Update: Free agent guard T.J. Lang signed a three-year deal with the Lions Sunday, according to a Tweet from Lang’s agent Mike McCartney. Lang had reportedly narrowed his choices down to Detroit, the Seahawks, and the Packers, where he played his first eight seasons of his career.
Original: The move the Seahawks made to sign Luke Joeckel to a one-year deal worth up to $8 million on the first day of free agency was only the start of their efforts to upgrade their offensive line. Seattle is also getting a free-agent visit from longtime Packers guard T.J. Lang, who, according to Jordan Schultz of The Huffington Post, is in town Friday and has become the Seahawks’ “top priority.”
Lang, who’s from the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak, Mich., previously visited the Lions and reportedly scrapped a planned visit to the Broncos after they spent big on another free-agent guard, Ronald Leary. Lang has said he will give the Packers a chance to match whatever offers he gets on the open market. And on that note, it should be mentioned that free agents have been known to use visits as leverage to pry more money from other teams. Lang, though, has a relationship with Seahawks general manager John Schneider, who was the Packers’ director of football operations when they drafted Lang in the fourth round out of Eastern Michigan in 2009.
Assuming Lang’s interest in the Seahawks is real, that would make them one of at least three teams in the mix.
On one hand, the competition could drive up Lang’s price. His last deal with Green Bay averaged $5.2 million and he’s coming off a Pro Bowl season, the first of his eight-year career. Then again, he’ll turn 30 in September and is a little older than some of the other guards who just cashed in with upper-market deals at the start of free agency (Kevin Zeitler at $12 million a year, Ronald Leary at $8.75 million and Joel Bitonio at $8.53 million). Lang also missed three games last year because of a foot injury that also knocked him out of the NFC title game, and he had surgery in January for a lingering hip problem.
Those injuries will make all the more important the physical that the Seahawks will presumably put Lang through during his free-agent visit.
If Lang checks out medically, the next question would be what Seattle is willing to pay him. The Seahawks entered free agency with about $26 million in salary cap space. Joeckel’s deal will cut into that as will, to a lesser extent, right tackle Garry Gilliam’s $1.8 million tender as a restricted free agent. The Seahawks also have several unrestricted free agents they’d like to have back and will need to set aside a portion of the balance for their draft class and undrafted rookies.
So it’s hard to imagine the Seahawks breaking the bank on Lang – i.e., paying him upwards of $10 million a season – especially without any obvious candidates on their roster to be cut in order to clear cap room. The savings would be minimal with wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, as detailed in this post. Cornerback Jeremy Lane’s 2017 salary is now guaranteed. Schneider has said tight end Jimmy Graham isn’t going anywhere, either.
Another question with Lang is where he’d fit in along Seattle’s offensive line. It’s tough to project with any degree of certainty for a few reasons. Lang has experience at three positions, having played left guard and right tackle before moving to right guard, where he started the last four seasons. Joeckel has also moved around, playing left guard last year after starting his career at left tackle. And the Seahawks have a history of moving offensive linemen around, with their stated preference being to identify the five best players and go from there, even if it means putting one of them in an unfamiliar spot.
So there would be all sorts of options at possible line combinations if Seattle added Lang to the mix, too many to run through while his signing is still just a possibility and not a reality. But here are a few things to keep in mind there:
Germain Ifedi was a right tackle in college and coach Pete Carroll has said the team is open to moving him back there, even if the preference would be to let him stay put at right guard, where he started as a rookie last season. So having that option in their back pocket would allow the Seahawks to keep Ifedi in the starting lineup if Lang took over at right guard. That’s not to say necessarily that Mark Glowinski is locked in at left guard after taking over the starting job there last season. Lang would be a possibility there, too.
Gilliam’s $1.8 million RFA tender isn’t guaranteed, so the Seahawks are by no means committed to him as their starting right tackle next season. Joeckel could be an option there in addition to Ifedi. Or, perhaps more likely, Joeckel could replace George Fant at left tackle, where Joeckel played in college and for his first three seasons in Jacksonville.
And there’s still the draft. That the Seahawks are again picking late in the first round will hurt their chances of finding an offensive lineman who’s ready to start right away, already a tough proposition in what’s considered another weak draft class at that position. But it’s not out of the question entirely.
It’s a complicated picture and much of it will depend on what how well Lang’s visit with the Seahawks goes.