Seahawks UFA profile: Russell Okung’s complicated situation

Feb 24, 2016, 8:53 AM | Updated: Feb 25, 2016, 9:37 am
Russell Okung is coming off surgery on the shoulder he dislocated in Seattle’s playoff loss t...
Russell Okung is coming off surgery on the shoulder he dislocated in Seattle's playoff loss to Carolina. (AP)

Russell Okung was the most straightforward draft choice in John Schneider’s six-year tenure as Seattle’s general manager.

The Seahawks faced a gaping vacancy at left tackle with Walter Jones’ pending retirement, and they had two first-round picks in a draft that included a pair of top-shelf left tackles: Trent Williams from Oklahoma and Okung out of Oklahoma State.

Related: Among Seahawks’ free agents, Bruce Irvin seems most likely to leave

Washington chose Williams fourth and the moment the Chiefs tabbed safety Eric Berry with the fifth overall pick, well, Seattle was set at left tackle. The Seahawks were taking Okung.

Six years later, the future of Seattle’s first draft choice under Schneider is anything but straightforward. In fact, Okung might be the single biggest free-agent uncertainty this year not just for Seattle but in the entire league.

He is a former Pro Bowler who plays the most valuable position on the offensive line. He is also a six-year veteran who has never played a full 16-game season. All told, he has missed one of every four regular-season games the Seahawks have played since drafting him. He underwent surgery on his toe in 2013 and suffered a dislocated shoulder in Seattle’s playoff loss to Carolina that also required surgery.

Then there’s the fact that Okung is representing himself in free agency, and you have a player rated by some to be among the top 20 unrestricted free agents who will be on the market with absolutely no way to know what the market for his services is going to be.

Why he might be back: If he’s not able to command a multi-year deal that averages more than $7 million annually. It will be four more months before Okung is recovered from shoulder surgery, and maybe that will dampen the interest from other teams to the point that he takes a short-term contract in Seattle to rebuild his value.

Not only that, but the market for left tackles seems to have cooled across the league. The question is whether the talent at that position isn’t at the same level it was at 15 years ago with Jones and Baltimore’s Jonathan Ogden or if the teams have determined that other offensive-line positions are more valuable.

Jake Long was the No. 1 overall pick in 2008, and after five years in Miami, he left as an unrestricted free agent. He signed a four-year, $34 million contract in St. Louis in 2013, was released halfway through that deal having suffered a second season-ending knee injury and he’s now in Atlanta.

Teams are still inclined to draft tackles early. There were five of them chosen in the first round in 2014. Teams have been less inclined to spend big on those tackles in free agency, however. Throw in the fact Okung is injured and there’s the possibility that free agency won’t be as lucrative as expected.

Why he might not be back: Because he’s considered by many across the league to be the best offensive lineman the Seahawks have, and he’s about to enter a free-agent period in which the 32 NFL teams have a total of about $1 billion to spend. Yeah: $1 billion.

And for all the hemming and hawing about the value of offensive tackles, Okung was a Pro Bowler in 2012. Has the value of tackles declined to the point that someone like Okung – who’s not yet 30 – won’t be able to command the kind of salary that guards now make?

Mike Iupati got $8 million a year from Arizona, which is understandable. He was a Pro Bowl guard. Orlando Franklin got $7.3 million from San Diego. He’s a guard, too.

Prediction: If Seattle really wanted Okung, the Seahawks could have extended his contract like they’ve done with so many other players over the past three years. Now that he’s in the open market, it may be harder for Seattle to sell Okung on the idea of just how much he’s valued by the Seahawks.

Not only that, but Okung’s agility might make him a better fit with a franchise that has a more prototypical passing game than Seattle does. For all the progress Seattle and more specifically Russell Wilson made over the final eight games in executing a quick, timing-based passing game, this is still a run-oriented offense.

With all the money that the Seahawks have already spent on their defense and quarterback, here’s betting that Okung finds a more lucrative landing spot than Seattle.

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Seahawks UFA profile: Russell Okung’s complicated situation