RENTON — The Seahawks are in the market for a new center — for the second half of this season and, perhaps, into 2020 and beyond.
Justin Britt, a regular starter on the Seahawks’ offensive line since 2014, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the opening drive of the Seahawks’ victory at Atlanta on Sunday, coach Pete Carroll confirmed Monday.
Britt will have season-ending surgery. Recovery from ACL surgery typically takes 8-12 months, which puts into question Britt’s availability for the start of the 2020 season.
Britt, 28, signed a three-year, $27-million contract extension with the Seahawks in August 2017. He is scheduled to earn a base salary of $8.25 million in 2020, the final year of that deal, with a $11.67 million cap hit, according to spotrac.com.
That figure would make Britt the third-highest paid center in the NFL.
And as callous as this might sound so soon after a major injury, the Seahawks could save a significant sum — about $8.75 million — by releasing Britt before next season. (Players can’t technically be cut while they’re injured, but teams can always try to renegotiate deals, too.)
For now, Joey Hunt is the only healthy player on the Seahawks’ roster with experience playing center.
On Monday, Carroll reiterated his confidence in Hunt as the starter for the remainder of this season. Hunt replaced Britt in the first quarter Sunday and played the rest of the game.
“He did fine. As Joey does, he does things right,” Carroll said. “He made good calls, good direction with what he was doing up front. There’s one thing he needs to improve on — pass protection — but all in all he did a nice job.”
Hunt, a sixth-round pick in 2016, had played just 11 snaps this season before Sunday. He will be a restricted free agent after this year, making the second half of the season a prolonged audition for him.
Ethan Pocic, the Seahawks’ 2017 second-round draft pick, has experience at center and guard, but he was placed on the injured reserve on Oct. 11 and, according to the NFL bylaws, isn’t available to return from the reserve list after eight games have passed — so the Dec. 15 game at Carolina at the earliest.
That means the Seahawks are searching for a center to back up Hunt.
“We’re working at it,” Carroll said.
One option could be to bring back guard/center Marcus Martin. The Seahawks signed Martin as a free agent in May. He went through training camp in Seattle before being released in late August.
• Starting right cornerback Tre Flowers (stinger), sidelined against Atlanta, is scheduled to practice this week and Carroll expects him to be available against Tampa Bay on Sunday.
• Safety Quandre Diggs, acquired in a trade with Detroit last week, was limited in practice with the Seahawks last week because of a hamstring injury and his status is up in the air. “I can’t say that he’s for sure back yet for this weekend,” Carroll said.
• Tight end Ed Dickson, on the injured reserve since Sept. 9 after having knee surgery, is scheduled to practice this week and Carroll is hopeful he will be available to play Sunday.