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All-Pro Signs With Seahawks

Veteran free safety Merton Hanks, who was abruptly released by the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday, has found a new home, CBS SportsLine has confirmed.

The 31-year-old Hanks agreed to a multiyear deal with the Seattle Seahawks on Friday, although a formal announcement might not come until Monday.

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed and Hanks' agent, Leigh Steinberg, was unavailable for comment.

Hanks, a Pro Bowl starter four of the past five seasons, spent eight years with the 49ers and helped the team win one Super Bowl title. The Iowa product has recorded 29 interceptions for 380 yards since becoming a full-time starter in 1993.

The popular Hanks, who earned national attention for his rubber-neck chicken struts after interceptions, struggled in 1998, partly due to injuries. He proved especially vulnerable against the run and was no match against Atlanta running back Jamal Anderson in last year's NFC divisional playoff game.

Looking to infuse youth and create about $1 million in salary cap room, San Francisco general manager Bill Walsh cut Hanks, promoted second-year safety Lance Schulters and acquired veteran safety Craig Newsome from Green Bay.

Schulters will start against Jacksonville on Sunday while Newsome is expected to get some playing time.

Team officials did not return phone messages, but a member of the Seahawks coaching staff confirmed the acquisition of Hanks, who apparently chose Seattle over offers from Dallas and one unidentified team and the chance to return to the 49ers at a reduced salary.

The coach said the current plan is for Hanks to back up starting free safety Jay Bellamy, who just moved to the position in 1999 after previously starting at strong safety. He said Hanks would also be used in "nickel" situations. "He's what we call a 'ball athlete,' a guy who somehow is always around the football and seems to be very resourceful in coming up with big plays," the coach said.

The coach conceded that Hanks has lost a step. When asked about the 49ers' contention that the veteran is no longer a physical player, the coach countered: "Yeah, but he never was."

It is not known yet if the Seahawks will seek a two-week roster exemption for Hanks, but that is not likely. He is expected to begin practicing next week and could play in the Seahawks' game at Chicago on Sept. 19.

© 1999 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved

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