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Return of the budget offensive line

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Two decades ago the Seattle Seahawks had an offensive line that football guys dreamed of. The left side of the line included a pair of future Hall of Famers in Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson, and it really didn’t matter what the rest of the line included because those two monsters moved anyone and everyone basically wherever they wanted whenever they wanted. Unfortunately, Hutchinson departed for the Minnesota Vikings in the Poison Pill fiasco that would not just upset Seattle fans, but which would result in changes to NFL rules following a long, drawn out arbitration process that allowed Hutchinson to leave the Pacific Northwest.

Then, in 2008 a knee injury finally brought Jones’ career to an end, and the line has largely struggled since then. There have certainly been ups and downs through the years, with the lowest point likely being the 2016 season that saw the team use a group of youngsters and journeymen that many fans had never heard of. The group saw games started by the likes of Bradley Sewell, George Fant, Mark Glowinski, Justin Britt, Joey Hunt, J’Marcus Webb, Germain Ifedi and Garry Gilliam, which was the least expensive offensive line in the NFL that season.

The results were as one would expect from a group that included multiple first year starters and was one of the least experienced groups in NFL history, pretty ugly at times.

That said, many of those players are still playing across the league today. Fant is rumored to be the likely starter at left tackle for the New York Jets this season, having taken the starting role from former first round pick Mekhi Becton in 2021. Glowinski is expected to be the starter at right guard for the New York Giants this season, after nearly four years as a starter at that spot for the Indianapolis Colts. Britt started at center for the Houston Texans in 2021, and while it can be debated whether the Texans should be considered an NFL team, he’s set to do so again in 2022 after signing a two year contract this offseason. Even Ifedi started at guard and tackle for the Bears the past two seasons until a knee injury derailed his 2021 season, but is reportedly set to be the swing tackle for the Atlanta Falcons this season.

In short, while none of the members of the 2016 line are superstars, the majority of the line is still playing, in large part because in 2016 they were so young. And with youth comes inexperience and inconsistency. So, with that in mind regarding young lines, it’s noteworthy that as noted here on Field Gulls recently, the Seahawks are not just one Gabe Jackson away from having the least experienced line in the NFL, they are one Gabe Jackson away from having the least expensive line in the NFL.

Jackson, of course, is set to carry a cap hit of $9M for 2022, with that number made up of a fully guaranteed base salary of $6M and $3M of amortization on the $9M signing bonus he received in 2021. With his base salary fully guaranteed, the Hawks wouldn’t save any cap space through a release, as they would actually lose cap space as the team would then be forced to pay his $6M salary as well as the salary of whoever replaces him on the roster. However, if the team were to find a trade partner interested in acquiring the services of the 31 year old, the acquiring team would take on that $6M fully guaranteed salary, which would move Seattle to having an offensive line making $22.9M, which would be the least expensive in the NFL.

It seems unlikely the Hawks will move on from Jackson, but it’s always a possibility. At the end of the day, though, the key to remember when dealing with the potential frustrations of multiple youngsters seeing extensive playing time on the offensive line is that 2022 is not the end goal.

2022 is simply the beginning, and the early steps are those which are often the most difficult.