Coach Pete Carroll said at the end of the season he'd like to keep the 2018 starting offensive line together for another season.
There was lots of credit to go around for what was one of the more pleasant surprises of the Seahawks’ 2018 season — the improved play of the offensive line.
A change in coaches from Tom Cable to Mike Solari; a full season for Duane Brown, who gave Seattle its best and most consistent play at left tackle since Russell Okung in 2015; the signings of veteran free agents D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy to solidify the guard spots and add a toughness that greatly aided the running game.
It added up to a line that helped pave the way for the Seahawks to lead the NFL in rushing — and lead coach Pete Carroll to say he hopes to keep it together for 2019.
2019 POSITION REVIEWS
- QB | Seahawks' future is set — as long as Russell Wilson is around
- RB | Chris Carson proves Seahawks have formula for success in backfield
- WR | Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin are elite, but Seahawks could add third receiver
- TE | Coming Friday
- OL | Coming Saturday
- DL | Coming Sunday
- LB | Coming Monday
- DB | Coming Tuesday
- ST | Coming Wednesday
“We’d love to keep those guys with us, yeah,” Carroll said of Fluker and Sweezy in his end-of-season news conference. “We would love to do that.”
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The Seahawks will have to do a little bit of work to get that done, with Fluker and Sweezy now free agents. Re-signing one, or both, or figuring out how to replace them, will be the key to the offseason when it comes to its offensive line.
Here’s an overview of the position.
After a few years of major question marks on the offensive line, the Seahawks went the tried-and-true route in 2018, with their line featuring five players who entered the year with at last three seasons of starting experience.
When the Seahawks had Brown, Sweezy, Fluker, Justin Britt at center and Germain Ifedi at right tackle that they were at their best. The Seahawks were 6-2 in the eight games those five started and 7-2 with Fluker in the starting lineup.
After Fluker recovered from a preseason hamstring injury and entered the starting lineup in week three, the Seahawks’ season turned around. They were 10-4 the rest of the way.
Brown, Britt, Sweezy and Ifedi started at least 15 games, a consistency that also was a key factor in the improved play.
One wart? Seattle allowed 51 sacks, the most in Russell Wilson’s career. The line is hardly to blame for all of that. Carroll blamed Wilson at times for holding onto the ball too long. Carroll also prefers Wilson to take a sack to throwing the ball carelessly, and there were some were coverage sacks. But it’s worth noting almost half of the sacks — 25 — came in Seattle’s six losses.
Here’s a review of the line:
Left tackle: Duane Brown
Key stat: Played all but two offensive snaps in 2018, 1,067, the most of any Seahawks offensive lineman. Had by far the best grade from Pro Football Focus of any Seattle lineman at 82.3, fifth-best among all tackles.
Contract status: Signed through the 2021 season. Has a base salary of $8 million in 2019.
Left guard: J.R. Sweezy
Key stat: Graded better pass blocking (59.3) than run blocking (43.5) by Pro Football Focus.
Contract status: Will become an unrestricted free agent in March.
Center: Justin Britt
Key stat: Ranked 29th by Pro Football Focus among centers.
Contract status: Signed through the 2020 season. Entire base salary of $4.5 million for 2019 became fully guaranteed last week.
Right guard: D.J. Fluker
Key stat: Due to injuries played just 607 snaps, 56.8 percent, according to Pro Football Reference.
Contract status: Like Sweezy, will become an unrestricted free agent on March 13.
Right tackle: Germain Ifedi
Key stat: Pro Football Focus grade of 55.2 was 71st among all tackles.
Contract status: Has one year remaining on four-year rookie deal with a base salary of $1.5 million for 2019. Seahawks could pick up a fifth-year option on his contract for the 2020 season by May 3.
BACKUPS/OTHERS ON ROSTER
Key stat: Got one start, going all the way at center in the Week 3 home win against Dallas.
Contract status: Hunt is an exclusive rights free agent, meaning he’ll stay with the Seahawks as long as he gets a qualifying offer.
Key stat: Got four starts — three at left guard, one at right guard.
Contract status: Is entering third year of four-year rookie deal, due a base salary of $865,822.
Key stat: Former Bellevue High star was on and off practice squad last season.
Contract status: Signed a one-year futures deal with a $495,000 base salary in 2019.
Key stat: Started against Rams, Vikings and second game against 49ers before suffering a knee injury. Is expected to be ready for the 2019 season.
Contract status: Is also an exclusive rights free agent.
Key stat: Spent season on practice squad.
Contract status: Signed a one-year futures deal with a $570,000 base salary in 2019.
Key stat: Got 371 snaps, most of any backup linemen, while starting two games and playing substantially as an eligible tackle/tight end.
Contract status: Fant is a restricted free agent. Seahawks must submit a qualifying offer by March 13, or Fant becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Key stat: Played just one play all season, filling in for Fant due to injury on a TD run by Chris Carson against the Chiefs.
Contract status: Is under contract through 2019 and has a base salary of $495,000 in 2019.
Key stat: Spent season on injured reserve after ankle injury in preseason.
Contract status: Entering second year of four-year rookie deal and has a base salary of $495,000 in 2019.
With Brown, Britt and Ifedi under contract, meaning the Seahawks have their center and both tackles set for another season, the biggest objective is to determine the guard spots, as Fluker and Sweezy are free agents.
Both have had injury issues in recent seasons, and Sweezy is now 30. That could dim their market some and make a return to Seattle easier — each stated they’d like to remain with the Seahawks.
Seattle also has to figure out if it will pick up Ifedi’s option. Odds are the Seahawks will not, and Ifedi will play out his contract. But the team could re-sign Ifedi to a longer-term contract at any point.
The other big question is Fant, who will be a restricted free agent. Seattle would seem likely to tender him, probably at the lowest amount, meaning a salary of just over $2 million. The Seahawks undoubtedly want to keep him around.
If Seahawks keep two or three of the above, then they may not have huge needs on the line as they remain high on a number of the younger players in the organization, notably Simmons (who played well in two full games) and Jones (a 2018 draft pick who was making a serious run at the right tackle spot before being injured).
Pocic, a second-round pick in 2017, enters a key year for his future after failing to secure the left-guard spot last season. But the Seahawks don’t appear eager to give up on Pocic just yet.
POSSIBLE FREE AGENT TARGETS
If Fluker and Sweezy re-sign — or even if just one does — the Seahawks may not have the need to spend a whole lot in free agency. The Seahawks have 10 linemen under contract for 2019 already, not including Fant, Sweezy and Fluker, and probably wouldn’t go to camp with more than 15 or 16.
Seattle hadn’t had much luck with free-agent offensive linemen in recent years until striking gold with a new philosophy last year — sign players they’ve coached before (Sweezy with the Seahawks while Fluker had played under Solari with the Giants).
Former Seahawks available include 2011 first-round pick James Carpenter, now 30 and a free agent after five years with the Jets, and Garry Gilliam, recently released by the 49ers. Veteran guard John Greco, who played for Solari with the Giants for part of the 2017 season, is also a free agent.
Overall, this isn’t regarded as a good year to be seeking free-agent help on the line.
It appears to be a decent draft class for offensive linemen with anywhere from 6-10 appearing likely to go in the first round.
In a way, Seattle has already used this draft to help its line — it doesn’t have its second-rounder this year as part of the Brown trade in 2017.
The Seahawks have drafted at least one offensive lineman every year since 2008. But with just four picks at the moment, this might be a year that pick would come late.