As the Seahawks plot to rebuild their offensive line this offseason, they appear to face a steep and slippery uphill climb — one where it could be easy to backslide and end up right back where they started.
If the Hawks were forced to play a game today, they could barely field a line with the guys they have under contract. Garry Gilliam likely would move to left tackle, Drew Nowak would return to center, Justin Britt would move back to right tackle, Mark Glowinski would step in at right guard (J.R. Sweezy reportedly is expected to have a hot market in free agency) and Kristjan Sokoli probably would be the de facto left guard.
What an underwhelming, overmatched line that would be, eh?
The offensive line is the one spot where the Seahawks simply have not “competed” well in personnel. In six years, John Schneider has signed just eight free agents — and none have lasted more than a year. He also has drafted just four linemen in the first three rounds — and Britt (a major reach in the second round) is the only one from the past four drafts.
Will Schneider change that this year to get the Seahawks back atop the NFC? Will he be willing to spend resources — money and draft picks — to fix it?
To avoid moving Gilliam to left tackle, the Seahawks appear to have three options:
(1) They could strike a one-year deal with an injury-prone tackle such as their own Russell Okung or recent injury/cap cuts Will Beatty or Jermon Bushrod (assuming they are healthy) or a future cut such as Ryan Clady or Eugene Monroe. Of course, none of those are guarantees — either to sign or to make it through the season.
(2) They could go with a draft pick who might not be suited or prepared to play NFL left tackle, such as Michigan State’s Jack Conklin, Ohio State’s Taylor Decker or Auburn’s Shon Coleman.
(3) They could bid for an expensive free agent, perhaps Baltimore’s versatile Kelechi Osemele.
There is rarely any reason to overpay a guard (unless he is someone like Steve Hutchinson, but let’s not revisit that Seattle mistake), but what if the guard can also play left tackle, a la Osemele? That’s the kind of flexibility that would be worth pursuing.
The four-year veteran is best suited at left guard, but he also can play either tackle spot (four starts at left tackle last season). The Seahawks would give themselves great leeway — on the left side of the line and in the draft — if they were willing to offer Osemele upwards of $9 million a year (they could include escalators that push it to $10 million if he ends up playing left tackle).
If the Seahawks were daring enough to compete for Osemele, they would have a great left guard who could easily slide to left tackle. If they were able to sign a stopgap left tackle on a one-year deal, Osemele could replace Justin Britt at left guard. Or they could move Gilliam to left tackle if they thought he could handle it. Otherwise, Osemele would play left tackle and Britt would compete with someone else at guard.
At center, the Seahawks have to do better than Nowak and Patrick Lewis. A veteran would be the best option. Stefen Wisniewski seems the most plausible (he talked with Seattle last year before inking a one-year deal with Jacksonville) — unless Alex Mack voids his deal with Cleveland and wants to play with a winner.
If the Seahawks can’t get a veteran, though, they will have to re-sign Lewis and rely on the draft to bring competition. There are several center options, although it’s never wise to rely on a rookie to start in the pivot. If they ended up with Alabama’s Ryan Kelly or Notre Dame’s Nick Martin, they could let him compete with Britt at left guard and then allow him to challenge at center next year.
However Schneider does it, his goal should be to add at least three quality linemen — guys who are more talented than the below-average crew Seattle had last year. Ideally, he will spend some money on a couple of veterans and draft at least one lineman in the first three rounds (remember, the Seahawks are expected to have an extra third-rounder).
If he does that, Seattle’s line could look like these (Garnett is Stanford guard Joshua Garnett):
And any of those would look 10 times better than the current quintet of Gilliam, Sokoli, Nowak, Glowinski, Britt.