Following the 2015 offseason trade of Max Unger to the New Orleans Saints, the Seattle Seahawks went through one of their worst years at center in recent history. Maybe all-time history, I’m not uber familiar with how the centers of the 70s, 80s, and 90s did, but it was bad. In 2015, the Seahawks split time at center with Drew Nowak opening the year as the starter and Patrick Lewis closing it out. Neither player has come close to a meaningful snap in the NFL since.
That’s when Tom Cable converted Justin Britt to a new position for the second time in as many years, salvaging a disappointing two-year career and mostly erasing one of their most egregious weaknesses. Britt played well enough at center in 2016 to sign a three-year, $27 million extension just before the 2017 season. That made him one of the top three paid centers in the league and he still ranks sixth in average annual value, though that’s likely to get knocked down a couple pegs as new players sign up in 2019.
Britt, not yet turning 28 until May, has been a little more than fine over the last two seasons. He still has an issue with stupid penalties (two unnecessary roughness penalties in 2018, both of which came in the second half of key losses for the Seahawks, plus a fourth quarter penalty against the Dallas Cowboys in the wild card round) and I’m not sure that his blocking is that far above average, but Britt is a massive upgrade over the options they had in 2015.
But is he that much better — or better at all — than Seattle’s current backup options at center? And even if he is, would they be willing to make a change in order to open a roster spot and keep their other two centers on the roster?
According to OvertheCap.com, Britt’s 2019 salary becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year, which begins on March 13. But that could be wrong and the Seahawks may have already guaranteed it five days after the Super Bowl. Here’s what our own John Gilbert told me:
They would save $2.25M in base salary this season but they’d have to recognize the 2020 $2,916,668 dead money (either this season or next), so the net would be a loss of about $166k in cap space. Thus, if they get really desperate for cap space, they could create a couple of million this season by releasing him as a post-June 1 cut, but then would have $2,916,668 in dead money next year.
However, a trade could transfer his 2019 salary to the team acquiring him and save the Seahawks roughly $2 million and every million matters, especially if you think that you’re backup option is just as capable. And in addition to the money, it also allows you to keep a young player and still have another roster spot open for somebody else.
As far as performance goes, I wish I could give you a better indication of how he ranks among all NFL centers, but I refuse to link any grades here and tell you that they mean anything. While many other writers have given into that temptation simply because they have no other options when it comes to offensive linemen, I just don’t have any good reason to give any credibility to an arbitrary grade or ranking system. I simply don’t believe that any of them are credible or easily defensible and won’t acknowledge them at face value. However, I would think it’s a challenge for anyone to find any grade or ranking system from a respectable source that has Britt as a top-10, let alone top-5, center.
That being said, it does seem like teams are attaching significant value to finding capable centers in the last few years.
The Seahawks gave that extension to Britt. The Jacksonville Jaguars paid Brandon Linder $10.3 million per season before anyone had ever heard of Brandon Linder. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made Ryan Jensen the highest-paid center in the NFL last year. The San Francisco 49ers are paying Weston Richburg more than $8 million per season over the first three years of his contract and he had missed 75% of the previous season with the New York Giants. This could be good news for Seattle.
If teams are willing to pay those centers $9-$10 million per season, then it means that Britt’s $4.5 million base salary in 2019 is a bargain (a bargain that the Seahawks don’t get to see as much of since they have to also account for his signing bonus, which raises his cap hit to nearly $8 million) and his 2020 salary of $8.25 million is more than palatable. It potentially means that John Schneider and Pete Carroll could dangle Britt on the trade market and possibly cop themselves a fifth, and maybe even a sixth, draft pick in the upcoming college prospect fire sale. It may not save them any money, but they traded Michael Bennett to the Philadelphia Eagles last season even though it wasn’t saving them any money. It would only be to open a roster spot and add a draft pick or two. How good would that pick be? It’s difficult to say and it might not matter that much.
If Seattle could trade Britt for even a fifth rounder, I’d have to think that’s something they consider. It’s something I would definitely consider.
The Seahawks went 2-0 with Joey Hunt starting at center last season, including a 24-13 win over the Cowboys that saved them from an 0-3 start. It’s not that we have a ton of evidence to suggest that Hunt would be as good as Britt over the course of a full season, but we also don’t have much to support the contrary opinion. The team drafted Hunt in the sixth round in 2016 and have had him hanging around for three years now, which is possibly an indication that they still like Hunt’s future. Given that he’s entering potentially his final season with the team, it’s also maybe their last chance to test him out for a full 16-game run.
The other side of that is that even if they lose Britt and Hunt doesn’t perform up to expectations, they also have a center that they drafted in the second round in 2017 with Ethan Pocic. We all know that Pocic has been a disaster at guard over his first two seasons, but like Britt, he may show us what he’s really capable of if he gets to transition to being the guy in the middle. And the Seahawks are down to two more years to find out what they have in Pocic before he becomes a free agent.
Parting ways with players on your team who aren’t negatives can be a risky endeavor, but sometimes it’s the best way to fill out your full 53-man roster and the only way to give younger, cheaper, potentially higher-ceiling players an opportunity to showcase their actual abilities. Britt has been great compared to Nowak and Lewis, but he’s still a downgrade from the Unger years and maybe not even an upgrade from what the team may get from Hunt or Pocic.
What should the Seahawks do at center?
This poll is closed
Keep Justin Britt, no matter what
Trade Justin Britt, if you can
Release Justin Britt, if you can’t trade him