Justin Britt: Past, Present…Future?

Sep 11, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks center Justin Britt (68) waits to snap the ball against the Miami Dolphins during the third quarter at CenturyLink Field. Seattle defeated Miami 12-10. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 11, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks center Justin Britt (68) waits to snap the ball against the Miami Dolphins during the third quarter at CenturyLink Field. Seattle defeated Miami 12-10. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

On the night of May 9, 2014, the Seattle Seahawks held the 45th and 64th overall picks in the NFL Draft. Justin Britt was a ready and willing addition to the team.

After trading out of the 32nd and last pick of the first round the night before, Seattle was set to make two 2nd round selections.

They selected Paul Richardson with pick 45, then took a long, hard look at its tackle depth on the offensive line and knew it needed to spend draft capital to improve it.

Unfortunately, two factors conspired against Seattle to force them into making a selection at pick 64 they may not have otherwise:

One- the team had no 3rd round pick (pick 96) because it was traded to Minnesota in a package for the right to overpay and put up with the petulant, enigmatic, and immature Percy Harvin.

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Two- it was a bad draft for offensive tackles. If you go back and look at the 2014 draft list, you’ll scroll through the entire draft from pick 64 on and not find a player drafted that has excelled at the tackle position. A few have kicked inside and played well at guard, but none are pillars on the outside.

As a result of not having another pick until the 4th round and the dearth of quality at the tackle spot, Seattle decided to reach out with pick #64 and select Justin Britt, who had experience playing both left and right tackle at Missouri, as well as being an accomplished wrestler in his day.

Though most- including the team?- may not have had a 2nd round grade attached to Britt, he possessed the characteristics that Seahawks line coach Tom Cable covets- toughness, grit, imposing size (6’6”, 325) and a willingness to learn.

Britt was immediately posted at right tackle and became its starter before game one of his rookie season. To say Justin Britt struggled with pass protection his rookie season is an understatement and is reflected in the team’s decision to move him inside the following year.

In 2015, Justin Britt was a human turnstile at left guard in pass protection, which to this day is a bit of a head scratcher.

When a guy is 6’6”, 325, intelligent, has decent feet and a successful wrestling background, it’s not an unrealistic expectation to think he’d excel in tight where one-on-one battles happen in phone booths as opposed to more open space on the outside.

Yet, Britt struggled mightily from the get-go and right up until the team saw its season end on a brisk day in January when a complete whiff block in the first quarter by the beleaguered left guard caused a pick-six that propelled the Carolina Panthers to an insurmountable lead.

It was at this point, after two full seasons and a kaleidoscope of Vines and GIFs that showed just how much Justin Britt was experiencing turbulence in the NFL’s pit, that the player’s future on this team and possibly even the league seemed doomed.

Like Jimmy Stewart’s character in that black-and-white Christmas movie your grandparents won’t shut up about, Justin Britt’s career was at a crossroads.

Then, it happened. A real life Seahawks (belated) Christmas Miracle happened.

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After discussing the possibility internally after drafting him in 2014, the Seahawks chose to move Justin Britt to center in 2016- a decision that would significantly alter the career path of the player and possibly the team’s long-term success.

The move was considered by many- myself included- to be the final nail in Justin Britt’s coffin. It wasn’t a move with purpose, but one reeking of desperation as the team simply tried to find somewhere to hide the player.

When the Seahawks re-signed Patrick Lewis to the 2nd round restricted franchise tag tender, the assumption was that he would be the starting center and that his only real competition would come from a draft pick. In fact, the Seahawks did use a 6th round pick on a center- Joey Hunt– from TCU.

But a funny thing happened in minicamp that eventually bled into training camp. The team truly wanted to see Justin Britt win the starting center job. So much so that day after day they put Britt on the first team line in practices, watching his every move, evaluating his ability to effectively communicate first and foremost and then apply his wares in the physical form.

Each day through the summer, I waited to see what catastrophe would be precipitated by Justin Britt. What would he do to eventually lose the grip on the starting job and allow the steady-if-unspectacular Lewis to reclaim the role? When would it happen?

Turns out, it never occurred. Britt only got incrementally better with each passing day, demonstrating the ability to call out protections to his linemates, become consistent with his shotgun snaps to Russell Wilson and- most surprisingly- serve as a satisfactory pass protector in the middle.

How did this happen? Well, to be honest, the nature of the position itself lends itself to mitigating Britt’s vulnerabilities in pass pro. Often times the center does not have to block a talented d-tackle one-on-one. Instead, the center snaps the ball, identifies the most immediate threat to the A-gap (between center and guard) and assists the guard next to him with blocking those rushers.

Justin Britt
Jan 3, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Seattle Seahawks tackle Justin Britt (68) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

In the run game, Britt’s uniquely enormous size and plus athleticism for the position lends itself to effective blocking at both the first and second levels. His good foot movement allows him to go wherever he needs to be in order to create space for the ball carrier and he is no fun for linebackers to shed.

Through the first three games of the season in 2016, Britt and the rest of the line worked through expected growing pains against some elite defensive lines and players (Suh, Wake, Mario Williams, Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, etc).

Then, a breakthrough.

In game 4 against the Jets’ magnificent trio of Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams, the offensive line put forth its best effort to date, led at its fulcrum by Justin Britt.

After that game, the analytical website profootballfocus.com named Justin Britt- yes, Justin Britt- as its highest graded center in the NFL for week 4.

On Sunday, Britt backed up his strong week 4 performance with another that saw him post the highest score of any Seahawks offensive player, per profootballfocus.

Unbelievable. Truly unbelievable- in a good way.

For this, all the credit in the world goes to Justin Britt, his position coach Tom Cable, and the Seahawks philosophy of always trying to identify what a player does well and extracting the very best out of each player that dons the uniform.

Which brings us to today.

Once considered a liability, Justin Britt is now the anchor of an offensive line with a lot of improving still to be done before it can be expected to lead this team to playoff victories, but is headed in the proper direction.

The Seahawks currently run most often and most successfully up the middle, behind Britt and two young guards on either side- Mark Glowinski and Germain Ifedi. As the most experienced lineman in terms of tenure with Seattle, Britt is thriving in his leadership role and leading the young guards next to him to nominal success.

That trio has a chance- a chance- to be a really good group and eventually a team strength, if you can imagine that.

They must stay healthy, which to this point has a been a strong suit of Britt’s. He has played in every game since turning pro and that is not to be taken lightly or for granted.

You have to think that with each game experienced by Britt, he is only going to improve his identification of defensive fronts and continue to put his linemates in the optimal position to achieve success on each play.

What Does the Future Hold for Britt and the Seahawks?

Justin Britt is in year three of his four-year rookie contract. His cap hit next year is a paltry $1.1M. He is, unbelievably, a player the Seahawks should consider extending next offseason, prior to the last year of the contract.

I can not even believe I am typing those words, but they are nonetheless true.

For a team that has experienced as much turnover and turmoil on the offensive line as this, it is now imperative that it holds on to its quality players up front. While there are no indications that Britt is in any way unhappy in Seattle, it would behoove the team to lock up this most unlikely of solid players as soon as possible.

You may wonder what an extension for Justin Britt might look like. I do too. So, let’s look at other center contracts that will be used in the negotiation.

Narrowing this down quickly, we can admit that as well as he’s playing this year, Britt is not in the same class of center as many that have been excelling at the position consistently for a number of seasons.

These players include ex-Seahawk Max Unger, Nick Mangold, Ryan Kalil, the Pouncey brothers, Rodney Hudson, Alex Mack and Travis Frederick. APY deals for these players range from the new $7.41M extension for Unger all the way up to $9.4M for Frederick.

Britt is thriving in his leadership role and leading the young guards next to him to nominal success.

In addition, Britt’s play this year, durability and favorable age (25) place him above the veteran centers that could be considered journeymen or just average players.

Centers of this ilk include Joe Hawley, Daniel Kilgore, Tim Barnes, Tony Bergstrom, Jeremy Zuttah, Kory Lichtensteiger and Evan Smith, whose contracts range from Hawley’s $1.66M to Smith’s $3.56M APY.

So we have a floor and a ceiling here. I would call for something below Unger’s $7.41 APY and above Smith’s $3.56. There are only three centers with contracts between the two.

They are Ben Jones ($4.375M), Jason Kelce ($6.27M) and Eric Wood ($6.35M).

Speaking truthfully, I think it’s safe to say both Wood and Kelce have been considered good pivots for several years and would rate as better players than Britt.

Ben Jones, on the other hand, seems a truly comparable player to Justin Britt. So we have once again narrowed the money to less than Kelce’s $6.27M but close to Jones’ $4.375M.

Even if Britt continues to shine, he will only have put together one year of good tape thus far in his career and would seem to have little leverage in negotiations with another year on his rookie contract to play out.

It would seem to me the Seahawks and Justin Britt could come to an agreement on an extension in the $5M to $5.5M APY range.

It would provide Britt peace of mind, up-front money and a gesture from the team that shows they trust him to be their center for a long time.

For the team, they keep a player on the rise in the fold through his peak years at a reasonable cap charge. Most importantly, they take a badly needed step towards continuity along the front line and a transformation from being weak up front to something much better.

Whether the Seahawks and Justin Britt come to an agreement on a contract extension in the offseason or not, the best news of all is that the possibility of such a thing is favorable for everyone. Britt has performed a complete 180-degree turn on his career arc and is now one of the reason the Seahawks will win games in the future- not lose them.

It’s a Wonderful Life indeed.

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