An inability to draft productive offensive linemen may have been Tom Cable's ultimate undoing with the Seahawks.
Of all the factors that contributed to the firing of Tom Cable as Seattle’s offensive line coach this week, the biggest may have been an inability of the team to properly identify and develop draft picks.
Any NFL draft is a hugely collaborative effort — the Seahawks list 10 full-time personnel directly responsible for college scouting, not including general manager John Schneider. But while teams will rarely if ever draft a player a position coach doesn’t want, Cable was thought to have more sway than most position coaches in telling the team who he did want.
Cable, in fact, was the only position coach the team would make available for interviews during the draft, seemingly symbolic of his influence in the team’s offensive line picks.
And while the draft’s importance is obvious, it became even more so for the Seahawks’ offensive line during the years following the Super Bowl win over Denver when largely for salary cap reasons, every starter from the 2013 season was gone by the time the 2016 season began.
Shakeup in Seattle
Allowed to go via free agency were tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini and guards James Carpenter and J.R. Sweezy, while the team traded center Max Unger to the Saints in 2015 for tight end Jimmy Graham (all five started at least 14 games for another NFL team this season).
Schneider and Carroll often explained that each departure was its own decision with the team simply having to prioritize how it spent its money and needing to re-up core players such as quarterback Russell Wilson and much of the defense (the trade of Unger for Graham, meanwhile, was regarded by the team as a rare chance to get a potential game-changing player at the expense of a center who had played just six games in 2014 and whose future the team considered uncertain due to his injury issues. Alas, after missing 13 games his last two years with the Seahawks, Unger has missed just one in three years with the Saints).
Implicit in the Seahawks’ salary-cap management strategy, though, was a belief that the team could rebuild the offensive line through the draft.
It’s worth remembering that the 2013 offensive line — while the highest-paid in the NFL — was largely homegrown.
Unger was a second-round pick in 2009, Okung a first-rounder in 2010, Carpenter a first-rounder in 2011 and Sweezy a seventh-rounder in 2012. Two key backups that year — Michael Bowie and Alvin Bailey, the latter technically a starter in the Super Bowl when the team went with a lot of heavy sets – were a seventh-round pick and an undrafted free agent in 2013.
If they had built it once, the Seahawks felt, they could build it again.
And the narratives of Seattle’s investment in the offensive line that focused solely on the free agency departures missed that the Seahawks annually drafted as many offensive linemen as any team in the NFL.
Seattle drafted 16 from 2010-17, the most of any team in the league, and 15 during Cable’s seven years, at least two in every draft from 13-17.
Put another way, five of the 16 picks Seattle has made in the first four rounds the last three seasons were offensive linemen.
But as the 2017 season ended only two of those five were playing — guard Ethan Pocic and tackle Germain Ifedi — with one injured (Rees Odhiambo) and two already washed out (Mark Glowinski, Terry Poole).
Whether it was identification or development — or more likely, some combination of both — the Seahawks simply didn’t get enough out of their offensive line drafts during Cable’s tenure.
The only two Pro Bowl offensive linemen during Cable’s tenure were Unger and Okung, who were already part of the team when Cable arrived in 2011.
Of the 15 linemen drafted during Cable’s tenure, only Justin Britt has sniffed a Pro Bowl berth, earning alternate status last year.
Of those 15, only five remained on Seattle’s roster in any capacity at the end of the 2017 season.
While the mid-season trade for veteran left tackle Duane Brown was hailed for its aggressiveness in attempting to fix a glaring problem, it also spoke to the fact that Seattle hadn’t been able to fix the problem from within (true, the hope was that George Fant would fill that spot this year before he was injured in the preseason. But there’s also a little leap of faith that has to be taken to assume he would have done so at a high level given his relative lack of experience).
It’s unclear if a new offensive line coach will be given the same latitude as Cable when it comes to the draft. And given the team’s current situation — Wilson in his prime and a roster that at this moment, anyway, is built more to win now than later — what may be most important for the new OL coach will be to revive the current line more than worrying about drafting for the future.
But long-term, the Seahawks unquestionably have to do better at drafting offensive linemen then they have been, as is made clear when assessing what has happened to each of the OL draft picks since 2011.
James Carpenter (first round, No. 25 overall): Taken with the idea that he would be a tackle, Carpenter eventually was moved to guard and was serviceable enough during his Seattle career. He left for the Jets after the 2014 season. And seemingly symbolic of how things have gone with the Seattle OL the last few years, after battling injuries during his four seasons with the Seahawks — missing 19 of a possible 64 games — he has been sturdy in New York, starting all 48 games the past three seasons.
John Moffitt (third round, No. 75 overall): One of the team’s biggest disappointments, he played in just 17 games over two seasons before being traded to Denver prior to the 2013 season and washing out of the NFL shortly after.
J.R. Sweezy (seventh round, 225th overall): One of the team’s biggest successes, his success may actually have turned into something of a curse. The team famously switched Sweezy from defense to offense and he became a starter by 2013, his on-field intensity setting a tone for team that from 2012-15 was in the top four in rushing every season. But future attempts to replicate the defense-to-offense switch Sweezy was able to make didn’t turn out as well.
Ryan Seymour (seventh round, 220th overall): Never played a game for the Seahawks and was gone by the following season, and after bouncing around the league a little announced his retirement last April.
Jared Smith (seventh round, 241st overall): Another attempt to turn a DL into an OL, Smith never played in an NFL game and was out of Seattle by the start of the 2014 season, last reported to be working in real estate.
Justin Britt (second round, 64th overall): First a tackle, then a guard, Britt finally found a home at center and is the most successful of any of the team’s OL picks since 2011, the only one so far to get a second contract with the team.
Garrett Scott (sixth round, 199th overall): Scott never took part in a Seattle practice after a heart condition was diagnosed shortly after the draft, ending his football career.
Terry Poole (fourth round, 130th overall): The Seahawks fell in love with the athleticism of the San Diego State University tackle. But he has yet to play a down in the NFL, cut by the Seahawks in October of 2016. With the next pick in the draft the Patriots selected Shaq Mason, now a fulltime starter for New England at guard.
Mark Glowinski (fourth round, 134th overall): Maybe one of the more under-the-radar stories of this season was the washing out of Glowinski, who the team heralded as a potential star when he made his first career start in the final game of the 2015 season, a 36-6 blowout of a 13-win Arizona team. But he struggled as a fulltime starter in 2016 and then lost his job two games into the 2017 season and was then waived in December and claimed by the Colts.
Kristjan Sokoli (sixth round, 214th overall): Sokoli, who rated off the charts athletically, was another attempt to convert a DL to offense. The Seahawks were excited enough about him that they kept him on the 53-man for the entire 2015 season, though he played in only two games in mopup duty. He was cut before the 2016 season and is now with the Giants, again playing defense.
Germain Ifedi (first round, 31st overall): The Seahawks weren’t the only ones high on Ifedi. An anonymous scout quoted in the 2016 NFL Draft Preview said “he is a monster. He is a first-round talent. He has all the tools.’’ But while he has been a starter for the Seahawks since day one he has yet to live up to the first-round hype, with his NFL-high 20 penalties this season serving as an apt symbol to many of the Seahawks’ offensive line struggles.
Rees Odhiambo (third round, 97th overall): The former Boise State standout played sparingly as a rookie and became the left tackle this year after the injury to Fant, but was then benched after the trade for Brown and then put on IR with wrist/hand issues. Maybe he can thrive with a new coach, but at the moment it’s hard to tell where he fits into the team’s long-range plans.
Joey Hunt (sixth round, 215th overall): While sixth-rounders come with obvious lower expectations, the Seahawks excitedly talked up the former TCU standout on draft day. “I don’t know if Pete and I would’ve been able to leave the building if we didn’t come away with Joey,’’ Schneider said. “We had to get that done,’’ said Carroll. But Hunt has done little so far, starting one game in 2016 in place of an injured Britt and spending most of 2017 on the practice squad.
Ethan Pocic (second round, 58th overall): Mostly a center at LSU, the Seahawks used Pocic this year as a guard where he became a starter on the right side. Developing him will be a key for the new OL coach.
Justin Senior (sixth round, 210th overall): All-too-symbolic of the team’s recent issues getting anything out of mid-to-late-round OL picks, Senior showed up with a knee issue and never practiced and was waived in December — the only 2017 draft pick not on the team’s roster in some capacity as the season ended.