With the Seattle Seahawks dropping four of their last eight games, including playoffs, the offensive line took a large portion of the blame due to its inability to keep Russell Wilson upright and healthy. Following an early departure from the playoffs, many fans are looking back on the 2013 version of the o-line that helped the Seahawks to the first Lombardi in franchise history and wishing that unit was still in place.
There is no doubt that group helped elevate the team to a level where it had never been before and many fans lament the loss of all five players from that unit. But would it have been worth it to keep that line together? What would the team be looking at in terms of costs if all of those players were still in Seattle?
Obviously we can’t know for certain, but what we can do is take a look at their 2016 cap hits and then discuss whether it would be better to have those players at their current cap hits or the Seahawks current players at their current cap hits. So, here are the 2016 cap hits for the five starters on the 2013 Seattle offensive line with their current teams:
2016 Cap Hits of 2013 Offensive Line
|Player||2016 Cap||Pro Bowls|
|Player||2016 Cap||Pro Bowls|
With that group you have five guys with a combined cap hit north of $30M. Even if you fill out the backup depth on the roster with minimum salary guys, by the time you have a full 9-man offensive line this group would be the third-highest paid offensive line in the NFL. And for that cost they would have a whopping three Pro Bowls among them, with zero of those Pro Bowl selections coming after that 2013 season. Sure, these guys may have gone on to be serviceable starters elsewhere, but not a single one of them has made a Pro Bowl, much less been an All-Pro, since leaving the Hawks.
Now, would it have been nice to have that line playing in the playoffs in place of the line the team fielded in 2016? Sure, but where would the team have found the extra $25M to keep this unit together? How many of the team’s current pieces would not be in place right now if Seattle had kept the 2013 line together?
In moving ahead a season from the 2013 line, the 2014 line may represent a blueprint and feasible strategy for putting together an offensive line which is both competent and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. That line may not have been quite as great as the 2013 line, as it didn’t deliver the Super Bowl title like the unit the year before did, but I’m more likely to put that on Russ for tossing a pick or the defense for giving up the
largest second-largest fourth quarter deficit in Super Bowl history. That line was comprised of two high cost players in Russell Okung and Max Unger, with the other three starters on rookie contracts (Author’s note: technically Okung was still on his rookie contract, but because he was drafted under the prior CBA his cap hit for the fifth year of his rookie contract was a whopping $11.24M. And that is why the league has a rookie wage scale).
In any case, the 2014 line had the following breakdown:
2014 Seattle Seahawks Offensive Line Cap Hits
|Player||2014 Cap Hit|
|Player||2014 Cap Hit|
That is obviously significantly more than the team paid for its offensive line in 2016, but it is a much easier pill to swallow than the current price of the 2013 line. And, while the end result of the season was not exactly what we want as fans, it was still the second most successful season in franchise history. One of the major keys to this strategy working is the fact that three of the players were on rookie contracts, keeping the overall cost under control. In addition, that group was competent enough as a unit that they were able to go deep into the postseason, while also carrying a more reasonable price tag.
This leads me to believe that the team’s front office may look at the current group of young linemen with the belief that even if only two or three of them are able to develop into potential Pro Bowlers, they might then be able to rotate younger, less expensive players through at the other positions on the line in order to keep Russell Wilson healthy while also keeping the cost of the line under control. There would be two keys to such a strategy, with the first obviously being developing offensive linemen worthy of retaining rather than allowing them to depart via free agency at the end of their rookie contract. The second key would be to rotate the other positions through in such a way that the team doesn’t find itself in the same situation it was this past season with three first-year starters.
Other teams that have run a line onto the field with three first-year starters have struggled very similarly to the way the Seahawks line struggled this season, including both the Colts and Browns this season, along with the 2015 Patriots and Chiefs. In contrast, teams with just a single first year starter have shown to be competent enough to advance deep into the postseason. Hopefully, with a bit of luck the team will be able to develop at least a couple of the young players currently on the line into not just competent starters, but potential Pro Bowlers who can act as cornerstones around which the rest of the line can be built.