For a team that is used to making noise in the offseason, Seattle has been generally quiet. They re-signed a few of their free agents and barely registered a blip in actual free agency and that was it. They still have yet to address the retirement of Marshawn Lynch and they continue to treat their offensive line as if it doesn’t exist. So with free agency over let’s look back at some of the Seahawks decisions and what questions lie in store for them post free agency.
Ignoring the Offensive Line?
Nobody has ever accused the Seahawks of being conventional and their offensive line strategy has been anything but conventional the last few years. Most teams, especially those with a high priced quarterback invest somewhere in the offensive line. A center, a left tackle, maybe a high priced guard. If they aren’t investing in free agency they are usually investing in the draft. Usually consistency on an offensive line is a good way to help stabilize some of the big swings that can happen year to year in the NFL.
Seattle has just abandoned the line entirely. In recent years they have allowed Breno Giacomini and James Carpenter to leave in free agency and they traded away Max Unger. This year they let Russell Okung and JR Sweezy go in free agency, with no real attempt supposedly made to keep them.
It’s not like they have talent coming in where they replace the veteran with high upside youth. Since 2011 the only picks above a 6th rounder spent on the line were a 2nd round pick on Justin Britt in 2014 and 4th rounders in 2015 on Terry Poole and Mark Glowinski. They have banked their success on longshot players.
Bradley Sowell, who started 12 games in 4 years on the Colts and Cardinals, signed for $1 million to potentially be the starting left tackle. J’Marcus Webb appeared in just 9 games in 2013 and 2014 before starting 16 games for Oakland last season. Webb hadn’t played for more than the minimum for some time but will get over $3 million to play, I would assume, right tackle. The team will need big improvements from Britt, Glowinski, Patrick Lewis and Garry Gilliam, none of whom were even considered passable by Pro Football Focus last season, to fill out the other spots.
Seattle Is no stranger to spending big which is what makes it so odd to see them do so little here. They lead the NFL in money invested in top tier talent. A few years ago they traded and extended receiver Percy Harvin to a monstrous contract in one of the worst front office moves of modern times. Last year they were willing to pay big money to Jimmy Graham despite not really featuring him in a role to justify the cost.
Among drafted players and players with contracts that average at least $600,000 per season here is where Seattle ranks in spending at each position in the NFL, based on our contract estimates:
The running back number will drop significantly when Lynch is off the books, but as of now they are a top 10 spender at 7 positional groups and a top half spender at 9 of 11 position. And it’s not like if we broke the line down by position they would improve- Webb is the only player who ranks anywhere, everyone else is basically bottom five at their position.
It is not as if Seattle is letting players walk away for big money. Okung signed what is essentially a one year contract for $5 million. Giacomini and Carpenter are both in the $4.5 million range. Unger was always a good value. These are all basically average values (or below average in Okungs case) for a veteran player. Sweezy at $6.5 million is the only one where his price I think clearly outweighs his value.
So why do it this way? The best I can come up with is that Seattle has always had this boom or bust philosophy when building the roster. They traded for Lynch when he was considered damaged goods and they didn’t really drive a hard bargain when it was time to re-sign him. Harvin was a pure “blinders on” kind of contract. They make Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, KJ Wright and so on either the highest or among the highest paid at their position. But the one thing that was clear with the money in some of those contracts is that the Seahawks saw a big future from these players and were willing to take the financial risk rather than chance losing a player they wanted. The gamble is that there is a possibility that the player gives a higher level performance.
The one thing I believe everyone will agree on is that there was little upside with those players on the offensive line. Passable? Sure. Better than what they have? Probably. But chances of being great? Doubtful. Maybe Seattle sees little value in paying average or above average salaries for those who will most likely be average and don’t have that possibility of being great.
It’s a different philosophy than others. I’ve had conversations with team front office people about the merits of being cornered into a high priced contract for a non-elite talent at premier positions. Those are fun debates. Byron Maxwell fit into that category last season. Almost every quarterback signed this year fits in that category. Some believe strongly that you should let those players walk because you can make your team stronger with that extra money and try to replace the player with a more reasonable contract. Others strongly believe you should keep them because the unknown is worse.
I’ve never really given much thought to applying that to average players, but perhaps the concept is the similar. If you believe superstars win championships then the money saved on those players gives a team like the Seahawks to keep higher upside, potential game changers like Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett on the roster. Better to hit a home run in the NFL then field a team of singles hitters if the goal is a Super Bowl. It gives the opportunity to make a mistake like Harvin without getting pinched terribly on the salary cap. That said the decision makers will have a lot to answer if Russell Wilson gets killed behind the offensive line this year.