Take a quick glance at the Seattle Seahawks’ roster and it’s easy to see why many considered them to be a Super Bowl contender, and why some saw them as the Super Bowl favorite heading into the season. The current 53-man roster has combined for 22 Pro Bowl appearances and 15 Associated Press All-Pro selections.
They have a star quarterback in Russell Wilson who is surrounded by a solid group of playmakers. The defense is loaded with All-Pro players at every position group. The specialists are proven veterans with Tyler Lockett in the discussion as the best returner in the NFL. The roster is absolutely stacked.
Except for the offensive line.
The Seahawks have a Pro Bowl type talent at QB, TE, WR, DL, LB, CB, S and special teams. Along the offensive line, they don’t even have a player who would start on most NFL teams. Hell, they might not have a healthy offensive lineman who would start on any other NFL team right now.
Here is a look at the starting group Seattle used during the first two weeks.
LT - Bradley Sowell - An undrafted free agent, now playing for his third NFL team in five seasons. He started 12 games in 2013, but zero in 2014 or 2015. He signed a one-year, $1 million contract this offseason.
LG - Mark Glowinski - A fourth-round pick in 2015, Glowinski appeared in 10 games as a rookie with one start before this season. He didn’t appear in either postseason game last year.
C - Justin Britt - A second-round pick in 2014, Britt has been a starter all three seasons in Seattle. He came in as a tackle and started 16 games at right tackle in 2014. He struggled on the outside, however, prompting a move to guard in 2015. He was better at guard, but still had issues leading to a move to center this year.
RG - J’Marcus Webb - Webb has plenty of starting experience during his seven NFL seasons, but not nearly as much success. He earned a starting spot with the Chicago Bears as a seventh-round pick in 2010, and has since bounced around the league. He was slated to be a backup in Seattle before an injury to Germain Ifedi forced him into the starting lineup.
RT - Garry Gilliam - Gilliam signed with Seattle after going undrafted in 2014. He played both offensive line and tight end in college, even catching a TD for the Seahawks in the 2014 NFC Championship on a fake field goal. He’s a developmental project who’s been forced to learn on the fly as a starting tackle and has struggled along the way.
Veteran free agents off the scrap heap, failed draft picks, and developmental projects usually make up a solid backup unit. Not a starting offensive line of a team with Super Bowl aspirations. That showed during the first two weeks as the Seattle offense mustered only 15 total points while allowing 17 quarterback hits — second most in the NFL.
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So how does a roster as stacked as Seattle’s end up with such a glaring hole? The Seahawks’ current offensive line issues are a result of salary cap restrictions, poor drafting, and just plain hubris.
The Seahawks haven’t completely ignored the offensive line in the offseason. In fact, since head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider came on board in 2010, the team has invested significant draft capital in the group.
First round: Russell Okung, 2010; James Carpenter, 2011; Germain Ifedi, 2016
Second round: Justin Britt, 2014
Third round: John Moffitt, 2011; Rees Odhiambo, 2016
Fourth round: Terry Poole, 2015; Mark Glowinski, 2015
Sixth round: Garrett Scott, 2014; Kristjan Sokoli, 2015; Joey Hunt, 2016
Seventh round: J.R. Sweezy, 2012; Ryan Seymour, 2013; Jared Smith, 2013; Michael Bowie, 2013
That’s 15 draft picks in seven years, including three first-round picks. Three of Seattle’s last four first-round picks were spent on offensive linemen. The problem is only five of those 15 players are currently on the active roster and that includes three rookies drafted this year who didn’t play a snap during the first two games.
The Seahawks have taken plenty of fliers — including on three defensive linemen they tried to convert to offensive line — but not many of those gambles paid off. When Seattle did hit on a draft pick, salary cap restrictions led to short careers in Seattle.
Okung is now starting in Denver. Carpenter is starting at guard for the New York Jets. Sweezy departed to Tampa Bay after signing a five-year, $32.5 million deal. Breno Giaccomini — who started the Super Bowl for Seattle — started at right tackle for the Jets the last two seasons. Seattle also traded Pro Bowl center Max Unger to New Orleans for Jimmy Graham prior to last season. Those are five key departures — largely due to financial restrictions — that caused Seattle to go from having a couple small holes on the offensive line to gaping sinkholes.
Financial limitations have also restricted the Seahawks from being active for top-end OL free agents. They haven’t spent significant money on a free agent offensive lineman since they signed Robert Gallery to a three-year $15 million deal in 2011. Instead, they’ve seen several starters and other key contributors walk in free agency while only picking up scraps, mostly on deals for the veteran minimum.
Seattle has spent just $8.6 million on its nine rostered offensive linemen, according to Spotrac, nearly $500,000 less than any other team.. That’s just $955,268 per offensive lineman, the lowest of any position group on the team. Even the Seattle specialist trio averages nearly double at $1.85 million per player. Seattle has spent the lowest portion of its salary cap on the offensive line at 5.83 percent.
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So how did the Seahawks get to this point? For years they’ve managed to get by, despite issues up front. Offensive line coach Tom Cable always managed to cobble together a unit that was at least passable by the end of the season. He got by with street free agents. He got by with players signed off of practice squads. He got by with defensive linemen he taught to play offensive line. He got by with less and less each season and Seattle’s hubris meant they kept pushing the boundary further and further. They let every free agent walk. They traded their best offensive lineman for a tight end. They just kept pushing resources to other positions because the line always became just good enough and brilliance from Wilson and Marshawn Lynch overcame the deficits.
Now they may have pushed too far.
Lynch is retired. Wilson has been battered all season and suffered an ankle injury in Week 1. He played through it in a Week 2 loss against the Los Angeles Rams, but was clearly hobbled and his effectiveness was limited. To make matters worse, the Seahawks’ only backup quarterback is undrafted rookie Trevone Boykin, who looked shaky in the preseason. Ifedi will return to the lineup at some point, which should help matters. The group has played little football together and might improve as they get comfortable as a unit and improve communication. Still, there is a long way to go.
The team relies on Wilson to be great, yet doesn’t protect him well enough or have any feasible backup plan behind him. Wilson has never missed a game during a career, but if the play of the offensive line doesn’t improve quickly, it appears to be a when, not an if, for that streak to end this season.
The Seahawks bought a Lamborghini with this roster, but didn’t save enough money to afford gas to drive it. With an average offensive line, they might steamroll the NFC on the way to a Super Bowl. With the current unit, they seem much more likely to waste a prime season of a shrinking championship window.