The Seahawks Offensive Line: Continuity Shmontinuity


The most glaring of the issues that must be addressed by the Seahawks in 2016 is the hot mess that is the offensive line.

The lineup from left to right of Okung-Britt-Nowak/Lewis- Sweezy-Gilliam did not make anyone forget the 80’s Hogs of Washington Redskins fame or the juggernaut that was Dallas’ front wall in the 90’s. According to’s metrics, Seattle’s unit finished 30th out of 32 teams in combined run/pass blocking efficiency. My condolences to fans of the two teams deemed less effective than Tom Cable’s unit in 2015.

So the problem is well-known, but what is the solution? Is it to try to retain as many of the players as possible so that they can grow together through shared experiences and become a unit that is “greater than the sum of its parts”? Or, should the whole operation just be blown to smithereens and start from scratch?

Let’s review the incumbents and consider the options.

The highest rated player out of the group in 2015 was left tackle Russell Okung. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in March and is so eager to test the market and take the most money offered, he’s already breaking league rules by emailing teams and asking who all is interested in purchasing his services while still technically a member of the Seahawks. He is recently quoted as saying Seattle will always be a home to me. It’s been amazing what the community has been able to do for me, and the people. This will always be a place that I’ll come back to.”

Those are not the words of a man eager to return to his old team.

Okung’s market, however, is tough to gauge due to his recovery from shoulder surgery and the unknown that comes with it, but the left tackle position always commands premium dollars. Assuming he is in fact fully healthy by summer, he is likely to see a contract averaging roughly $8-9M per year, possibly more.

Had Okung been deemed a high priority by the team, he probably would have already signed a contract extension. This appears to be a situation akin to an amicable divorce. Both sides seem content to explore other available options in the marketplace. A move to the AFC West may be in the cards for Okung, as San Diego and Oakland are in need of left tackles and have some money to burn.

Seahawks tackle Russell Okung
October 22, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Seattle Seahawks tackle Russell Okung (76) blocks San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks (55) during the first quarter at Levi /

Justin Britt is seemingly a good guy, good teammate, and a good member of the community. He also struggled mightily at left guard this year- and even more concerning- didn’t show improvement as the season wore on. The lightning-quick hit he allowed on his quarterback in the first drive of the Divisional playoff game resulted in a pick-six that helped catapult the opponent to victory. In 2 years, he has allowed an astonishing 71 quarterback pressures (only 8 became sacks- a testament to Wilson’s inhuman escape ability), again per profootballfocus. At this point he is not even a replacement-level player and certainly shouldn’t be starting NFL games.

Patrick Lewis was an average center, which earned him high praise due to the fact he looked more capable than the guys on either side of him. Lewis was like the fastest kid at fat camp.

J.R. Sweezy is the same guy after year 4 as he was in year 1. The struggles he had then are issues that still victimize him. He, like Okung, is an unrestricted free agent. Do you retain Sweezy at what will likely be “Carpenter/Giacomini” money to promote stability along the front or do you make an effort to upgrade the play at that spot?

Garry Gilliam has given up 58 quarterback pressures in 528 career chances. Not good. However, he’s under contract at a cheap cap number and has LT/RT flexibility, so he isn’t going anywhere. But, should he be starting? Gilliam at least showed improvement as the year went along and was not the problem in January. In an ideal world he would be your swing tackle (3rd tackle), but this is far from an ideal situation.

Internal options beyond the starting five include Drew Nowak, Terry Poole, ultra-athletic but ultra-inexperienced Kristjan Sokoli, and Mark Glowinski, whose one start at right guard went well and earned him high praise, though again it was in comparison to the low bar set by Sweezy.

It’s decision time. You are John Schneider. What do you do? Do you eat up the modest cap space you have by giving Okung and Sweezy market value contracts and decide to go all in on continuity? Give ‘em the ol’ five-fingers-turned-into-each-other-make-a-tight-fist visual aid? A lot of people would.

But the answer should be a resounding “NO!”

It doesn’t matter how many games guys play together if they aren’t capable of winning their one-on-one battles. This line didn’t underperform because they couldn’t grasp the nuances of Cable’s zone system. It didn’t fail to pass protect because one guy didn’t hear the pre-snap line call.

The offensive line failed miserably because guys got whipped. Simple as that. Guys were beaten, and beaten really fast and clean. Over and over and over again. The individuals with different uniforms were better than the guys lined up across from them wearing Seahawk duds per snap, per game, for the entire season on a consistent basis. The only time it wasn’t awful was a few game stretch in the second half of the year when the team coincidentally played defensive fronts that struggled to rush the passer like San Francisco, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

The only reason the season wasn’t a total and utter disaster was because the quarterback has an other-worldly ability to evade peril. If this line was blocking for Drew Brees, he’d be filing his retirement papers with the league today.

Accept it. Learn from it. FIX IT.

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If Okung has a strong left tackle market, let him walk. Wish him well.

If Sweezy has any kind of market above vet minimum, let him go. Wish him well.

The OL room is in dire need of new, talented blood. A lot of it, and preferably a mix of veterans and rookies THAT AREN’T DEFENSIVE LINE CONVERTS.

Between free agency and the draft, the opening day offensive line should be 60%-80% different than the one that took the field in the 2015 playoffs. That’s 3 or 4 different starters.

Patrick Lewis, though not a Pro Bowler, provided a stabilizing quality to a line desperate for one. He is a restricted free agent and should be offered a 2nd round tender, which is a 1-yr deal with enough compensation to scare any other teams interested in him away for 2016. His competition and successor should be drafted this April with an eye toward taking over either during the 2016 season or for sure in 2017.

There are many NFL-quality center prospects this year and I fully expect and will the Seahawks to draft one.  Kristjan Sokoli is another player to consider, though we don’t know how quickly he is progressing in his conversion to center from defensive tackle and we shouldn’t put all – or any – eggs in that basket.

At left tackle, there are choices but free agency isn’t a likely option.  There is a small chance teams get spooked by Okung’s shoulder and Seattle may be able to keep him for a year while he re-establishes his market for 2017.  But this isn’t likely.  If the team doesn’t re-up Okung, they aren’t replacing him with an equally costly veteran player.

More seattle sports: Seahawks Offseason Part 1

The answer here is again a draft pick- possibly in round 1- to compete with Garry Gilliam for the privilege of keeping rushers away from Wilson’s blind side. Jason Spriggs made himself known at the Senior Bowl and fits the athletic profile that the current O-line coach prefers. Shon Coleman of Auburn is another possibility, but both have bold question marks and should be considered risky propositions until they prove otherwise.

Left guard can’t be Britt again. A veteran presence from the free agent pile would fit well here between relative young guns in Lewis/draft pick and Gilliam/draft pick. In addition, the cap cost for a LG is likely to be much lower than a left tackle. A few less costly options here include Amini Silatolu (my first choice), Brandon Brooks and Ramon Foster. If you’re willing to spend more, Alex Boone is available, as is Evan Mathis. It’s a good spot to plug in a veteran player that can steady the ship.

If you buy a left guard, the right guard spot previously manned by Sweezy can go to the winner of a battle between Glowinski, Sokoli, Poole and anyone else that wants to join the fray. I suspect Glowinski is ready, willing and capable of taking that job early in the summer and not looking back. If Sweezy has no market, bringing him back on the cheap is fine, but I still expect Glowinski to start game 1 next year and consider that a wash early and an upgrade as he gains experience.

Right tackle could be Gilliam again if the team spends its first pick on a left tackle, but since free agents will join the team before draft picks, an effort has to be made to bring in another body to play RT so that Gilliam can concentrate on moving to the left side either as starter or backup there. I am bringing in 2 free agents on the O-line (one being a LG), and the 2nd one is going to play right tackle.

I am a big fan of Jeff Allen (KC), who can play RT or LG and should have a moderate price tag. Mitchell Schwartz is a high-end option at RT.

The result of these musical chairs shows a starting line comprised from left to right of Gilliam/Draft Pick-Silatolu-Lewis-Glowinski-Allen with Gilliam/Draft Pick, Britt, Sokoli and draft pick Center as depth.

The vets bring a calming presence to the line and can be very helpful to the young players beside them. The depth group here is solid as well, with guys having experience in the system mixed in with a rookie or two. If these fellas can stay healthy, the protection for Russell Wilson could be exponentially better in 2016 and allow the quarterback to vault one last step to the elite tier of signal callers, if he’s not there already.

One thing is certain, however. The team can’t afford to trot out the same players to play on the offensive line as it did in 2015 and expect to contend for a championship. The time is now for upheaval using as much C4 as possible to blow up the current O-line room.

I can’t wait for the 2016 league year to start so these changes can be implemented!  How about you?