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The Priciest Yard


Why Mike Holmgren could be to blame for Shaun Alexander's holdout.

It’s a freezing, skin-numbing January day in Seattle. Even the fans that have downed 48 beers have put their shirts on. The Seahawks are battling the backups of the NFC South champion Atlanta Falcons for the NFC West crown. Seattle is on Atlanta’s one-yard line. The distance to the end zone is the same distance Shaun Alexander needs to tie Curtis Martin for the league’s rushing title. Alexander has been pummeling the Falcons to a tune of 4.2 yards per carry all afternoon.

The call comes in from Mike Holmgren. Matt Hasselbeck snaps the ball and… sneaks it in himself. Touchdown, Seattle. The Seahawks take the lead, but do not get the ball back. They win 28-26, leaving Alexander one yard short of Martin, who goes on to win the rushing title.

Seattle may have won temporarily. Despite the home-field advantage they obtained by beating Atlanta, the Seahawks were expelled by the Rams the following week. While that was a devastating loss for Seattle, the organization may incur a far greater one.

They may lose Shaun Alexander.

Alexander, one of the premier running backs in the NFL, is holding out. He will not play for the one-year, $6.32 million franchise tender the Seahawks offered him. Alexander said that the organization already blew their chances of signing him.

“I told them three years ago that I love playing here and let’s do something now,” Alexander said. “It was just me and Mike [Holmgren]. There were no agents involved. I said, ‘You know what? My wife’s here. My family’s here. I want to be here until I retire.’ It’s really funny because back then I would have worked for peanuts.

“Two Pro Bowls and 3,000 yards and 36 touchdowns later, now it’s time to talk?” Alexander added. “And I’m like, ‘Why would you do this?’ So now it’s just one of those things where I say, ‘Let’s do what’s right.’ I’m not trying to be evil or greedy or anything. Let’s just do what’s right.”

Obviously, something has changed. Alexander, once content with staying in Seattle for a franchise-friendly contract, now wants to be paid among the top running backs in the NFL. Alexander, once comfortable with being a full-time member of the Seahawks organization, wants out if he doesn’t get the money he deserves.

If Seattle wants to contend in the improving NFC and save face as an organization, they need to pay Alexander the money he wants. Otherwise, they will look like the Julie Cooper of the NFL -- a heartless and ruthless franchise that robbed Alexander of a rushing title and a new contract worth millions of dollars. Holmgren and his foolish and selfish play-calling will get the blame. If the coach gave Alexander his final yard -- and only his 20th carry of the game -- the Seahawks would probably not be faced with the dilemma of having Maurice Morris as their starting tailback on Sept. 11 at Jacksonville. Instead, a happy and cheap Alexander would be ready to take on one of the league’s stingiest defenses against the run.

Holmgren may have dug his own grave, as far as his job is concerned. If Alexander does not concede his holdout, Seattle will have trouble running the ball, even with Morris in the backfield. The Seahawks will struggle to compete with superior teams outside their division, which could lead to either Arizona or St. Louis stealing the NFC West. If that happens, the chances of Holmgren retaining his job will be slimmer than Dave Chappelle making new episodes of his show.

What makes the Seahawks organization look even more foolish is that the money Alexander currently covets will be impossible to grant. If Alexander gets a four-year contract, he will be 32 by the time it expires. Great running backs are also one twisted knee away from having their careers conclude prematurely. On the surface, it would seem ridiculous to give a running back in his late 20s a long-term deal. However, given the possible reason why Alexander is holding out and the outcome of his absence, the Seahawks should apologize and give him the contract he wants.

If they don’t, it’ll be even colder in Seattle this January.



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2008 Championship Sunday Diary - Jan. 20
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