Seattle Seahawks

“Holy cow!” GM’s reaction to Fant at LT shows Seahawks realize need on O-line

gbell@thenewstribune.com

Schneider
Schneider AP

John Schneider’s reaction to the Seahawks having beyond-raw, undrafted rookie George Fant as their starting left tackle in 2016 was much like yours.

Same as Russell Wilson’s probably was, for that matter.

“Holy cow!”

Yes, it got that Harry Caray scary for Seattle on its offensive line last season.

That is why upgrading their blockers to better protect their franchise quarterback is a Seahawks priority here at the NFL combine this week, as well as in free agency, which begins next week.

“Offensive line. When you go to colleges and you talk to the coaches and they struggle to find offensive linemen,” Schneider, the Seahawks’ general manager, said Wednesday inside the Indiana Convention Center on the first morning of the league’s annual scouting summit.

“Everyone wants to play quarterback and running back and defensive line. It’s just how the football culture is right now. The majority of guys aren’t like, ‘I’m going to be the best offensive lineman in high school football,’ you know what I mean? They want to sack the quarterback.

“Yeah, look at us with George Fant last year. God bless him, but, holy cow, man! The guy was playing basketball (collegiately at Western Kentucky into 2015). And now he’s out there playing against Robert Quinn. So, good luck.”

And so, time for Seahawks upgrades. Beyond time to improve the biggest reason for the team’s inconsistent and sometimes maddening offense last season.

Schneider acknowledged the Seahawks allowed their line to get too young in 2016.

The team signed former Oakland Raiders and Chicago Bears guard and tackle J’Marcus Webb to a two-year deal last March that included $2.45 million guaranteed — then cut him during the season when he proved brittle and ineffective. They signed Arizona tackle Bradley Sowell for one year in free agency for $800,000. Sowell twice lost starting jobs during the season, to Fant at left tackle in October then Garry Gilliam at right tackle in December.

“Last year, we signed a couple guys through free agency that were not, you know, highly priced guys,” Schneider said of an offseason when Seattle had far less salary cap space than the $26 million it has now. “It just covered us in case we got to the draft and all the offensive linemen got pushed up (in value and selection), as they usually do.”

The Seahawks also signed former New Orleans guard Jahri Evans in August — only to release the four-time All-Pro in early September, before the opening game.

Seattle’s GM said Wednesday he regrets cutting Evans.

“Yeah, I’d be lying to you if I said different. His leadership would have been outstanding for us,” Schneider said. “I think we got in a position where we probably got a little bit too young …

“I think we’d like to add some experience at that position.”

Such as Russell Okung?

The first draft choice Schneider ever made as an NFL GM, in the first round for Seattle in 2010, is about to become a free agent on March 9. That’s the day the market for unsigned players opens. Denver made Okung a free agent last week when it decided not to exercise the option on the contract he signed with the Broncos last spring.

Okung played in all 16 games last season for the Broncos but had a concussion and many costly holding penalties as Denver’s offense struggled and the defending Super Bowl champions missed the playoffs. The option would have given Okung a four-year, $48 million contract with $20.5 million guaranteed.

Instead, he will become an unrestricted free agent at the age of 29.

He started 72 games in his first six seasons with the Seahawks, including two Super Bowls. He made the 2012 Pro Bowl with Seattle. He would be the proven veteran the Seahawks are seeking. In fact, he could be the best import. He knows line coach Tom Cable’s zone-blocking scheme better than any of Seattle’s current blockers. He could be the glue guy Schneider and coach Pete Carroll keep saying are key for the Seahawks to improve up front.

And Okung is likely to be relatively cheap. He needs to prove himself worthy of a multi-year contract since he turns 30 in October and just got released from a team that also has offensive-line needs.

There are no hard feelings between the Seahawks and Okung with how he left last March; the team sees that he earned the right to find his value on the open market, a value that turned out to be $8 million for one year with Denver. That was too rich for Seattle.

So the Seahawks are indeed expected to talk to Okung when the market opens next week; he is believed to be representing himself again in this upcoming free-agency period. But Seattle will be in line with multiple other teams.

“That offensive line thing is all about acquisition, and the mix in the room between veteran leadership and talent. That cohesion that goes along with it,” Schneider said.

“We need to bring those young guys along — rookies, second-year guys, moving (Justin) Britt to center and all of that. But they have to have that cohesion.”

As for offensive-line prospects at this combine and in April’s draft, they will get overvalued yet again. Many are projecting the Seahawks will pick Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson with their first-round pick at No. 26. But in these days of not-ready-for-NFL blockers coming out of college, an Outland Trophy winner as college football’s best interior lineman is likely to go higher than 26th overall.

Schneider was asked how close the linemen here are for where the Seahawks need them to be to play in their offense.

“We feel like we have one of, if not the best, offensive line coach in the league,” he said. “He feels like he can put you out there, you know what I mean?”

Then the GM smiled and said: “Not really.”

EXTRA POINTS

Schneider said FS Earl Thomas and WR/KR Tyler Lockett are doing “great” in their rehabilitation from broken legs. The GM said Lockett is rehabilitating at Seahawks headquarters. Thomas is due there this month for “a checkup” on his broken fibula. Carroll has said he expects Lockett, who broke his tibia and fibula Christmas Eve, to be back in time for training camp. The team hasn’t given a timetable for Thomas’ return. … DeShawn Shead’s serious knee injury from January indeed has the Seahawks in the market for a new cornerback both at the combine and in free agency, Schneider said. The team doesn’t expect Shead back until deep into the 2017 season, if then. … Schneider said kicker Blair Walsh’s recent signing doesn’t necessarily mean the end of Steven Hauschka in Seattle. The team wants competition with Walsh, 27, for the job and that competition may or may not be Hauschka, 31. Hauschka is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent March 9. … The GM said the Seahawks will continue to seek to take care of their core guys with new contracts — and that 28-year-old SS Kam Chancellor remains one of their core guys. Chancellor recently had clean-up surgery to remove bone spurs in his ankles.

Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle

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