With the NFL Draft less than two weeks away from pushing the hopes and dreams of fans into overdrive later this month, many fans of the Seattle Seahawks are hoping that the team uses some of its Day 1 and Day 2 draft capital on the offensive line. Many fans have grown tired of watching Russell Wilson be pressured, and yet under both Tom Cable and Mike Solari the pass protection for the team has left many fans desiring an improvement. However, with the amount of padded practice time in training camp cut in half under the new CBA, it seems likely that the Hawks might avoid drafting offensive linemen until Day 3.
Fans and the media were quick to point out how the reductions in practice time under the 2011 CBA led to a decline in offensive line play across the league, and with further reductions in place in the newly adopted 2020 CBA, a continuation of that trend should not be a surprise. The idea that offensive linemen can take time to develop is nothing new, and it matches up with how Seattle has addressed holes in its offensive line over the past two seasons.
Specifically, over the past two offseasons the Hawks have filled three different starting roles on the offensive line through free agency. In 2017 the team finished the season with Luke Joeckel and Ethan Pocic starting at the guard spots, and in 2018 filled both of those positions with free agents D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy. Following the season Sweezy signed with the Arizona Cardinals as a free agent, and Seattle proceeded to address the hole by signing Mike Iupati. In short, during the two seasons Solari has been with the Seahawks, they have filled zero starting roles through the draft or with younger, developing players, opting instead to fill those spots through free agency.
This analysis, of course, relies on just two seasons of data, so it’s a small sample size. So, expanding the sample size to see how much draft capital teams that have employed Solari as the offensive line coach have spent on the position in recent years bring back these results.
Offensive linemen drafted by teams with the offensive line coached by Mike Solari since the adoption of the 2011 CBA
So, over the past nine seasons no Solari coached team has drafted an offensive lineman higher than 3.70. The four different teams for which he was either offensive line coach or assistant offensive line coach combined to use only two Day 2 picks on offensive linemen over the entirety of that time period, with neither of those picks amounting to much.
Keeping that in mind and looking at the players on the roster, it’s then possible to walk through each of the positions. Starting in the middle of the line at center, the competition right now is set to be between the following four players:
- Justin Britt,
- B.J. Finney,
- Joey Hunt and
- Ethan Pocic.
Now, some fans have thrown the idea of adding Lloyd Cushenberry or Tyler Biadasz early in the draft, but at the end of the day the Hawks already have four centers on the roster who have some level of starting experience in the NFL. With the team only needing to put one center on the field, it seems unlikely the Seahawks are uncomfortable enough with the four guys they have at the position that they would feel compelled to spend a Day 1 or Day 2 pick on a young center. Add in that the team also has Kyle Fuller, who was the starting center at Baylor for three of his four seasons, earning recognition as honorable mention All Big 12 as a sophomore, second team All Big 12 as a junior and first team All Big 12 as a senior. Basically, center is covered and is probably a position on which they are unlikely to spend anything besides a Day 3 pick.
Moving to the guard spots, Iupati remains unsigned, and while the team could bring him back, they seem to have enough names at the spot that they won’t. Fluker has started at right guard in each of the past two seasons, and while they could save a few million dollars against the cap with his release, they appear to have already made their cap-related roster moves when they released Ed Dickson and Tedric Thompson. Assuming Fluker, who has started for Solari in each of the past three seasons, is once again set to be at right guard, that leaves the others competing at left guard. Those in the competition as of now are:
- Phil Haynes,
- Demetrius Knox,
- Jordan Simmons,
- Chance Warmack,
- Kyle Fuller,
- Jamarco Jones and
- Jordan Roos.
There’s no doubt that Roos is likely at the bottom of that list and would have the most trouble making the roster. However, Simmons and Haynes have both seen playing time for the Hawks over the past two years when healthy, and Warmack began his career by starting 46 of 48 potential games for the Tennessee Titans before injuries derailed things. Add in Knox, who the team appeared to really like until he suffered a significant leg injury during the 2019 preseason and the competition should be stiff.
In addition, while Fuller played center in college, during his time with the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears since entering the NFL Fuller has played both guard and tackle, as well as filling a George Fant-style sixth offensive lineman role in jumbo packages at times. While Fuller hasn’t shown a lot to get excited about when he’s had a chance to show what he can do on the field, he has experience at every position on the line and has bulked up to the size Solari likes at guard. All of that is before even considering 2019 fan darling Jones, to whom many are ready to hand a starting spot before training camp competition even has a chance to open. In short, guard is not a position at which the starters are settled, but there is enough competition that it’s likely the 2020 starter is already on the roster.
That brings things to tackle, where at most the team will keep at most four players. Those four spots include a starter at right and left tackle, a swing tackle and a sixth offensive lineman to fill the jumbo TE role Fant primarily filled each of the past two seasons. Barring injury, Duane Brown is the unquestioned starter at left tackle, and given that the contract given to Brandon Shell is the largest contract Pete Carroll and John Schneider have given to a free agent offensive lineman, it would seem safe to pencil Shell in at right tackle.
That leaves the swing tackle spot and the jumbo TE role. Starting at the jumbo TE role, Cedric Ogbuehi played 59 of his 155 offensive snaps in that role for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2019, and his athleticism likely gives him a leg up in the battle for that role. Even Ogbuehi’s contract is extremely similar to the second round tender on which Fant played in 2019. Specifically, the second round tender this season is $3.259M, while Ogbuehi’s contract maxes out at $3.3M if he reaches all his performance and playing time incentives. That, of course, could easily be coincidental, but it’s certainly an interesting coincidence.
Putting all of that together, it brings things to the swing tackle role. Some fans are still hoping for Jamarco Jones to be given a shot at that role, and that certainly remains a possibility in spite of his performance against Chandler Jones in Week 16. However, Seattle already has a tackle on the roster who has not only served as a backup, but has started for Solari. Chad Wheeler is a name that most Seahawks fans likely don’t recognize, but in 2017 Wheeler was the backup left tackle for the Giants under Solari. As an undrafted rookie free agent he logged 261 offensive snaps while starting five games between right and left tackle and contributing on special teams in six other games. That means Wheeler has filled the swing tackle role for Solari in the past, and that was prior to Wheeler gaining fourteen more games worth of starting experience in 2018 after Solari had departed.
In short, there is no desperate need at tackle, nor at any of the other offensive line spots. Add that lack of immediate need to the fact that teams for which Solari has coached over the past several seasons have avoided using much early draft capital on offensive linemen, and it seems likely the Seahawks may pass on offensive linemen early in the draft. That certainly doesn’t rule out the team using a selection or two on developmental linemen later in the draft. However, without a glaring immediate need and the again reduction in padded practices in the new CBA, using any of the three picks the team holds in the first and second round on the position seems unlikely.