Clayton: Improving the Seahawks’ offensive line isn’t as simple as spending money

Jan 18, 2017, 6:05 AM
Seattle's O-line combined to count only $6.3 million against the cap in 2016, by far the cheapest i...
Seattle's O-line combined to count only $6.3 million against the cap in 2016, by far the cheapest in the NFL. (AP)

Let’s get to the bottom line of the Seahawks’ offensive-line problems: It’s not a money issue. It’s an evaluation issue.

What the Seahawks missed on this year was trying to go too young. Left tackle George Fant and right guard Germain Ifedi were rookies, left guard Mark Glowinsksi was a first-time starter and center Justin Britt was adjusting to a new position. The only returning starter was right tackle Garry Gilliam, who wasn’t as good as he was in 2015.

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Coach Pete Carroll made it pretty clear Monday that the Seahawks aren’t going to be shopping much in free agency for help along their offensive line. Fans don’t buy that approach. They want the Seahawks to sign veterans to make a quick fix.

“I don’t think that way,’’ Carroll said when asked about potentially putting more money into the offensive line. “That’s not how we think, like OK, let’s take money and put it here and all of the sudden you’re going to be better. You have to get guys that will play worthy of it and when they demonstrate that, they get paid.

“We’ve shown that we understand that and we’re committed to that mentality. I don’t think you can just buy your way to it. We’re not going to do that, we’re not going to go out and spend a ton of money in free agency on one guy to try to save the day. That’s not how we function at all. We’re going to bring the young guys up, keep developing them and make them be part of this program.’’

The reality of the NFL is that offensive lines are built primarily through the draft, not necessarily in free agency. Sure, the Raiders spent their way to one of the best offensive lines, signing Donald Penn, Rodney Hudson and Kelechi Osemele. But they were one of the few teams that could do it that way because their quarterback, Derek Carr, is making $1.34 million a year.

Russell Wilson makes $21.9 million. The only way that teams with highly-paid quarterbacks can build lines is through the draft, and that’s really the best way to do it anyway.

The money on the offensive line is in the second contracts of a team’s draft choices, not the investments in free agency.

What can be debated is whether the Seahawks made mistakes by not re-signing Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy last offseason. In both cases, Seattle was doomed. Okung was making $8 million a year on his rookie contract. He had visions of a $12-million-a-year deal, and those visions weren’t going to be erased until he hit the free-agent market. As it turned out, Okung had to accept a one-year, $5 million deal that had a four-year, $48 million option. Most people believe the Broncos aren’t going to pick up that option, which would make Okung a free agent.

Sweezy signed with Tampa Bay for $6.5 million a year but didn’t play a down this season because of a back injury.

If you look at the best offensive lines, they start off low paid. The Cowboys’ line consists of three first-round picks, an undrafted guard on his rookie deal and Doug Free, an aging tackle whom they drafted and is making $5 million a year. No outside free-agent help.

The Packers’ consist of first-round tackle Bryan Bulaga, three mid-round draft choices and an undrafted guard on his rookie deal. Bulaga and their other tackle, David Bakhtiari, got lucrative second contracts while guard T.J. Lang is a free agent awaiting a third deal.

Where the Seahawks may have gone wrong is drafting Germain Ifedi and Rees Odhiambo as tackles and then playing them at guard. Free agents J’Marcus Webb and Bradley Sowell really didn’t work out, leaving the tackle jobs to undrafted rookie George Fant and Gilliam.

The Seahawks should be better and more consistent from guard to guard next year and they need to get Odhiambo starting at tackle. Hey, maybe they can get Okung back at the right price. Joey Hunt looks like a nice backup center. We’ll see if they bring back Gilliam, a restricted free agent.

What the Seahawks have to hope is that their evaluations on these young players are right.

Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out his all-new “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on

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