The most revealing part of Pete Carroll’s season-ending debriefing was about the offensive line:
“I don’t think we’ve nailed it yet,” Carroll said. “I think this needs to be a really competitive spot again, and we’re going to work really hard to build it up. … I think that’s a real area of focus again.”
So the general response to that statement was that the Seahawks would be active in the offseason. To this point, they have been active, just not in the way most people assumed.
Free-agent left tackle Russell Okung, arguably the Seahawks’ best lineman, signed with the Denver Broncos on Thursday. That loss was preceded this offseason by guard J.R. Sweezy’s signing with Tampa Bay.
The biggest question entering last season was whether the offensive line would hold up. Right now, the biggest question is simply who will play along the offensive line.
The disclaimers are still obvious: The Seahawks can add pieces via the draft, a trade or available free agents, though that is a thinning pool. But right now it is hard to argue that the Seahawks have made the offensive line a “real area of focus again,” as Carroll declared in January.
How the Seahawks have handled the offensive line
The Seahawks’ strategy along the offensive line the past few years has been clear. They have relied on low-priced veterans or draft picks, and they have let their players leave instead of re-signing them to more-expensive deals.
They have drafted 12 offensive linemen since 2010, including two in the first round. But they haven’t heavily invested in the line in some time. They have drafted only one offensive lineman higher than the fourth round since 2012, and they haven’t signed a pricey free agent in that time, either.
The simple economics of the salary cap dictate that teams cut costs somewhere, and the Seahawks have gone cheap with the offensive line. It’s the deal they have made to keep their defensive stars.
The results have been mixed. The Seahawks ranked third in the NFL in rushing yards per game last season and led the league two years ago. They ranked fourth in points per game last season and have finished in the top 10 in the past three seasons.
Plus, the Seahawks have made the playoffs and won at least 10 games in each of the past four seasons, including, of course, two trips to the Super Bowl.
But after trading starting center Max Unger and losing starting guard James Carpenter to free agency last year, the line struggled. Even though sacks are not always the fault of the offensive line, and even though their sack rate eventually declined, the Seahawks still gave up the seventh-most sacks in the league.
Where do the Seahawks go from here? That’s the question.
Patrick Lewis, who started the second half of the season at center, is back. So is right tackle Garry Gilliam, although maybe he slides over to Okung’s spot on the left side. And the Seahawks also bring back Justin Britt, who has played guard and tackle; Carroll didn’t commit to where he would play in the future.
They also signed two veteran linemen — Bradley Sowell and J’Marcus Webb — this offseason. It’s unclear where either fits. Sowell has been a backup the past two years; Webb started mostly at guard for the Raiders last year but also played tackle.
The top free agents are gone, and the Seahawks could look at either a trade (they haven’t been shy about making big deals) or the draft to address the line.
But right now, the biggest question last season remains one more than ever.