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The Offensive Line Part 4: A Failure Not Earned

Offensive line, right? It's a joke made thousands of times since 2005. From what little I saw of yesterday's game, the line was bad enough to kill the offense itself. The Seahawks week six line, Kyle Williams - Steve Vallos - Chris Spencer - Max Unger - Ray Willis, is the worst line Seattle has started since Tim Ruskell took over. Williams and Vallos are essentially replacement level talent, and Spencer to Willis is not the kind of intimidating right side that can hide a piecemeal left.

Seattle was poorly built but lucky in 2007 and as things turn out, it has been well built but unlucky in 2009. Kyle Williams was never meant to start. Seattle imported a player from across the country to keep Williams on its practice squad. Williams was buried behind Sean Locklear, Brandon Frye and theoretically Walter Jones.

Let's blow up the Jones situation again. Jones underwent microfracture knee surgery last fall. I thought that might be the end of his career, but I was in error. It might still be the end of his playing career, but Jones is very much a Seahawk and very much on the Seahawks roster. He cost $8.6 million against the cap each of the last two seasons and I believe costs even more than that this season. Maybe Jones is never going to play again, but in Ruskell's world, Jones is an investment and a failing one Seattle can't shake.

Before training camp, Jones passed his physicals. His microfracture surgery was a success. The rub is that the procedure is not likely to preserve Jones career and its short term consequences have left Jones unable to play. So the greatest player in Seahawks history, through no fault of his own or others, has become a big, fat boondoggle.

Seattle did invest into its tackle position. It signed Locklear to a contract with incentives if he stuck at left tackle. Locklear has been reasonably healthy and had shown some skills that could translate. The team was not relying on Locklear for its future, but with the entire tackle situation queered by Jones health, Locklear represented a cheap, low-downside bridge from the Jones era to whatever followed. Seattle re-signed Ray Willis to a two-year, inexpensive contract. Willis seems like a steal now that his early-career health problems are behind him. Funny how unpredictable injuries are.

Seattle's success kept it just outside 2008's historic offensive tackle class and it's hard to discredit Seattle for selecting Aaron Curry fourth overall in 2009. Linebacker is not typically a foundational position, but Stafford was gone, Sanchez was iffy, the tackle class overblown -- its best talent taken at two and its second best talent Andre Smith. Eugene Monroe is tossed around, but Monroe had serious injury concerns. He started the season for Jacksonville but has since been benched. If you saw the solution to Seattle's offensive line woes on October 11, you weren't sitting in Qwest Field.

At the time and in the short term, Curry appears to be the right pick. Seattle then traded its second round pick for the 2010 first round pick of the Denver Broncos. It was team with a rookie coach, Kyle Orton at quarterback and one of the worst defenses in the NFL in 2008. It was a smart decision then and whatever has happened since doesn't change that.

Unless it wasn't a smart decision. Eben Britton was available. He is playing right tackle now and may forever play right tackle. Seattle could have selected Andy Levitre, though Levitre is a guard. It could have drafted William Beatty, but neither player has done much for their respective teams. Instead it traded that pick for a better pick and traded back into the second to draft Max Unger. Unger has started all season and seems mostly competent for a rookie right guard.

So it was a smart decision. And yet Seattle's offensive line is in ruins. That is a microcosm for this entire debate. Tim Ruskell has made many smart decisions, but the Seahawks are not winning games. A general manager's job is to build a winning football team. Seattle is 6-20 over the last two seasons. It has clear and recognizable weaknesses at offensive line and in the secondary. Both are units Ruskell has invested in.

Ruskell drafted Ray Willis and he starts. He drafted Chris Spencer and Spencer starts, but has missed time because of injury. He draft Rob Sims and Sims starts, but has missed time because of injury. He drafted Unger, the rookie. He signed Sean Locklear as a low-downside stop-gap until the team could know what to do with Walter Jones, and Locklear's injury has been felt worst of all. He drafted Steve Vallos and Mansfield Wrotto, but Vallos has shifted around and started bad. Wrotto can't seem to impress Seattle's coaches. He got Brandon Frye for nothing, but Frye went down, and Williams for nothing, his asking price, and Damion McIntosh for almost nothing, but maybe a week too late.

Ruskell built his line through the draft and without great expenditure. His picks have been mostly mild to moderate successes. He may not envision an elite line or maybe just never saw value when Seattle was on the clock. That might be arguable, but it isn't indefensible.

So how did the offensive line become offensive? Injuries, age and one very bad decision, it would seem. Steve Hutchinson hangs over Ruskell. Walter Jones, Robbie Tobeck and Chris Gray got old. Jones, through not fault of anyone, has become a burden. Locklear, the young tackle many were gushing about in 2005 has suffered a rash of disconnected injuries. Sims, the young guard many were gushing about in 2006 has suffered a rash of disconnected injuries. Kris Dielman said "no". Unger is a rookie. Spencer has been competent and not too long ago was a steady, established starter. Mike Wahle filled in for a season before his body broke down. Tom Ashworth was expunged. No one Ruskell inherited from 2004 except Hutchinson who was worth retaining wasn't retained.

Revisiting Ruskell's decisions when they were made does not reveal great missed opportunities, but missed opportunities. It does not reveal a general manager that ran a historically great line into the ground, but instead one crucial mistake and the irrepressible destructiveness of time. It does not reveal a man who ignored the line, but added good talent to it, good overall, good respective to the available players and good respective to their cost. It reveals that yesterday's game, awful as it was, is the kind of game every franchise endures. Ozzie Newsome saw it week one of 2007. Bill Polian saw it in week three of 1987.

They saw, we saw, an everyday, frustrating as hell, meltdown -- The kind that happens every Sunday. But there's no heads to call for and no easy answers to rebuilding.