In the span of a few hours Thursday morning, the Seahawks offensive line fell into place.
When the day began, the second of the NFL free-agency signing period, the question remained of who would fill the team’s guard positions in the wake of the departure of J.R. Sweezy to Arizona earlier in the week and uncertainty over whether D.J. Fluker would return.
It was revealed that the Seahawks were signing nine-year veteran Mike Iupati away from Arizona to replace Sweezy — a trade with the NFC West rival Cardinals, in a sense. Shortly after came even bigger news, that Fluker would return, agreeing to a two-year contract reported by the NFL Network to be worth up to $9 million, a significant raise from the $1.5 million he made last season.
Fluker posted confirmation on Twitter, stating “unfinished business” next to a picture of him running out of the tunnel at CenturyLink Field in a Seahawks uniform and later tweeting: “GOD HAS BLESSED ME AND MY FAMILY WITH A GREAT OPPORTUNITY. I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE WHAT THIS SEASON HAS IN STORE.”
The two signings appear to set Seattle’s offensive line heading into the 2019 season with Fluker returning at the right guard spot, Iupati stepping in for Sweezy at left guard and the other spots remaining the same — left tackle Duane Brown, center Justin Britt and right tackle Germain Ifedi.
The Seahawks put a second-round tender on restricted free agent George Fant, who played a valuable tight end/tackle eligible role last season, essentially assuring he will return. Also still on the roster are Ethan Pocic, Jordan Simmons, Jordan Roos, Joey Hunt and Elijah Nkansah, who all have seen action over the past two seasons.
Fluker, who turned 28 on Wednesday, signed with Seattle last March on a one-year deal a week after the free-agent signing period began, hoping to resurrect his career after a lost season with the New York Giants.
Having definitively done so — Seattle went 7-3 when he played last season — he said at the end of the season he hoped to stay in Seattle, but he was expected to test the market.
Seattle’s urgency to keep Fluker — as well as the money it had on hand to give him — likely increased following the loss of Sweezy.
Coach Pete Carroll had said the team wanted to keep as much of the offensive line as the Seahawks could after a 2018 season in which they led the NFL in rushing after having ranked near the bottom in 2016 and 2017.
Carroll lauded not only the physical presence Fluker brought to the team’s offensive line, but also the enthusiasm with which he practiced and played.
“He fit us just right,” Carroll said last month at the NFL combine. “Attitude-wise, you couldn’t imagine a guy having more of an impact. His aggressiveness, his toughness his desire to keep getting better and pushing it and fighting through the hard things and the difficulties. He was banged up some during the year and then he was just a monster playing. I think he played better than he did the year before for (Seahawks offensive line coach) Mike (Solari) with the Giants. He was more consistent and more effective, I think because we ran the ball much more, you could see his style come to life. He was a big part of it.”
Iupati comes to Seattle in similar fashion as did Fluker a year ago, off an injury-plagued season and having a history with Solari.
Fluker ended the 2017 season on injured reserve, which allowed the Seahawks to get him relatively inexpensively, after having played one season for Solari with the Giants.
Iupati played just 10 games last season for Arizona before going on IR because of a knee injury and played for Solari with the 49ers from 2010-14.
Iupati told the team’s website that his familiarity with Solari helped make his decision to sign with Seattle.
“They’re a winning team,” Iupati said. “They’ve been competitors and contenders for the nine years I’ve been in the league. It’s close to home, and Mike Solari is also one of the biggest reasons I wanted to come here because he was my coach in San Fran. He’s awesome.”
That Fluker and Iupati have dealt with injuries in recent seasons — Fluker has played just 19 of 32 regular season games the past two seasons and Iupati just 11 — will make the development of depth critical at the guard spots.
But the Seahawks will hope there’s a lot more of what Fluker brought the Seahawks in 2018 available for two more years.