Why would Seahawks throw away 60% of an O-line that helped make an 11-win season? Because Russell Wilson was sacked 99 times the past two seasons.
The Seahawks’ mass harvest of offensive linemen in the off-season reached a peak of 19, a collection rivaling the casting call for the Monstars roles in Space Jam. When the first two roster cuts following the draft were mid-career veterans, C Justin Britt and RG D.J. Fluker, it was plain coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider were on to the larger problem.
Combined with the decision to let RT Germain Ifedi go into free agency, the Seahawks dumped 60 percent of an O-line from a team that went 11-5 and was a couple of plays short of reaching the NFC Championship.
Despite the team success, the line was trouble.
That vulnerability was why I advocated ahead of the draft that the Seahawks’ biggest priority was the O-line, not the D-line, suggesting USC’s Austin Jackson was a good choice in the first round to start at right tackle until Duane Brown, 34, was done at left tackle.
Alas, Jackson was gone at pick No. 20, seven spots ahead of Seattle. More alas, the Seahawks shockingly disregarded my advice and took two defenders, a linebacker and a rush end, with their first two picks. Part of the decision was driven by shoulder surgery for LB K.J. Wright, which had not been disclosed until Schneider was interviewed on KJR radio Thursday.
Not until the third round did the Seahawks repair the O-line, taking Damien Lewis, a right guard from LSU’s formidable national champions, whose measurables and words seem to fit the bill for a 10-year NFL starter.
I don’t,” he said, “take shit from nobody.”
A true Monstar.
Still, the off-loading of three starters from a single unit of a contender’s roster is a rare thing, clearly a shortcoming bordering on crisis. Schneider signaled intent in his pre-draft presser.
“We love our quarterback,” he said. “We want to have as many grown men in front of him as we possibly can.”
So that prompted me to try to understand what “grown” meant to Schneider, since Fluker couldn’t have been more than a biscuit short of 360 pounds.
So I took a quick look at some stats and was persuaded that Schneider’s use of “grown” must have been a euphemism for “good.”
At least when it came to protecting Russell Wilson.
In the past two seasons, Wilson had the most sacks of his career, 51 in 2018 and 48 in 2019. The latter tied for the league lead with Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Arizona’s Kyler Murray.
The Seahawks’ sack percentage (8.5) was fifth-worst, the yards lost (319) were ninth-most. And that was an improvement over 2018, when the sack percentage was 10.7, second-worst, and the 355 yards lost were seventh-most.
In the two playoff games, Wilson was sacked once at Philly for a seven-yard loss, and five times at Green Bay for 12 lost yards. The sack numbers and yards lost were a little misleading because Wilson was also the team’s rushing leader in both games. He ran for 45 and 64 yards, respectively, because injuries to running backs were so dire that the Seahawks were hollering for retirees and kids to come play.
The playoff games were odd anyway. The Seahawks, who lost three of their final four regular-season games, were a broken team, and barely beat a more broken team in the Eagles. That they made a game of it against the Packers in Green Bay was a final seasonal testimony to the resourcefulness of Wilson.
In fact, the whole season was that way.
You may recall that the Seahawks won 10 games by one score (eight points) or less, a feat done just one other time in the league’s first century. Nearly every time the difference was Wilson, without whom the Seahawks would have fallen through the earth’s crust to its molten core.
You may recall in training camp, Brown raised eyebrows when he said the Seahawks had the makings to become the best O-line in the game. Missed that by a tad.
Pro Football Focus rated them 25th, a familiar spot. The site reported Wilson in his pro career has faced pressure on 42 percent of his drop-backs, the only regular QB with a rate above 40 percent. In 2019, PFF said the pressure rate allowed in 2.5 seconds or less was 26.7 percent, ahead of only the woebegone Jets and Dolphins.
As most fans know, sack totals are not the exclusive province of the line. A number of his sacks are Wilson’s fault, when he hangs on to the ball too long instead of dumping off. The much-injured backs and tight ends also have responsibilities. And the offense didn’t have a reliable third receiver.
Despite the qualifiers, I rest my my case regarding the line’s general futility in protecting the football savior, and the need to upgrade with youth. But I’m reluctant to put Schneider in Bad Draft Jail just yet. He still has 17 guys to sort out.
On the first of May, it seems as if Brown is a lock, draftee Lewis is likely at right guard, and free-agent signee B.J. Finney (two years, $8 million) is the leader to succeed Britt.
At right tackle, by dint of his two-year, $11 million free-agent deal, Brandon Shell is destined to open. At left guard, incumbent Mike Iupati’s oft-injured, 33-year-old body will be pushed by Phil Haynes, 24, a fourth-round pick from Wake Forest who was injured all of his rookie season.
Whether this starting five is better than the 2019 unit is anyone’s guess. We must take Schneider’s word, keeping in mind he told us in the past that J’Marcus Webb and Luke Joeckel could play too.
If the Prime Directive was again to avoid the molten core by keeping Wilson a-gile, mo-bile and hos-tile, the mystery remains. What is certain is that 11-5 was more fragile than it looked.