With decisions to make, Hawks need to create a more dependable O-line

The Seahawks' line
Russell Okung (76), James Carpenter and the rest of the Seahawks’ line sit on the bench during their win over the 49ers on Sunday (Seahawks.com)

Rookie right tackle Justin Britt’s
struggles have opened up the
debate about whether the
Seahawks should consider
replacing him next year, but the bigger question is whether the Seahawks should replace the left side of their line — Russell Okung and James Carpenter — over the next two years.

The Hawks are unlikely to give up on Britt so soon, but they definitely will have decisions to make along the line in the next couple of years, especially with three starters up for free agency — not that we can tell a starter from a backup anyway, considering injuries continually knock out Okung, Carpenter and center Max Unger.

Offensive line has long been Seattle’s weakest link — and that predates John Schneider, Pete Carroll and Tom Cable. The last time the Hawks started the same five all season was 2007, and they have averaged seven combinations a year in five seasons under this regime. They really need to find some consistency so the offense can progress.

With 11 picks expected next year, it is a good time for the Seahawks to start investing more draft capital into the offensive line. They have drafted eight linemen in five years, and most of them have not worked out very well. Even though their starting unit is entirely homegrown, the five are rarely on the field together.

O-line projectionsOkung, the No. 6 pick in 2010, has had one Pro Bowl season and is likely to miss his 21st game this week. He has missed 25.6 percent of Seattle’s games since he was drafted.

It’s even odds that the Hawks will draft a left tackle next year to potentially replace Okung in 2016. Unless they can keep the oft-injured former first-rounder for no more than $7 million a year — unlikely — they should shop him in trade next offseason. If they can get at least a second-round pick for him, they should do it. Otherwise, they can let him play out his contract so they can pull a compensatory pick for him in 2017.

Carpenter, a reach as the No. 25 pick in 2011, has never lived up to his faulty draft status. Injuries and an ill-conceived attempt to make him a right tackle have hindered his development as a left guard. He has missed 19 games during his four-year career, including three this season.

Carpenter is a free agent after this season, and it would be a shock if the Hawks offered him more than $2 million a year on a short contract (he’s making $1.4 million this year). It would be much less surprising if they invested one of their projected 11 draft picks next year in a possible replacement.

The Hawks also will have to make a decision on right guard J.R. Sweezy after next season. They drafted him in the seventh round in 2012 and converted him from defense, and he has been dependable, missing only one game the past two seasons as he learns the position.

The top 10 guards make at least $4 million. Sweezy is not a top-10 guard right now, but the Hawks are pleased with his progress and he could become one. If he does, will the Hawks be willing to pay him?

The Hawks have whiffed on their four other O-line picks.

John Moffitt, a third-round pick in 2011, flamed out of the NFL last year and goes down as one of Schneider’s worst draft selections.

Last year, they wanted a lineman in the second round, but all of the good ones were gone. So they waited until the end and picked Ryan Seymour and Michael Bowie in the seventh round. Seymour didn’t make the team, but Bowie ended up starting eight games. They both are now with the Cleveland Browns.

The Hawks also made an unsuspecting error when they drafted Garrett Scott in the sixth round this year — they later discovered he had a heart condition.

To make up for some of those draft misses, the Hawks have ended up with undrafted rookies Alvin Bailey and Garry Gilliam the past two years.

They have other young linemen who may develop, too — Stephen Schilling, Patrick Lewis, Nate Isles — but the team surely will try to improve the talent level on the unit next offseason.

A few possibilities in the 2015 draft: Baylor All-American left tackle Spencer Drango, Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley, South Carolina left guard A.J. Cann and Florida State left guard Josue Matias.

In discussing Britt, Rob Staton of Seahawks Draft Blog outlined some other moves they could consider.

As much as Britt has struggled as a rookie, it is entirely possible that he will be the only lineman from this year’s top seven who is with the team in 2017. On top of that, it is quite possible that none of the 2018 O-linemen are even with the franchise right now.

The Seahawks have muddled along with this group for the past three years, but it’s time to come up with a better plan for the next three.

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