Whenever the Seattle Seahawks offensive line deficiency is brought up, it’s almost always followed by a qualifier along the lines of: “With all the money spent on Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham and the defensive stars, somewhere has to suffer.”
And suffer the offensive line has. As has the running game, the offense as a whole, and oh, I don’t know, Wilson’s pectoral, knee and ankle. Not to mention the sanity of the thousands that flinch each and every time a defender flies, unblocked, into Wilson.
The problem I have with the ideology behind the offensive line spending isn’t how little the team spends. It’s who they spend it on. Instead of Evan Mathis, it’s J’Marcus Webb. Instead of Matt Slauson, it’s Bradley Sowell. Not only have the Seahawks spent the better part of five years shopping in the bargain bin, they’ve been doing it blindfolded.
Prior to Seattle’s divisional round game against the Atlanta Falcons, Pete Carroll dropped a small tidbit into one of his press conferences that perhaps signaled a change on the horizon.
Seahawks were "really interested" in Falcons center Alex Mack last year, Pete Carroll said.— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) January 10, 2017
If the Seahawks’ apparent interest in Alex Mack last off-season tells us anything, it’s that Seattle isn’t totally gun-shy when it comes to spending big money on offensive lineman. If the fit and the talent are right, then the Seahawks could be willing to dish out a big contract to bring them in.
In Mack, Seattle would’ve had one of the best and most ideal zone blocking scheme centers, something the Falcons enjoyed with great success in 2016. While the Seahawks did still get plus-play from center Justin Britt, Atlanta finished tenth in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards and seventh in rushing DVOA. The Mack-less Seattle Seahawks finished 26th and 23rd in those categories respectively.
With a shift in Seattle’s offensive line spending potentially coming, who are a few free agents we might see the team target?
Matt Kalil, Left Tackle, Minnesota Vikings
The universe is a cruel, cruel mistress, so it would only be fitting that the Seahawks could bring in a 3-5 million dollar tackle and it be Matt Kalil. Kalil, in case you don’t know, has been a massive disappointment since being selected fourth-overall in 2012. He had a promising-if-not-steady rookie year, but has progressively gotten worse to the point where his placement on injured reserve and eventual replacement by
the Black Knight from Monty Python Jake Long this season was seen as an upgrade.
Why might Seattle be interested in Kalil then? For starters, Pete Carroll recruited and coached both he and his older brother Ryan while at USC. Both Carroll and Tom Cable have shown a tendency to lean towards familiarity on the offensive line in the past.
During the pre-draft process, Kalil tested well for a player of his size at 6’6” and 303 pounds. More importantly, he hit on one of the three offensive lineman ideals - 9-foot broad jump, 31-inch vertical and 27 reps on the bench press - outlined by Cable and Carroll. While his vertical jump was just short of the 31-inches Cable has previously mentioned, and he didn’t attempt the broad jump, his 30 reps on the bench press clears the team’s preference.
Kevin Zeitler, Right Guard, Cincinnati Bengals
It appears as though last year’s first-round pick, Germain Ifedi, is sticking at guard in 2017. With Ifedi’s expected improvement in year two, Britt being an above-average NFL center, and Mark Glowinski being like, the third least of the Seahawks ‘offensive line problems, the team is probably OK in the interior for another season - or at least in their eyes.
If something changes - be it a move to tackle for Ifedi or something else - guard Kevin Zeitler would be a great option to strengthen the middle. He would cost more than Kalil - likely somewhere between 6-8 million dollars annually - but he would also immediately become the best lineman on the roster.
The Bengals need to try to re-sign veteran tackle Andrew Whitworth, unless they want to double down on Cedric Ogbuehi for another season, and just gave left guard Clint Boling a new deal last offseason. These factors could lead to Zietler - he of 71 career starts - being allowed to walk in free agency.
Similar to Kalil, Zeitler hits on the bench press ideal, and just barely misses on the vertical jump. His broad jump of 8’5” is half a foot short of the 9-feet stated by Cable, but certainly athletic enough to be a welcome addition to Seattle’s offensive line.
Ricky Wagner, Right Tackle, Baltimore Ravens
Back-to-back former Wisconsin Badgers that have a history of protecting Russell Wilson! Wagner would be the best addition, and certainly the most expensive. Playing and starting for peanuts the majority of his career as a fifth-round pick, Wagner rightfully will use this off-season to presumably maximize his earnings and go to the highest bidder. The Seahawks are most likely not in a position to be that team but hey, dare to dream.
I would imagine once he hits the open market that Wagner will become a top-5 paid right tackle in the league, with a deal falling somewhere close to the one that Mitchell Schwartz got from the Kansas City Chiefs last off-season. With an average of six-million dollars a year, Seattle wouldn’t have to break the bank to bring him into the fold. While Schwartz’s deal is a good template to go off of, Wagner’s price may have been driven even higher based off the All-Pro level play the Chiefs got out of Schwartz this year.
Wagner essentially follows the same trend that Zeitler and Kalil did as far as the offensive lineman ideals go. He clears one, and is a near-miss on the other two. Wagner’s vertical of 31.5” basically nails what Cable outlined, with his bench press (20) and broad jump (8’5”) just missing.
Although a little veteran depth would be a welcome addition - Jahri Evans, anyone? - I think the Seahawks are going to be okay at the interior of their offensive line in 2017. Ifedi will continue to grow, Britt is more than serviceable, and Glowinski has the athletic ability and football IQ to become an OK NFL starter.
It’s on the outside where the team has gambled massively on complete unknowns that worries me. At a time where seemingly every team has a pass rusher capable of pinning his ears back and getting to the quarterback, Seattle has offered them a green-light rather than a competent tackle to stand in their way.
Pete Carroll has all but told us they’re ready and willing to invest money into the offensive line if the fit is right, and this off-season is the time for Cable, Carroll and John Schneider to go find the right fit, and find Russell Wilson some help.