The Seattle Seahawks are undergoing a total rebuild along their offensive line, putting together a young core of talent while saving money in the process.
We’ve seen this before with the Seahawks. In fact, let’s call it the Russell Wilson Economic Feasibility Plan…. or something like that.
During Wilson’s first three years in the league, the Seahawks benefited greatly from their quarterback playing at a championship-caliber level while making rookie wage-scale money. His sub-million-dollar annual salary allowed Seattle to put their salary cap resources to work in other areas while they went about building the best young roster in the NFL.
But now Wilson’s pay has caught up to his performance, and his $18.5 million dollar 2016 cap hit is the biggest drag on the teams payroll.
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No worries, they’ve more than made up for that difference by slashing the pay scale with the one group that needed the most remodeling work; the offensive line.
There was no doubt the O-line needed tweaking. It was easily the worst unit in the league over the first 5-6 games of 2015, and even though improvement was dramatic in the season’s second half, that group’s poor performance reared it’s ugly head again against the Carolina Panthers as the Hawks were eliminated in the divisional round of the playoffs. But General Manager John Schneider didn’t just tweak the position, he took a sledgehammer to it. Of the top nine linemen projected to make the final roster, only four were with the team last year. J’Marcus Webb and Bradley Sowell were imported as free agents, while 30% of the team’s draft capital were spent up front on offense.
Much has been written about the potential of rookies Germain Ifedi, Rees Odhiambo and Joey Hunt, as well as the upside of last year’s 4th rounder Mark Glowinski. There has also been criticism. Did the Seahawks make the right player moves? Is this a group capable of gelling quickly enough to allow the current roster to contend for a Super Bowl in 2016?
Those answers will become more clear as jobs are solidified in training camp and we see the unit perform in preseason games, but taking a bigger-picture look at how the Seahawks have gone about reconstructing the offensive line, two things are clear:
- Successful O-lines usually have some semblance of continuity. With the players Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll (along with significant input from line coach Tom Cable) have brought together, the opportunity is there to spend a couple years developing a group who could be together for a solid three to four years before free agency issues become a major issue. Justin Britt is the veteran of the bunch (not counting stopgap, short-term fixes Webb and possibly Sowell), and not only does he appear to be destined for a super-sub role after yet another position change (to center), but he’s still under club control through 2017. Gilliam will be a restricted free agent after this season, but even if he has a solid season as the new starting left tackle, its doubtful he’ll command top-end LT money.
- This group is a bargain. If you project 10 offensive linemen to make the final roster, their total salary cap hit would be just under $9.3 million dollars. Last year alone, former left tackle Russel Okung had a cap hit of $7.3 million, and it was over $11 million the year before that.
The biggest challenge of maintaining a championship core after you’ve built it is simply keeping it together. We’ve already seen the Seahawks have to wave goodbye to outstanding players the last couple offseasons because they simply couldn’t fit them into the payroll. The teams that get to the top and stay there are able to find ways to manage salaries effectively. These moves on the offensive line not only allowed Seattle to extend some of their own free agents this spring, but it will continue to give them salary flexibility well into 2017.
And if that very first question we asked, did they select the right players for this group, come back as a resounding yes…… then they also set themselves up to have a dominant offensive during Wilson’s peak years.