Revisiting the Seahawks’ decisions to let Russell Okung, J.R. Sweezy leave in free agency
Last Friday, left tackle Russell Okung returned to Seattle to host a charity event. While he was with the Seahawks, Okung had numerous charity causes he supported.
The timing of his return came was appropriate. Seattle’s offensive line has been transitioning without him and without J.R. Sweezy, the former Seahawks right guard who signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent over the offseason.
Speaking of timing, the Seahawks play the Buccaneers on Sunday and Tuesday was a significant day. Players who started the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list or Non-Football Injury list had to either start practicing or be shut down for the season. Sweezy has been out with back problems and the Bucs didn’t allow him to practice, so his season is over. Tampa Bay gave Sweezy a five-year, $32.5 million contract and didn’t get a single play out of him in his first season with the team.
With that thought in mind, it’s time to review the Okung-Sweezy losses versus where the Seahawks are as an offensive line.
First of all, the Seahawks didn’t have the luxury of keeping either player. Okung was the bigger loss of the two, but there was no way they were going to give him a contract he was seeking. Okung was making $8 million a year on his rookie contract, and because he’d been to the Pro Bowl as a Seahawk, he was thinking he could get a deal averaging over $10 million.
Okung signed a five-year, $53 million deal with the Broncos, but Denver can get out of it after one year and would have only paid him $5 million for the 2016 season. The Broncos can pick up a four-year, $48 million option, but it’s debatable as to whether they will after the season.
Okung has been good but not great for the Broncos. Pro Football Focus rates him as the 47th-best tackle in football at 61.8. He gets good grades as a run blocker at 77.8 but not so good as a pass blocker 43.7. The pass blocking rating is a little bit of a surprise because Okung has only been credited with two sacks allowed in 10 starts.
Still, there is no doubt the Seahawks’ offensive line would have been better in the first half of the season had Okung been around, but that was not going to happen. Even at $5 million, the Seahawks would have had a hard time keeping him. They have so much cap resources invested in Russell Wilson, Jimmy Graham, Doug Baldwin and high-priced defensive players that only so much money was going to be available.
Think about this. The Seahawks head into Week 12 with $3.59 million a cap room. Though it’s been painful to watch at times, their offensive line has made it through 11 weeks and the team in second in the NFC with a 7-2-1 record.
They tried to get through the first half of the season with Bradley Sowell, but that clearly wasn’t good enough. PFF rated him the 73rd-best tackle at 38.6. Undrafted rookie George Fant is rated four slots slower at 33.3, but there is so much upside in his game.
The Seahawks are now getting solid play guard-to-guard. Justin Britt has become a star at center. Mark Glowinski has been solid at left guard. Rookie Germain Ifedi is getting settled in at right guard, Sweezy’s old spot, and is getting better by the week.
Right tackle remains a concern so much so that Sowell is now competing with Gary Gilliam after losing his job to Fant.
Here’s the bottom line – and we mean the bottom line – on the losses of Okung and Sweezy and the move to a young line: Okung would have been nice to get the blocking off to a better start in the first half of the season, but if Fant can be good, the Seahawks can start to grow as a unit over the second half of the season and into next year.
Sweezy’s back issues most likely date back to last year, and not having him for the season would have been a disaster for the Seahawks at $6.5 million a year. With a hard salary cap, sometimes you have to bite the bullet and hope to come out ahead.
It’s hard to give rave reviews to the Seahawks’ offensive line at this stage, but things are trending upward, and if that’s the case, the future might be bright. The only pure financial investment in this group was J’Marcus Webb, but his signing was a mess and he was cut Tuesday.
The Seahawks were rated by PFF as one of the worst offensive lines last year even with Okung and Sweezy. Their rating might not be much better this year, but the line fit the current cap. If it finishes strong, things should be alright.
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