Speaking with reporters days after the Super Bowl in February, Russell Wilson put the Seahawks in a bit of a precarious spot when he opened up about his frustrations with pass protection and got the rumor mill swirling more than a month before the start of a new league year.
“I’m frustrated at getting hit too much,” Wilson said at the time. “I’m frustrated with that. At the end of the day, man, you want to win, you know.”
These comments, coupled with Wilson's agent releasing four teams he would be willing to waive his no trade clause to play for, helped spawn rumors that Seattle would entertain offers for the star quarterback. At one point, the "media frenzy," as general manager John Schneider called it, reached a point where reports surfaced about the team strongly considering a trade proposal from the Bears.
But according to Schneider and coach Pete Carroll, such discussions never took place and the Seahawks were never entertaining the idea of moving the seven-time Pro Bowl signal caller. The offseason plan orchestrated by the front office during free agency and the draft fits such a narrative.
Away from the offensive line, Seattle signed tight end Gerald Everett, reuniting him with offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and providing a versatile, athletic tight end for Wilson. The team also re-signed running back Chris Carson and used a second-round pick on explosive receiver D'Wayne Eskridge.
As for the offensive line, while Seattle only made one major move to bolster the unit, the decision to part ways with a fifth-round pick and acquire guard Gabe Jackson from the Las Vegas Raiders could prove to be the best move made all offseason. The 30-year old veteran has never finished worse than 19th for pass blocking grade via Pro Football Focus and has had five NFL seasons where he has given up one or fewer quarterback sacks.
Shortly after news broke of the trade, Wilson expressed his approval on social media. If there truly was enough tension between the two sides to potentially lead to a trade, it was the first big step in the right direction getting the quarterback back on board for the 2021 season.
"It was a really great acquisition for us to bring Jackson's experience and his toughness and his leadership into the offensive line," Carroll said prior to the draft.
Interestingly, Jackson wasn't even the Seahawks first choice when seeking offensive line help. The team gave free agent guard Kevin Zeitler a competitive multi-year offer, but he accepted a deal for slightly more money to join Baltimore instead. Schneider also made overtures to Joe Thuney's camp, but he signed a massive five-year deal with Kansas City that far exceeded Seattle's budget.
By courting Zeitler and making a brief run at Thuney, Schneider and the Seahawks departed from their norms of being inactive early in free agency. While they have downplayed the trade rumors that ensued as a result, there's no question Wilson's prior comments led to these aggressive pursuits to shore up pass protection and keep the quarterback happy.
With Jackson added to the mix, the Seahawks opted to move forward with the rest of their offensive line from a year ago intact. Duane Brown and Brandon Shell will start at the tackle spots, while PFWA All-Rookie Team selection Damien Lewis will transition to left guard for his second season and Ethan Pocic will resume his duties as starting center. Carroll and Schneider both maintain confidence that core group will be better entering a second season starting together.
Backup tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, guard Jordan Simmons, and center Kyle Fuller were also retained, while Seattle traded up and invested a sixth-round pick on Stone Forsythe, who is viewed as a long-term successor at either tackle spot.
"We are pleased with where we are, and in particular with the depth and the competition, too. It’s not just the guys who start," Carroll commented. "Gabe’s going to play on the right side and D-Lew will be on the left side, bringing Ethan back for a second year as a potential starter. The confidence he’ll gain from that will really help him."
Looking at the line as a whole, Carroll loves the talent Seattle has assembled across the board and he's particularly excited about the depth the team has at multiple positions in the trenches. He expects there will be intense competitions not only for starting spots, but for key reserve roles as well.
"Like I’ve been saying, Kyle‘s going to be competing with him [Pocic] all along, as well. Simmons did a nice job for us last year, Jordan did some good things when he played. That gives us good depth there," Carroll elaborated. "Phil Haynes looks to be through his injury issues and will come into camp ready to roll and compete, too. And Cedric Ogbuehi, this is a guy that really has the potential to be a big time football player. He’s going to get a great chance to go with Brandon out there at the right tackle spot and compete to the finish to see who wins the job. We feel really good about the depth of it and the experience."
The best news for the Seahawks? While the COVID-19 pandemic is still an ongoing battle, increased vaccination rates have opened the door for teams to have some on-field work this spring. Last year, teams were forced to conduct an all-virtual offseason program, preventing players from getting meaningful practice time together between the lines.
Slated to hold rookie minicamp this weekend, Carroll's staff will have a chance to work with Forsythe and several undrafted rookies, which should benefit all parties. The Seahawks also hope to conduct a mandatory minicamp next month, giving all of the veterans and newcomers the ability to start developing a rapport on the field before the start of training camp, which should go a long ways toward the line fulfilling their mission of keeping Wilson upright more often next season.
"As always, you like these guys to get a good feel for one another, play together and communicate really well," Carroll said. "And that really comes to the center spot and we’ll get great leadership from Duane. I think it’s an excellent position for us."