The Seahawks’ big push in the offseason was the acquisition of three veteran players to shore up a position area in need of help — just don’t ask whether any of these guys can run block or pass protect. While the linebacker corps received a significant manpower boost, Seattle’s most pressing concern, its offensive line, remains problematic for a third consecutive season. The situation continues to nag this franchise, last year rendering the ground game ineffective and wasting its often superior defensive resources. It’s probably cost them one or two Super Bowl appearances, too.
“I think we got in a position where we probably got a little bit too young,” says Seattle general manager John Schneider of his offensive line — in a gross understatement.
The Seahawks’ latest response to this dilemma: Sign tackle Luke Joeckel and little-used guard Oday Aboushi and hope for the best from the draft again. No one in Seattle believes this situation has been rectified.
Last season, the Seahawks had the lowest-paid set of blockers in the league, doling out salaries that averaged just over $1 million per man, which in NFL money doesn’t buy you much. They trotted out a former basketball player, a former tight end, journeymen, multiple rookies. It showed. Seattle finished 25th out of 32 teams in rushing, averaging a paltry 99.4 yards per game.
Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft, arrives in Seattle coming off a knee injury that limited him to four games in his final season with Jacksonville. Outside of his health setbacks, Joeckel’s struggles have been strength-related, in particular his inability to handle the cut-above bull-rusher. The Seahawks believe he’ll be an upgrade over George Fant, the one-time basketball forward who started the final 12 games (including postseason) of the 2016 season. Fant’s athleticism intrigues Seattle, but he needs time to learn the game. Germain Ifedi, the Seahawks’ 2016 first-round pick, will move from right guard to right tackle, but he struggles with fundamentals, especially leverage. Justin Britt, the lone bright spot on the Seattle line after converting to center last season, brings a hefty 6'6", 315-pound frame to his position, plays with attitude and was much more comfortable handling pass-rushers coming up the middle rather than on the corners. At right guard, Aboushi comes to the Seahawks as a well-regarded pass protector but grades out as average in run blocking. Mark Glowinski, overmatched at times as a first-time starter, returns at left guard trying to hang on to his job. Should either guard fail to deliver, look for rookie Ethan Pocic to step in right away; he has good feet to go with a huge frame.
All of this upheaval up front has put quarterback Russell Wilson at unnecessary risk, which has been a good and a bad thing. The downside was he got hurt a couple of times, nearly to the point he couldn’t play. The upside? Wilson demonstrated superior toughness and refused to come out of the lineup, and he showed he could be a comfortable pocket passer rather than just a wildly innovative scrambler. He came up with an uneven season, throwing for a career-best 4,219 yards but tossing only 21 TD passes, one off his career low. The Seahawks can’t continue to give Wilson, who has directed this team to the playoffs in all five of his seasons, subpar protection and gamble with his health without eventually suffering dire consequences.
The rushing attack is now in the hands of free-agent acquisition Eddie Lacy, whom Seattle is banking on as the second coming of Marshawn Lynch: a big, physical back who underachieved elsewhere before finding his place in Pete Carroll’s offense. Unlike Lynch, Lacy deals with continuous weight issues. Thomas Rawls, if he can stay healthy, is a capable alternative with his slashing running style, but he hasn’t finished a season with his body intact in two tries.
The Seahawks pass-catching corps has quietly evolved into an elite group, spurred by wide receiver Doug Baldwin’s ascension and tight end Jimmy Graham’s inspirational return from a serious injury. Baldwin no longer is underappreciated, running disciplined routes and working well with Wilson. After tearing up a knee, Graham showed no rust in coming back and laying out for difficult catch after catch, turning in a 65-grab season; he put to rest all criticisms that he isn’t a good fit for Seattle. Paul Richardson, an acrobatic pass catcher, could unseat starter Jermaine Kearse, whose productivity has fallen. Slot back Tyler Lockett, the team’s best deep threat, comes off a knee injury and may need extra time to return to form.
The Seahawks’ often fearless defensive unit seemed to lose its intensity when free safety Earl Thomas, the heart and soul of this group, broke his leg 12 games into the season. Thomas and his headhunter approach are back — remember, he ended Rob Gronkowski’s 2016 season with a blow to the tight end’s chest — and he should restore some of the missing swagger. When together, strong safety Kam Chancellor, cornerback Richard Sherman and Thomas, now in their peak years, still comprise the NFL’s No. 1 secondary for their high-end ability to play the run and pass. Sherman, however, was the focus of offseason trade rumors following a tantrum-filled season. He still provides lockdown pass coverage more often than not, but the team seemed willing to listen to offers. He needs to regain the franchise’s trust. Another reason Sherman was not dealt: The Seahawks already were down one starting cornerback, with DeShawn Shead out with a knee injury until midseason or later. Seattle was forced to turn the job over to veteran nickel back Jeremy Lane, an adequate starter at best.
The linebacker corps was one place that wasn’t screaming for help. The Seahawks boast arguably the NFL’s best linebacker duo in Bobby Wagner on the inside and K.J. Wright on the outside. Wagner, smart and fast, went from one of the league’s top tacklers to the leader by a wide margin with a franchise-record 167 tackles. He’s in his prime. Wright, a rangy and highly instinctive player, came up with a career-best 126 tackles and shows no signs of decline. That didn’t stop Seattle from picking up linebackers Arthur Brown, Terence Garvin and Michael Wilhoite in the offseason, with a fourth newcomer, defensive end Dion Jordan, capable of playing outside linebacker.
The Seattle defensive front boasts plenty of star power, too, in Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Bennett is widely regarded as one of the league’s most disruptive defensive linemen, relying on sheer power to compensate for his compact size. Another plus: He brings the ability to play multiple positions. Avril lacks his teammate’s notoriety — he remains one of the NFL’s most underrated pass rushers — but he has a first step as effective as any defensive end. Top draft pick Malik McDowell, an explosive player with a long reach, could wrestle one of the inside positions away from an incumbent.
After six years of relying on the same kickers, the Seahawks shook things up by letting placekicker Steven Hauschka leave through free agency and picking up Blair Walsh. It was a money move with a short memory. Walsh, ironically, is the guy who shanked a 27-yard field goal in the 2015 playoffs, costing Minnesota a sure win over Seattle, and his inaccuracy prompted the Vikings to release him last season. Steady Jon Ryan, averaging 44 yards per punt, returns for a 10th season with the Seahawks. There could be a big falloff in the return game if Lockett doesn’t regain his health right away.
For two years now, the Seahawks haven’t been able to tell a good offensive lineman from a bad one. They keep plugging just about anyone in there. Seattle has a tremendous defense, a reliable quarterback and proven track record for making the playoffs, but a subpar line continues to ruin everything. If the Seahawks intend to return to Super Bowl form, they need to fix this problem.