There’s no way to anticipate how many of their allotted draft picks will turn into actual bodies, given the Seahawks’ propensity for dealing. But I’d applaud if they used a large percentage on offensive linemen. It’s not just to try to compensate for the loss of center Max Unger (Jimmy Graham trade) and guard James Carpenter (free agent), but to continue the necessary long-term upgrade of the unit.
Scanning the net, I see the Washington Post listing each team's draft needs, and mentioning the offense line only as an afterthought: "... the offensive line needs a little bit of attention." Ya think?
Last season’s offensive statistics, No. 1 rushing and No. 9 total offense, implied strong offensive-line performances. But Russell Wilson’s elusiveness and Marshawn Lynch’s yards-after-contact ability obviously skewed those numbers. Wilson repeatedly turned dead-to-rights sacks into positive plays while Lynch so often created his own yards. But continued spotty or substandard blocking endangers both of those threats -- demanding more than a "little bit of attention."
I thought Unger was playing at All-Pro level when he was healthy last season, but he missed 10 games with injury. To get such value out of him in the Graham trade seems a victory. But there’s little doubt that his intelligence and savvy up front, and his coordination on calls with Wilson, gave him value beyond the obvious, and will be tough to replace.
Carpenter, meanwhile, signed a contract reportedly worth $20 million over four years with the Jets, which I see as proof that there are not enough quality offensive linemen to fill all the teams in the NFL.
So, they’ve got Russell Okung entering the last year of his contract at left tackle; improving young veteran J.R. Sweezy at right guard, and last year’s second-round draft pick Justin Britt at right tackle. That works for this season.
Will they deem Okung worthy of another contract at bigger numbers? I interpreted his nine penalties (six false starts) last season as an indication of a guy trying to get an edge, as veterans sometimes do when they’re not as physical as they once were. That might be expected; he’s missed 21 games in five seasons because of injury.
The Hawks apparently like the prospects of Patrick Lewis at center, who filled in for Unger with four starts last season, including the game at Arizona, when they picked up 596 yards of offense. Alvin Bailey got five starts as a versatile backup, and Garry Gilliam is an interesting prospect at tackle. Guard Keavon Milton was a guard they picked up for the practice squad last season. Like most of their backups, those four guys are undrafted free agents.
So, we can ask if they’ve focused enough on the offensive line in the five preceding drafts by the Carroll-Schneider regime? They’ve used eight picks in five years on offensive linemen. Okung and Carpenter were first-rounders, Britt a second and John Moffitt a third (2011).
They got one Pro Bowl out of Okung and solid play when he’s healthy. Carpenter was less than a ringing success, and Moffitt failed to produce. Proof, again, that NFL-caliber offensive linemen are tough to identify and develop.
Factoring into the need, too, is the release of tight end Zach Miller (failed physical). Miller played just three games last season and ended up on injured-reserve, but his ability to seal the edge and create space for Lynch’s cutback runs were keys to recent success. Graham will enhance the offense with his receiving abilities, but neither he nor anybody else at tight end on this roster can replace Miller’s blocking ... adding to the deficit up front.
The Hawks have spoken with their salaries. The big money is going to defensive stars. Wilson and Lynch and Graham will take up the bulk of the offensive cash. So they need to create a cheap but effective workforce on the offensive line.
The best place is via the draft in less than three weeks.