J’Marcus Webb is the latest addition to Seattle’s O-line
What constitutes a good offensive line?
According to Football Outsiders, the Rams had the best pass-protecting line in the NFL in 2015. The Baltimore Ravens ranked at #2 followed by the Jets, Raiders and Cardinals.
The Rams started Greg Robinson, Roger Saffold, Tim Barnes, Jamon Brown and Rob Havenstein. They started rookies at right guard and right tackle and used an undrafted center.
In comparison, Dallas’ much vaunted O-line (including three first round picks) ranked #19 for pass pro.
Nobody was talking up Havenstein’s pass-pro in college before he was taken in round two. The Rams started a converted tackle (Saffold) at left guard and used an athletic left tackle.
Sound familiar? Jeff Fisher’s approach isn’t too dissimilar to Seattle’s.
The top five run blocking lines were Cincinnati, New England, Arizona, Seattle and Kansas City in that order. So the Seahawks managed to do something right — and their priority is to run the ball productively.
Put it down to Russell Wilson’s scrambling if you want — but Thomas Rawls still averaged 5.6 YPC in a fantastic rookie campaign.
The key for the Seahawks is to improve from #30 for pass protection. Even rising into the early 20’s would provide a platform for a much better performance in 2016.
Has this been a long term problem?
Seahawks fans have had a love/hate relationship with the offensive line since the days of Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson. Perhaps spoilt by the Hall-of-fame duo, there’s been a lot of fist-clenching during the Pete Carroll era despite fielding an explosive offense overall.
Seattle’s line wasn’t given much credit for being serviceable in 2013 and 2014. It still enabled the offense to function as desired — run the ball emphatically and make big plays in the passing game.
That was more or less the case in the second half of 2015 too.
Why did they struggle at the start of the season?
There was almost no competition in camp. J.R. Sweezy was never going to be pushed by Mark Glowinski and Kristjan Sokoli was one for the future.
Alvin Bailey was underwhelming but so was day three pick Terry Poole. That led to Justin Britt being moved to almost an unchallenged spot at guard — with Garry Gilliam handed an unchallenged route to start at right tackle.
With so little at stake — the Seahawks pretty much cobbled together whatever they could and trusted the out-of-his-depth Drew Nowak to improve (he never did and lost his job).
What do they need to do now?
Getting back to a 2013-14 level of play is good enough to sustain a deep playoff run. There was nothing particularly spectacular about Okung-Carpenter-Unger-Sweezy-Giacomini. It just worked.
The Seahawks can create the right formula again — even without any major additions in free agency. It’s going to take better talent and better competition.
They’re already getting there.
J’Marcus Webb signed with the Seahawks today, joining Bradley Sowell as a new addition to the O-line. Webb has tackle experienced and mauling size — just what they prefer at left guard. He could compete with Justin Britt in 2016.
Webb started 16 games in 2015 for a Raiders O-line ranked #4 for pass protection. He’s being paid $6.25m on a two-year deal. That looks like starter money.
They’re also still competing to sign Ted Larsen with the 49ers. He’d provide depth at center. The draft will provide options too.
This is something the Seahawks simply didn’t have a year ago — competition. Let’s not underestimate how crucial that will be as they go about trying to find the right chemistry up front.
Big name free agents aren’t a solution
These are the notable free agent offensive linemen to sign deals so far:
Alex Mack — Atlanta — 5-years, $47.5m
Alex Boone — Minnesota — 4-years, $26.8m
Jeff Allen — Houston — 4-years, $28m
Brandon Brooks — Philadelphia — 5-years, $40m
Kelechi Osemele — Oakland — 5-years, $60mm
Mitchell Schwartz — Kansas City — 5-years, $33m
The Seahawks, financially, were never likely to compete for the likes of Mack, Brooks and Osemele.
Had they signed Boone, Allen or Schwartz — they’d have landed a decent, albeit relatively expensive, guard or right tackle.
Is anyone seriously disappointed to miss out on that trio?
There are still veteran options available
Here are some of the players who remain unsigned:
Some of these players have generated minimal interest so far. The longer they remain available, the better value they’ll provide. If they want to consider adding a veteran later in the process — as they did with Wisniewski and Mathis a year ago — they’ll have that opportunity.
It’s a good draft for the O-line
The Seahawks are likely to spend at least two draft picks on the line — including a strong possibility they spend the #26 pick on a tackle and a second or third round pick on an interior lineman.
There are several offensive tackles with first round grades — and plenty of options inside too:
Tackles — Tunsil, Stanley, Conklin, Decker, Ifedi, Spriggs, Coleman, Clarke
Interior — Kelly, Martin, Whitehair, Westerman, McGovern, Glasgow, Garnett, Dahl
While Tunsil, Stanley and Conklin are unlikely to reach the #26 pick — they should be able to draft one of Decker, Ifedi, Spriggs or Coleman. Clarke is a wildcard. All of the options here are well suited to playing right tackle — or even kicking inside to left guard if they sign a veteran OT.
The interior line is loaded for rounds 2-3. Connor McGovern looks like he’s destined for the Seahawks — while Westerman, McGovern, Martin, Garnett, Glasgow, Dahl and a handful of others could come in and start quickly.
All of this group will need a heavy dose of training and coaching in the off-season — but none appear to be as raw as Nowak or Gilliam pre-2015.
Is it vital to sign a veteran offensive tackle?
It isn’t. The benefit would be some extra flexibility in the first round of the draft. But there’s no sure-fire solution on the open market.
Russell Okung hasn’t played a full 16-game season in his career and appears close to departing. Kelvin Beachum didn’t visit the Seahawks, is coming off an ACL injury and appeared to be a non-starter (he’s agreed a deal with the Jags). Donald Penn is 33 in April and strictly a band-aid.
One of these three might provide some short-term relief. They’ll likely still need to be replaced down the line and you’re starting over again.
What are the benefits of not adding a FA tackle?
Getting younger isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s arguably time for an O-line to grow together, providing genuine consistency for more than a year or two.
Garry Gilliam is 25, under team control at a cheap price until the end of 2017 and has the ideal physique, athleticism and skill set for a modern NFL tackle. So far, he’s also stayed healthy as a starter.
Combining him with another high-ceiling, younger tackle with an ideal physical skill-set (eg Germain Ifedi) could give Seattle the most athletic tackle tandem in the league.
Instead of seeing the relative inexperience of a line including Gilliam, Ifedi, Glowinski and another rookie as a negative — that could be four fifth’s of your line playing together for at least 3-4 years.
That’s cohesion. That’s consistency.
Experience is important. So is talent, grit, athleticism, power and length. The Seahawks have a shot to field the most athletic line in the league. That’s not such a bad thing especially if you want to improve the pass protection.
Could they make a trade?
Never rule anything out with this front office.
The NFL is full of bad offensive lines — and Seattle’s was particularly bad at the start of the 2015 season. Matching up physically and athletically is as important as ever against increasingly difficult pro-defenses.
The Seahawks still have options to add to their line. They have time on their side in free agency and the draft.
They might not be making the big splash (yet) that people expected or wanted — but that’s not necessarily what it’ll take to improve this area of need.
If the Rams can rank #1 for pass protection with a line of Robinson-Saffold-Barnes-Brown-Havenstein — the Seahawks can find a way to upgrade their unit. Even if it’s not quite the way some fans would expect.