With a half dozen games to go in the 2019 regular season, the offensive line of the Seattle Seahawks has underperformed relative to expectations for the year. Those expectations were set very high back in the summer, when starting left tackle Duane Brown stated the group of linemen the Hawks had assembled had the potential to be the best offensive line in football.
It may be true that the group had that potential, but to this point in the season that has not been the case, as the unit ranks at or near the bottom of the league in several offensive line metrics from multiple different providers.
Offensive line rankings for Seattle Seahawks from the various available metrics
|Football Outsiders||Run Blocking||20th (Through Week 10)|
|Football Outsiders||Pass Blocking||20th (Through Week 10)|
|PFF||Pass Blocking Grade||29th|
|PFF||Run Blocking Grade||13th|
|PFF||Pass Blocking Efficiency||26th|
|ESPN||PBWR||28th (Through Week 10)|
In short, it’s not been pretty, and that is in spite of the fact that the team returned four starters from the 2018 unit that fans felt performed well. Duane Brown, Justin Britt, D.J. Fluker and Germain Ifedi combined to start 55 of 80 available games over the course of the 2018 season, and hopes were high for high level play for the group. Add in that Ethan Pocic and George Fant returned in depth roles as well, and there was certainly reason for optimism.
However, between a biceps injury to Brown, a season ending knee injury for Britt, a hamstring injury suffered by Fluker and a lower leg injury that kept Mike Iupati from starting in Week 1, the anticipated continuity simply hasn’t been there. Only Ifedi has started all ten games on the offensive line for the Hawks, and that’s something many fans would prefer not to be the case. Thus, it becomes apparent that the group could see significant changes, if not a complete overhaul, heading into 2020, and to that end we’ll take a look at the group by position.
The tackle position currently has the most question marks for the group through the offseason and into next year. While left tackle Duane Brown is under contract through 2021, his play so far this season appears to show some slippage as he continues to age. At 34 he’s the fourth oldest offensive tackle to have started at least five games this season (Only Andrew Whitworth, Jason Peters and Donald Penn are older), and his PFF grades are the lowest they have been since his rookie season.
In short, Brown’s not performing at the level he’s used to. Part of it could easily be explained by the biceps injury, but at times it’s also appeared that he may have lost a step, and is getting beat to the outside and upfield more often than he has in seasons past. Whether age has finally caught up to Brown, or whether it’s been a combination of factors, this is certainly something to watch down the stretch.
Beyond the questions about Brown’s performance, the two tackles directly behind Brown on the depth chart, Fant and Ifedi, are both unsigned past this year. Both young (Fant will turn 28 next July, Ifedi 26 next June) and with enough athletic potential and experience that they could each potentially sign a lucrative deal in free agency in March, neither is likely to be inexpensive. Fans have criticized the play of both at times, but both appear likely to sign contracts larger than many Seattle fans would want to give to either, whether with the Seahawks or with another team remains to be seen.
Behind those two is Jamarco Jones, who has yet to take a regular season snap at tackle in his NFL career, but who flashed some potential at guard earlier this season. However, Jones has not played a single offensive snap since he was destroyed by the Atlanta Falcons defensive line in the lone drive of action he saw in Week 8.
Therefore, at the present moment, the tackle position for the Seahawks for 2020 is a $12.5M question mark in Brown, with a whole lot of uncertainty beyond that. The team has preached quite a bit about continuity in seasons past, but at this point, it appears unlikely there will be significant continuity at tackle heading into next year.
While Brown is the only player who has taken snaps at tackle who is under contract for next season, the guard position is a little better off. The two-year contract Fluker signed this past spring runs through 2020, while Pocic’s rookie contract also runs through the end of next year. Add in that Jones’ rookie contract could keep him with the team through 2021, and the team will at least have the option of some level of continuity should it so desire.
Beyond those three, the health this season of starting left guard Iupati, who has started nine of ten games while playing offensive snaps in all ten, has been a pleasant surprise. Iupati hasn’t played all 16 games in a season since 2012, but with just six games left this year, he’s threatening to do just that. However, his contract expires after this season, so there’s no guarantee he’ll be back in 2020. That said, there did not seem to be a robust market for his services during this past offseason, and so it remains to be seen if he might be available again for next year on an inexpensive contract.
Past Iupati, the team has spoken very highly of fourth round draft pick Phil Haynes, who brings the size, athleticism and explosiveness to potentially be a force on the interior of the line in the coming years. On film Haynes is surprisingly slow-footed for someone with his combine testing results, but he the pop in his heavy hands and his ability to move people when he locks on shows up repeatedly on the tape. I’ll take a deeper look at some of his college tape in the coming days, but for now it seems safe to assume he’ll at least be in the mix in future years.
Center appeared to be a position that was settled and in the hands of Britt, but his torn ACL appears to make it all but certain he will be a cap casualty in 2020. Earlier in the season Pocic had backed up Britt, but he’s currently on injured reserve with a back injury that has kept him off the field since Week 2. In short, while many fans fell in love with Pocic’s potential to take over at the center position following a respectable showing as a rookie in 2017, Pocic has played just 369 offensive snaps in the two seasons since.
With Pocic eligible to come off injured reserve ahead of the Week 15 game against the Carolina Panthers, he will only be available for the final three games of the season. That means it is highly likely that Pocic ends this season having played more offensive snaps as a rookie in 2017 than in 2018 and 2019 combined. That is not all that surprising given that Pocic is far better suited to a zone blocking scheme than the man blocking scheme the Hawks currently use, and could act as a signal that the team might look elsewhere at center going forward.
Past Pocic is the current starter, Joey Hunt. Hunt, though undersized, has fantastic technique that has, at times, allowed him to play bigger than he is. Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers he showed no fear of Vita Vea in spite of being outweighed by nearly 50 pounds. Hunt won some of the battles and Vea won some of them as well.
Why technique is so important for o-linemen.— John P. Gilbert (@JohnPGilbertNFL) November 8, 2019
1 - Joey Hunt (299 lbs) v Vita Vea (347 lbs)
2 & 3 (diff views of same play) - Hunt wins with technique, but then reengages without a proper base (Vea literally picks him up and throws him) pic.twitter.com/Cpm0coqY0o
Hunt’s physical limitations were on display against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football as well.
D.J. Jones, who had the sack of Wilson, is listed by the Niners at 321 pounds, 22 pounds more than the Hawks list Joey Hunt.— John P. Gilbert (@JohnPGilbertNFL) November 12, 2019
He has 32-1/2" arms, compared to Hunt's 30" arms. https://t.co/M72CxYKT5E
As for what the play those tweets refer to looked like, here is the play, along with clips of the 49ers mic’d up sequence in which Niners defensive linemen scream about Hunt being unable to block them because he’s too small.
All that coming together means the center position is nothing but a series of question marks heading into 2020:
- Will Justin Britt and his $11.667M cap hit be released in the offseason ($8.75M in savings)
- How does Ethan Pocic fit into the picture with his lack of scheme fit and limited playing time since Mike Solari arrived?
- Are Joey Hunt’s physical limitations too great to be anything but a backup in the NFL?
There are still six more games for the team to look for answers to these questions. However, at the end of the day, the simple fact of the matter is that the team appears to have more questions than answers when it comes to the offensive line in 2020.
There’s obviously more than plenty of time to look for the answers, but as of right now, there doesn’t appear to be much clarity on who the team will turn to in order to protect the highest paid player in the NFL next year.