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Seahawks offensive line: John Schneider’s plan for cheap linemen may actually be working to perfection

The offensive line provides more than just blocking

John Schneider is a genius.

The Seattle Seahawks’ “worst offensive line in the NFL,” as stated by most pundits across the league, is starting to turn into an asset. As this years rookie class is contributing more and more, and veterans are settling in to their spots, they are finally developing chemistry across the line, and helping win games.

The Seahawks just released J’Marcus Webb, who was the highest paid player on the offensive line, with a salary of nearly $2.5 million. That salary turned into a total of just over three million due to his release. Here’s a breakdown of the entire offensive line and their annual cap hits for each year they are under contract.

This year Schneider spent less than $9 million on the entire offensive line, by far the least amount in the NFL. Next year, they only have $6M under contract. Add in a draft pick or two, re-signing Garry Gilliam as restricted free agent, and even possibly re-signing Bradley Sowell to be the backup swing tackle as a hedge for the draft, they’ll be looking at roughly $10 million next year.

Due to the high price tag that comes with having the best defense in the NFL for five years straight, is that other places have to become neglected, salary cap wise, to make it work. Fortunately, Schneider and his front office have it down to a science, as they currently have roughly $5.9 million left in cap space this year.

That cap space jumps up to $24.5 million in 2017 (including a roll over of the $5.9 million from 2016). This doesn’t take into account any increase in the salary cap, which is likely to occur. On top of that, cutting Web gives them a cap savings in 2017 of $2.75 million, which bumps up the cap space to $27 million. So how is that money going to be spent?

First, we need to account for all the draft picks, practice squad, etc, and as previously noted by Evan Hill when looking at the 2016 cap space, these should all count for roughly $6 million. I’ve watched the offensive line extensively this season and I’m assuming that Justin Britt is going to get an extension this offseason, in the ball park amount of $6 million APY. This would make him the 11th highest paid center, and his play so far this year has justified that. For 2017, that’s $5 million more than what is on his last year of his rookie contract. Since we don’t know how it’ll be structured, we’re going to use APY as the cap hit. That leaves Schneider with $16 million left in cap space.

What notable free agents need to be re-signed? Steve Hauschka is the only one.

Let’s say he re-signs for just under his current salary, at an easy $2.5 million APY. Kelcie McCray and Luke Willson are the other two bigger names that will be free agents, but I think they let Willson go, and McCray is going to depend on what they do with Kam Chancellor. There will be seven other free agents and they will probably be replaced by draft picks, UDFAs, or other bargain veterans. Those cap hits are almost $5.5 million. That gets Seattle down to just over $8 million in cap space for 2017.

Now what can Schneider do with $8 million dollars? He could extend Michael Bennett and/or Chancellor, giving them a bump in pay in 2017. Bennett has a $9.65 million cap hit in 2017 but only a $7.5 million salary including bonuses. They could easily add on $3 million in 2017 and either take the higher cap hit, or give him a signing bonus and reduce the cap hit. Schneider can do either, but he would probably like to have a $5 million buffer throughout the season like this year, so I’m assuming the cap hit will be reduced next year. Oh, and in 2018 the Hawks happen to have $46 million in cap space, so it’s easily doable.

For Kam, they can do the same. Give him an extension and fit it under the current cap. He currently has a salary of $8.125 million but only $1 million in dead money. It’s hard to say what they’ll do with Chancellor, but I imagine he’ll get a decent signing bonus rather than a higher annual salary. Either way, there’s money available to extend both Bennett and Chancellor and Schneider’s salary cap ninja skills can make it happen.

So even though it looks like the Seahawks have a lot of cap space heading into 2017, it’s going to be eaten up pretty quick. However, Schneider and Carroll are going to have a lot of options, and they could even go look at some street free agents if they want to. Here’s a few notable defensive players that’ll be hitting the market. I assume if they do pick up a free agent, it’ll be to bolster the pass rush, or the SAM linebacker position that can also rush the passer.

  • Jarvis Jones, OLB: Doesn’t have the eye-popping stats, but has the athleticism that Carroll loves. His NFL comparison on his draft profile is Bruce Irvin. At 6’2” 245 lbs with 33” arms, he’s athletic but not as near as explosive as Bruce is. However, he could be a one-year rental at a cheap price that would provide more than what the Seahawks have gotten out of the SAM position this year.
  • Chandler Jones, OLB: Jones terrorized the Seattle offensive line in his first meeting against them with the Arizona Cardinals, as he’s a premier pass rusher off the edge ... although he does struggle against the run as a DE. He’d be another SAM candidate but is going to come with a much higher price tag, probably north of $10 million APY.
  • Jamie Collins, OLB: Another former Patriot, but not near as good as his former teammate Jones. Collins is a better all-around LB than Chandler Jones, but doesn’t rush the passer as well. He’s posted season sack totals of 0, 4, 5.5, and 1. He’d be a good short term rental like Jarvis Jones at a reasonable cost.
  • Datone Jones, OLB: The Packers first round draft pick from 2013 has been a bit underwhelming in Don Capers 3-4 system. He could be another candidate to sign to a one-year deal, low risk contract to see if Carroll can get anything out of him. He’d be an outside-inside rusher a la Bennett, as he’s 6’4” 285 lbs.

There are other names and possibilities out there and I’m sure the Hawks will take a look at every single one of them. If a free agent is signed, more than likely it would be an OLB/DE hybrid player that can fill the role of the SAM linebacker but also rush the passer on third downs. This would make a great hedge against the draft if they aren’t able to find a rookie to fill that role, luckily, it’s a draft with great depth on defense this year.

John Schneider is going to have a lot of different directions he can go, which gives him the best chance of adding talent to the roster in the right place to make the team better, both in free agency and the draft. This is all due to what he’s done on the offensive line by putting together a young (average age 24 years old) and cheap (average salary $966,379) unit that is now getting the job done. I know that at times the line makes everyone want to pull their hair out in frustration, but look at the big picture: Not only are they now protecting Wilson and opening up lanes for Thomas Rawls, but they’re giving the team the cap flexibility needed to keep the band together.

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Nai-post ni Field Gulls: For Seattle Seahawks News and Analysis noong Miyerkules, Nobyembre 23, 2016