Another shabby performance has put the focus right back on Seattle’s offensive line — a reminder that no matter how well it played during the five-game winning streak, it is still a very subpar unit that will need to be upgraded next offseason.
The Seahawks have eschewed using high picks on the line ever since 2011 selections James Carpenter (first round) and John Moffitt (third) did not work out; so, instead of Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro, guard Joel Bitonio and right tackle Terron Armstead, they have J.R. Sweezy, Justin Britt and Garry Gilliam.
The line has gotten worse every year since Russell Wilson became quarterback in 2012. It has been terrible at the end of the past two seasons, stuck using rookies and undrafted players to fill in for injured or underperforming high draft picks. And the unit just played one of its worst games of this season, albeit without Russell Okung, causing everyone to hope that was an aberration as the playoffs approach.
However the season ends up, the Seahawks have to upgrade the unit in the offseason, if possible, and try to build some stability in front of Wilson for 2016 and beyond.
They need to determine (1) what to do at left tackle, (2) whether to keep Sweezy, (3) whether to add a veteran center to replace Patrick Lewis and (4) what they are going to do in the draft.
(1) They have to resolve LT. Okung, who is nary more than above average, is still likely to command at least $9 million per year (especially after he was named a Pro Bowl alternate). Franchising him would cost around $13 million, so the Hawks won’t do that. And they almost certainly won’t pay him $10 million a year either.
The better move probably would be to try to trade for Cleveland’s perennial Pro Bowl left tackle, Joe Thomas. He is still playing at a high level at age 31, is due just $8.3 million in 2016 and is signed through 2018.
The Browns talked with Denver about a trade in November, and they reportedly were willing to accept a first-round pick and a second for Thomas and a fourth. If the Browns were still interested, Seattle probably could get him. The Hawks then wouldn’t have to worry about pushing a young player into that spot too soon; they could draft and develop behind Thomas over the next three years.
Thomas would be cheaper than Okung, who also likely would bring a comp pick in 2017.
(2) Sweezy probably will command more on the open market than he is worth, and the Seahawks have a ready replacement in rookie Mark Glowinski. If they let Sweezy go, they could earn a comp pick for him in 2017 as well. They also could try to keep Sweezy at around $4 million per year — and still afford an $8 million left tackle (Thomas or, if he would take it, Okung). But that seems unlikely.
(3) The Hawks learned this year what they already should have known: Experience counts at center. Next offseason, they have three apparent options: Stay with a hopefully ascending Lewis, try to pay big for Alex Mack if he opts out of his Cleveland deal or try to sign Stefen Wisniewski again.
Lewis would be the cheapest choice, and they probably would stay with him if they made two other moves on the line (re-signing Sweezy plus Okung or Thomas). If the Hawks don’t pay big money to a left tackle, they could try to lure Mack, who also will command more than $8 million a year.
If they do pay a tackle and Sweezy is out of the price range, the Hawks could try to use the Sweezy money for Wisniewski. They talked with Wisniewski in late March, but he apparently wanted more than the Seahawks were offering; he ended up signing with Jacksonville for one year and $2 million and seemingly has played his way into a better deal. Would the Seahawks up their offer to upgrade at center? Or are they confident in Lewis’ development?
(4) The Seahawks surely will look into cheaper veterans to bolster their inexperienced line, and then they will add at least two in the draft. In his recent mock draft, Rob Staton of Seahawks Draft Blog has the Hawks taking a tackle in the third round. Others have them taking one in the first. And you know they will end up with one or two projects in the sixth or seventh, per usual.
Whatever they do, the Seahawks cannot get caught with their big-boy pants down anymore. They have to buckle up and create some stability in front of Wilson.