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Why the Seahawks won’t spend big in the trenches

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Seattle Seahawks v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The calendar has reached mid-June, meaning less than a month and a half remains until NFL teams report for training camp in late July. For the Seattle Seahawks, who are allowed to report to camp 47 days prior to their 2020 season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, that means reporting during the week of July 27.

When Seahawks players arrive, there will be plenty of new faces on both the offensive and defensive lines. On the offensive side of the ball the Hawks appear set to have B.J. Finney at center, Damien Lewis at right guard and Brandon Shell at right tackle. Whether it is Mike Iupati or Phil Haynes at left guard will likely be determined by how the two perform during training camp. Duane Brown at left tackle is the only returning starter from 2019 who can be reasonably assumed to be the starter heading into the 2020 season.

Flipping to the defensive side, there are fewer new names expected to start, but Benson Mayowa and Bruce Irvin returning to where they started their NFL careers will mix in on pash rushing downs. On early downs it appears it won’t be so many new names as it will be less experienced names asked to pick up the slack. The Seahawks have a stable of young potential on the defensive line, and it will be time for Rasheem Green, L.J. Collier, Poona Ford, Bryan Mone and Branden Jackson to take a step up on a line that appears set to be anchored by fifth year man Jarran Reed, while youngsters Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson will look to show why the team drafted them in April.

Gone from the 2019 roster on either side of the ball are

  • George Fant (New York Jets)
  • D.J. Fluker (Baltimore Ravens)
  • Germain Ifedi (Chicago Bears)
  • Justin Britt (unsigned as he rehabs from ACL reconstruction)
  • Quinton Jefferson (Buffalo Bills)
  • Jadeveon Clowney (unsigned as he returns from sports hernia surgery) and
  • Ziggy Ansah (unsigned after a lackluster 2019 following shoulder surgery in 2018)

In short, if Bruce Irvin is counted as a defensive end, of the fifteen defensive linemen on the roster, eleven are on a rookie contract, one (Branden Jackson) is on a restricted free agent tender and just three are on second contracts (Irvin, Mayowa and Reed). Looking at the offensive line in terms of the same, there is certainly more experience, with six of the seventeen offensive linemen on second contracts. However, even when looking at both offense and defense, the only big money names in the trenches are Reed and Brown.

This would seem to be in contrast to the physical style of football Pete Carroll prefers to play, where for decades the mantra has been that games are won and lost in the trenches. However, given the penchant of the Seahawks front office to stay away from spending big on the lines, the question obviously becomes why. The answer to that question could be hiding in the wins above replacement data.

To evaluate this, here is a snippet of data regarding positional value for NFL players during the ProFootballFocus.com era (2006 to present) as put together by Peter Owen, a data analyst from New South Wales who has evaluated the WAR data from both PFF and SIS in order to look at how much impact various positions have on the outcome of games. Here is how things break down from PFF’s data when it comes to their evaluation of different positions.

Mean WAR by position per PFF data

Position Mean in PFF WAR N PFF
Position Mean in PFF WAR N PFF
QB 1.63 994
WR 0.28 2864
CB 0.23 2733
S 0.23 2169
TE 0.18 1621
LB 0.11 2721
RB/FB 0.1 2373
G 0.1 1604
C 0.1 708
T 0.09 1543
DI (DT) 0.06 2559
ED (DE) 0.06 2259

Owen also took the time to analyze the impact of the various positions based on the data compiled by SportsInfoSolutions.com (SIS), and this is what their analysis looks like. This one is a little different, as it is done in terms of how predictive the position is to a team’s performance.

SIS predictive value by position

Position SIS Predictive Value N SIS SIS SD
Position SIS Predictive Value N SIS SIS SD
QB 22.694 100 44.152
WR 8.615 394 14.240
ED (DE) 8.309 225 13.488
TE 7.255 179 12.338
DI (DT) 6.613 239 10.447
LB 6.343 355 16.825
S 5.568 244 15.172
T 5.238 222 11.562
G 5.048 199 10.473
RB/FB 4.910 242 10.910
CB 4.880 323 16.375
C 3.779 108 9.568

While the analysis of the data from SIS unsurprisingly shows that quarterbacks are the most important position on the field, many of the other positions are more varied. However, once again even by the analysis of the SIS data, the offensive line is not a position group that greatly moves the needle in terms of wins or the ability to predict an outcome.

For those who would like to peruse the full data for themselves, it may be found in the spreadsheet in the following tweet.

What it all means is that while many fans will continue to argue that games are won and lost in the trenches, there is a growing body of data from multiple independent data outlets that this may not be the case. Whether the Seahawks subscribe to the theory that the offensive line is less crucial to a team’s success than many believe may never be known, but the reluctance of the team to spend significant money on the position group over the past decade would certainly seem to be a solid clue as to their feelings on the issue.