Justin Britt has made a successful move to center. Now the Seahawks may have a decision to make in the off-season about his future.
What reeked of desperation in the spring — the Seahawks’ move of Justin Britt to center — proved salvation on Sunday.
Sure, there were a handful of reasons why the Seahawks turned in their best offensive performance of the season as well as one of the better rushing performances in team history in beating the Carolina Panthers 40-7 Sunday — Seattle’s 240 rushing yards were the 16th-most in team history and sixth-most of the Pete Carroll era, while the average of 8.3 yards per carry was the second-most behind only the 8.4 of a win against Buffalo in 2012.
Thomas Rawls for the first time this season looked like the Thomas Rawls of 2015, twisting and bulling his way to 106 yards.
Russell Wilson’s back-to-normal mobility helped open up the offense a bit.
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And then there was the creativity of the Tyler Lockett fly sweep, by itself accounting for 75 yards in one quick swoop.
“Having him do that definitely helped our stats,’’ Britt said with a smile afterward.
But then there was also the presence of Britt himself, something Carroll mentioned four sentences in to his opening statement.
“I think it really demonstrated how important Justin Britt has been to us,’’ Carroll said.
Britt had missed the previous week’s 14-5 offensive debacle at Tampa Bay with a sprained ankle. His return, Carroll said, “really cleaned things up this week.’’
But was it really just that simple, that the return of Britt turned a line that the previous week could hardly get out of its own way into one that appeared ready to let the offense name how many points it wanted to put up against a team that a year ago was in the Super Bowl?
“I think that was that as much as anything,’’ Carroll said afterward.
It was also the most emphatic validation yet of the decision to move Britt from guard to center in the spring.
At the time, it seemed head-scratching, many wondering what it said about both Britt — who had played right tackle as a rookie in 2014 and then left guard in 2015, apparently unable to prove his staying power at either spot; and the Seahawks, who gave to some the appearance of grasping at straws in trying to find a viable anchor for the middle of their line.
The Seahawks, though, insisted at the time it was a move they had always considered, saying that while Britt had little real experience at center previous to this season it had always been in the back of their mind from the moment he was taken in the second round out of Missouri in 2014.
And Britt, with little choice but to go along, said he loved the move while making a joking reference to being asked to try a third position in three years.
“I’m definitely losing more hair because of it,” he said in May. “But the more you can do.’’
That latter sentence was a nod to Britt understanding that his professional future might rest in whether he could make the move to center.
There’s no doubt about that now, which could present the Seahawks with another decision to make regarding Britt in the off-season.
Britt is in the third season of his initial four-year rookie contract and the team could offer him an extension in the off-season to assure his future before he enters his free agent year.
As such, he’ll also prove an interesting test case of the Seahawks’ much-scrutinized approach to their offensive line. Seattle currently has the lowest-paid offensive line in the NFL, with a total salary cap value of $6.2 million following the recent release of J’Marcus Webb.
Just three years ago, when the Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2013, Seattle had the highest-paid line in the NFL.
But Seattle declined to re-sign four of the Super Bowl starters when their contracts came up, and then traded center Max Unger to get Jimmy Graham. Unger, in fact, represents the last time that the Seahawks paid significant money to keep one of their own linemen when he signed a four-year deal worth almost $25 million in July, 2012.
The Seahawks, though, have yet to re-sign any offensive lineman drafted during the Carroll/John Schneider era to second contracts (five would have been eligible so far, notably first-round picks Russell Okung and James Carpenter, as well as J.R. Sweezy).
Schneider has insisted it was never the plan not to pay offensive linemen, that each simply represented an individual decision in which Seattle ultimately preferred to spend its resources elsewhere.
But while none of the decisions necessarily look like mistakes (Sweezy, signed by Tampa Bay to a five-year, $32.5 million deal with $14.5 million guaranteed, has yet to play a down this season due to injuries) a picture has been created of a Seattle team that doesn’t value the offensive line the way it does other positions.
Carroll’s raves about Britt in the hours after the win over the Panthers, though, make clear they consider him the glue holding together a line that includes two rookies and one second-year player in his first year as a starter, players who now appear to be forming the foundation of a line that could stay together for several years.
“In a young group of guys, they are really counting on Justin,’’ Carroll said. “So without him it was difficult on them the week before. I think it was pretty obvious when you see the comparison this week.’’
A night that not only proved Britt’s value to the team for the present but likely enhanced his own for the future.