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Hill, Branch among Seahawks’ key free agents


By Brady Henderson

RENTON – Disappointment abounded in the Seahawks’ locker room Monday as players packed up their belongings 24 hours after a gut-wrenching playoff loss to Atlanta.

That emotion wasn’t accompanied by an overwhelming sense of uncertainty like it was the last two times the Seahawks entered the offseason. Seattle has its answer at quarterback and almost all its starters under contract for at least next season.

Things aren’t so certain, though, for five key players who will be unrestricted free agents. A closer look at those five:

Alan Branch says he’d like to return to the Seahawks. (AP)

DT Alan Branch. After four underwhelming seasons in Arizona, Branch was a productive starter in each of his two season in Seattle. He was mostly an early-down run-stuffer and did not provide much in the way of pass rush, though he did have a key sack in Seattle’s playoff win over Washington. At 28, Branch is still relatively young, even by this team’s standards.

He expressed a strong desire to return.

“Hopefully they want me here and the whole money situation gets settled,” he said. “If not, there won’t be a better group of guys than this, for sure. But we’ll see.”

LB Leroy Hill. Hill’s productivity dipped in 2012. He finished with roughly half as many tackles (47) as he did last season (89). He missed three games due to hamstring and ankle injuries and split time late in the season with Malcolm Smith, who is younger and faster. Hill, already among the oldest Seahawks, will be 31 next season. The Seahawks will certainly look for upgrades at weak-side linebacker in the draft and/or free agency, but Hill has returned to the Seahawks before when his departure seemed inevitable.

“What’s gonna happen is what’s gonna happen,” Hill said. “We’ll see.”

K Steven Hauschka. Hauschka was plenty accurate this season, connecting on 24 of 27 attempts. His only misses came on attempts of 50 yards or longer. He was one of four from that range. The three misses on those longer field goals and the fact that he only attempted four all season are equally telling. The Seahawks may look for a kicker with a stronger leg.

CB Marcus Trufant. How well Trufant played as the team’s primary nickel cornerback is up for debate. Some would point the Miami game as evidence that Trufant can’t keep up with quicker slot receivers. Trufant missed four games with a hamstring injury. When healthy, though, he was the team’s first choice ahead of younger, more athletic alternatives like Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane. Trufant is 32, downright ancient by this team’s standards.

He expressed a desire to continue playing but added that he’ll “see how it goes.” Returning to the Seahawks – he is their longest-tenured player and a Tacoma native – would “definitely” be his first choice.

As for his health?

“I feel good, man. Of course it’s a long season so it can wear on you a little bit, but I feel good,” he said. “I was able to move around, I was able to keep up with all the young guys. So I feel good. I had a lot of fun doing it.”

DL Jason Jones. The Seahawks did not get the interior pass rush they hoped to get from Jones when they signed him to a one-year deal last offseason. Used primarily as a third-down rusher, Jones had three sacks in 12 games before his season ended due to a knee injury. He’s still young – only 26 – but durability is a concern. He’s missed 19 games over a five-year career.