Poised to Leave Packers, Seahawks Can't Miss Out on Corey Linsley

Reportedly expected to leave cap-strapped Green Bay, Linsley will be one of the most coveted free agents on the market and won't be cheap to sign. But if Seattle wants to show it is serious about protecting Russell Wilson, it's time to open up the checkbook and prove it.
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While the VMAC may not necessarily be on fire yet, smoke has turned into flames as Russell Wilson's rift with coach Pete Carroll and the rest of the Seahawks organization has gone public.

With the franchise quarterback outspoken about his frustrations over poor pass protection, not being involved enough in personnel decisions, and the inability to advance deeper into the playoffs, trade rumors persist. In fact, while Wilson's agent Mark Rodgers indicated his client hasn't demanded a trade, his camp conveniently provided four ideal destinations where he would be willing to play in the event Seattle decides to move him.

Unlike previous instances where trade rumors have popped up amid contract negotiations, Wilson still has three years left on his current deal and the fact Rodgers decided to stir the pot by providing a team "wish list" suggests there's legitimate trouble in paradise. Either he is playing a new level of hardball to gain more clout in personnel and scheme decisions or he's privately hoping another team makes an offer Seattle cannot refuse.

Assuming Wilson still wants to play for the Seahawks, there's never been a more critical offseason for general manager John Schneider. Even after allowing him to play a major role in the hiring of offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, there's more work left to do to appease the star signal caller in an effort to mend a fractured relationship between the player and franchise.

Aggressively pursuing soon-to-be free agent center Corey Linsley to snap to Wilson would be an excellent starting point for all parties.

Based on recent reports, including a statement from the player himself, Linsley expects to hit the market next month. The Packers currently find themselves $11 million over the salary cap and cannot afford to re-sign him.

Since Seattle traded Max Unger prior to the 2015 season, the team hasn't been able to find a top-tier talent to replace him at the position. Though Justin Britt was a serviceable starter for four seasons, he finished 21st or lower among qualified centers via Pro Football Focus in all but one of those seasons. Last year, Ethan Pocic graded out as the 23rd best center out of 35 qualified players.

It hasn't been Schneider's style to spend big in free agency, as he has typically preferred to pursue mid-tier free agents on short-term deals. But this strategy of covering up holes up front with band aids has backfired more often than not, including the regrettable decision to pay Luke Joeckel $8 million in 2017. That's a big reason why Wilson has been sacked nearly 400 times since entering the league, which lies at the root of his frustrations boiling over.

But Schneider could make those past mistakes become far easier to forgive by altering his approach to free agency this time around. Rather than burning money to sign a bunch of veterans who aren't going to improve the Seahawks chances of competing for a Super Bowl, it's time for him to rip out a blank check and make a big splash to improve at a very important position.

Free agency can be a bit of a crapshoot and the teams that get in trouble tend to be the ones who overpay for players coming off a career year they aren't guaranteed to replicate with their new team. But while the 29-year old Linsley earned his first All-Pro honor last season and has somehow never been voted to the Pro Bowl, he's been one of the NFL's best centers for several years running and such a fear shouldn't exist.

Since being drafted in the fifth round out of Ohio State in 2014, Linsley has started all 99 games he has played in for Green Bay over the past seven seasons. Aside from missing seven games in 2016 with a lingering hamstring injury, he started in at least 13 games in six of those seasons, including all 16 games four times.

On the field, Linsley has been as proficient of a pass protector as any center in the league. Though he did allow five sacks in 2019, he still surrendered only 22 pressures in 16 starts and earned a respectable 71.7 grade from Pro Football Focus. Last season, he allowed just one sack and seven pressures in 16 games, ranking fifth overall in pass blocking grade (82.8) among centers. He has four seasons to his credit with 20 or fewer pressures allowed and has only finished with a grade below 75.0 twice.

What should make Linsley even more intriguing to the Seahawks, however, is his history as a stellar run blocker. He's been especially effective over the past two seasons in coach Matt LeFleur's zone-heavy rushing attack and earned the highest run blocking grade of his career (83.4) from PFF in 2020, helping running back Aaron Jones eclipse 1,100 yards and rush for nine touchdowns.

Considering LeFluer comes from the same coaching tree as Rams coach Sean McVay, who mentored Waldron over the past four seasons, the Seahawks new scheme should be a perfect fit for Linsley's skill set. Add in his communication skills positively impacting the rest of Seattle's offensive line and there's no question he should be the top target on their free agent shopping list.

Set to turn 30 years old in July, Linsley is expected to command north of $10 million per year on a multi-year contract next month and with numerous suitors expected to pursue him, he may push Colts center Ryan Kelly for becoming the highest-paid player at the position at north of $12 million annually. Based on Schneider's prior track record, he never would have considered engaging in such a bidding war.

But with Wilson potentially already having one foot out the door, now isn't the time to be cost conscious and improving pass protection must be the top priority. Seattle has ways to create quick cap space through extensions  and few front offices have been better at navigating such waters if there's a player they want badly enough.

With the championship window still wide open, even assuming concessions would have to be made at other positions to make it happen, if the Seahawks want to show they are serious about protecting Wilson and regaining his trust, the organization needs to prove it by opening up the checkbook and purchasing an upgrade in the trenches.