Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Moving Forward

So much has happened since the ill-fated pass that ended the Seahawks hopes of repeating as world champions.  We'll get to all of it, but the major topic of discussion in the NFL is the blockbuster trade wherein the Seahawks sent All-Pro Center Max Unger and their first round draft choice to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for Superstar Tight End Jimmy Graham and the Saints' fourth round pick.

I shouldn't have to, but I will preface everything I'm about to say with two points of emphasis:  #1 I think Jimmy Graham is a tremendous talent and I'm excited that we have him.  #2 I always hope that everything works out in the Seahawks' best interest.

That being said, I have serious concerns about the state of our offensive line for next season.

Max Unger was getting long in the tooth.  He, along with Jon Ryan and Brandon Mebane, were the only 3 players on this roster that were on the team prior to Pete Carroll and John Schneider's arrival.

Many fans and analysts alike have criticized Unger's durability.  While I understand where they're coming from, I do find this criticism to be a little excessive. Unger is only 28 years old and he's started in 50 of his last possible 64 regular season games.  That's one more than we've got out of Russell Okung in the same stretch.

To be clear, my concern isn't at all with the acquisition of Jimmy Graham. My concerns lie solely with the state of our offensive front.  It makes me feel uneasy having just gotten rid of the leader of that line with no heir apparent in sight. I honestly would've felt better if we had given up a pair of first round picks to get Graham while drafting Unger's replacement without throwing some kid straight into the fire.

Lets break down where our offensive line stands as of today.  Russell Okung is at left tackle.  When healthy, he's been among the league's best-- but he's been less reliable than Unger when it comes to health. James Carpenter is now with the New York Jets, so the left guard position is now in flux. At the moment, I'll assume Alvin Bailey is penciled in at left guard.  I like Bailey, but more as a depth player than a starter.

Similarly, we have to assume that Patrick Lewis or Lemuel JeanPierre will be penciled in to replace Unger.  JeanPierre's versatility is incredibly valuable, as he can play center or guard, but not exactly who I want leading the linemen.  I liked what I saw from Lewis in his starts covering for the injured Unger. He's young enough to be a candidate to start and he has the potential, but only time will tell.

Sweezy and Britt are pretty much assured to anchor the right side of the line but depth remains as much of an issue today as it did down the stretch of last season.  I trust in the Pete & John leadership to square this away in the draft, but that's asking a lot. Even for them.

There's a lot of déjà vu with this move.  The excitement I'm hearing from the vocal majority of fans and the repeated praise from local analysts reminds me too much of the Percy Harvin acquisition. Terms like 'explosive playmaker' and 'unique talent' and 'one of the best at his position' feel like echos of that previous deal.  I would certainly agree that the purported locker room issues regarding Graham seem far less of an issue than they were of Harvin-- but I would definitely argue that Harvin was far more dynamic and worth the potential risk.

The other haunting similarity with this deal and past Seahawks moves is when Zach Miller was brought in.  Now, Miller is no where near the athlete that Graham is, but he was a gifted receiving tight end who, unlike Graham, was an excellent blocker as well. 

However, when Miller arrived, he was all but denied the ability to establish himself as a receiving threat.  Seattle's offensive line was so abysmal, Miller spent most of his tenure with the Seahawks operating as a third offensive tackle.  Given the current state of our line, I worry that history could repeat itself. 

Would Graham be up for the task of shoring up the line?  Michael Bennett doesn't seem to think so.

I saw a thread on Reddit supposing that we didn't make this move. 

Imagine free agency had come and gone. We'd nibbled at Fitzgerald, at Marshall, at Andre Johnson, but ultimately ended up as bridesmaids. Then we drafted 10 guys you never heard of at largely non-skill positions. And at some point during all of this, the Saints had made a trade with some other team for Graham, giving up less than you'd have thought. (Maybe a good-but-oft-injured offensive lineman toward the end of his deal.) We get a couple weeks into the season, and we're moving the ball pretty well, but struggling in the red zone. Then, someone tweets that the Seahawks had actually had a chance to get Graham (and a 4th rounder) in exchange for Unger and #31, but Carroll and Schneider decided not to pull the trigger. We'd all be super pissed, right?

First off-- great hypothetical.  He's right, we would be pissed knowing about this opportunity in hindsight if our red zone ineptitude persists into next season.  But I would like to counter that with a different hypothetical:

What if Graham's shoulder continues to be a concern that causes him to miss time early in the season.  What if he divides the locker room, given his history with Bruce Irvin and Bennett? What if we find out that our red zone deficiencies have more to do with our front line than having a tall, athletic receiving option?

I truly hope no one is expecting Graham to come close to the numbers he put up in the Saints' offense.  It's simply not going to happen in the Seahawks system.  Seahawks will continue to be a run first offense (they didn't give Marshawn a raise because his interviews are priceless) and the Saints throw the ball 50 times per game.  Conversely, I will not use statistics to judge the merits of this trade because of that fact.

This is the season for speculation and it's important for fans to be concerned of their teams weaknesses. I hope we have the best offensive line since Hutch & Walt and Graham continues his dominance. I'm thrilled about Russell Wilson's new toy and the potential that comes with his arrival to the team.  I'm sure my mind will be put at ease once the draft is over and mini camps begin-- but for the moment, I have serious concerns about the offensive line.

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