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O’Neil: Why Seahawks losing JR Sweezy hurts more than Earl Thomas

J.R. Sweezy flourished for the Seahawks in 2018 after a move to left guard. (Getty)

J.R. Sweezy isn’t the best player the Seahawks have lost in free agency.

Danny, Dave and Moore react to Sweezy leaving Seahawks for Cards

That would be safety Earl Thomas, the single best player at his respective position in the nine seasons since Seattle chose him in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

Sweezy wasn’t the most expensive, either. Thomas got a ton of loot from Baltimore, $55 million over four years. Cornerback Justin Coleman got $36 million over four years. Even defensive lineman Shamar Stephen got a three-year deal in Minnesota that netted him $12.45 million.

But Sweezy’s departure stung most for two reasons:

1) It was a total surprise
2) The position Sweezy plays

Let’s start with the fact that unlike some of Seattle’s other free agents, Sweezy seemed like a great candidate to return to Seattle unlike, say, Thomas, whose departure was a foregone conclusion the moment the Seahawks failed to meet his asking price during a training-camp holdout. You could see Coleman’s departure coming, too, once the price of nickel cornerbacks started skyrocketing with Baltimore’s three-year, $27 million deal with Tavon Young.

But Sweezy? Sweezy fit here. That was evident in his first four years when he made the improbable transition from playing defensive line in college to being a guard in the pros. Sweezy demonstrated that again last year after he was released by Tampa Bay and came back to Seattle when training camp started. He loved playing for coach Pete Carroll.

Yet, he’s headed to Arizona now on a two-year contract, and while the financial terms haven’t been disclosed, the expectation is the annual average will exceed $4 million per year.

It’s consistent with Seattle’s approach. The Seahawks find affordable veterans and let those players move on when they get more expensive.

That’s also resulted in the offensive line being a consistent problem because while the Seahawks have a really good track record when it comes to finding affordable cornerbacks, the same has not been true on the offensive line.

If anything, the Seahawks have undervalued veteran offensive linemen whether it was trading Max Unger for what amounted to a fourth-round pick or letting Russell Okung walk as a free agent and then giving J’Marcus Webb a test drive.

Seattle was said to be financially prudent when it let Breno Giacomini, James Carpenter and Sweezy sign elsewhere for more money, but you can’t dispute that came at a cost to the team’s ability to protect its franchise quarterback and to run the ball.

The Seahawks aren’t starting over up front. They have their center in Justin Britt and a left tackle in Duane Brown and Seattle still may re-sign D.J. Fluker.

How costly will Sweezy’s departure be? Well, that depends on how capably the Seahawks can replace him, and the past five years have demonstrated pretty conclusively that’s much easier said than done along the offensive line.