In the buildup to free agency, any and all talk surrounding the Seahawks focused on their ongoing issues with quarterback Russell Wilson. If they were to trade him, many wondered what that would look like and what Seattle would want in return. If general manager John Schneider and company hoped to instead put out the fire between them and their best chance at a championship, how would they go about appeasing Wilson?
The most common solution was a simple one, in theory: just give him what he wants by overhauling the offensive line. Lack of protection up front had been at the core of Wilson's publicly aired frustrations. Therefore, it would stand to reason any form of legitimate upgrade would make this all go away, no?
Following a disastrous performance by their offensive line in a shocking wild-card defeat at the hands of the Rams, the Seahawks were bound to make changes one way or another. Starting center Ethan Pocic was heading to unrestricted free agency and was perhaps the biggest culprit in the team's struggles on that January afternoon. Left guard Mike Iupati retired shortly after due to a long line of injury woes. There were now two holes to fill - not by choice, but by circumstance - conveniently at the team's weakest spots in the line last year.
They were aggressive right out of the gate in free agency. They involved themselves in the markets of the best left guards available, such as Kevin Zeitler and Joe Thuney. But when Zeitler turned them down in favor of the Ravens and Thuney moved on to Kansas City, it appeared as if the Seahawks, in a matter of a few hours, had fallen flat on their face in pursuit of the one thing they most desperately needed to come away with this offseason.
Then came the trade for guard Gabe Jackson. The Seahawks reacted quickly to their situation - they had to - and jumped on one of the last few opportunities to significantly raise the ceiling of their offensive line. Surrendering one of their league-low four draft picks to the Raiders, they nabbed one of the most underrated interior pass protectors in the NFL in Jackson.
Though Jackson hasn't played left guard in six years, it's a spot he should re-adapt to fairly well. There, he posted his two best pass blocking grades from Pro Football Focus with a mark of 85.6 in 2014 and 84.4 in 2015.
He doesn't necessarily fit the wide zone running scheme speculated to be implemented by new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, but line coach Mike Solari should have a field day with Jackson's physicality in the trenches. He also gives the Seahawks something his predecessor, Iupati, could not: a relatively clean bill of health. While he missed the first half of the 2019 season with an MCL injury suffered in camp, Jackson has mostly remained off the injury report in his career and appeared in every game for the Raiders in 2020.
After acquiring Jackson, the Seahawks moved on to address some of the other critical needs around their roster. They eventually circled back to the offensive line to establish more depth, retaining the likes of swing tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and guard Jordan Simmons—both of whom played significant snaps for Seattle last season.
Their most notable reunion at the position, however, wound up being with Pocic. Shockingly, despite being one of the players Wilson seemingly took a jab at in his offseason press tour, the LSU product landed a one-year, $3 million deal to return to the Pacific Northwest.
This move made the collective heads of Seattle's fanbase spin. And the culmination of Pocic's return alongside Ogbuehi, Simmons, and Kyle Fuller has brought upon a head-scratching take that claims the progress the team has made at the position has been lateral at best. While there's no denying the fact this unit, at the moment, has remained relatively intact from the end of last season, I cannot wrap my head around the overall sentiment the Seahawks have done absolutely nothing to improve their offensive line.
I think it not only undermines the impact Jackson's arrival should have in the pass game, but also overlooks how insignificant Pocic's deal could be in a few months' time. As I wrote a little over a week ago, the financial details of his contract indicate he's in no way guaranteed much of anything this fall. At a cap hit of $2 million, the contract is more in line with that of a solid backup, which Pocic can certainly be for Seattle. While he's penciled in as the returning starter for now, it would be irresponsible to assume he's got the job locked down. There's just too much time left between now and the start of the season to think otherwise.
Finding competition for him shouldn't be too hard of a task to fulfill, even though the free agent market for centers has dried up for the most part. The draft has always felt like their best opportunity to find their center of the future anyway, with a fairly deep class set to make itself available to them at the end of April.
The problem I have with all of this is the judgment of Seattle's work well before it's finished. What if the Seahawks come away with one of the top center prospects at the No. 56 pick or in the third round following an expected trade down? If they take the field with a rookie center and Jackson at left guard in Week 1 or shortly thereafter, will that suffice?
I don't know if they're going to do that, sure, but neither do those convinced the team is done addressing its offensive line on March 29—some 164 days until the season is expected to kick off.
But let's just say they are done for the sake of argument; is that necessarily a bad thing? The 2020 Seahawks' offensive line ranked in the bottom half of teams by PFF's standards, but they still put up passable run and pass blocking grades of 61.4 and 72.9, respectively. These are certainly not jaw-dropping numbers by any means, but they're a far cry from the worst in the league.
This was a group that fell victim to the dreaded injury bug late into the year, which - surprise, surprise - is when things began to truly fall apart for them. For as often as they looked dysfunctional, one could argue that - when healthy - they equally appeared capable or better at the height of the offense's success last season.
They've already supplemented one of their two positional holes with a clear upgrade, and they still have the potential do the same with the other. They're also arguably better from a depth standpoint, even if all they've done is keep their stable of backups intact.
Simmons had a fairly healthy year and got more starting experience - although his season ended on a rough note - and Ogbuehi found his niche in the swing tackle role George Fant once filled, and also played well in place of the injured Brandon Shell at right tackle. If you add Pocic to that group, there's suddenly a ton of experience and insurance behind their starting five.
While the picture appears similar at first glance, there are significant differences - and improvements - to be found throughout their work on the offensive line this offseason. To say it's all the same is an oversimplification and, frankly, inaccurate. There are other factors in play here and the group may be far from finalized.
I would recommend suspending your conclusions about the line until after the draft, at the very least. But in the end, as obvious as it may be to say this, no one can truly measure their level of success until they actually take the field this September.