All five of Seattle’s offensive-line starters from their Super Bowl victory are gone. With the salary cap a concern, the team spent instead on defense and quarterback Russell Wilson. Did the strategy work? The 2016 draft could be a chance to replenish the line, on a budget.
When the Seahawks beat Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII, they did so with the highest-paid offensive line in the NFL — just under $28 million.
As the Seahawks enter the NFL draft they are devoting the least amount of cap space to their offensive line for next season — $8.7 million.
So what has changed in the past 27 months?
When: First round, 5 p.m. Thursday
TV: ESPN, NFL Network
Seahawks: Nine picks overall in the draft, including No. 26 in the first round (then 56, 90, 97, 124, 171, 215, 225, 247)
The hot take is that the Seahawks simply stopped making the offensive line a priority.
The more nuanced answer is that Seattle has been faced with a number of decisions about which of its players were most critical to keep for the long-term good of the franchise — core players, as coach Pete Carroll often says.
And simply put, when the Seahawks evaluated the offensive linemen whose futures suddenly required a decision, the team didn’t feel they were worth the price (or more specifically, the salary-cap room) it would take to keep them at the risk of losing a player at another spot it valued more highly.
Seahawks general manager John Schneider made exactly that defense of the team’s handling of the offensive line during a recent interview on ESPN 710 Seattle.
“When you’re constructing a team, especially the way we are in the salary-cap era, you are going to be focusing on keeping key players,” Schneider said. “It so happens for us the way we have built this defensively, we have been pretty heavy (in spending on the defensive side of the ball). … And then obviously our quarterback is taking off right now.”
Indeed, in 2013 the Seahawks spent less than all but two NFL teams at quarterback, at just over $1.5 million. Now Seattle is spending almost $19 million at quarterback thanks to the four-year, $87 million contract given last summer to Russell Wilson.
A similar trajectory has occurred at cornerback. In 2013, the Seahawks spent just $3.2 million there — 30th in the NFL — but thanks in large part to the four-year, $56 million deal given to Richard Sherman in 2014, they are now spending almost $21 million, eighth in the NFL.
Something had to give, and that something was the offensive line, with all five players who started against the Broncos now gone, four having signed significant contracts with other teams.
To recap, the starting five for the Super Bowl were right tackle Breno Giacomini (a salary-cap number of $4.75 million in 2013), right guard J.R. Sweezy ($494,000), center Max Unger ($6 million), left guard James Carpenter ($2 million) and left tackle Russell Okung ($9.5 million).
Here is what has happened to each player since then:
• Giacomini signed as a free agent with the Jets after the 2014 season, agreeing to a four-year, $18 million contract with $7 million guaranteed.
• Carpenter signed as a free agent with the Jets after the 2015 season, agreeing to a four-year, $19.1 million contract with $7.5 million guaranteed.
• Unger, with two years left on a four-year, $26 million contract, was traded to the Saints in March 2015 for tight end Jimmy Graham amid speculation that the Seahawks were considering releasing him.
• Sweezy signed as a free agent after the 2015 season, agreeing with Tampa Bay to a five-year, $32.5 million contract that includes $14.5 million guaranteed.
• Okung signed last month as a free agent with Denver, a five-year contract that could pay him $56 million over the life of the contract but at most $8 million in 2016. After 2016, the Broncos have an option to pick up the final four years.
The total cap hit in 2016 of the five who got away? Roughly $29.6 million.
The $21 million current difference is money the Seahawks undoubtedly would argue was needed to assure the team could keep Wilson as well as the heart and soul of a defense that has seen six key players receive significant contracts since the Super Bowl win.
Though many NFL observers question Seattle’s big-picture approach to the offensive line, many also say each decision, when viewed individually, can be defended.
Sweezy’s deal, which made him the NFL’s third-highest-paid right guard, is one that few question Seattle for not matching.
“I don’t think anyone viewed him as being one of the top-paid right guards in the NFL,’’ said Jason Fitzgerald of Overthecap.com.
Joel Corry, a former agent who covers NFL financial issues for CBSSports.com, says of the Giacomini and Carpenter contracts that “you really can’t fault Seattle for passing on the deals those guys got.”
Unger’s salary essentially was dumped to allow the Seahawks to take a shot at getting Graham.
Okung, meanwhile, created a unique dynamic by deciding to represent himself, which observers say played a role in him leaving.
As Corry says, “If you’ve got a good succession plan, then you should go with your succession plan and not overpay just to keep a guy.’’
Therein lies the rub.
Seattle’s line last season, which ranked 31st in salary-cap money, had its obvious issues. And the loss of Okung and Sweezy since then has raised more questions.
Seattle’s highest-paid offensive lineman now is J’Marcus Webb, who is slated to be a $2.4 million cap hit in 2016 after signing as a free agent. That is almost $1 million less than the Seahawks paid utility backup Paul McQuistan in 2013 ($3.375 million).
The Seahawks also signed Bradley Sowell, a backup the past two years with Arizona, to a one-year, $1 million deal.
As currently projected, the rest of the spots on the line would be filled by recent draft picks or free-agent signings all making less than $1.6 million a season.
All of which has most analysts predicting that the Seahawks are likely to load up on offensive linemen with some of the nine picks they have in the NFL draft, which runs Thursday through Saturday in Chicago.
“I think you will see them make an investment early in this draft to say, ‘Hey, look, we have tried the other way,’ ’’ ESPN analyst Louis Riddick said. “ ‘We have tried value shopping and bargain shopping, and let’s go ahead and get ourselves a blue-chipper and really try to solidify this thing and build it back up and make sure we are taking care of Russell the way we need to.’ ”
|2015 spending on the offensive line|
|Last season, these four teams spent the least on their offensive lines. (For comparison, in 2016, the Seahawks are currently last in spending for the OL, at $8.7 million.)|
|Last season, these four teams spent the most on their offensive lines:|
|1. N.Y. Jets||$33.2M|