SEATTLE, WA - Rolling into another busy offseason, fixing one of the NFL's most anemic pass rushes ranked atop the Seahawks greatest needs.
But coming closely in second, general manager John Schneider and the front office had to address protecting their own quarterback. With three former starters in Germain Ifedi, George Fant, and Mike Iupati testing the market as unrestricted free agents, though coach Pete Carroll preached continuity, it seemed unlikely the team would retain all three.
By the time the league year finally arrived on March 18, Schneider and his staff worked swiftly to fill gaps in the trenches. Within the first 48 hours of free agency, the Seahawks signed tackle Brandon Shell as a possible replacement for Ifedi and added versatile lineman B.J. Finney to the fold, giving both players two-year deals.
Over the past month, Seattle has continued to bolster depth across the line, re-signing Iupati and Jordan Simmons while also signing former first-round picks Cedric Ogbuehi and Chance Warmack. In total, eight offensive linemen have been signed.
While none of these acquisitions would be viewed as splashy, Schneider believes the Seahawks did an excellent job crossing off their offensive line shopping list by playing the free agent game by their own terms and not breaking the bank.
"We look for commonalities and fits and what's important for our quarterback," Schneider commented during a Zoom interview with media. "We love our quarterback, we want to keep him - we want to have as many grown men in front of him as we possibly can and it was important for us to be able to identify people early on."
Crediting the work of Matt Thomas specifically, Schneider praised the front office for setting the stage for free agency at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. By establishing lines of connections with agents early, they were able to sign Shell, Finney, and others quickly despite challenging circumstances.
Looking towards the 2020 season, Carroll expects to see an intense competition brewing up front with the "best depth we've had," featuring an intriguing blend of experience and youth.
This is particularly true at the guard positions, where veterans such as Iupati and Warmack will battle against promising youngsters such as Phil Haynes and Jamarco Jones for a starting role. Others such as Simmons and Ethan Pocic will also be back in the mix vying for a roster spots.
While Carroll is excited to see how a young returning core prove themselves, specifically citing Haynes, with on-field activities currently being tabled by the coronavirus, adding proven talents to the competition will be invaluable with an abbreviated or cancelled offseason program.
"The ability to add some guys with experience that have been there to make sure we shore [things] up and we can come right back and play really good football. We're not just trying to get along, we're trying to keep moving and stay as high tech as we can with our ball and that's gonna call for the guys to be fluid and well-versed and confident."
Schneider agreed, taking Carroll's comments one step further from an executive's perspective. He views the veteran acquisitions as a hedge that will allow the Seahawks to take the best player available approach in this week's draft.
"One of the primary lessons we've learned is, throughout the years as college football has developed, offensive linemen are very hard to find. So this really gives us an opportunity to go into the draft and take the best player. "
Even considering Schneider's comments, using an early pick on a top tackle prospect can't be ruled out. This year's draft class is loaded with talent, as it's possible seven or eight tackles could go in the first 32 picks, and Seattle has to be peering towards the future with left tackle Duane Brown set to turn 35 years old in August.
No matter what the Seahawks choose to do later this week, Schneider will undoubtedly appreciate the added flexibility of not having to force the issue over-drafting a certain position. Reflecting on what the organization has accomplished thus far, he feels they've done a stellar job improving pass protection for Wilson given their resources.
"We still have a lot of tough decisions ahead of us, but this is an area where we felt like we could make a difference in free agency playing by our rules, and what our philosophy is, trying to protect our quarterback in the best fashion that we possibly could."