Make no mistake about it, the NFC West is a hotly contested cold war. Really, it’s probably mostly a three way battle between Seattle, LA, and San Francisco, but should Kyler Murray take the next step forward as a passer, Arizona could easily become a much more dangerous team of 2021, especially if they do just a bit more to boost their pass rush.
It’s a fascinating division of football that just got significantly more fascinating last weekend when the LA Rams agreed to trade Jared Goff (plus two future first round picks and a third rounder) to Detroit for Matthew Stafford. The Rams are a really good football team who not only just got better at it’s most important position, they got better at the position that was probably the weakest on their team, in all honesty.
It is very important to note that this move hasn’t come without potentially a very steep price to be paid to be in what is now a clear “win now” mode for them after this deal. Rest assured, they looked at this division, saw what they needed to do, and they boldly placed all their chips in for getting better where they felt that they most needed to do it to help stay on top.
Not only are they going to be without first round picks for the next three years, they are projected to now be over $30 million dollars over their 2021 salary cap with four starters on its top rated defense set to be free agents along with several key members of its offense. They are going to have an enormous challenge restructuring current expensive contracts and trimming roster fat just to get under the cap enough to sign 2021 draft picks and maybe keep a few of those pending free agents.
Because of this Stafford trade, they are likely going to lose a number of good players off of their talented roster, and they won’t have great draft capital to work with to replace a lot of these guys. This is the gigantic price that they are willing to pay to get the player that they think will lead them to the promised land.
What this move reveals to me, more than anything else, is that the Rams saw they had to do something. They weren’t wrong to see it that way, either.
Seattle had just poached their pass game coordinator and their assistant offensive line coach to reshape their offense to better fit Russell Wilson, the best quarterback in their division. Arizona’s quarterback has star qualities and should only get better and better, and San Francisco is an extremely well coached team that should boast a very strong defense again in 2021, and they might feel compelled to make a splashy quarterback move of their own over the next month or two (cough, cough.. trade Jimmy Garoppolo and the twelfth overall pick to Atlanta for Matt Ryan.. cough, cough).
I’m positive that the LA brass looked at this NFC West landscape, and they felt that if they didn’t do something, the window of winning a title with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey on their defense could quickly dwindle. This was their bold move to go all in for the now, and frankly, I applaud their willingness to go for it. It was inspired.
You know what? The Seattle Seahawks need their 2021 off-season to be about a bold move or two of their own.
If I had to pick one area of the team that most needs improving, it would unquestionably be the offensive line. Further more, with limited draft capital, and being a bit tight against the cap themselves, I think they should be compelled to make some pretty big earthshaking decisions to make this happen. In fact, I think they must.
Simply put, Russell Wilson will be going into his tenth year in the league, and now is not the time to continue spinning wheels in mud while value shopping for his offensive line. It’s time to truly invest there, and they should be prepared to pay heavy costs.
I want to see two major additions to that line, I want a stud left guard, and I want a top level center. I don’t frankly care how they go about this, either.
Honestly, I wouldn’t be upset if both of those players come from free agency at expensive costs. Russell Wilson deserves to have the best offense line that he can have, and while it will be super enticing to draft another young talent like Damien Lewis was last year at right guard, I think adding top talent that is NFL battle tested front of Russ makes a TON of sense. I believe that now is the time for doing this.
Because the NFL salary cap is expected to go down an estimated $20 mill this year due to Covid, now is a time where they could find top talent at a slight bargain compared to past off-seasons. In my opinion Seattle needs to take advantage of that situation.
A perfect example of this is center Corey Linsley. He is one of the very best centers in the league. He’s a seven year vet who played on a great offensive line in Green Bay that has a similar enough blocking scheme to the one that Rams used, and new Seahawk offensive coordinator Shane Waldron will likely now deploy here in Seattle.
The Green Bay Packers, like the Rams, are also one of the few teams that are projected to be significantly over the cap in 2021. Keeping Linsley will be a challenge for them, and they can easily use one of their top picks to replace Linsley instead of restructuring existing contracts and cutting players to fit him back in. Their line is talented enough at other spots to probably roll with a rookie center in 2021.
It is very probable that Linsley will be a free agent in March, and Seattle could have a rare opportunity to pounce. If so, they must.
Sportrac.com is estimating a free agent contract for him at slightly under $10 million annually. In fact, because of his age, they are projecting a three year deal worth about $30 million. For Seattle, I would make that deal in a heart beat.
Seattle could simply cut defensive tackle Jarran Reed or edge rusher Carlos Dunlap to fit him onto there roster. Honestly, if I were GM, I would sacrifice one of those guys to make that move. Seattle has an emerging talent behind Reed in Poona Ford that they might likely chose to keep over Reed down the line anyways. As for Dunlap, as good as he was for them in 2021, I think they could chose to dump that $14 million 2021 salary of his and find some free agent value elsewhere at edge rush with some degree of confidence that they have a developing Alton Robinson and possibly Darrell Taylor ready to take the next steps forward on cheap rookie deals. It’s a gamble that I would feel comfortable making to get significantly better on the offensive line.
I trust that Seattle can find good value at defensive tackle and end through free agency and the draft. They have a long track record of doing just that. What I don’t have much trust in is how successful they are able to be in putting together a good offensive line on the cheap.
I’m done with bringing in older injury plagued guards like Mike Iupati on cheap short term contracts because nobody else wants them, hoping that they will somehow magically be less injury riddled in Seattle. I am also done with throwing larger money at a young talent who never lived up to his first round draft status on a short term deal like they did with Luke Joeckel a few years ago in the hopes that he will somehow finally blossom as a player. He never did and that move made them look incredibly stupid for even trying it.
I trust Seattle to play a smart game of money ball on their defense line. John Schneider has a good eye for how to find value at defensive tackle and defensive end. What I don’t trust is for them to play smart money ball with their offensive line, because they simply haven’t shown any ability to do this.
When they won the Super Bowl in 2013, they actually had one of the more expensive offensive lines in the league that year, and they had a relatively affordable defensive line that was filled with bargain depth. They had two first round picks on the left side of their offensive line, and they were paying their pro bowl center, Max Unger, a lot of money at the time.
Of all the talent that was on that roster, I think Unger’s impact at center was highly underestimated in hindsight. He was the calming presence for others, and it was he who gave Russell Wilson confidence to step up inside the pocket to make the necessary throws when needed. For as much as they ran the ball back then, Russ cooked pretty well whenever called upon with Unger in front of him. Hence my deep desire for a player such as Linsley in Seattle.
Even if Linsley is the only significant free agent signing of theirs in 2021, I would be good with that, especially if they used their first pick on a quality young guard. It appears like the 2021 is shaping up to be a good one for offensive line, and generally, second round is a sweet spot for interior offensive linemen, but they have to nail that pick just like they did with Damien Lewis in the third round last year. My question is, honestly, how much do we as fans trust that they will land that guy?
They can’t reach for a raw athlete like Justin Britt again only to have it be three years before he finally looks like a player worth keeping around. If they are going to use the draft to find solutions, they need to get a guy who will be a positive day one starter. They must. Russell Wilson is going into his tenth year, and it is critical for the team and player that it is a quality bounce back season from the disappointing second half of the 2020 season he had.
As Russ takes on a new offense, he needs to feel confidence in that line up front, especially when he faces the pass rushes that both the Rams and the 49ers will throw at him. A great way to achieve that is for him to know that he is pro bowl talent in front of him. Having a pro bowl center directing traffic against Aaron Donald the way Linsley did for Aaron Rodgers in the divisional round of the playoffs just a few weeks back is a fantastic way to start.
Seattle might feel compelled to bring Ethan Pocic back. He played okay as a first time starter during the first stretch of the season before he got injured. His athletic profile might actually fit the Waldron scheme pretty well as a center, but it took four seasons for Pocic to finally grab a starting job on the line after being drafted late in round two in 2017, and he has yet to prove he can stay healthy. How much trust is Russell really going to have with that decision?
Seattle could simply chose to pluck Austin Blythe from the Rams in free agency. In many ways, this would be the smart and practical thing to do. Pro Football Focus had Blythe rated as the 6th best center in the league last year by December. In comparison, Seattle’s Ethan Pocic was rated in the twenties. So, at least in terms of PFF’s analytical rating system, Seattle would significantly improve it’s center spot by replacing Pocic with Blythe.
Perhaps the biggest reason to make Blythe a well paid man in Seattle is that he has been a regular starter at both as a guard and center for the Rams, and would fully understand, and be able to help teach others on Seattle’s line that particular blocking scheme that is very different than the one they’ve been running in Seattle for the last three seasons. He would likely help smooth out the transition significantly.
Seattle could do much worse this off-season than sign Blythe and then use it’s first pick on the best guard or center available, and then have Blythe play either spot depending on who they drafted. It is very possible that this is the direction Seattle eventually goes with. Still, Blythe has never achieved pro bowl status, and has probably met his ceiling in terms of development. He is what he is. At best, he would be a steady and reliable presence on the line who would help others transition into the new blocking scheme. For folks that remember the Mike Holmgren years in Seattle, he’d be a Robbie Tobeck, and there is nothing wrong with having this sort of presence in the starting line up, but Seattle would need more, much more.
This is why I propose that Seattle go aggressive in bringing in a player like Linsley, and possibly even splurging for another big time player such as Brandon Scherff at left guard, as well, if such a player is floating out there in free agency. Get the two best guys out there on the market. For one off-season, go big and bold in free agency. Why not?
And I don’t frankly care if they have to cut Carlos Dunlap and Jarran Reed, or dare I say it, trade a popular player such as Bobby Wagner to open up the cap space necessary to do it, as well. Be bold. Be biggly bold.
And look, don’t get me wrong, I love Bobby Wagner as much as the next Seattle fan, but I also know that the team just drafted Jordyn Brooks, and by my eyes, that young cat looks like he is more than capable of starting in place of Wagz this coming season, if they needed him to do that. Moving Wagner now would make would make sense because he is still talented enough that some other team out there with cap space available that wants to make an immediate splash in 2021 might actually give up a decent enough draft pick on an expensive older player of his sort.
You can doubt whether a team would be willing to do this, and that’s fine, but let’s take Jacksonville as an example for a minute. Highly competitive and newly hired Urban Meyer doesn’t like loosing, and if he drafts college quarterback phenom Trevor Lawrence first overall and then pairs Bobby Wagner with Myles Jack at linebacker on the defensive side, suddenly, Jacksonville looks potentially like a very dangerous club again very quickly. Jacksonville has the salary cap space to fit Wagner in, and draft capital necessary to give Seattle general manager John Schneider a fair offer for him.
In fact, don’t be surprised if we see Seattle make a dramatic move like this. With only roughly under $3 million of cap space and only four picks in the draft and no first and third round pick due to the Jamal Adams trade, something has got to give, right?
Trading Bobby Wagner, even if it was for a mere third round pick and chump change (I think they could get more), would save Seattle over $9 million off the cap. There is value to be had in the third round typically at defensive tackle, wide receiver, guard, center, corner, tight end, and running back. If Seattle has confidence in Brooks taking over for Wagner and being a new leader on the defense with Jamal Adams, this could easily happen. That pick could be the future starting running back, eventual replacement for Tyler Lockett, starting nose tackle, or possibly even the new left guard playing between pro bowlers Duane Brown and Corey Linsley.
Shoot, they could even go more bold with trades, and deal Jamal Adams for a pick to gets them back into the first round this year. As wild as that sounds, that would also take about $9 million off of the cap, and it could put them in better position to further fill out their roster with younger talent, especially when you consider that having a first round pick gives the team flexibility to trade down and acquire more picks, as John Schneider famously loves to do.
Honestly, this might be a move that they decide to make. Even if they don’t get back the same draft capital that they used to acquire him, they could just write that off as another expensive one year rental on a player that they felt would give them a solid chance to go over the top in 2020 just like the one they did a few years back when they acquired Sheldon Richardson for a season.
If you are wincing at this idea, I can respect that and even relate, but think about it this following way. What if trading Jamal Adams lands Seattle the very best guard in the draft, and a pass rushing presence that takes the place of Jarran Reed or Carlos Dunlap, and thus, Seattle gets younger and better on both sides of the trenches for years to come? Would you make this trade if that were the result? Would you be okay with Ryan Neal and Marquise Blair battling it out for the starting safety spot next to pro-bowler Quandre Diggs to get significantly better on both lines? Personally, I find that compelling.
I’m not writing any of this to poke buttons and be controversial, either. I am just saying, to circle back to the beginning of this piece, Seattle is in the midst of a cold war with LA, and San Francisco, and it feels like Arizona is maybe one pass rusher away from doing serious damage as well. Because of all that, this is the time for boldness.
For my money, the best way and the clearest path for Seattle to successfully battle through this division is to give Russell Wilson the best offensive line that they can put together for him. Green Bay gave us a model for how to play against Aaron Donald and that Rams pass rush. It’s no small coincidence that Green Bay had a great offensive line situation working in their favor.
So, go get Corey Linsley, John Schneider. Prepare to pay him handsomely, and while you’re at it, get us a stud left guard.
Don’t settle for bargains this time around. Go big on the offensive line. Go all in aggressively with the same willingness that the Rams displayed by trading for Matthew Stafford to fill their biggest need. It’s time for this.
Outside of Duane Brown, anyone who is not Russell Wilson should be trade-able to better help make this better happen. Bobby, Jamal, Diggs, Lockett, and even DK Metcalf should all be considered as potential chest pieces. In fact, considering his immense upside that is still likely untapped, DK might be the one Seahawk player to net the most draft capital on this team who isn’t named Russell. As crazy as it sounds, it should be considered, if the right deal is presented.
When I see Seattle line up against the Ram and 49er defensive lines this Fall, I want to see a bonafide stud filled offensive line functioning together as one. I want to see them assert themselves against these dynamic NFC West pass rushers with a potent run game, and I want to see them win one on one battles when they have to pass block. This, in my opinion, is how we finally get Russ cooking again.
Ain’t nothing in this league more dangerous than Russell Wilson playing the game with supreme confidence. Getting him a great offensive line, finally, it probably the best way for him to achieve that level of confidence. Build around Russ by building it in front of Russ first and foremost, for once.
Go get Linsley. Go get Scherff as well. Why not?
If not, get one of those two, and use the draft to land another future stud.
Just give Russell a great offensive line to work with, finally. He deserves that, and we as fans deserve to finally see him work with that. Period. End of story. No ifs ands or buts about it.
There, I said it.