"False start, #76 of the offense."
Ahhhhh...don’t you just love those words? Three things are for certain in this life: death, taxes, and a Russell Okung false start haunting my dreams.
I kid, I kid...
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but... I have reason to believe Russell Okung is probably playing his last season as a Seattle Seahawk. Or wait... is that good news? I’m genuinely not sure. I guess it depends on how you look at it. For a long time, Okung has been (and was) looked at as the only source of near stability at the offense line position, but his contract is up at the end of the 2015 season. With that in mind, let’s take a deeper look into Seattle’s short term and long term cap health – in order to make a logical prediction as to why extending or not extending Okung would be a wise idea.
Russell Okung, the starting left tackle for the Seattle Seahawks, was the sixth overall pick in the 2010 draft class. Over the years, Okung has shown glimpses of strong potential and untapped talent. Other times, not so much. In 2012, Okung earned his first Pro Bowl.... and the future looked bright with him.
With Max Unger recently being hauled off in a package trade for Jimmy Graham, I believe it’s pretty clear that Okung is the most talented offensive lineman on the Seahawks. And that’s not a great outlook considering Okung seems to be regressing, potentially as the result of several past injuries. Ever since Okung’s 2013 turf injury, he just hasn’t looked the same. It’s important to note that Okung has never played a full season – logging only 10 games in 2010, 12 games in 2011, 15 games in 2012, 8 games in 2013, and 14 games in 2014.
Let’s admit it: Russell Okung is a tad injury prone...and it’s a bummer. The dude has massive potential but just can’t seem to stay healthy for a full season.
When Okung was drafted, the old CBA was still in place. This is important because rookie contracts were much more heavily valued under the old CBA. In the new CBA, rookies got screwed (just to be blunt). As a result of Okung being drafted under these old financial parameters, he signed a six-year/$48.5M contract that averaged roughly $8,083,333 in average annual value. The deal had roughly $8.5M in full guarantees. That’s big money for a rookie. Nowadays, as you know, rookies get anything nowhere close to that.
The problem with these intense rookie contracts is that they set a high minimum value floor. Meaning, Okung is used to being paid big bucks. And he’ll surely want a raise – considering he is the best offensive lineman on the Seahawks and has chosen to forgo an agent and represent himself in free agency. To me, this is a very clear indicator that Okung values himself highly as a commodity – and he will go wherever he must to cash in on the largest contract, without an agent to advise him otherwise.
Now, some of you will say:
"We have to sign him, Evan. You think our O-line is bad now? Wait till he’s gone! We MUST extend him."
Now, I don’t completely disagree with you. Yes, Okung is the best offensive lineman on the Seahawks. Yes, Seattle's offensive line will be worse without Okung. But if the rest of the offensive linemen are not exactly all-stars (and that’s putting it nicely), is that even really saying anything? What I'm saying is that the Seahawks shouldn't cave to an unreasonably high price tag solely because he's the best blocker on the line.
First of all, signing Okung to a long-term/big money extension assumes that the Seahawks front office believes he will get better and staying healthier. Sure he has had some good games – but he hasn’t seemed to be able to sustain them. In 2012, Okung had an incredible year. Per Pro Football Focus, he ended with an overall 23.1 grade with a 17.7 grade in pass protection and a 9.2 in run blocking. 2013 was riddled with injuries for Okung – so we’ll give him a pass in that year. In 2014, Okung played 14 games and took a huge step backwards. He ended with an -8.3 overall grade with a 4.9 grade in pass protection and -8.5 in run blocking. Trent Williams, for comparison, finished 2014 with a 10.5 overall grade, 9.3 in pass protection, and 1.7 in run blocking.
Okung is good in pass protection but struggles against defenders who are aggressive with their hands. Since his injuries have occurred, he doesn’t look as strong in run blocking either.
Signing Okung to a big money extension with strong guarantees solely because he’s the best offensive lineman on the Seahawks would be a cap mistake, in my opinion.
As we discussed briefly earlier, Okung has chosen to forgo an agent and represent himself in free agency. Essentially – Okung believes he can do all the things an agent can and save himself a ton of cash. For multiple reasons, I believe this is not a wise decision. NFL agents have years of experience, know how to negotiate the highest salary for their clients, and provide an emotional buffer between a team and a player. Things can get personal very quickly if there isn’t an emotional buffer between a team and a player – and I wouldn’t be surprised if it did with Okung and the Seahawks.
But what do I know? If Okung pulls it off, all the power to him. It’s not my contract being negotiated.
Okung will value himself at a high price, likely a little below the Trent Williams range (they were in the same draft class together). Trent recently signed a 5-year/$66M dollar extension with the Redskins, averaging a little over $13M a year. Trent also received $30M in full guarantees from the Redskins. That’s at the top of the left tackle market.
I believe Okung will ask for something in the $11.5M-$12Mish range and maybe even higher. And I believe he’ll get it.... but not from the Seahawks. Assuming a cap limit of $154M for the Seahawks in 2016, the Hawks will have about $27M in cap space. And that’s with Marshawn Lynch on the books. Without Lynch, the Seahawks would have roughly $34M in cap space. The Seahawks could afford to extend Okung but it would limit their other options – and probably would come back to haunt them. Maybe it would be wiser to save that money for another more notable extension: maybe Irvin, or a Bennett or Kam restructure/extension.
At this point, I just don’t believe Okung is worth a big money extension, which he will undoubtedly ask for. He’ll ask for it, most likely won’t get it from the Seahawks, but will probably get it from another team. Seattle shouldn’t feel pressured by Okung’s future demands – because I doubt that they value his worth to a Trent-like-contract. Maybe the Seahawks could knock his number down and get him for significantly cheaper - but who knows. Then maybe he would be worth it.
However, the Seahawks shouldn’t extend a player by default just because he’s the best at his position group. Time to hit the film room, Tom Cable, John Schneider, and OL scouts. We're about to draft some OL talent with some high-level draft capital.