For seven seasons, John Schneider and Pete Carroll have made it pretty clear that they won’t spend big money on offensive linemen. They paid Russell Okung because they had to (as was the nature of rookie contracts before the new CBA) and while they still had a lot of cap space. They gave a nice contract extension to Max Unger but then traded him, and the contract, to the New Orleans Saints. They signed Robert Gallery to a fairly modest deal. And that’s mostly it.
The Seattle Seahawks spend less on the offensive line in the NFL and it’s not even close. Seriously: Not. Even. Close.
With Webb gone, the 2016 offensive line salary graph looks particularly ridiculous pic.twitter.com/wJQXPcPhzY— Sam HawkBadger (@hwkbgr) November 28, 2016
Seattle is spending about as much on their offensive line this season as the Jacksonville Jaguars are paying Luke Joeckel. For that reason, I don’t really expect much to change. Despite the fact that the line looked horrible against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has had other poor games in the past, the Seahawks are going to win the NFC West. A big reason for their success isn’t what they don’t spend on the offensive line, it’s what they do spend on their big collection of Pro Bowl players on defense, plus Russell Wilson. They’d love to protect Wilson and have a better line, but they believe they can do it through the draft and third-wave free agency.
That’s just the way it is. And still I see no changes. There’s more wars on the streets than there is in the NFC East.
However, “Why doesn’t John Schneider trade for Joe Thomas?” is a question that fans will ask until long after Thomas retires, I’m sure. The answer is most likely: They don’t want to spend that kind of money on an offensive lineman and also have to give up a good draft pick. That’s not how they operate and I think Paul Allen is pretty happy with the operation since 2012. I don’t think that’s going to change now ... but I could be wrong.
So what options do exist?
Trade for Joe Thomas
Why it would happen: Thomas is one of the greatest players of all-time. He just played his 10,000th straight snap in the NFL, having never missed a play in his career. That’s amazing. Thomas would make any team better and I’m sure Wilson would be smitten by the fact that not only does he get to throw to Jimmy Graham because of a trade, but he’d get to play behind a first ballot Hall of Famer at left tackle; the closest thing to Walter Jones since Walter Jones.
Why it won’t happen: I don’t think this benefits the Cleveland Browns in any way. They’re on the edge of 0-16 and will be picking first overall next season. They’ve also got the pick from the Philadelphia Eagles which could be in the top 20. Why should they deal their best player, even if they got another late first round pick in return? They aren’t going to find anyone close to Joe Thomas in the draft — in fact, it’s one of the worst o-line drafts in years, so who would they even get to play left tackle to protect Cody Kessler or Robert Griffin III or any QB they draft early? It makes no sense so even before we talk about why Seattle wouldn’t do it (giving up a pick for a player making $9 million a year when they won’t have that much money to spend after some key moves) we should realize that the Browns probably don’t even have him on the market. And they shouldn’t. Thomas is their best shot at quickly turning around into a .500 team next season.
Sign Andrew Whitworth
Why it would happen: Cincinnati Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth has been considered perhaps the best at his position in the NFL for a few years now and he’ll be a free agent after the season. Whitworth signed a one-year, $9 million contract extension a year ago because he’s 35, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t help a win-now organization like the Seahawks for a couple more years. Seattle would have to consider what this signing costs them in the long run with certain players needing extensions or what they’d be limited to improving in free agency, but he’d be a massive upgrade and make the o-line quite legitimate.
Why it won’t happen: The Seahawks have some cap space next year (OvertheCap projects around $32 million after the release of J’Marcus Webb) but they still need to sign rookies and consider the options for Michael Bennett, Kam Chancellor, DeShawn Shead, Justin Britt, and a few others, who are going into the last year of their deals. Even if you did go through all of that, and released Jermaine Kearse to save over $3 million, the team would still have to look at the fact that Whitworth could cost over $10 million next season. That could be well more than half of the cap space they have remaining, and it could also make him the third-highest paid player on the team. Is a 36-year-old left tackle really going to sound like a good option for Pete and John to make the third-highest paid player on the team after Wilson and Richard Sherman? The player makes sense to me but the price tag does not, and it’s not even close to consideration.
Like, if they signed Whitworth, of course I’d understand that. I wouldn’t be shocked necessarily. But it’s definitely way outside their m.o. and might cost them a younger player at another position who is also really valuable. That doesn’t make a ton of sense to me as it would be with Whitworth, Thomas, or any other offensive lineman who costs more than $9 million per year.
Other free agent tackles: Joeckel, Matt Kalil and Andre Smith (Vikings), Marcus Cannon and Sebastian Vollmer (Patriots), Gosder Cherilus (Bucs), Mike Remmers (Panthers), Menelik Watson (Raiders), Riley Reiff (Lions), Ryan Schraeder (Falcons), and more
Why one of those guys will happen: Seattle just turned to Webb, Bradley Sowell, and Jahri Evans for offensive line help this offseason. These guys are more their tune, though even Kalil and Vollmer and some other guys might get paid a lot just because they’re names and the market is so thin. The Seahawks won’t hit the first wave of free agency for offensive linemen just because I think they’d rather pick at what’s left and find guys who were overlooked rather than pay big money to someone and realize that a guy who was really good got released for cap saving moves later on. Look at Josh Sitton and the Green Bay Packers, for instance.
Cut candidates: Greg Robinson (Rams), Nate Solder (Patriots), Breno Giacomini (Jets)
Move Germain Ifedi to left tackle
Why it would happen: Ifedi has the most talent of any offensive linemen on the team probably and body-wise projects to hold up quite well as a tackle. They don’t want to screw with him now while he’s a guard and moving him would just open up a different hole on the offensive line, but perhaps in the offseason they can start working him out at left tackle (they move offensive linemen around every year and we all expected this eventually, even if we thought it would be at right tackle) and put someone else at right guard.
Other options at right guard: Rees Odhiambo, who would require no outside moves; draft someone; Joeckel, who is currently a guard; Packers’ TJ Lang is a free agent; as are Evan Mathis, Jonathan Cooper, Chance Warmack, Kevin Zeitler, Larry Warford, and a few others.
Why it won’t happen: Ifedi could be a great right guard and teaming with Britt and Mark Glowinski, maybe don’t mess with a solid middle of the lineup. Overall, I think Ifedi probably does move to tackle, but right tackle makes the most sense. He’d be the right tackle, Garry Gilliam would either sign his tender or be released (looks like a release at this point), and the hole they’d need to fill is at right guard. Odhiambo would probably compete with one or two rookies next season and they’d add a vet in the second wave of free agency, like Earl Watford of the Arizona Cardinals.
Keep George Fant at left tackle
Why it would happen: He’s shown some promise and given another eight months of work at the position, Fant could still be a pretty good left tackle, and one who costs less than $1 million per season. I think he needs competition of course, but that’s all it is: Competition. Not being removed because of an add of Thomas or Whitworth.
Fant, Odhiambo compete in-house (I think Gilliam’s ship has sailed) and they bring in a lowkey free agent like they did with Sowell this year.
Why it won’t happen: Just going with Fant and Odhiambo is the same type of mistake that burned them this year and has burned them in the past with the fragile Okung. If they play it fast and easy at left tackle without making a big move, they’re setting themselves up for possible disaster if August rolls around and it’s like, “Shit, these guys aren’t good enough.” You probably aren’t going to solve that problem in September. Teams aren’t looking to just move franchise left tackles at the beginning of the year. Seattle could draft a tackle in the first round, but that’s probably not going to be a first-year starter type player and as said before, it’s a pretty weak class. Rob Staton likes Garrett Bolles of Utah a lot but if he’s that good, he’ll go in the top 15, because there aren’t gonna be many options after him and that’ll boost his value. The Seahawks are gonna be taking a risk if they just go with Fant for next year, and we’ll learn more about him in the coming weeks, but is it a risk they want to take again with Wilson’s health?
I still kinda believe it’s something they’re going to do, whether you agree with that philosophy or not. Fant, Odhiambo, Ifedi, and potentially Sowell and Gilliam, seem the most likely to be playing those tackle positions next season. I also think they’ll draft one or two, add a couple after the draft, and sign some more guys who cost $1 million or less — maybe even splurge like they did with Webb and spend $3 million(!) on one — but unless they’re just changing their whole philosophy on how to add o-linemen, we won’t see them grab a premier tackle in 2017.