The Seahawks are doing a dance here at the NFL combine. It’s to address their most pressing need. It’s an act that will continue all offseason through free agency, too.
It’s more a safety dance than a salsa.
Seattle’s coaches and scouts are carefully balancing their desire to keep their current, young offensive linemen -- the league’s lowest-paid unit -- together for continuity and growth in 2017 with the undeniable need to import a veteran “glue guy” to mentor the pups. The team wants a proven, dependable option, especially at tackle, if the line’s development slogs like it did last season.
The former need is one coach Pete Carroll has been trumpeting since the middle of the 2016 season, when the line got $88 million quarterback Russell Wilson the first major injuries of his career.
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The latter need is one general manager John Schneider touted here Wednesday when he said “we’d like to add some experience to that position.”
Thursday, on the continuity side of this dance, Carroll said of George Fant: “He is our left tackle.”
Fant was Seattle’s 2016 undrafted college basketball player from Western Kentucky who startled everyone -- in good ways and bad -- when he became the starter at the line’s most important position. He became Wilson’s blindside protector in late October. Wednesday, Schneider memorably said his reaction to Fant becoming the Seahawks’ starting left tackle was “holy cow.”
Also Thursday, Carroll said the Seahawks want to retain Garry Gilliam. He’s been Seattle’s starting right tackle the last two seasons. Gilliam is due to become a restricted free agent next week.
Yet he also said this when asked about his offensive line: “Free agency is coming up next week. And we have a chance to do some things there. We’ll see what’s available to us -- very aggressively and very actively.”
I know, cue the hallelujah chorus.
But the reason the Seahawks need to be and can be aggressive and active in free agency with offensive linemen when the market opens next Thursday is drafting college linemen has become perhaps the most random of a draft process that already is mostly a crapshoot.
Fewer and fewer college linemen put their hands on the ground in a three-point stance. In college football’s world of rampant spread offenses, blockers stand up before the snap, a two-point stance, and spend the overwhelming majority of their plays parrying away pass rushers with their hands or walling them off with their bodies for quick-hitting running plays.
Getting low and drive blocking defenders into the ground on runs -- and running is still the basis of Carroll’s offense -- is as passe in college as AOL and MySpace.com.
“I think we are seeing more now than ever the accumulation of years of guys being in spread offenses and two-point stances all the time that it does not lend itself to guys coming off the football,” Carroll said Thursday. “But there are plenty of programs, maybe not enough, but there are plenty of programs in college football that still run the football with an attitude and an approach much more like what we do. And those guys are valuable to us.”
That’s why Alabama tackle Cam Robinson, the Outland Trophy winner as college football’s best interior offensive lineman, and Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk are on the Seahawks’ radar here.
Whether either will be around when the Seahawks are scheduled to pick in the first round of April’s draft, at 26th overall, is another matter. The market is overheated on NFL-ready offensive linemen that have experience playing in pro-style -- or at least not exclusively spread -- offenses, like Wisconsin’s and, to a lesser degree, Alabama’s.
“We know that there is a process that guys have to go through this transition and depending on where they come from and what their style of coaching was and their play style,” Carroll said. “We take all of that into account. It’s a factor. More so than ever, guys could spend their whole high school career and whole college career and never get in a stance an that’s something we have to train guys to transition to do.”
Thus, the need for continuity with the blockers the Seahawks already have invested time and effort developing in line coach Tom Cable’s system.
Cable and the team like the inside three as the line’s core. Justin Britt excelled for the first time in his career last season as a first-time center, after his first two seasons as the starting right tackle then left guard. Mark Glowinski is anchored and only two years into his rookie contract at left guard. Feisty Germain Ifedi, the team’s first-round pick last spring, is entrenched at right guard.
The Seahawks must by March 9 decide to tender an offer to Gilliam. Carroll made it sound like they will rather than let him become a free agent. Carroll said the team wants Gilliam to return.
Per the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement with its players, Seattle would have three options if and when it decides to tender Gilliam -- and starting cornerback DeShawn Shead, for that matter (he’s also a restricted free agent). The lowest level tender would give Gilliam and Shead an offer of around $1.75 million (the league will set the exact amounts for tender offers just before the league year begins March 9) and would provide the Seahawks the right of first refusal to any offer Gilliam and Shead would receive from another team. The second-round tender would be a 2017 contract for what is expected to be about $2.6 million and the Seahawks the compensation of a second-round pick should another team sign either player. A first-round tender would be a contract for 2017 of about $3.7 million or so, with Seattle getting a first-round choice as compensation should another team sign either restricted free agent.
When asked what he’s looking for in offensive linemen this offseason, Carroll went global.
“Regardless of the position, we are looking for competition. We are looking to make the guys that are on our roster better, if guys can take their jobs than we got better,” Carroll said. “There’s no place where we don’t look for that, so whoever we can make the roster more competitive we know we are getting better.
“So if we can find a guy that can start that would be great. If we can find a guy who can push the guys that are there that’s really what would expect to happen. We expect for that to happen across the board...a chance to get more competitive (is) what we are always after.”
That, and in the case of this dance with the offensive line, to get better, too.