It’s not for a lack of trying. Since 2009, the Hawks have drafted two linemen in the first round and two in the second.
But that group has just not stayed healthy or developed as a unit — so it’s no surprise at all that the Hawks let two so-called starters go Tuesday.
Center Max Unger missed 13 games over the past two seasons, and left guard James Carpenter never played a full season in four years as a Seahawk. The Hawks were no longer interested in paying Unger, preferring to bring in Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham instead, and they were not going to keep Carpenter for $5 million a year either.
Some people are wringing their hands over the loss of two nominal starters, but the fact is they were more like part-time starters, the Hawks did well enough without them and it’s time to bring in some new blood.
Yes, the line performed much better with Unger at center last season — but he missed 10 games and the Hawks still led the NFL in rushing. It was the third season in the past five that he had significant injury issues. As good as he is when on the field, the Hawks obviously decided they didn’t really need him.
With Unger and Carpenter gone, the line currently looks like this: LT Russell Okung, LG Alvin Bailey, C Patrick Lewis, RG J.R. Sweezy, RT Justin Britt.
Lewis started four games at center last season. In the first game, vs. Arizona, Seattle gave up seven sacks. But Tom Cable liked what he saw from Lewis; and, when they faced the Cardinals at the end of the season, Lewis started over Lemuel Jeanpierre and the Hawks ran for 267 yards and gave up just one sack.
“Patrick Lewis stepped in and did a nice job for us last year,” general manager John Schneider told NFL Network.
The Hawks undoubtedly will improve the competition on that unit. They have been developing some young linemen — C.J. Davis, Garry Gilliam, Nate Isles, et al. — and they obviously will be on the hunt for some more.
Schneider said the team has many options for replacing Unger, including players on the roster, cap cuts from other teams and the draft. “There are a lot of ways we can address it,” he said.
They could re-sign Lemuel Jeanpierre and/or Stephen Schilling. They reportedly are bringing in former Miami guard Shelley Smith for a visit, and they could check into veteran centers Scott Wells, J.D. Walton or Chris Myers. Like Smith, all of them were recent cuts.
There are options in the draft, too: The Hawks reportedly were checking out Kansas State center B.J. Finney at his Pro Day on Tuesday, and Oregon’s Jake Fisher is one of several flexible linemen who could fit with the Hawks.
The moves they make this offseason also must set up the unit for the future. Britt is the only sure thing beyond this season. Sweezy and Okung are both scheduled to be free agents. Sweezy seems likely to get an extension; but Okung, who has missed 10 games the past two years, is in the same situation as Unger.
We actually have suggested that the Hawks trade Okung, but the Hawks dealt Unger instead. Perhaps that is a sign that the Hawks plan to keep Okung.
But, if he continues to be a part-time starter, as Unger and Carpenter were, it is easy to see the Hawks moving on from him, too.