RENTON, Wash. (AP) — When the Seattle Seahawks finally take the field again, their offensive line will look nothing like it did a year ago after the team used a flurry of free agent signings and draft picks to complete an extensive makeover.
“We think we have the best quarterback in the National Football League and we have to figure out the best group to protect him,” general manager John Schneider said.
Seattle used a third-round pick to select LSU guard Damien Lewis during last week's draft with the idea that he could be a starter this season. The Seahawks followed that up two days later by releasing starting guard D.J. Fluker and starting center Justin Britt in moves that saved Seattle $12 million against the salary cap but also subtracted 174 career regular-season starts on the offensive line.
Couple those two moves with the decision not to bring back four-year starter Germain Ifedi at right tackle and Seattle is facing the challenge of a major integration during an offseason where on-field practices may not happen until training camp.
“Obviously, the veterans, they’re coming in with an edge. They’ve got to cash in on that edge so that they can maintain their competitive opportunity and all that. That’s always the case,” coach Pete Carroll said. “When the young guys come in, we have 18 guys coming in right now looking at what these guys are up against, this is going to bring out the very best in them. We want to play great football up front and we want to give (Russell Wilson) the chance to tear it up like he can.”
Drafting Lewis was the latest move in a surprisingly busy offseason focused on one position group. Seattle had previously landed a bevy of notable free agents -- B.J. Finney, Cedric Ogbuehi, Chance Warmack, Brandon Shell -- and re-signed veteran Mike Iupati. While making a couple of additions each year had been Seattle’s norm, this was a significant investment.
But was such a massive overhaul needed? While Seattle’s run game was excellent, ranking fourth in the league last year, the line allowed 48 sacks and Wilson was often running for safety.
“This is an area where we felt like we could make a difference in free agency playing by our rules and what our philosophy is and trying to protect the quarterback in the best fashion that we possibly could,” Schneider said.
It was clear Ifedi would not return because of his lackluster and inconsistent play at right tackle. The departures of Britt and Fluker seemed entirely based on salary. While Britt suffered a torn ACL midway through last season, his recovery seemed on track and he was expected to be ready for the start of training camp. But he cost $11.4 million against the salary cap and Seattle was already running out of available money.
Fluker represented a $4 million cap hit, which seemed to outweigh his production no matter how much his bullying style worked for Seattle.
Normally, having such a significant number of players at one position group would thrill Carroll, who loves competition. For now, all that competition has to be done virtually.
Seattle knows what it has with Duane Brown at left tackle. Finney has experience playing center and Shell seems to be set for right tackle. The two guard positions would appear to be the most fluid with the likes of Iupati, Lewis, Phil Haynes and Jamarco Jones all in the mix.
“It’s an exciting group of guys. They will be battling,” Carroll said. “Everybody is going to be wide open. We just look forward to the time we can get back on the field.”
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