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It’s time to talk about the Seahawks offensive line

Wild Card Round - Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

For years fans of the Seattle Seahawks have watched as quarterback Russell Wilson ducked and dodged pass rushers, and there has been a chorus of fans screaming for better protection. Whether through free agency or through the draft, fans of the team would love for Wilson to be provided elite protection like the Green Bay Packers give to Aaron Rodgers or the New Orleans Saints provide Drew Brees.

That said, the signing of Brandon Shell from the New York Jets was not the free agent tackle many had hoped for, as there were dreams of Bryan Bulaga or Jack Conklin signing with a team. However, the signing of Shell does offer one significant clue regarding a question that Seahawks fans have been arguing about for years. Specifically, who is picking these offensive linemen?

In the two years since the Seahawks fired Tom Cable and replaced him with Mike Solari there’s been no shortage of excited exclamations that the Hawks can finally get away from “Cable’s guys” like Germain Ifedi and start drafting and signing competent linemen. However, the Shell signing puts any move away from Cable guys into question because of the following.

Basically, if the Hawks are getting away from the type of linemen they brought in under Cable because they’re no longer drafting or signing the same type of linemen, why did the team just sign an offensive lineman who is about as close off a physical and athletic comp to Ifedi as possible? The explanations for this would seem to be one of the following:

  • Cable had complete control over the linemen and the Hawks continue to consult with him even now that he’s with the Las Vegas Raiders or
  • Someone other than Cable had final say over the linemen the team drafted and signed.

The fact that the team just went out and gave the biggest free agent contract its ever given to an offensive lineman to an Ifedi clone would seem to be strong evidence of the second option, and an evaluation of prior draft picks would seem to indicate this as well.

First, looking at first round picks teams used on linemen while Solari was coaching, the Kansas City Chiefs used back to back first round picks on offensive linemen in 1998 and 1999. The players the Chiefs selected with those picks were John Tait and Victor Riley, and a comparison of those two to offensive linemen Seattle has drafted in recent seasons is interesting. For starters, here is Riley and a couple of comparisons.

Victory Riley compared to Jamarco Jones

Category Victory Riley Jamarco Jones
Category Victory Riley Jamarco Jones
Height 6'4-3/4" 6'4"
Weight 333 299
Arm Length 36-1/8" 35-1/8"
40 5.55 5.50
20 3.15 3.02
10 1.96 1.95
Bench 23 18
Vertical 23 24
Broad 91 102
Shuttle 5.02 4.99
3-cone 8.77 5.32

Obviously Riley had a significant weight advantage on Jamarco Jones, but outside of that the remaining categories are fairly similar. Next, here’s a comparison of Riley, Tait and Ifedi.

Athletic profiles of Victor Riley, John Tait, Justin Britt and Germain Ifedi

Category John Tait Justin Britt Germain Ifedi Victory Riley
Category John Tait Justin Britt Germain Ifedi Victory Riley
Height 6'6-1/8" 6'5-7/8" 6'5-3/4" 6'4-3/4"
Weight 310 325 324 333
Arm Length 32-1/4" 33-1/2" 36" 36-1/8"
40 5.22 5.19 5.27 5.55
20 3.02 3.01 3.04 3.15
10 1.84 1.81 1.79 1.96
Bench 26 26 24 23
Vertical 29.5 29.5 32.5 23
Broad 104 100 109 91
Shuttle 4.40 4.79 4.75 5.02
3-cone 7.48 7.59 N/A 8.77

These are not as carbon copy as the Shell to Ifedi comparisons, but they are close enough far enough apart that it certainly leads one to raise an eyebrow. However, it’s not much of a stretch to assume Solari probably had no input on the selection of Ifedi or Britt, since he was coaching for the San Francisco 49ers in 2014 when Britt was drafted and with the New York Giants in 2016 when Ifedi was drafted.

However, Solari isn’t the only common link between the late nineties Chiefs and the Seahawks of today. Before spending 2002-2009 with the Green Bay Packers, Seattle GM John Schneider was the Director of Pro Personnel for those Chiefs teams that drafted Riley and Tait. Now that he’s been the GM of the Hawks for more than a decade, he’s therefore obviously connected to not only the selections of Riley and Tait, but to the selection of Ifedi and the signing of Shell.

Thus, it’s obviously far from definitive, but the more data points collected the more and more it looks like the offensive line isn’t a collection of Cable guys or Solari guys. Rather, it appears as though they most accurately be described as Schneider guys, with input from Cable or Solari, and now the big question becomes how the 2020 group assembled by Schneider will perform on the field.