Your leading rusher has 469 yards and was cut weeks ago.
You own the 22nd best running game in the NFL.
That is not Seahawks football.
This team is built on connections. The offense runs the ball and sets the tone, that in turns creates openings for explosive plays in the passing game. Dictating to the opponent on offense helps the defense play in ‘their style’, without needing to be overly exotic or creative week-to-week. If you can rush with four, it helps the coverage unit for obvious reasons. Everything is connected.
This year, one factor is completely absent and it’s probably why we’ve seen so many inconsistent aspects of the team overall.
They can’t run the ball.
In some cases, they refuse to.
First and foremost, this situation has to be addressed in the off-season. It’s the priority. Everything else can wait. The 2017 Seattle Seahawks have to be a better running team. Pure and simple.
When faced with such a glaring need in the past, they’ve been aggressive.
So what are some of the options?
Surely the O-line needs major work?
Yes, based on what we’ve seen in 2016. Yet here’s the conundrum facing the Seahawks. They clearly wanted to build a line that could grow together. For years they’ve faced annual changes — and consistency is so important for this unit.
Finally they had a young, athletic, big, explosive group. It’s also a cost-effective group. Ideally they would spend the next 3-4 years playing together, developing, improving. For now all they had to be was competent and not hurt the team.
Sadly, that’s not happened.
If anything they’re getting worse week by week. So what do you do? Show faith that they’ll come good over time, as per the original plan? Make a few extra additions in the draft and punt for competition being the key? Or do you see a rapidly closing Championship window and go bold, tear up the plan to develop your own players and try and find a quick fix?
There isn’t really an ideal solution.
Who is a keeper and who could be replaced?
Justin Britt has played well enough to keep his place at center but the other four spots could be up for grabs. George Fant has shown some potential given his incredible lack of football experience. Yet there’s nothing to suggest we’re seeing the early signs of a blossoming NFL career. Can you rely on Fant for the future? It’s hard to say you can.
Mark Glowinski hasn’t been great despite his redshirt season in 2015. Germain Ifedi has not shown signs of progression either. And the right tackle spot has to be addressed.
So who is young and just needs time and who isn’t good enough?
Good luck working that one out — because they probably aren’t going to be able to replace four players.
Invest in free agency
According to Spotrac, the Seahawks have an estimated $40m in free cap space for 2017. Assuming Michael Bennett and Kam Chancellor receive contract extensions, they probably won’t be able to spend all of that. But they’ll have enough for at least one, if not two, crucial acquisitions.
Give us some free agent names to monitor
Chance Warmack (G, Tennessee)
If you want to know how likely Warmack is to leave Tennessee, here’s an exert from a Q&A on the Titans official website. A fan asks Jim Wyatt about draft needs, asserting, “The O-line will need a Guard when they release Chance Warmack“. Wyatt’s response is merely to note, “As for Chance, his contract us up.”
Warmack and Jonathan Cooper were unique prospects in 2013. It’s not often you see pure college guards going in the top-10. Brandon Scherff, who ended up at guard for Washington as a top-five pick, played tackle at Iowa.
Few players have looked more of a sure thing than Warmack — a dominant force of nature at Alabama. His combination of size (6-2, 317lbs) and length (35 inch arms), matched up with his physical ability made for a very intriguing prospect. Mike Mayock considered him the best player in the 2013 draft. Todd McShay compared him to Steve Hutchinson.
He didn’t do many workouts at the combine but did manage a 9-2 in the broad jump.
Strangely, his NFL career has been quite middling.
It might be that he just isn’t all that good. In college his physical talent overwhelmed opponents but in the NFL, against the best of the best, he doesn’t stand out.
That said, whether it’s in Tennessee or somewhere else, someone is going to give him a second chance to deliver on his potential. And he might not be quite as expensive as the next man on the list.
Kevin Zeitler (G, Cincinnati)
The Bengals are notorious non-spenders in free agency. They pick and choose who they pay — so while Andy Dalton, Geno Atkins and A.J. Green have remained in Cincinnati, others have surprisingly moved on.
Whether they feel like a major investment is worthwhile at the guard spot remains to be seen. They’re a hard team to read. They’ll have approximately $8m more than Seattle’s estimated $40m to spend in 2017 so money isn’t an issue. Their unwillingness to splash it around might be.
Zeitler is a former college team mate of Russell Wilson. This insightful recent piece by MMQB.com spoke to all of the former Wisconsin lineman during Wilson’s season with the Badgers. Here’s Zeitler’s impression of Seattle’s QB:
“I think he could be president of the United States if he wanted to be. That goes back to how he handled himself, his presence.”
Wilson could be an X-factor in recruiting Zeitler if he reaches free agency (and the Seahawks wanted to make a move like this).
How good is he? One of the best in the NFL at his position. This breakdown of his performance vs Pittsburgh is worth a read if you want to find out more.
This would be a powerplay move. Seattle’s biggest free agent acquisition since 2011 in terms of finances. Here are the top five highest paid guards in the NFL according to average salary:
Kelechi Osemele: $11.7m
David DeCastro: $10m
Kyle Long: $10m
Brandon Brooks: $8m
Mike Iupati: $8m
Osemele and Brooks were both free agents in 2016 and joined new teams. So you’re looking at a contract that fits somewhere between the two ($8-12m). Zeitler should be able to generate a deal worth $10m a year.
If the Seahawks signed him on that type of contract, only Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas would be earning more (unless Michael Bennett and/or Kam Chancellor top the $10m mark if/when they get new deals).
They can afford it, with nearly $40m to spend. But would they be willing to spend that much on a guard from another club?
On the one hand, Zeitler only turns 27 in March so he’s hitting his peak. The Seahawks paying for a player entering his prime isn’t unrealistic. He doesn’t, however, have a particularly stunning physical profile. His arm length is 32 3/4 inches (short). He didn’t top a 9-0 in the broad (8-5) or a 30 inch vertical (29 inches) at the combine. So is he just a gritty, talented player capable of playing for years — or will he hit a wall sooner than other players? I haven’t studied him enough to know the answer to that.
He will be the best O-liner on the market if he reaches free agency. The Seahawks, perhaps feeling like they need an injection of experienced talent there, could be aggressive. It could also create a scenario where they move Germain Ifedi to right tackle, possibly filling another need on the outside.
Ronald Leary (G, Dallas)
The Cowboys clearly wanted to push La’el Collins into a starting role, yet injuries put paid to that plan. Leary has filled in again on a restricted free agent contract and delivered.
The question is, how talented is Leary? Does he do a good job next to three first round picks, three of the best in the league (Smith, Martin and Frederick)? Or is he just as important to Dallas’ success up front?
It’s highly unlikely he remains with the Cowboys in 2017. In a mailbag session on the Cowboys official website, the subject was discussed. A fan suggested they should re-sign Leary. Here are the two responses:
Bryan: I agree with you about Ronald Leary and the way that he has played. I also agree with you about signing Zack Martin long-term, but I don’t see that with Leary — especially with La’el Collins waiting. They had a chance to re-sign Leary in the offseason to a deal and they didn’t do it — that tells me all that I needed to know about that situation. They are going to ride this out with Leary and work with Collins next season.
David: These are the limitations of the salary cap era. The Cowboys are likely going to be paying top dollar to Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. Can they really afford to give another big-money contract to Ron Leary? I doubt it. Not with La’el Collins as a younger and cheaper option. Leary has been drastically underpaid since 2014, and he’s going to want to maximize his value this spring. I don’t blame him one bit, and I don’t think the Cowboys do either.
Leary was an undrafted free agent out of Memphis in 2012. The reason he wasn’t picked? It was discovered he had a degenerative left knee condition called osteochondritis dissecans. It could shorten his career — and for that reason he might not cash in during free agency. He might end up signing a shorter, more modest contract than Zeitler or Warmack.
He’s 6-3 and 320lbs and turns 28 at the end of April. Alex Boone, a free agent this year at the age of 29, signed a contract worth $6.7m a year on average with the Vikings. That could be the kind of range Leary is looking at as a free agent. J.R. Sweezy’s contract is worth $6.5m a year.
There’s more of a mystery to Leary (can he excel without the rest of Dallas’ O-line, how healthy is the knee?) so that could impact his value. Teams will look to mimic the Cowboys O-line given their record this year — so Leary could be in demand.
What about lower down the market?
The Seahawks have identified fits in the past, with mixed results. Breno Giacomini wasn’t a big name when he moved to Seattle but since he departed, it’s been a game of musical chairs at the position. Paul McQuistan was a reliable figure at guard or tackle. Yet the additions this year — Bradley Sowell and J’Marcus Webb — have not performed as well.
It stands to reason they might go shopping for a bargain veteran or two to add to the competition.
What about offensive tackles?
It’s hard to get excited about the free agent options. Matt Kalil has been a flop in Minnesota — but Pete Carroll recruited him and knows his game well. Detroit drafted Taylor Decker because they weren’t satisfied with Riley Reiff’s play at left tackle. Andrew Whitworth is playing well but he’s 35.
Sebastien Vollmer, it has been suggested, might retire at the end of the season. Menelik Watson could be an option as could another former team mate of Russell Wilson’s at Wisconsin — Baltimore’s Ricky Wagner. Watson and Wagner are both, however, the type of solid but unspectaular player you appreciate on a rookie contract. Are you willing to pay either millions as a free agent?
What about the draft?
The problem with relying on the draft is you’re just adding more inexperience to the line. And because the Seahawks can pick no lower than 21st overall, there’s a strong chance they won’t be able to pick a really talented player anyway.
Garett Bolles is the best bet. A player who will be 25 in May, has a supreme physical skill set and looks exceptional on tape. His nasty demeanour, talent, athleticism and attitude would be an ideal early pick for this team.
I suspect, unfortunately, he’ll end up going in the top-20 if he declares. A team like Denver, having missed out on the playoffs, would be a good landing spot for Bolles. He could end up rising into the top-10.
Ryan Ramcyzk is being highly touted by many and could also go early.
The options beyond round one are not unfavourable. At guard you’ve got Dorian Johnson, Dan Feeney, Forrest Lamp and Damien Mama. At tackle you’ve got Adam Bisnowaty, Chad Wheeler, Dion Dawkins and Taylor Moton — four players who could all kick inside too. I’m yet to watch Troy’s Antonio Garcia or Mississippi State’s Martinas Rankin — two players highly rated by Tony Pauline’s sources.
What might be the ideal situation?
A combination of draft and free agency.
Maybe you go for experience and try and make a couple of splashes? There is something appealing, I suppose, about the idea of two of Russell Wilson’s college linemen rejoining him in Seattle (Zeitler and Wagner). If you can follow that up by drafting someone like Garett Bolles — the line would be getting two proven veterans and college football’s best offensive tackle. It just seems increasingly unlikely that Bolles will be available for Seattle.
If they believe in Fant or if Bolles isn’t there, it could be a case of adding some competition in the third round range (Wheeler? Bisnowaty?). That would enable them to look at other positions in round one — such as D-line or…
What about running back?
This is a difficult one — and a topic that will divide opinion between fans. In the last 12 months both Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise have been dynamic, exciting… and injured. You don’t want to give up on either or write them off. Yet you equally want more from the position.
The Seahawks offense has never had a dominant O-line during the Russell Wilson era. They have had a dominant running game though. We all knew life after Marshawn Lynch would be difficult. It still feels like they’re trying to work out the plan moving forward.
Unfortunately they might never be able to rely on Rawls and Prosise to carry the load. You might need to limit their snaps, manage their workloads and keep them healthy. They can still have a vital role on the offense — but do they need a bell cow runner in 2017?
Finding a great running back isn’t easy. There aren’t many in the league — and it’s quite an unpredictable position overall. For every Zeke Elliott there’s a Trent Richardson. Yet the top five backs in 2016 were all taken between rounds 1-3:
Ezekiel Elliott — round one
Le’Veon Bell — round two
DeMarco Murray — round three
LeSean McCoy — round two
David Johnson — round three
Melvin Gordon was on pace to be among this group too before his injury — he was also a first round pick.
Plus Marshawn Lynch, the man they’ve had to replace, is a former #12 overall pick. And let’s not forget Adrian Peterson either, a #7 overall pick back in the day.
The Seahawks probably need to keep adding talent until they find a guy they can lean on. And that means considering another pick in the first three rounds at this position.
And the options are…?
Several backs aren’t turning pro, including Royce Freeman, Elijah Hood and Nick Chubb. It’s cut the depth overall and could bump other players up a round.
Clearly the top two are Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook. I can imagine the Seahawks liking both. Fournette for his unreal combination of physicality, size, athleticism and attitude. He’s pretty much the ideal back for this situation in Seattle. Cook is more of a Jamaal Charles type but he’s an explosive playmaker.
Both will probably be out of reach. Yet if the Seahawks want to be bold and aggressive, who knows? Certainly if they end up picking 21st or 22nd it’d be easier to pull off an Atlanta/Julio Jones type move compared to picking between #29-32.
D’Onta Foreman could go in round one or he could go in round three. I’m still undecided on how good he is. Foreman’s ability to run away from defenders or bounce runs outside and explode is impressive for his size. His combine performance will be fascinating. Yet he doesn’t necessarily make the most of his size either. He’s not a monster like Fournette.
Christian McCaffrey is a wonderful player to watch. An exciting playmaker. But is he the type of back Seattle needs right now?
Samaje Perine is a good athlete for his size. He’s better than D’Onta Foreman running up the middle but Foreman is better at turning the corner and bouncing outside. Perine’s awful with the media, he’s constantly in a bad mood. Some people will like that. He could be an option in rounds two or three.
Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols and BYU’s Jamaal Williams could be two names to watch. There are others too — but these are the players perhaps most likely to go in the first three rounds.
Let’s also include free agency and trades in this situation. They might regret not doing more than dipping their toe in the water for DeMarco Murray last year.
Le’Veon Bell will likely stay in Pittsburgh one way or another — possibly on the franchise tag. Yet at the moment he is set to be a free agent and would interest a ton of teams.
Eddie Lacy has health and weight issues — but he too will be a free agent.
Will New Orleans consider dealing Mark Ingram? Or Carolina Jonathan Stewart?
There aren’t many appealing big names likely to be on the trade block, unlike last year with Murray. And unless Bell somehow reaches the market — all signs point to the draft for the Seahawks.
How important is this?
This a team that puts such a focus on the run game being integral to their identity. It is more important to them than it is to a lot of other teams. Settling just isn’t an option, especially with the meagre production in 2016.
Whatever happens during the rest of this season — this feels like an area they will focus on hard during the off-season. O-line, running back. They cannot have a repeat of this year.