This series will examine seven position groups on the Seahawks, reviewing their 2015 performance, and how the front office may make changes, including free agency or the draft. The final part of the series will propose a cumulative plan.
Part I: Quarterbacks Part II: Offensive Line Part III: Wide Receivers & Tight Ends Part IV: Running Backs & Fullbacks Part V: Defensive Line Part VI: Linebackers Part VII: Secondary Part VIII: Summary & Recommendations
State of the position: Offensive Line
No position group on the Seahawks has seen more turnover over Pete Carroll’s tenure than the offensive line. It was overhauled when he arrived, and has seen at least one new starter every season except for 2013. Even that line saw a lot of comings and goings as players like Breno Giacomini and Russell Okung were injured and Michael Bowie, Paul McQuistan, Alvin Bailey and Lemuel Jeanpierre were asked to step in.
Any line coach will tell you that continuity is a critical factor in the development of a good offensive line. What some lines lack in talent, they make up for in communication and experience. Seattle has been able to survive with marginal talent in certain spots along the line by having a few foundational players to keep the ship afloat. Trading away C Max Unger and choosing not to replace him with any proven player was a pivotal decision that made Tom Cable’s job incredibly difficult.
Cable is a remarkable teacher. His ability to teach players to be lineman for the first time at the NFL level is almost deserving of a reality show. The problem, as I have written here numerous times, is Cable has a blindspot in his evaluation of lineman. He values toughness, athleticism, and run blocking. His willingness to trade off pass protection in favor of run blocking has led to a career of poor pass blocking lines.
The line was under more scrutiny in 2015 than any other part of the football team. It became almost a joke in the weekly Carroll press conferences. It was not a joke to see the offense unable to operate for much of the season, or to see it physically dominated late in the year by the Rams and the Panthers defensive lines.
G/T Justin Britt and T Garry Gilliam are the only starters still under contract, although C Patrick Lewis is a restricted free agent who could be back. The team once again faces the prospect of significant turnover on the line.
Russell Okung was the first draft pick of John Schneider’s career as a General Manager. He has been the starting left tackle ever since. Durability has been the major issue with Okung. He has never played a full season, and has only twice played 14 regular season games or more.
When healthy, he is an above average starter with a couple of Pro Bowl nods. He was, without question, the most well rounded player on the Seahawks line last year. While fans have their pitchforks and torches out, ready to jettison the whole line, the team needs to be careful about the possibility of repeating the Unger mistake from last year.
Replacing a Top 10 pick at left tackle who was the best player on your line is easier said than done. A challenged line becomes more challenged without Okung.
Gilliam was developed as a backup left tackle by Cable during his rookie year and throughout the early part of training camp last year. He was switched to right tackle when Bailey struggled at left guard and Britt struggled at right tackle. Gilliam is athletic enough to be a left tackle. While he struggled during his first year as a starter, I am high on his potential as a long-term fit at either tackle spot. He is smart, driven, and has fast feet.
If the team added no other tackles to the mix, Britt would likely swing back to right tackle and Gilliam would be left tackle. It is highly unlikely they go into camp with that being the plan.
Terry Poole was a rookie on the practice squad, but unless he has improved exponentially over the course of the season, his potential to help the team next year is slim. He was consistently overwhelmed in pass protection during camp and the preseason. He does have a nasty streak that showed up in a couple skirmishes.
Kona Schwenke was a late mover to tackle after starting camp at guard last year, and held his own. I am higher on his potential than Poole’s based on what I saw during the summer.
Gone are James Carpenter and Robert Gallery and John Moffitt and Paul McQuistan. J.R. Sweezy could be the next name to add to the Seahawks guard graveyard. Bailey is a restricted free agent that the team will likely keep. He has meaningful value as a backup tackle and guard across four spots on the line, even if he has not shown an ability to ascend to starter status.
The combination of Britt and Sweezy at guard was physical and tough, but also susceptible to pass pressure. It is easy to say the team should do better at guard, but the people evaluating those positions have not changed. Cable loved what he got from Sweezy, even if many fans did not.
Many of the most worst moments in pass pressure came on immediate breakdowns at the guard position. See Kawann Short against Britt in the Panthers game on the play that turned into the pick-six. Tightening up pass protection on the interior line would go a long way toward making Russell Wilson the most dangerous quarterback in football.
Rookie Mark Glowinski is an intriguing prospect here who could play a significant role in shaping how the Seahawks approach the position in free agency. He is strong and one of the few Seahawks lineman who actually played his position in college. It is easy to see Glowinski being a starter next season.
Lewis deserves credit for stepping in and stabilizing the line. He is young (24) and a restricted free agent. Seattle could do worse than returning Lewis at center, but there are a number of veteran options who could be brought in to challenge for the starting spot.
Rookie Kristjan Sokoli was another defensive lineman conversion project, and the team has said they are high on his potential. That worries me a bit considering he was the worst performer I have ever watched in 1v1 pass protection drills during camp, and that includes Britt who had major challenges that showed up regularly during games.
2016 Seahawks Free Agent Lineman:
LT Russell Okung
RG J.R. Sweezy
G/C Lemuel Jeanpierre
T/G Alvin Bailey (Restricted)
C Patrick Lewis (Restricted)
Seahawks Lineman Under Contract:
T/G Justin Britt
T Garry Gilliam
C/G Kristjan Sokoli
G Mark Glowinski
C/G Drew Nowak (Futures Contract)
C/G Will Pericak (Futures Contract)
T Terry Poole (Futures Contract)
T Kona Schwenke (Futures Contract)
Possible Free Agents To Consider
LT Donald Penn
Penn is an ideal target for the Seahawks. He is arguably a Top 10 left tackle, who is adept at pass blocking and is a physical run blocker. He is also 32 years old, which will leave him off some teams shopping list. He won’t come cheap, but he could be equivalent or less than Russell Okung and is an upgrade who very well could be more durable over the next few years than the younger Okung.
LT Kelvin Beachum
Beachum suffered a torn ACL last season, which will have some impact on his free agent value. He is young enough, and talented enough, that it won’t drag him down too far. He is a little short for a left tackle, but is a good pass blocker and solid run blocker as well. The Steelers have cheaper and younger alternative in Alejandro Villanueva, so they are less likely to pony up much cash to keep him. Beachum can also play guard, which increases his value to Seattle.
RT Mitchell Schwartz
Schwartz was a solid player for the Browns last year and will be the most sought-after right tackle on the market. Still, right tackle values are always substantially below left tackle value, so he’s not necessarily out of the Seahawks price range. Schneider could choose to bet on Garry Gilliam at left tackle and add more to the pile via the draft, while locking down the right side with Schwartz.
LT Russell Okung
The best chance for Okung to be back in Seattle is for his injury to depress his market value so that he would be open to a one-year deal where he could re-enter the market next year healthier and more ready to optimize his contract dollars.
G/T Kelechi Osemele
Osemele was one of the best guards in football last year. His teammate Marshall Yanda was probably better, and got a big money extension from the Ravens. Osemele is flat awesome. He run blocks like a boss and is a quality pass protector. He even slid outside to play left tackle last year and did well there. He has intimated that he would like to stay out at left tackle, almost certainly due to the higher price tag that position demands. Good news. Seattle needs both.
There are few times when I am in favor of the Seahawks going big on a free agent contract, but this is one of those times.
G Jahri Evans
One of the best guards of his generation, Evans is now available on the free agent market after the Saints cut him due to salary cap issues. Evans could be a terrific addition that would improve both experience and talent on the interior line.
G Evan Mathis
Mathis is the perfect foil to Osemele. He is nearly ten years older, but is a heck of player. You can bet Schneider regrets letting Mathis go last year after a free agent visit. Mathis was waiting for a team to match his price tag, and Denver jumped in to pay him $3.25M for one season. He is exactly the kind of affordable quality veteran the Seahawks need to be considering to raise the line play. Mathis may only have another year or two of starting quality performance, but that could give Seattle time to develop a successor.
G Alex Boone
Boone is a known quantity as the Seahawks have faced him for years with the San Francisco 49ers. He is getting a lot of buzz among Seahawks fans, but I’m not sure he is a great fit for Seattle. He can be a headache. This front office puts up with strong personalities as well as any in the league, but that is usually because the players add something terrific to the team. Boone is a good guard. He may never be a Pro Bowl guard. Yet, he will command a big contract on the open market. This is exactly the kind of good-but-not-great player who I prefer the Seahawks avoid in free agency.
G Ramon Foster
Foster is the anti-Boone. He is old enough to not require top dollar, quiet enough to blend into any locker room, and comparable as far as guard play. The Steelers probably will let him walk without much of a fight due to his age. I would rather see the Seahawks spend a little on a guy like Foster than a lot on a guy like Boone.
G J.R. Sweezy
The Seahawks free agent has been a polarizing figure in Seattle. Most fans see him as a liability in pass protection. Most players and coaches see him as the toughest, meanest guy on the team who is a relentless run blocker. Sweezy is a steel cage psycho who you should want on your side when the going gets tough. He is better than people realize, and that could play into the Seahawks favor.
There are so many quality interior lineman on the market that Sweezy will probably be valued more in Seattle than anywhere else. He will likely never be a great pass protector. The Seahawks could re-sign Sweezy and add another veteran guard like Mathis or Foster.
G Brandon Brooks
Young, athletic, and familiar with zone blocking, Brandon Brooks could be a terrific fit with the Seahawks. He has been clearing the way for Arian Foster and crew for years, and is more underrated talent. He won’t be a fit for power schemes, despite his weight, which will limit his possible landing spots. His upside is unclear, as is his floor. Brooks is not a sure bet, but is a better pass blocker than Sweezy and the same age.
C Stefen Wisniewski
The team showed interest in Wisniewski last year but let him walk for more money. He is a decent player, but not great. I’m generally not in favor of adding middling players via free agency. If he can be had for a cheap deal to add to the pile of competition at center, that would make sense. A big money multi-year deal would not.
C Alex Mack
Assuming Mack opts-out of his deal, he would be someone the Seahawks could talk to. He will likely get a massive deal from a team with far more cap space to play with, but Seattle will at least kick the tires.