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In Retrospect, Did Seahawks Make Right Call Not Extending Duane Brown?

With Seattle limping to a 2-5 start, John Schneider and the front office have rightfully been under fire. But while some moves such as trading for Jamal Adams remain ripe for criticism, the team appears to have made the correct decision by not giving Brown a new contract.

As part of a busy offseason agenda, Seahawks general manager John Schneider faced a predicament. Three of the team's top veterans, including star safety Jamal Adams, were entering the final year of their respective contracts seeking extensions.

After trading two first-round picks and a third-round pick to the New York Jets to acquire him before the 2020 season, a new contract for Adams had always been part of Seattle's long-term game plan. Given the steep initial investment made by the organization, it was a matter of when, not if, he would receive a record-breaking contract as the highest-paid safety in the game.

However, while the Seahawks had bookmarked such a lucrative deal for Adams on future payroll, the same couldn't be said for safety Quandre Diggs or tackle Duane Brown. Already with massive contracts on the books for quarterback Russell Wilson, linebacker Bobby Wagner, and receiver Tyler Lockett and soon to be negotiating a second contract with receiver DK Metcalf, long-term finances complicated matters.

Though Schneider did extend Lockett in April, negotiations with Adams carried into the start of training camp and the player orchestrated a hold in, refusing to participate in practice until he signed an extension.

Frustrated by his current contract situation and the lack of negotiations for his own new deal, Brown followed suit, reporting for camp but choosing not to practice. While Seattle eventually sweetened the pot by turning per-game roster bonuses into guaranteed money in 2021 to appease the player and get him to return to practice before Week 1, Schneider otherwise didn't blink, choosing not to engage in discussions on a multi-year extension.

At the time, I questioned the Seahawks decision to not add at least one year to Brown's contract, believing the two-time All-Pro would be a coveted asset on the free agent market next spring despite his advancing age.

After all, Brown rebounded nicely from an injury-marred 2019 campaign to turn in one of the best seasons of his career in 2020, allowing only one sack while starting all 16 games. He looked to have plenty of good football left in him, as he received an 80.0 grade or higher both as a run and pass blocker from Pro Football Focus and finished with their fifth-highest grade at the tackle position. He reported to camp in outstanding physical shape, with Wilson telling reporters he could do 20 pull-ups.

But it turns out, Schneider may have known exactly what he was doing opting to play the wait-and-see game with the 36-year old Brown, whose performance has regressed substantially through Seattle's first seven games as the team has slumped out of the gate to a 2-5 record.

Showing no signs of rust after not participating in any training camp practices or preseason games, Brown played well in the first two games of the season, allowing no pressures and no sacks against the Colts and Titans. But since then, the typically reliable blindside protector has struggled mightily in pass protection, allowing a whopping 15 pressures and 5.0 sacks. According to Sports Info Solutions, he's already blown 10 blocks in pass protection, equaling his entire 2020 total in roughly one-third of the snaps.

It's worth noting not all of these pressures may directly be Brown's fault. The 14-year veteran has been visibly frustrated with teammates on the field during games in recent weeks. In a Week 6 loss to the Steelers, for example, he could be seen barking at center Kyle Fuller after allowing a sack to Alex Highsmith, suggesting communication-related problems have played a role in his poor play. There was also a missed blitz pickup that resulted in a sack charged to Brown against the Vikings in Week 3 that may have happened due to poor communication up front.

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Speaking for the entire offensive line, backup quarterback Geno Smith hasn't helped the group with suboptimal pocket awareness at times and has taken several sacks in the past two games he shouldn't have. Wilson's absence cannot be understated.

But the film doesn't lie either. With the rest of the line faltering around him, Brown has looked like a mere shell of his former self over the past five weeks amid Seattle's prolonged slump, particularly in pass protection, where he has suffered from unexpected lapses in technique while getting beaten regularly by speed and power rushers alike.

During a 13-10 loss to the Saints on Monday night, as shown in the example below, the Seahawks faced 3rd and 7 from the opposing 44-yard line with 11:07 to play in the second quarter. Immediately off the snap, rusher Marcus Davenport was able to get his hands into Brown's frame and promptly drove him several yards backwards, eventually driving the blocker onto his backside while forcing Smith to spin out of the pocket to his left and throw the ball away out of bounds.

One week prior, Brown dealt with his share of issues blocking the speedy Highsmith, who beat him multiple times on upfield speed rushes to collapse the pocket. He hasn't seemed quite as fleet of foot as previous seasons mirroring rushers and preventing them from turning the corner, which could be a telltale sign of age-related regression.

Brown also hasn't been quite as effective in the run game as previous seasons either, particularly on perimeter runs and screens where his athleticism has benefited him immensely throughout his career. He hasn't been winning the positioning battle as frequently on zone runs or creating movement off the snap on gap concepts, leading to a mediocre 59.7 run blocking grade from Pro Football Focus. If there's a silver lining, Sports Info Solutions has only charged him with one blown block.

While he's continued to receive regular veteran rest days during the week, Brown hasn't been listed on Seattle's injury report this year with an actual injury, so his health doesn't seem to be a factor in his slow start. Considering how well he played in 2020 with minimal field work in camp and during the season, it can be debated how much sitting out all of August has attributed to his uncharacteristically sloppy technique. As aforementioned, poor communication may be a far bigger problem in the scheme of things.

But ultimately, with quarterback Tom Brady still being an exception to the rule, "Father Time" remains undefeated and it's worth wondering if Brown's best days are now behind him as the second-oldest starting tackle in the NFL. There's a reason only two starting tackles in the league are older than 33.

This isn't to say Brown couldn't return to Seattle in 2022. There's still 10 games left to play and considering how good he looked to open the season, it's possible he could right the ship and play his way back into future plans. The team also doesn't have an obvious heir apparent waiting in the wings, as raw rookie Stone Forsythe has only dressed for two games so far and Jamarco Jones will be a free agent in March, so letting him walk without a quality backup plan would be a major risk.

Keeping that in mind, continuing with a year-to-year plan may very well still be in the cards if the organization isn't confident in Forsythe emerging as a viable replacement in the long run. With protecting Wilson the No. 1 priority, such a decision can't be made in haste.

Nonetheless, although Schneider may not have foreseen this steep of a drop-off in Brown's play, not offering him a contract extension currently stands out as one of the few wise choices he made this offseason. The franchise won't be on the hook for big bucks to a player in decline and if both parties do want to re-up for another season, it will be at a more suitable price point that fits their budget.