As former Seahawk Steve Hutchinson waits for the Hall of Fame to come knocking this weekend, it is a reminder of what the Seahawks once had — and what they need to build again.
The big question some fans have: Will John Schneider do what Tim Ruskell would not and pay an All-Pro guard?
As longtime fans (pre-“12s”) will recall, Ruskell (Seattle’s GM before Schneider) chose not to franchise the All-Pro Hutchinson in 2006 and ended up losing him to Minnesota.
Hutch and Hall of Famer Walter Jones keyed the best line in Seattle history in the early to mid-2000s, but Seattle has not been able to field a strong line since Ruskell’s huge mistake. We’ve called it the Curse of Hutch.
It has continued under Pete Carroll and Schneider, who simply have not been able to put together a consistently good blocking unit in their eight years as Seattle chiefs. Tom Cable’s system did not work — his scheme was too passive and predictable.
Cable showed his incompetence for the last time when he couldn’t make a quintet of former first- and second-round picks play well together (see their worst running plays of the season). So Carroll brought in Mike Solari to do it.
Some fans want Schneider to up the ante in pursuit of talent as well. Carolina All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell figures to command $12 million a year, but some fans want Schneider to join the bidding against clubs like the New York Giants when free agency begins in March. Schneider has never paid that kind of money to a free-agent offensive lineman, but would he consider it this year?
Schneider lamented going so young on the offensive line in 2016 (inexperienced starters at four positions), so last year he went hard for veterans Joeckel and T.J. Lang — even though both were coming off injuries. He offered both $8 million a year; Joeckel took it and Lang went home to Michigan for $9.5 million.
The Joeckel signing didn’t pay off, but at least Schneider showed he was willing to try. After largely ignoring the line in the draft in 2012-15 (only one pick in the first two days during those four drafts), he has tried belatedly to upgrade it in 2016-17 — drafting Germain Ifedi in the first round and Rees Odhiambo in the third (a reach), signing Joeckel, going after Lang, drafting Ethan Pocic in the second round, extending Justin Britt and trading for Duane Brown.
Solari has the makings of a decent unit, but will Schneider give it some star power with Norwell — or someone like the Giants’ Justin Pugh, who played for Solari the past two years?
Schneider figures to extend Brown at around the same $12 million APY Norwell will command, so he would have to be willing to pay three linemen pretty big money. The 2009 cap is wide open (outside of Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin and Bobby Wagner), so it is certainly possible.
If the GM signed Norwell, Solari’s unit would look very strong at the three left spots: Brown, Norwell and Britt. Then he would just need to decide on the right side among Pocic, Ifedi, George Fant and maybe a rookie.
Schneider will have the cap space (Norwell would count as little as $6 million in 2018), because Sheldon Richardson, Jimmy Graham, Paul Richardson and Joeckel probably are not going to be re-signed.
So, as Seattle’s former All-Pro guard waits for the Hall to come knocking, Schneider needs to decide whether he is willing to pay an All-Pro guard and perhaps at long last exorcise the Curse of Hutch.
Some fans have been spitballing the idea of Pocic replacing Britt at center and the Hawks trading Britt.
None of that makes sense, of course. Britt has been solid at center the past two years, and a veteran is always preferable to a neophyte at that position.
On top of that, the cap savings would not be much. Britt is due a $5 million option bonus within the first five days of the 2018 league year (March 14-18). The Hawks could trade him in the days before the deadline (the trade period begins March 14), but they would net only about $2.4 million this year.
Bottom line: Britt is more valuable as a Seahawk for now.
March 18 is a big deadline for Schneider, with decisions on both Britt and Michael Bennett due. Bennett is owed a $4 million roster bonus that day. That might be part of why Bennett said he thinks the team will let him go, but such a move would save Seattle only about $2 million — and Bennett is worth more than that still.
In recent media appearances, Bennett has talked like he expects to be back.
On Wednesday, he told KJR “there’s going to be some player changes,” mentioning Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril and Jimmy Graham — but not himself. “It’s going to be great to watch to see what (the Seahawks) do.”