When the Seattle Seahawks signed B.J. Finney as a free agent from the Pittsburgh Steelers many fans were quick to anoint him the starter at either left guard or center for the 2020 season. The 2019 starters at those positions, Justin Britt and Mike Iupati were rehabbing from a torn ACL and unsigned as a free agent, respectively, leaving uncertainty at those positions.
Now, more than four weeks later, however, the Seahawks are set to sign Iupati to play for the team again in 2020, and Britt remains the fan-anticipated cap casualty who is still on the roster despite numerous proclamations that he is a goner. That said, based on Finney’s physical traits in relationship to the offensive linemen Mike Solari has used in the past, the odds of Finney earning one of the starting slots at guard seem slim. During his two seasons in Seattle Solari has started the following players at guard:
- D.J. Fluker (23),
- Germain Ifedi (1),
- Jordan Simmons (3),
- Ethan Pocic (5),
- J.R. Sweezy (15),
- Mike Iupati (15) and
- Jamarco Jones (2),
That is important because of one fact, arm length. While Finney weighs in at 318, which is far closer to the size that Solari prefers in his guards than the weights at which Jones (293) and Hunt (299) were listed for the 2019 season, his arms are only 32” long. Comparing that to every player who has started at guard over the last two seasons yields something interesting. Specifically, here are the arm lengths of the guards that have started since Solari arrived in 2018.
- Fluker: 36-3/8”
- Ifedi: 36”
- Simmons: 33-7/8”
- Pocic: 33-1/8”
- Sweezy: 34”
- Iupati: 34-3/4”
- Jones: 35-1/8”
In short, over 64 games over the past two seasons Solari has started exactly zero guards with arms shorter than 33-1/8”, with 56 of 64 possible starts going to players with arms of 34” or longer. For those who remember the post on the two hand punch technique the Seahawks use, that is exactly why Solari prefers to use players with longer arms, even on the interior of the line. Looking at the linemen that Solari has used in the past, not only in Seattle, but with the San Francisco 49ers, New York Giants and Kansas City Chiefs over the years, his guards will traditionally have longer arms. This can be traced all the way back to the 1990s where Chiefs Hall of Famer Will Shields had 34-3/8” arms, while Casey Wiegmann, who started at center from 2001 through 2005 when Solari was promoted to offensive coordinator had arms that were 30-5/8” arms.
What it boils down to is that Solari likes guards with long arms, and the only position on the line where Finney’s arm length meets Solari’s requirements is at center. So, knowing Finney’s primary position with the Hawks is likely to be at center, it’s possible to move on to his contract to see whether the team believes he is set to be a starter for 2019.
The first thing about Finney’s contract in relation to the size of other contracts the team has given to offensive linemen yields something interesting. Many, of course, tout the size of the contract as an indication that he was signed to be a starter, however, that may not be the case. Here is what the contract looks like at OverTheCap.com:
The key item most fans point to is the total amount of money in the contract, $8M, and the average per year, $4M, as clues that Finney is set to start. However, taking a step back for a second, the contract is not all that dissimilar from the contract given to J’Marcus Webb in 2016. To be exact, Webb was given a two year, $6M contract in the spring of 2016. Now, $8M is obviously more than $6M, but looking solely at the overall size of the contract fails to take into account the increase in the salary cap in the years since.
Given that the salary cap increased 27.65% from 2016 until 2020, Webb’s contract adjusted upwards for that increased cap would be for two years, $7,658,917. That isn’t quite the $8M seen in Finney’s contract, however, it doesn’t take into account the cap squeezing effect that leads to players on second contracts see their salaries increase faster than players on minimum salary contracts as cap growth has outpaced salary growth. In short, the two contracts are nearly identical in terms of the percentage of the disposable cap space relative to the year in which they were signed. Basically, if Webb was signed as depth, Finney’s contract indicates he was signed as depth as well.
Moving on from there, the Seahawks have patterns to the way their contracts are structured. Looking at the free agent offensive linemen who have signed contracts to come in and start for Seattle in recent years, the majority of them have per game roster bonuses. These include the contracts given to Iupati, Fluker, Sweezy, Luke Joeckel and Brandon Shell. Even the second contracts the team has given to starting offensive linemen, including Justin Britt, Duane Brown, Iupati and Fluker carry per game roster bonuses.
In contrast, Finney’s contract has no per game roster bonuses for 2020.
So, for a team that typically gives a player per game roster bonuses when they’re expected to start, it certainly seems noteworthy that Finney has no per game roster bonuses in 2020, but has them in 2021 after Britt’s contract has expired. Digging right to the heart of the matter, the four centers on the roster right now are:
- Pocic and
- Joey Hunt.
Of those, only Finney is under contract past 2020, potentially giving him a leg up on any competition at the position because the team will likely want some sort of continuity through the 2021 offseason. Basically, putting everything together, it appears as though Finney may have been signed as a bigger version of Hunt for 2020 as a Britt hedge, while potentially carrying a better opportunity to start in 2021.
Thus, looking at everything, it as though Britt’s release as a cap casualty with Finney taking over as a starter at center may not be as imminent as many have predicted. Certainly it will be worth watching whether Britt stays on the roster past May 1, but at this point, it would seem unlikely that the team will release Britt anytime before roster cuts to 53 at the end of the summer.