Seahawks 2021 Free Agent Primer: Mike Iupati

As a proven veteran who understands Seattle's blocking schemes inside and out, Iupati has been a reliable starter when healthy the past two seasons. But as the team tries to shore up in the interior offensive line, will the oft-injured guard be part of the equation in 2021?
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Following an early Wild Card round exit, the Seahawks have officially transitioned into an offseason that could be one of the most significant of the Pete Carroll and John Schneider era.

When the new 2021 league year kicks off in March, Seattle will have a whopping 24 players set to become unrestricted free agents. Four players will be restricted free agents, while six will be exclusive rights free agents and several others will be entering the final year of their current contracts ready to negotiate extensions, including safety Jamal Adams.

Over the next several weeks, I will break down each and every one of the Seahawks' unrestricted free agents by revisiting their 2020 seasons, assessing why they should or should not be re-signed, breaking down an ideal contract, and making an early prediction on whether or not the player will return in 2021.

Up next in the series, Mike Iupati has been a reliable starter at left guard when healthy and enjoyed a stellar 2020 season in the Pacific Northwest. But as he approaches 34 years of age, will he return to Seattle for a third season?

Season In Review

After re-signing with the Seahawks in April, Iupati started the team's first four games at left guard, surrendering seven pressures and no quarterback sacks during that span. Unfortunately, a back issue forced him out of action for the next four games and Jordan Simmons replaced him as the team went 2-2 in his absence. Upon his return in Week 10, the 11-year veteran played some of his best football over the next three weeks, earning at least an 80.0 overall grade from Pro Football Focus in two of those contests. Injuries again struck in Week 15 and after missing the final two games of the regular season with a neck stinger, he struggled mightily in a Wild Card loss to the Rams, surrendering four pressures and earning a dismal 14.3 pass protection grade.

Why Seattle Should Re-Sign Him

Few players are better versed in Seattle's blocking scheme, as Iupati thrived in San Francisco earlier in his career while being coached by Mike Solari. His familiarity with the scheme has been greatly beneficial towards the development of younger players such as Simmons and Damien Lewis and he's beloved by his teammates. When healthy, the former All-Pro played at a high level for much of the 2020 season and was particularly surprising in pass protection. Playing 498 regular season offensive snaps, he allowed just one sack, two quarterback hits, and 13 pressures against Russell Wilson. Along with cutting down on penalties, he also remained serviceable in the run game, earning the 16th highest run blocking grade among 71 qualified guards per Pro Football Focus.

Why Seattle Should Let Him Walk

Though Solari holds Iupati in the highest of regards and he's had a fantastic NFL career, injuries have continued to be a chronic issue for him. Since 2017, he's missed 27 regular season games as well as a pair of postseason games. He missed six regular season games due to back and neck injuries this season and Simmons often had to check in for him during games in an effort to keep him healthy and fresh. For a second straight year, those injuries took a toll on Iupati's performance down the stretch, as he allowed eight of his 16 quarterback pressures in the final four games and endured one of the worst games of his career in the playoffs. Set to turn 34 in May, he's now entering the twilight of his stellar career and his best days appear to be well behind him.

Ideal Contract

1 year at $2.5 million

Prediction

Just like last year, Iupati could easily be brought back on an affordable one-year deal during later stages of free agency or even after the conclusion of the draft. Given his injury history, advancing age, and specific scheme fit, other teams won't be rushing to the front of the line to sign him and he will likely have to wait to draw interest from potential suitors. It's possible he could have to wait until an injury occurs for the right opportunity at this stage of his career. But while returning to the Seahawks shouldn't be completely ruled out, the team needs to go in a different direction and get younger at the left guard spot. With cap issues also under consideration, Iupati will have to continue playing elsewhere in 2021 or opt for retirement.

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