On Sunday the Seattle Seahawks will travel to Southern California to take on the Los Angeles Rams with a chance to lock up a playoff berth with three full weeks left in the season. Win or lose Sunday against the Rams, the Hawks are set to potentially have an interesting decision to make as early as their subsequent Week 15 matchup against the Carolina Panthers. It's a decision that could impact the team not just over the remainder of this season, but into 2020 and possibly beyond.
Specifically, who will be the starting center over the final weeks of the regular season and into the playoffs?
Manning the position since Justin Britt went down with a torn ACL early in Week 8 against the Atlanta Falcons, Joey Hunt has performed admirably given the fact that he's a first year starter seeing his first extended action. However, once the game against Los Angeles this weekend is completed, Ethan Pocic will have spent the requisite eight games on injured reserve and will be eligible to return.
Pocic, of course, primarily played center in college, but has mostly been used at guard since arriving in Seattle in 2017. In particular, over the past two seasons Pocic has seen limited snaps compared to his rookie year, but that largely seemed to be a combination of Britt's established role at center and offensive line coach Mike Solari's preference for huge maulers at guard, as opposed to smaller, less powerful technicians such as Pocic.
However, once he returns from IR, Pocic will have doors open that weren't previously. While Britt's knee injury has creates an opening that Hunt is currently filling at center this year, the fact that Britt is scheduled to carry a cap hit of $11.416M in 2020, of which $8.5M* can be saved by releasing him, it seems almost a near certainty that he will be a cap casualty in the spring.
*Britt would likely be released with an injury designation, meaning the team would carry a $1.2M cap charge for Britt's Article 45 injury protection guarantee should he be released and not sign with another team.
That could potentially leave the door open for a new starting for Seattle in 2020. The team now has nearly five full games of tape on Hunt, who will be a restricted free agent in the spring. In contrast, the team has very limited tape on Pocic playing center, and the remainder of the season could very well be used by the team to figure out whether or not they believe Pocic might be able to handle the starting job in the future.
If the Hawks stick with Hunt even after Pocic's return from IR, then it would seem that their may be only a limited opportunity for Pocic at the position next season. On the flip side, if the Hawks do give Pocic a shot, it not indicates they may see him as the center of the future, it could be an indicator that they don't see Hunt as anything but a backup going forward.
So, while all attention will be on the Rams game for now, with Pocic back practicing with the team, it will certainly be interesting to see how the team decides to proceed in the coming weeks.