During Pete Carroll’s end of season press conference, he expressed the desire for continuity for an offensive line that, as a group, struggled in 2019. Per Football Outsiders, the Seahawks’ offensive line finished 15th in run blocking and 24th in adjusted sack rate, while Russell Wilson was sacked 48 times—the second-highest rate of his career.
Individual performances were an issue, but the group itself lacked continuity even in-season. Duane Brown missed four games and played several more clearly hobbled; Mike Iupati missed one game; Justin Britt missed half the season; and D.J. Fluker missed two games. The oft-criticized Germain Ifedi was the sole Seattle starter for all 16 games. Now, two-fifths of the starting line are headed towards free agency (Iupati and Ifedi), as is swing-tackle George Fant. Britt, meanwhile, could very well be a cap causality. Fluker, too, could be on the chopping block—or at the very least have his starting spot taken by Phil Haynes. Continuity, as Carroll desires, is looking increasingly unlikely.
One way for the Seahawks to achieve some semblance of continuity and, more importantly, retain talent for 2020 would be to re-sign the veteran Iupati. It’s unclear if, this time last year, Iupati was even in Seattle’s plans. Perhaps it was the timing of both moves, but the signing of Iupati seemed like a reaction to the Cardinals giving J.R. Sweezy a sizable deal. Regardless of how he landed with the Seahawks, Iupati reunited with his former offensive line coach Mike Solari and gave his team a steady performance in an area that has been anything but steady for the better part of a decade. More pertinent to Seattle’s interest in re-signing Iupati is his fit within the offense and Solari’s blocking scheme, which he consistently executed perfectly.
One of the defining characteristics of the Seahawks’ running game under Solari and Brian Schottenheimer is pulling guards. The reliance on movement skills from guard is why Sweezy was brought back in 2018 and found success, and it’s a huge part of the case for Iupati to be re-signed. Seattle constantly had Iupati pull across the line with Chris Carson or another tailback slipping up a hole behind him, and the success they had doing so was constant. When he was pulled, Iupati’s timing was perfect and crucially, as were the aim and power behind his blocks.
Though Iupati was predominantly used pulling across the formation on inside runs, his movement ability proved to be good enough to use him in space, too. Iupati’s success pulling out in front of running backs was reassuring against fears his body was perhaps going to break down, after several injury-riddled seasons.
If pulling is a guard’s number-one responsibility in Solari’s system, number-two would be climbing to the second level to chip or seal out a defender. When a guard is helping at the line and then getting a chip at the second level, it allows the offensive line to double-team a defender at the line—whether it’s at the point of attack or on the backside. Iupati, appearing to be as healthy as he has been in recent years, was able to execute combo blocks and getting to the second level with consistency.
The increased use of tailbacks in the passing game was a stated goal of Schottenheimer’s ahead of the 2019 season, and as early as Week 1, it was clear how he was going to achieve that. Swing screens and traditional screens were utilized often by the Seahawks last season, to varying degrees of success. When they worked, however, it was often with Iupati leading the way, moving with intention into space. Once again his timing in these situations, so as to not draw a flag, was superb.
If Britt is released by Seattle and either Ethan Pocic or another inexperienced player replaces him, Iupati’s presence would be invaluable. Throughout 2019, his play exuded veteran presence, particularly after Joey Hunt entered the lineup and proved to be overmatched. There are very few things, if any, offensive line aficionados love more than a lineman finding work—which is to say, laying a block when their assignment either doesn’t rush or has already been handled. Iupati (and, to a lesser extent, Fluker) made Hunt’s job easier in the moments that they could. Alongside an experienced center in 2020, Iupati would provide a similar safety net.
Iupati has always been a better run blocker than pass blocker, even during his peak as an All-Pro and regular Pro-Bowler. That has proved to age well, as even at age-32 Iupati proved to be a solid run blocker. Though he was a regular member of one of the league’s worst pass blocking units, as an individual, Iupati was largely fine in pass protection—and certainly not one of the main issues. Of the four offensive linemen to play over half the season (Brown, Iupati, Fluker and Ifedi), Iupati gave up the second-fewest number of sacks, per Sports Info Solutions (five).
For as reliable as Iupati was for the Seahawks in 2019, there absolutely is a chance he ages drastically between his age-32 and age-33 season. Though Seattle would be wise to retain his services for 2020, he can’t be the sole option at left guard. Perhaps that means keeping Fluker for the second season of his deal, and being able to depend on Iupati, Fluker and Haynes to fill both guard spots for 16 games. Or, maybe the Seahawks use a day two or day three pick on another young player at the position. Seattle should certainly address the position for the future in the coming months. However, they should also address the position for the present, by re-signing one of their most reliable players from 2019.