Our review of Seahawks’ position groups continues with the offensive line.
The line began the season playing as well as any in coach Pete Carroll’s tenure with the team, he said. But it was a question mark by the end of the season.
Let’s look at the personnel.
Snaps played in regular season: 1,048.
Contract situation: Entering final season, due to make a base salary of $10 million in 2021 while counting $13.3 million against the salary cap.
Snaps played in regular season: 498.
Contract situation: Unrestricted free agent after making $2.5 million in 2020.
Snaps played in regular season: 932.
Contract situation: Unrestricted free agent after finishing four-year rookie deal, making $1.066 million in 2020.
Snaps played in regular season: 967.
Contract situation: Entering second season of four-year rookie deal, due to make $832,825 in 2021.
Snaps played in regular season: 673.
Contract situation: Entering second season of two-year deal, set to make a base salary of $3.075 million in 2021 and count $5.3 million against the cap.
Snaps played: 593.
Contract situation: A restricted free agent after making $675,000 this season.
Snaps played: 277.
Contract situation: Unrestricted free agent after making $2.237 million this season.
The Seahawks began the season with four of five starters seeming set the minute camp began — all but center. Possibly the biggest surprise during training camp came at center, as Pocic beat out free-agent signee B.J. Finney for the starting spot. Finney didn’t play a down on offense before he was traded to the Bengals in the deal for defensive end Carlos Dunlap to Seattle.
And while the Seahawks’ line featured three new starters (Pocic, Lewis, Shell), any concern about lack of time on the field in the preseason to jell seemed moot as the offense was among the NFL’s best early in the season.
Brown had one of the best seasons of his storied NFL career, with a Pro Football Focus grade that was his highest since 2011.
Lewis was a revelation as a rookie, starting all 16 games, including the pivotal Arizona win at center. And this week he was named to the Pro Football Writers Association of American All-Rookie team.
Shell, a signing that didn’t generate a lot of excitement, proved an upgrade at right tackle from the departed Germain Ifedi.
And Pocic found a home at center, his primary position in college, after spending his first three years at guard and tackle.
But injuries took their inevitable toll. After starting together for the first four games, the top five started only one more game together the rest of the regular season. In those five games, Seattle went 5-0, scoring 31 or more points in each game and gaining 410 or more yards four times.
Simmons had six starts at guard and Ogbuehi four at right tackle due to injury. But as Carroll said at one point, starters are starters for a reason. Simmons and Ogbuehi had PFF grades lower than the players they were replacing, and Seattle’s line play seemed to fall off as the year progressed. Jamarco Jones also had two starts and Kyle Fuller one.
The season ended in disappointment, though, as the starting five was back for the playoff against the Rams, but turned in its worst collective performance. The only player given a better than below average pass-blocking rating against the Rams was Brown.
Still, PFF rated Seattle’s line 14th out of 32 in its end-of-season rankings, writing in part: “The Seahawks’ offensive line ranked 16th as a unit in pass-blocking grade this season. That may not appear all that impressive on the surface, but it’s the highest they’ve ranked in that area since Russell Wilson has been in Seattle. That improvement is due in part to several members along the line taking steps toward the production Duane Brown has been able to put forth each year since joining the team in 2017.”
The playoff struggles against the Rams again led to lots of questions about the line and its future.
But with less draft capital than ever (no picks in first or third rounds) and the uncertainty over how the NFL’s salary cap will work out because of COVID-19 financial losses, making big changes may not be easy.
Brown, Lewis and Shell remain under contract for 2021 and figure to return to man those spots again. Brown turns 36 on Aug. 30, but said late in the year he felt far healthier than a year ago, when he was battling knee and biceps issues.
Pocic would seem a priority to re-sign at center, but he might also be one who wants to see what the market may bear in his first shot at free agency after his best NFL season.
The lowered cap for 2021, though, could mute the market for many free agents, and someone in Pocic’s position could be had for a one-year deal and the chance to hit free agency again in 2022 when the cap may return to a more typical number.
Carroll also said the Seahawks “need to improve” at left guard, a possible indication that Iupati won’t be back after again battling injuries much of the season.
That could open the door for Simmons, Jones or maybe Phil Haynes, a fourth-round pick in 2019 who has been limited to two games because of injury.
Also, Seattle retains the rights to Chance Warmack, a free-agent signee last year who opted out of the 2020 season. Assuming he plays in 2021, Warmack — who has 51 career starts, including three full seasons at right guard with the Titans — could be a factor at left guard.
The Seahawks may also want to keep Ogbuehi as a backup at the tackle spots, as experience in the system could be valuable with the NFL likely to have an all-virtual offseason program.
Up next: Defensive line.