Offensive tackle Russell Okung played his first six seasons in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks, but left in free agency without the team making much of an effort to retain him. This was in part due to his inconsistent play but probably had more to do with his consistent injuries. Okung has never played 16 games in a season, missing six games as a rookie, four in 2011, one in 2012, eight in 2013, two in 2014, and three in 2015. That’s a total of 24 games in six seasons, or four a year, or 25% of his potential starts.
That’s not quite appealing for a franchise that has had such good injury — I don’t know if I want to call it “luck” or not — but fortune with the players like Earl Thomas (until now), Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson, and several more. Okung was a very expensive player during his time with the Seahawks, and I think for the most part he lived up to the expectations of a sixth overall pick (without exceeding them in any way), but he bounced around free agent market destinations because teams did not trust that he would be able to play 16 games in a season.
The Denver Broncos didn’t even really take a chance when signing him, because they had options to get away from the deal in the first year at any point without much harm, and even if he played the whole season would only cost $8 million at most. With four games to go, Okung is actually nearing his first complete season.
Okung’s making $5 million this year but will earn a $1.5 million bonus for playing in 80% of the offensive snaps and another $1.5 million for playing in 90%. So far, he’s played in 98.4% of them. Even if he misses one game, it seems like he’ll be a lock for the full $3 million, whereas it looks like the first $1.5 million is basically guaranteed now. Is the $8 million something Seattle should have been willing to pay? Is there a good chance something would have gone awry for Okung at this point if he did stay with the Seahawks?
Despite so much concern by fans about the offensive line, I think it’s better to have found a potential long-term solution in George Fant (making the rookie minimum) than potentially slogging through another Okung season and figuring out how to pay everyone else. Okung could make $8 million this season, which would make him the fourth-highest paid player on the team alongside Doug Baldwin. He’d be making more than KJ Wright, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Kam Chancellor, and Bobby Wagner. Is Okung even playing like a top-10 or top-12 offensive tackle?
PFF recently ranked Denver’s line as the 25th in the NFL, with Okung allowing 38 QB pressures, second-most among left tackles. The Broncos have allowed 33 sacks and rank 27th in total yards, 24th in passing yards, 23rd in rushing yards, 28th in yards per carry, and 24th in offensive DVOA. Their biggest problems may be at right tackle but Okung is not a premier left tackle; that might make him worth $5-$8 million this season, but what lies ahead for the big guy?
Per his contract, which was ridiculed at the time of signing for more reasons than just the fact that Okung acted as his own agent, Denver has a four-year, $48 million option. Or ... they can just say goodbye for $1 million. That’s $12 million per season — the highest paid tackle in the game is Trent Williams of the Washington Redskins (whom Seattle may have drafted in 2010 instead of Okung but Williams went two picks earlier) and he makes $13.2 million per season. That would make Okung the fourth-highest paid LT in the NFL on a per season basis. That seems unlikely, though he’s fought through any potential injuries this season in order to stay on the field for nearly every play.
I think there’s a chance that the Broncos pick up the option, but it would be $19.5 million fully-guaranteed at the time they do so. They may also just not want to risk the offensive line getting even worse without him. But that’s also what the Seahawks did and while it’s fair to be unhappy with Seattle’s offensive line, they are also 8-3-1 with a lot of money remaining to keep intact the core players they actually like, not just the ones they think they need.
If Denver lets him go, he’ll sign somewhere else for sure, but probably not for more than one season again. That’s why he should have gotten as much money and years as possible in free agency rather than gambling on himself. Even if he is completely healthy, is he worth $8 million?