Heaps: J.J. Watt’s NFC West arrival further highlights Seahawks’ need for OL upgrades

Mar 1, 2021, 1:28 PM

Seahawks Russell Wilson, J.J. Watt...

The Seahawks and Russell Wilson will now face J.J. Watt twice a year. (Getty)


Star Seahawks quarterback made it clear that he wants better pass protection as he’s been sacked and hit more than any NFL quarterback since entering the league in 2012. Part of why he’s been hit and sacked so much is because the NFC West has had plenty of elite pass rushers.

Add another to the list.

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The Arizona Cardinals made a surprising acquisition by signing three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt to a two-year deal, as Watt announced himself on Monday morning.

He joins star edge rusher Chandler Jones in Arizona, only making the division tougher on quarterbacks. The San Francisco 49ers have a young, talented pass rush anchored by Nick Bosa and the Los Angeles Rams have maybe the best player in the NFL in 2020 Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.

Former NFL quarterback Jake Heaps of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy said his first reaction to the news that Watt was coming to the NFC West was, “You have got to be kidding me.” Heaps, who has made it clear he thinks the Seahawks need to focus on adding talent to the offensive line this offseason, believes Watt’s arrival in the division further shows that Seattle has to address its pass protection.

“When it comes to this situation, and we’ve talked about what happens in the offseason and particularly Russell Wilson highlighting offensive line acquisitions and the way they have approached it over the years … I hope that Pete Carroll and John Schneider don’t sit there and grab their Groupon book and continue to thumb through those pages and try to find the next bargain deal,” Heaps said.

The Seahawks under Carroll and Schneider have been pretty frugal when it comes to spending on the offensive line. Currently, the Seahawks need a new left guard as Mike Iupati retired as well as a center as Ethan Pocic is hitting free agency. Aside from left tackle Duane Brown, who is a Pro Bowl contender every year, Seattle has had draft picks or cheaper veterans starting on the offensive line. The results typically haven’t been great, and Wilson has taken a beating as a result. He’s been sacked 40 or more times in eight of his nine NFL seasons and a total of 146 times in the regular season since 2018.

“I hope that they look at this situation and say, ‘Look, we have to approach this differently. And not only has our quarterback talked about this publicly – we haven’t really loved that, by the way – but he has addressed that, and also, the Arizona Cardinals have made an addition,'” Heaps said.

With Wilson far and away the best quarterback in the division for a number of years now, Heaps said the rest of the NFC West has tried to neutralize the advantage that Wilson brings by adding elite talent on the defensive line.

“To try and eliminate that advantage is through great pass rush, through great defensive line play,” he said. “And that’s what the rest of this division has decided to do – very smartly, by the way.”

Now, the Seahawks need to counter the rest of the division’s counter for Wilson by adding more talent to the big guys up front.

“If adding J.J. Watt to this division doesn’t make you think that, ‘Hey, maybe we do have to go after somebody like (Packers free-agent center) Corey Linsley, maybe we do have to go after someone like (Patriots free-agent left guard) Joe Thuney, somebody that is an All-Pro-caliber player that can solidify our offensive line and we add serious resources to this position,’ then I don’t what’s going to,” Heaps said. “I think that it would be borderline irresponsible at this point with the way that I just outlined the outlook within your own division. Not the rest of the NFL, not in playoff football, but within your own division of defensive line play.”

Heaps doesn’t think Watt is the same gamechanger he was when he was winning awards in the early- and mid-2010s, but he’s still capable of dominating. That should be even easier while playing alongside Jones.

And if the Seahawks want to return to the NFC Championship or the Super Bowl for the first time since 2014, Heaps thinks that adding to an already very good offense has to be the priority rather that trying to drastically improve on defense.

“This is an opportunity for you, as the Seahawks, to continue to bolster the side of the ball that I believe is your best chance to win a Super Bowl, which is the offensive side of the ball,” he said. “You can win by making your offense great and elite, and your defense is good. I don’t think you can look at this defense … and say (that with) one or two key additions, this is a legitimate top-five defense … So to me, I don’t know why anybody would argue adamantly that offensive line acquisitions, as you look at the way you compete within your division, should not be priority No. 1. This is just another notch to the argument of that.”

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Heaps: J.J. Watt’s NFC West arrival further highlights Seahawks’ need for OL upgrades