The Seattle Seahawks went into last season having to replace not two, but really three key players on the offensive line. They needed to find a starting center after trading Max Unger to the New Orleans Saints, a new starting left guard after letting James Carpenter walk in free agency, and then a new starting right tackle after Justin Britt moved over to replace Carpenter. After losing Breno Giacomini in free agency a year earlier, the Seahawks had now lost three of their starting offensive lineman from the 2013 Super Bowl victory and with J.R. Sweezy now on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle is just one Russell Okung signing away from losing all five.
And the fact that they don't seem to care should be setting off all the alarm bells in your head that it's going to be fine. Probably.
In the last three or four years, the Seahawks have locked up about a dozen players that they love to long term contracts. All the names you've come to love like Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas, and Bobby Wagner. They didn't let guys like Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, or even Ahtyba Rubin go either. They made a strong push to re-sign Jeremy Lane to a four-year deal and they've spent heavy on guys like Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, and Jimmy Graham when seeking weapons.
But have you noticed that outside of Okung's rookie deal which just expired, they've never done this for a single offensive lineman?
Unger: Trade. Carpenter: Walk. Giacomini: Walk. Sweezy: Walk. Okung: Take a stroll and see what happens.
Has the front office under Pete Carroll and John Schneider ever signed a free agent offensive lineman to a significant long-term contract? Not once in
six seven offseasons. The biggest name -- Robert Gallery -- was a stopgap on the wrong side of 30. Their biggest weakness for years now has been offensive line, but do you ever see them pursue with great vigor any of the premier offensive linemen that hit the market?
Kelechi Osemele? No thanks. Alex Mack? It's no secret, we're not interested. Donald Penn? Maybe in September.
This front office has spent two firsts and a second on offensive linemen in the draft, and those three players have combined to make the majority of starts on the left side since 2012. Other than that though, they've used Unger (inherited), a seven rounder, some undrafted free agents, and guys plucked off of practice squads to fill the other three spots on the line. All it's gotten them is the top running game and one of the best passing games in the NFL over the last four years, with two Super Bowl appearances.
Now you can see why they feel fine about it, even if they've never had to deal with going into a season without Okung since Carroll got here. Is that going to be a mistake, if he ends up signing elsewhere?
It's hard to say for sure how much worse it could make them, but while it will be a new ballgame at left tackle, it's not like replacing starters on the offensive line is anything but old hat.
Here are the majority starting offensive lineman since 2010:
|Year||Left Tackle||Left Guard||Center||Right Guard||Right Tackle||Career Starts|
|2010||Russell Okung||N/A||Chris Spencer||Stacy Andrews||Sean Locklear||151|
|2011||Russell Okung||Robert Gallery||Max Unger||John Moffitt||James Carpenter||118|
|2012||Russell Okung||James Carpenter||Max Unger||Paul McQuistan||Breno Giacomini||68|
|2013||Russell Okung||James Carpenter||Max Unger||J.R. Sweezy||Breno Giacomini||112|
|2014||Russell Okung||James Carpenter||N/A||J.R. Sweezy||Justin Britt||89|
|2015||Russell Okung||Justin Britt||Patrick Lewis||J.R. Sweezy||Garry Gilliam||114|
First off, let's set the record straight on the 2011 offensive line:
- 91 of those starts belonged to Gallery, who is pretty much the most experienced offensive lineman the Seahawks have had in the Pete Carroll era, including Okung right now who only has 72 career starts.
- Gallery had 12 starts at left guard, but McQuistan, Carpenter, Moffitt, and Giacomini all had considerable playing time that season. I went with Carpenter and Moffitt because not only did they get enough starts to qualify for my threshold, but they were the two guys that the team actually wanted to start at those positions and that's who they were starting for most of the first half of the season.
- Unger had 17 starts going into 2011, but all were at guard. So out of five starting offensive lineman, three had never played in the NFL at those positions. The other was going into his second year at one of the most demanding positions in football.
- In 2010, things were split pretty evenly at left guard between Ben Hamilton, Mike Gibson, and Chester Pitts. In 2014, the player with the most starts at center was Unger with six, but three other guys had at least three starts there.
- With perhaps their best offensive line performance coming in 2013, note that four of those starters were returning and the other was with the team a year earlier, just learning to play guard. The only player who seems certain to start again for Seattle next season is Gilliam, but he may even move to the left side.
- But being a "veteran" means almost jack shit. In 2010, Andrews, Locklear, and Spencer combined for 151 career starts going into that season. The only offensive linemen worth a damn on that team though were Okung and Unger, who was slated to start at left guard before getting injured in Week 1.
- They've really only had three significant positional changes on the offensive line (not including switching from defense) since 2010: Unger from guard to center, Carpenter from tackle to guard, Britt from tackle to guard. That includes just not moving guys from one side to another. What if next season they end up moving Gilliam to left tackle, Britt back to right tackle, and Mark Glowinski over to left guard?
- Most starting seasons under Pete Carroll on the offensive line: Okung (6), Carpenter (4), Sweezy (3), Unger (3), Giacomini (2), Britt (2). It's probable that the player with the most experience on the offensive line next year, for Carroll, will be Justin Britt.
Next year, the Seahawks will probably have their most inexperienced starting offensive line since 2012. That's not entirely a bad thing, the 2012 offensive line was really good and sent two players to the Pro Bowl, but it's also hard to call the two sets of players comparable when Okung was a top 10 pick, Unger is an elite center, and Carpenter was a first rounder. This group as it stands now may include a disappointing late second rounder, an undrafted free agent who used to be a tight end, a second-year fourth rounder with one career start, and so far zero guarantees at who will be the center and left tackle, probably the two most important positions on the line.
But as usual, Seattle isn't panicking.
Carroll and John Schneider had a hunch about Okung's free agent tour and decided to let him travel the country in search of bigger money and a new opportunity. He could have signed with any number of teams by now, but he keeps leaving cities without a deal. Maybe he will have signed one even before this post goes live (and with my luck, that's exactly what will happen), but the Seahawks have already been proven right about their hunch because top free agents never go this long without a contract. Teams are saying "We aren't sure about your shoulder" "We aren't sure about giving you franchise left tackle money" and he's still available, including to Seattle.
Now maybe he'll be reconsidering their initial offer, taking into account Washington State's attractive lack of a state tax, and that he doesn't have to relocate from a place he's lived for almost seven years. If he does, then at least the Seahawks will have continuity somewhere on the offensive line, and the rest of the positions will settle into place more naturally. If not though, Carroll has already proven he can win games with a shitty offensive line and no continuity.
Maybe Will Tukuafu can play left tackle.