I was sitting way back in a darkened theater thinking about it. Chewing on it. Seattle had just traded one of my most beloved players, but, almost defiant of explanation, the gut-wrench had not found me. I wasn't outraged and I didn't know why. Sometime before Stephen Soderbergh's color imagery moved from poignant to cloying, it dawned on me:
I like this deal. A lot. And here's why.
Seattle can't fully replace Julian Peterson, no team short of Dallas can, but Seattle is better equipped than most to try.
Leroy Hill broke into the league a strongside linebacker. His rookie season is likely still his best. Hill recorded 7.5 sacks and 22 total defeats*. Seattle signed Julian Peterson in the 2006 offseason, and that moved Hill to the weakside. It made sense at the time to accommodate such a talent, and in most ways Peterson outperformed Hill enough for the move to be justified, but the formerly blitzing and attacking linebacker was damned to covering running backs and playing the short zone. Hill wasn't really lost. He could still fly down and explode the screen pass. He could control the periphery and stack the left guard. But he was limited. After a rookie season sack total to rival DeMarcus Ware, Hill was shelved as a primary blitzer and put into a support role.
I didn't want Seattle to re-sign Hill. If the Seahawks were intent on playing Hill against his strengths, I thought a better mix of coverage and run stopping could be achieved by employing a linebacker platoon. Instead Seattle franchised Hill. I was a bit vexed, but I never forgot Hill's potential.
I think Hill is a talented young player, but I also think Seattle could have satisfactorily replaced him with the talent they have. If Seattle uses Hill more as a pass rusher, like they did in 2005, his value skyrockets. He's not DeMarcus Ware, but he's not as far off as people think. The greatest thing that separates the two is opportunity. Hill has exceptional ability to move through traffic, is a fierce tackler and has the kind of closing burst that turns pressure into sacks and sacks into forced fumbles. As a Tampa 2 style linebacker, Hill is sub par, a good run defender, but bad enough in coverage to offset it, but as a zone blitz style linebacker, one who defends the run, plays some zone, but is regularly sent on blitzes, Hill could be a beast.
Ultimately, Seattle retained the younger of the two linebackers. Maybe when projecting a phenomenal talent like Peterson, that doesn't matter so much. If the question was just "Peterson or Hill?" I'd answer "Peterson." But Peterson was approaching the most expensive seasons of his contract. He would average $8 million over his age 32, 33, and 34 seasons. Over those same seasons, Hill is likely to average $5 million. That's just doing some quick mental math and assuming Hill's deal is back loaded. With each passing year, that discrepancy falls more and more in Hill's favor. Until "Peterson or Hill?" is clearly "Hill." Maybe Seattle could have kept both, but it shouldn't have. When Hill was cheap, it was justifiable to play him against his strengths to allow for a marquee talent. Hill is clearly a strongside linebacker. Once Seattle committed to him long term, it created a log jam that ensured someone was going to be overpaid to play out of position.
Instead of letting Hill walk or overpaying Hill to toil on the weakside, Tim Ruskell has freed the logjam, returned Hill to his rightful place, freed cap space and actually added talent. Hill replaces Peterson. The platoon I favored to replace Hill can still replace Hill. To some extent, the overall value of this trade depends a bit on just how good defensive tackle Cory Redding is, but before we even factor that, consider the above. If the team has taken a hit at strongside linebacker, it likely has improved weakside enough to offset it - and without expending resources. It has also added the first overall pick in the fifth round, and, this is huge for me, moved Colin Cole out of the starting lineup.
Every dirty thing I said about that signing seems immaterial now. Seattle suddenly has an excellent looking defensive tackle rotation. It's sort of Marcus Tubbs by committee, with no individual being as good as Tubbs, but the unrelenting lineup of Mebane/Redding spelled by Cole/Red Bryant collectively being as good or better. Mebane stays at one, Redding is added as a legitimate three, Cole subs at one and Bryant at the three is stout and scrappy enough to keep the double teams off. At no point does the Craig Terrill/Howard Green cavalcade of wackiness cause ruination and failure.
Muscly Arm was the man. He rates with Chad Brown for all-time great Seahawks strongside linebacker. Seattle didn't add talent by trading Peterson, but it is better able to maximize the talent it has and a better team because it did.**
*Defeat defined by Football Outsiders as the "the total number of plays that stop an offense from gaining first down yardage on third or fourth down, stop the offense behind the line of scrimmage, or result in a fumble or interception." 22 is the second most of Hill's career, behind only the 25 he recorded in a full season in 2007.
**Assuming Cory Redding doesn't completely suck. To be continued.