When asked about the teams priorities in the off-season, Pete Carroll admitted the O-line needed some attention:
“I think it’s still a work in progress. I don’t think we’ve nailed it yet. I think this needs to be a really competitive spot again, and we’re going to work really hard to build it up. For the course of the season, we weren’t consistent enough. We found a real good rhythm, but we can’t start and go through that again. We don’t want to have to experience that if we don’t have to, if we can avoid it.”
So how do you go about setting up a more consistent offensive line?
You could argue rookies (plural) aren’t going to guarantee consistency if you’re incorporating two or three. Improved competition is one thing — but how much competing can you really have if you’re also trying to teach techniques, scheme and the ways of a pro-offense?
Is the winner of this kind of competition merely the guy who picks things up the best? Or the quickest? A race to be less unreliable than the guy next to you?
First and second round talent — the ‘crème de la crème’ — might be up to the challenge. That wasn’t necessarily the case though when the Seahawks drafted James Carpenter at #25 in 2011 or Justin Britt at #64 in 2014.
Many of the top offensive tackles are going to be off the board by pick #26. One or two might last into range — but there’s no guarantee. Tony Pauline, who recently suggested Jack Conklin could fall into the final third of round one, has performed something of a u-turn today:
The Michigan State junior is expected to tip the scales around 315 pounds, about 10 pounds lighter than his playing weight last season, and should time the 40-yard dash in the 4.9-second range.
I’m told last spring that the Michigan State coaches timed Conklin at 4.85-seconds. Conklin is expected to interview well with teams and good testing marks could secure his place in the top half of the first round.
In 2013 three of the first four picks were offensive linemen. Teams are universally looking for options here. It wouldn’t be a shock if Tunsil, Decker, Spriggs, Conklin, Stanley and possibly Coleman are gone by #26. It’s perhaps increasingly likely given the lack of options after that sextuplet are drafted. It possibly leaves the Seahawks considering a move for Germain Ifedi or Le’Raven Clark if they feel they had to draft a tackle.
Can they risk waiting for the draft only to see one after another leave the board? Are they facing a double dilemma — the need for immediate consistency and limited options in round one?
They could draft for the interior O-line and there’s some nice options in the late first or early second. I’m not sure they’ll do that with some of the alternative interior prospects available in rounds 2-4.
It’s time to consider a scenario where the Seahawks don’t go O-line at #26.
There’s probably a reason they’ve relied on veteran free agent defensive linemen over the years. It’s a man’s game in the trenches. You know what you’re getting with a veteran. He’s been there before — he has a few war stories.
They’ve gone the other way on the O-line — seeking out younger, developmental projects with upside. That’s probably down to the complete dearth of talent on the O-line in the NFL. Trying to train your own is the way to go and in that regard the Seahawks are ahead of the curve. They’re unlikely to abandon that plan completely.
Yet maybe they need a stop-gap or two? Someone to come in and provide some solidity? Some consistency? Players to push the younger guys. To teach them a few tricks. To show them what it’s going to take to succeed.
After all, look at Seattle’s Super Bowl winning O-line: Okung, Carpenter, Unger, Sweezy, Giacomini. A veteran line with Sweezy in his second year.
They weren’t perfect — but they didn’t hold the team back either.
There isn’t a bottomless pit of money and Carroll has stated his desire to re-sign as many of their existing free agents as possible. Even so, with some of the UFA’s the situation will be taken out of their hands.
Bruce Irvin is going to get at least a couple of big offers — and there’s nothing they can do about that. C’est la vie. J.R. Sweezy has been linked to a heated market. Jermaine Kearse maybe turned up in enough prime-time games to get a team to bite on his playmaking quality. Jeremy Lane is a talented, versatile corner and they get paid in the NFL. It could go either way with Russell Okung.
If they keep only three of their seven free agents expected to earn an average salary greater than $2m a year — they might be left with enough room to bring in a couple of savvy veteran O-liners. It might not be the big names — Osemele, Boone, Mack — but players who can fill in and allow the Seahawks to keep working with their young talent.
Maybe they can land a big fish somehow? We saw what a lukewarm market did for Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in 2013. A name player on a prove-it deal could work nicely for the Seahawks — allowing them to get a year or two of quality play while developing the replacements. Signing Avril and Bennett seemed unlikely in 2013 — so let’s not rule anything out.
Such a scenario would also free them up to look at different positions early in the draft. They can look for that next SPARQ superstar with production.
It opens the door for a D-liner, linebacker and running back in rounds 1-3 in any order. Whatever suits. And the depth in the middle rounds for interior offensive linemen could allow them to add to the competition in 2016 and for the future — although they would probably need to hit on one good O-line pick between rounds 2-7. A provisional starter.
You can imagine whatever scenario you like. Add a tackle (or re-sign Okung) and a veteran guard but still draft a center (Martin, Glasgow, Kelly, Whitehair, Westerman etc). Add a tackle (or re-sign Okung) and a veteran center and look at the guards (Tretola, Glasgow, Dahl etc). Or build the interior in free agency and draft someone on day two or three who can handle a speed rush off the edge (Fahn Cooper?).
There are plenty of options. If they can add a couple of veterans — or sign one and retain Okung — it’s arguably the best way to provide immediate consistency in 2016.
They wouldn’t be ignoring the O-line in the draft completely. They’d still be bringing in one, two or even three players with a view to starting one and developing the others.
The Seahawks probably aren’t going to be able to suddenly create an elite offensive line in one off-season. They might replace the entire starting line from 2015 if Garry Gilliam switches to left tackle. This is going to take time and development — at a time when they need to get this sorted now because they’re in a Championship window.
Again, it all depends on the free agent market. Don’t ask me to name any possible targets because I can’t help you there. Who expected Stefen Wisniewski to be without a team until mid-April last year? Ditto Evan Mathis until late August. The Seahawks are likely to be looking at the second and third wave of free agency — or even beyond. Wisniewski and Mathis are examples of the type of value you can find. Mathis’ cap hit in 2015 was $2.9m, Wisniewski’s $2.5m.
If they’re able to bring in a couple of vets that could mean going in a different direction at #26. It’ll bring a linebacker like Deion Jones into play, a Derrick Henry, one of the dynamic receivers (Coleman or Fuller) or one of the long list of defensive tackles in this class.