That gaffe, giving Hutchinson a transition tag instead of the more restrictive franchise tag for 2006, accelerated the Seahawks' decline that cost the 20-year scout his first GM position.
"I talked to my wife the other day and said, 'Let's look at that will again,'" Ruskell jokingly said after announcing his forced resignation just weeks before his five-year contract ended. "It says 'burial.' But let's go for 'cremation' -- so they won't be able to write, 'Here lies the man that lost Hutch' on my tombstone."
That was the biggest of many missteps with which Ruskell is more easily identified now that the Seahawks are 8-19 in the last two seasons.
The team's ownership gave Ruskell full authority to shape the franchise soon after he arrived before the 2005 season. He remade the defense, including with the deft drafting of overlooked linebacker Lofa Tatupu, and that first team brought Seattle its only Super Bowl appearance.
Since then, Ruskell has presided over failed top draft picks, expensive free-agent busts -- and the awkward ouster of popular coach and former GM Mike Holmgren at the end of his contract last January.
Ruskell brought in his own coach, Jim Mora, for the 2009 season, and the 4-7 Seahawks are on their way to a second consecutive season without a playoff berth. Last season, they finished 4-12, their worst record since 1991.
This week, Ruskell asked team leadership if he would have his contract renewed so he could begin planning for offseason moves. Seahawks owner Paul Allen, the Microsoft Corp. tycoon, and chief executive Tod Leiweke told Ruskell no, so he left.
"Obviously there's great sadness today, but I will leave here with great memories of this place and the people," Ruskell said, his voice breaking while he held back tears during a morning news conference attended by his sister and the team's staff.
Later, Ruskell walked into the Seahawks' indoor facility to watch practice. After practice, players lined up to hug their now-former GM, who says he might take a break from the game after 28 years in it.
"We were surprised," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said of the news that came to the players from Mora during an unscheduled, five-minute morning meeting. "Just a class act. You could tell he cared about the team. He's hurting just as much as we are with the way things are going."
Ruskell admitted that he underestimated how difficult this season would be with a new coach, two new coordinators and 12 new starters.
"It didn't happen quickly enough," he said, "but it wasn't because we didn't do it right."
Mora looked stunned and sounded concerned at losing the man who gave him his second go-round as an NFL head coach. Ruskell was the Atlanta Falcons' assistant GM who helped hire Mora as a rookie coach in 2004.
"I'm disappointed that we didn't perform better and didn't give him the help that he needed," Mora said.
When asked if he felt uncomfortable that his guy is gone, Mora tersely answered that his concerns were with Ruskell and how he's handling the move "and that our focus is quite simply on getting better" and beating the NFC West rival San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
Leiweke said he expects Mora to remain the Seahawks' coach in 2010. Leiweke also said Webster would be a good GM candidate and added that "stability is something we will try to push for."
No conceivable candidate knows the Seahawks better than Holmgren, who became their longest-tenured and winningest coach from 1999 to 2008. He was also their GM during his first four years.
Holmgren has declared his desire to return to the NFL after one year away from the league. He took 2009 off as a promise to his wife and family but now says he wants to return to football. He hasn't specified where or whether it is to coach or be an executive.
When asked whether Holmgren is a candidate, Leiweke said: "I'm just not going to go there. I'm just not going to talk about that today."
Beyond the Hutchinson fiasco, there was a huge contract that Ruskell gave to running back Shaun Alexander -- before the former league MVP went bust in two years. Ruskell also traded a first-round dradt pick to the New England Patriots in 2006 for wide receiver Deion Branch. Ruskell then gave the former Super Bowl MVP a $39 million contract with $13 million guaranteed. Branch has posted seasons with 53, 49, 30 and now 26 catches -- plus two knee surgeries.
Branch was one of the first players to hug Ruskell after practice.
"For him to receive all the blame is wrong," Branch said. "The stuff that's going on in the organization all falls back on the players. It's sad. I truly respect him. ... I'm thankful for him."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press