The Seattle Seahawks still need to play out the second half of their schedule, and while many fans hope for a late season run that can salvage a once-promising season, doing so will be a tall task.
Entering a matchup against the first place Arizona Cardinals in Week 11, the Hawks currently sit 4.5 games out of first place, and a loss Sunday all but eliminates a shot at winning the division. For starters, a loss would put Seattle 5.5 games out of first place, the furthest away from the division lead for any Pete Carroll coached Seahawks team. In adddition, the Cardinals would need just two subsequent wins to eliminate Seattle from NFC West contention with the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions on the schedule as early Christmas gifts.
In any case, how the division plays out, or whether Seattle is able to squeak into one of the Wild Card spots is largely irrelevant to the questions the team will face in the offseason. Of the 53 players on the roster, 15 are set to be unrestricted free agents in March. Complicating matters is that nine of those 15 are starters, with five of those nine starters in the trenches. The starters in the trenches whose contracts are finished in March are:
- LT Duane Brown
- C Ethan Pocic
- RT Brandon Shell
- DT Al Woods
- DE Rasheem Green
Brown is, of course, the biggest name of the bunch, but the consensus at this point is likely that his return is not a priority for the team. He started the season very strong, but it appears as though Father Time may have finally caught up to Brown after years of being unable to catch him. Brown is on pace to give up more sacks this season than he surrendered during his previous three and a half years in Seattle.
Such a sudden drop off may seem drastic, but it is basically the norm for elite offensive linemen. Walter Jones was phenomenal until all of a sudden his knees wouldn’t cooperate and he was giving up two sacks in a single game. Orlando Pace was a Hall of Famer until one day a groin injury ended his career. Whether 2021 is the end of the road for Brown or not we don’t know, but each passing game it appears more and more likely that his time with the Seahawks has likely. Add in the pair of young tackles Seattle added during the offseason, and it’s not hard to imagine a future without Brown in Seahawks blue.
On the other side of the line Shell has performed largely as expected, though he did miss a pair of games early in the season. Perhaps the biggest knock on Shell is that in his six seasons in the NFL he has never stayed healthy for the duration of an entire season. Five times he’s been a Week 1 starter during his career, and has missed an average of four games per year due to injury. It’s not the end of the world, but no team really wants to be playing a backup tackle a quarter of the time. (Author’s Note: Fans, on the flip side, want their team to be playing the backup tackle 100% of the time because all reserve linemen are All Pros who just need a shot.)
It seems unlikely that the Seahawks would be willing to roll with a pair of unproven second year players at tackle in 2022, but with neither Brown nor Shell under contract, and swing tackle Jamarco Jones in the final year of his rookie deal, it’s not impossible. Neither Jake Curhan nor Stone Forsythe have seen the field much this season, but one or both could easily find themselves starting for the Hawks at tackle in 2022 out of necessity.
In the middle of Shell and Brown is the much discussed Pocic. Pocic was, of course, a selection of former offensive line coach Tom Cable, and started 11 games as a rookie in 2017. However, a much better fit for a zone scheme than the gap scheme utilized from 2018 through 2020, Pocic didn’t get much playing time until starting 14 games last season. The injury bug bit one of his hamstrings during training camp, however, giving Kyle Fuller a shot to take the starting center role. Thankfully, though, the hamstring healed and Pocic is back starting in the middle of the line. At 26 he’s still young enough that he should have several seasons left as a serviceable starter in the NFL, so at this point the question becomes whether those seasons will be with Seattle or elsewhere.
Flipping to the defensive side of the trenches, the questions Seattle will need to answer will be on Al Woods and Rasheem Green. Woods is far from young, and has basically taken on a role as a run stopping, middle of the line clogging mercenary. Since 2016 Woods has spent two seasons with the Seahawks, and one with each of the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts, in addition to signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020 prior to opting out. Woods likely won’t be expensive to bring back, and it may be more a decision regarding whether it’s time for Bryan Mone to take over for Woods going forward.
As for Green, he’s quietly putting together a nice little season. Darrell Taylor has received most of the hype with his 4.0 sacks and 8 QB hits, but Green has slipped up right behind him and is sitting at 3.0 sacks with 7 QB hits. Now, many fans will be quick to point out that Green has three more years of experience and Taylor is young with upside, but Green is actually seven and a half weeks younger than Taylor.
That youth could render Green far more expensive than the Seahawks are interested in paying when free agency arrives. This is not to say he will command top of market defensive line money, but with four years of experience, hitting free agency before his 25th birthday could be a boon for a player who could still improve for several more years before reaching peak performance.
Putting it all together, while there are no make or break names, Seattle will need to sit down and thoroughly evaluate its options in the trenches during the offseason. Between the limited draft capital and the relatively small amount of cap space compared to how many spots on the roster that need to be filled, there will be a lot of hard questions to ask and many fans may not like all the answers.