's when you make a mistake. Now, when they sync up that's great. But it's too tempting to say, "Well, we need a defensive lineman. Oh, look at that, he just happens to be right here." You have to fight that urge and make sure is that the most impactful player at four? Is that the next best player?"
Ruskell said he knows it's unusual to have as much money as the Seahawks do tied up in three linebackers, but he believes that's the strength of the team, even though they did not play that way last season. Here's the full interview.
Tim Ruskell: We've made a decision and we're franchising Leroy Hill, the non-exclusive portion of that. And our reasoning is we've been negotiating and that's gone well. We're not done. I wouldn't even say we're exactly close, but it's been good-faith negotiating, and this allows us to keep doing that, while protecting our rights to the player.
It's been a difficult ordeal with many turns and twists. Obviously, everybody knows his incident and we had to make sure to bring Leroy in, which we did last week, just to talk that over. We've always like Leroy and know he's a good guy, so (we wanted to ask him) 'Okay, what happened here?'
So we had to get good answers from that. And also with the new coaching staff, they don't even know him. Gus Bradley doesn't know Leroy Hill. Dan Quinn doesn't know Leroy Hill. Tim Lewis. Those guys had to know this guy because this is a big deal, right? This is an important player. And also to hear their evaluation of his fit for the new scheme, which was also very important to pull all of this together.
There's been a lot of paths that we've had to traverse to get to this point.
Q: Are you hoping for a Marcus Trufant kind of situation? That you tag him and eventually you get him to sign?
Ruskell: We want to get Leroy done to a long-term deal. We do. That's our goal.
Q: You obviously know him. You scouted him out of college. Did the incident kind of shake you?
Ruskell: It did shake me. I was surprised, and I told Leroy that. It just seemed out of character. And as he said to you guys, he was disappointed in himself and embarrassed. And wants to get his name back, because he does a lot of things with kids, not only in the Seattle area, but in the Atlanta area where he's from. And that's just hard, right? So in addition to being a great player he wants to get that back, and he knows he's made a mistake. But I had to see him face-to-face and hear that from him and see that sincerity, which I saw, and other people saw, including Jim Mora. That was very important.
Had he said, "No, I'm not coming in." We'd be going down a different path right now.
Q: What was the meeting like? Was it emotional?
Ruskell: I would say yeah, there was some emotion. It was very frank, and to his credit he was very frank. He was very sincere, and a lot of it was private. But that was why we brought him in. Part two was to have the new coaches get to know him, and have him to get to know the new coaches.
We want Leroy to want to be here. And we had to hear from him, "I want to be here."
Q: He certainly gave us those mixed signals. He sounded like a guy who wanted to test the market.
Ruskell: And we saw some of that. So we said, "Okay, let's talk to the guy who's involved here. Let's not read it in the paper. And we were satisfied with what we heard.
Q: You drew a clear line when you came in here and said, "Hey, we want to establish we're going to demand a certain thing from our players." Now that you feel like you've established that, do you feel like you can take these on more of a case-by-case basis? That you don't have to make a statement every time?
Ruskell: Probably so. But really I hope we always did in and don't just judge a guy by a mistake. Now if it's a pattern, that's different. And this has not been his way. And I hope that we're not so callous. … And maybe it sounded tougher early on. But we went through a couple years where it was pretty good and nothing was happening. But we realize what we're dealing with, with young guys and money and different influences. So yes, I hope we always listen and do it case by case. And this is what we did in this case, and it came out to our satisfaction.
Q: How much did the size of the actual tag influence your decision? I mean that's a lot of money.
Ruskell: That will always be a problem. They're huge.
Q: And how about in the context of the position? You paid Lofa (Tatupu). You paid Julian (Peterson).
Ruskell: It's very difficult. It's kind of out of whack. You probably wouldn't find another team in the league where they're paying all of the linebackers. And our reasoning last year, because this question came up last year, was "You know what, if that's the strength of our team, then that's the strength of our team."
Now, it didn't work out last year. It wasn't the strength of our team, so that was disappointing. And so we expect that to change. We expect them to all play better. So we're not breaking up the group. But it is out of whack. If I had designed my perfect team in terms of the players and the way the money would flow, it wouldn't all flow right there. But you don't always get those choices. And you don't want to let go of good football players.
Q: How much of a factor was the chemistry those two guys had?
Ruskell: Obviously we've heard from all of them, (saying) "Keep the band together." But yes, that is important. And that's why last year was so bizarre in that we didn't play well together, for lack of a better description.
Q: How does making this decision now influence what's going to happen in the offseason in terms of what you want to get done, now that you know that Leroy is going to be here?
Ruskell: Well, like I said, we're still working on a long-term deal. And so if we just stayed with the tag and didn't get a deal done, that would be one thing. Or if we got one done, that would be another in terms of freeing up money and that kind of thing. So that's still in a state of flux in terms of how quickly that can happen.
But we're still going forward with our plan to address free agency in a strategic way. So that part has not changed.
Q: So again, you're No. 1 thing in free agency is taking care of your own guys? Is that still how you're looking at all of this?
Ruskell: We've got a big number (that's going into free agency). Are going to have them all back? No, we're not. And we understand that. And in transition there are casualties. And there will be some casualties in this group. We've told all of them that we would like them all back. But that's not realistic. That's not going to happen. And there are other guys who are out there in free agency who we are looking at. So it's going to be a mix of the two. I would assume that we'll get a good number of the guys back.
But it's a funny market guys. I don't think anybody really knows what's going to happen on the (Feb.) 27th (first day of free agency). Is the market going to crap out, or is it going to be another you know, "Yeah, everything economically and in the country and in the NFL (is great) and the big money is still out there?" But nobody knows. And I think that's why you're seeing so many tags. They just don't know what's on the other side. Agents and teams.
Q: Have you ever been a part of a free agency period where people don't spend as much money as people maybe expected? That there's less spending. Baseball had that a little bit this year. I don't remember that ever happening in football.
Ruskell: I agree with you and I think that's the fear that nobody really knows. And not many deals are getting done, right? So in terms what the agents believe is happening or going to happen, is different that what the club's (believe). So we have this divide right now, and teams are protecting their guys any way that they possibly can.
Q: What has your analysis told you on what sort of cap flexibility team's have. We always here about cap space, but it doesn't mean anything if you don't have the cash. I mean, do you have an idea?
Ruskell: I don't have an idea Mike (Sando). It's not something team-to-team we talk about. I think we'll just have to judge everybody by their actions. And I think that's why the 27th is going to be so interesting. Who are the teams going big? How many of those teams are doing well? How many teams are going to get their players back? These are the questions that I don't think we're going to have answers to until we dip into the pool.
Q: Do you envision you guys being big players (in free agency), or will it be like last year where you were kind of like second-tier guys.
Ruskell: I don't know. We're not going to be the big players. You're not going to write about us that way. Getting Leroy Hill, we're already big, right? But we're going to wade in cautiously and use it strategically. And we have to combine what we think we can get in the draft and say "I think we're going to take care of that here, so we don't have to do it here."
Because we have the high picks, we can play that game. You have a better idea of what's going to be available to you.
Q: You've said the last couple years because you've drafted as low as you have, there's certain tier players you're just not going to get.
Ruskell: We try to stay true to our grading system. "Okay, he's gone. Here's the next five. Put those guys up there Get 'em right. Now let's take the next guy. And I think at four, our strategy is – and I talked to you guys about this the last time we were together – you've got to get the most impact guy for your football team. You can't get focused on the darn need, that's when you make a mistake. Now, when they sync up that's great. But it's too tempting to say, "Well, we need a defensive lineman. Oh, look at that, he just happens to be right here." You have to fight that urge and make sure is that the most impactful player at four? Is that the next best player?
Q: Because you can have just about anybody?
Ruskell: Right. Nobody's like, "Well we know he's gone." You can't say that about anybody yet.
Q: Well, you can basically pick four guys and you get one of them.
Ruskell: Yes, but that's not based on what we're hearing. On how we rate, yes, we know we're getting one of those four guys.
Q: So how close are you?
Ruskell: Well, our big meetings, where we put it all not in cement, but in gooey stuff, starts right after the combine. We've done it before later in prior years. This year we said let's back that up. And Mora's going to be part of the meetings. And so we had to find a window where they would all be available after they had done all of their installations. And that was after the combine.
Q: Is there a specific position upgrade you're looking at?
Ruskell: We certainly don't want to get into the position we had last year with the receivers. That was scary in that a couple injuries then boom! We couldn't function. But it's not that kind of level of emphasis. We'll look at it very hard.
Q: How do you evaluate the combine? How large of factor is that in your evaluation process?
Ruskell: It's a large factor. At what percentage, I don't know. Obviously the workout part of it is we're trying to verify what we've already said about these guys as athletes and their skills. And so when you say, "Boy, he plays fast on the field. And he's quick as lightening on the field and on the tape. And if he goes and duplicates that here, then okay, you feel pretty good about that. You've nailed the guy's ability level.
And so it's a verification process most of the time. And most of the time you do verify what your reports are saying.
When they're discrepancies, okay let's go back. And let's look. Are we overrating his speed on the field? Are we overrating his strength? Are we overrating his quickness? And then sometimes you look and you say "You know what? Level of competition or right place at the right time, maybe we were. And then you make a change accordingly.
But most of the time it's kind of what you thought. They verify what you saw on tape with how they work out.
Q: And then how does the Pro Day factor in?
Ruskell: Usually the pro day is a lot of guys didn't work out here, so we have to go to that pro day. Rarely do we just discount this and go with what they did in the pro day. And rarely is it different, other than the case of John Carlson, who was sick here, and on pro day he was better and he ran his normal time. So you get that sometimes. But pro day is usually just to make up for the fact that the guy either didn't work out here or do everything here.
No this year will be a little different. Because we're picking so high we want to be at every even that the players we're looking at are at. So that's different than when you're at No. 25 or whatever. So we'll be stacking up some good frequent flyer miles and have the coaches involved, because we want them to get a feel for how the kid reacts in his own environment.
Q: So now do you have to be more involved because it is the fourth pick overall?
Ruskell: Yes, I'll probably be going to more workouts. Absolutely. And I went to a bunch normally, but probably more this year
Q: What's your philosophy when you have a pick that high? You talked about getting impact players, how reluctant would you be to move out of a position that high?
Ruskell: That depends on how big our impact player list is. If it's eight, if it's 10, if it's 12 and rate out impact players in the six's at each level. So how many impact guys are there? If you start out with a list of 15 of those guys, by the time you're meetings are over, that thing's down to eight. And if you eliminate some of those guys on their intangibles or off the field, it can go to four or six. That's the normal course.
So yes, you would be reluctant to trade out. It's doesn't mean you're not going to get a good player at 10. So you have to weigh what is your offer. If I'm going to go to 10, and I'm out of my impact player pool, and I'm into my good player, good starter, Pro Bowl possibility, what am I getting for that?
So I wouldn't say I wouldn't do it. If I could get two starters, Pro Bowl player potential as opposed to one impact, you know, you might think about that. We'll never be reluctant to hear, move up/move down, and we never have been. And we never will be.
Q: That's what you don't like about being at four, the money right?
Ruskell: Yeah, it's tough. He hasn't played a play, right? Then there's guys who have been here five years who aren't making the money he'll make. It's a little bit of an inconsistency in our system.
Q: How much do you need to have your future quarterback, not to say anything about Matt Hasselbeck in the short term, but I know you considered it even last year.
Ruskell: Yeah, we're in that zone where we have to consider every time there's a free agency period, a draft. So we're in that zone. Whether it happens this year or not, it just depends. But we're in that zone.
Q: Would you like it to happen this year rather waiting the next year or the year after if there's a guy who fits what you're trying to do?
Ruskell: It would have to happen that way. We're not just going to do it because we know we're in the zone. That's not how we're going to do it. We're going to do it because everyone has been evaluated, the quarterback coach and the coordinator feel good about the future, and then as an organization we say "You know what, we're all on board let's do it." Not just because we're in the zone."
Q: When you took Lofa he didn't necessarily measure out at the combine. How much was is performance at the combine a verification of what he does? Or was that a case of looking beyond that.
Ruskell: Well, everybody just always focused on the 40. he didn't run a good 40 here. He ran a better 40 at USC. But he did verify his explosiveness, and his quickness, and his change of direction. And then the interview verified what we heard about him as a guy in terms of his leadership ability.
So everybody focused on he didn't run well in the 40 and he wasn't 6-3, why did you like him? Well we do other things, and they did verify. Like I said, quickness-wise, intelligence-wise, explosion-wise, strength-wise. Yes, he didn't run a good 40. But we went back to USC he did run a good 40. And it was in our acceptable range.
People tend to focus on the 40. And yes that's important, but not at every position. Lofa goes 10-to-15 yards every play. He better be quick. If he's running a 40, something very bad has happened, or he's scoring a touchdown.
Q: What are your thoughts on the new staff?
Ruskell: I'm very happy with both sides of the ball. We spent a lot of time talking about what he wanted those guys to look like – the personalities and their makeup. And everyone knows it was kind of like him. That's what we wanted. High energy. Intelligence. Great enthusiasm. Passion. And so that was the filter all those guys were put through. And every time we felt good about all of them.
And in addition, we've really been kind of toward this the last couple years with Mike (Holmgren), in terms of the coaches who've already been brought in that had those same qualities. (Mike) Solari and (Mike) DeBord, who you guys know. And we were just kind of finishing it off when we made the transition. Had we had to start from scratch, that would have been very difficult.
It very helpful that when once the transition started to happen, we were one of the first teams in the pool looking for coaches. There are some teams still in that pool and it's slim pickings. So that very helpful. That fact that Jim was here to evaluate the guys who were already here, and then we were able to hit the ground running immediately before a lot of these teams had even made a decision on these new coaches. Not by any fault of theirs, but that's just the way it worked out. And that was very helpful.
Q: Doe that impact your evaluation if a guy declines to workout here?
Ruskell: It pisses you off (laughs). You know, we'll all here. Why can't we just all get along? You know, there's another 2,000-mile trip. I'm pretty excited (laughs). No, you'd like to get them here because it's the same environment so everybody's working under the same conditions. So it's great for us.
Now, these guys have good excuses as well. If you're not 100 percent you're going to be reluctant because you feel like you're not going to give you're best. And it's very important. Money is involved. But in a perfect world we would like them all, and there has been a trend in the last few years (for more guys working out at the combine), the percent has gone up and up and up, and we're hoping that continues. We'll see.