To see the full list of the Top 10 Most Important Seahawks in 2014, click here.
In this offense, and with this quarterback, the necessity of a lock-down left tackle isn’t nearly as dire as, say, back when Holmgren coached the team and Hasselbeck needed blind-side protection. In many ways, though, the offensive line as a whole is even MORE important than it was even ten years ago.
The Seahawks, by and large, had probably one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last year. A lot of that had to do with injury: the three best linemen we have – Okung, Unger, Giacomini – missed huge chunks of season, often simultaneously. Even when everyone was healthy – or “healthy” in the sense that they were able to put on pads and give it a go at some figure less than 100% – they were often ineffective. Guys frequently blew past a missed assignment, getting free runs at Russell Wilson, who would in turn have to flee for his life. Since our quarterback is so dynamic, he’s able to make chicken salad out of this type of blocking. But, there’s a very noticeable difference between a healthy offensive line, and a “healthy” offensive line.
Russell Okung is the most talented member of this offensive line, which is why he’s ranked so high on my countdown. The drop-off from Okung to the next left tackle on the depth chart is pretty staggering compared to the rest of the O-Line. Last year, we had Paul McQuistan going much of the time Okung was out. If you don’t remember this dark period of our 2013 season, you can at least imagine how horrible he was anchoring the left side of this line. He’s a solid depth guy, and he was pretty valuable as a versatile interior lineman, but Paul McQuistan is the beans when it comes to playing tackle.
This year, I would imagine we’re taking a step up with Alvin Bailey as the #2 behind Okung. He’s had some experience in the regular season last year – and as a sixth lineman in jumbo packages in the playoffs – so it’s not like we’d have a total greenhorn in there should Okung get injured. But, ideally, it wouldn’t come to that.
We’re entering an interesting time in Okung’s career. He’s signed through 2015. This is the first year where – if we waived him – we wouldn’t be penalized by dead money. We could SAVE money. Now, obviously, I’m not advocating that, but it’s just interesting. He’s been in the league since 2010, a starter the whole way as a high first round draft pick (and replacement of Walter Jones). Something else that’s interesting: he actually makes LESS money next year than he does this year. His cap hit in 2014 is a little over $11 million; his cap hit in 2015 is a little over $7 million. This is actually to his advantage – if he wants to spend the vast majority of his career in Seattle – because in his four years in the League, he has never played a full 16-game season. Indeed, he’s averaged only 11.25 games per year in the regular season.
A lot of people believe this team is in for another huge contract with Okung pretty soon. You’d have to think, if he puts in a full year, and his level of play doesn’t start to decline, he’ll be looking for an extension of some sort at season’s end. After all, $7 million is a pretty paltry sum for a first round left tackle who should still be in his prime.
However, if he comes out and plays in 11 games this year, then you have to wonder if the Seahawks will look to be moving on after the 2015 season. It’s pretty hard to justify a lengthy, expensive contract extension for a guy who can’t stop injuring his feet.
Either way, we’re talking about 2014, and Russell Okung is important to making this offense go. Let’s face it, Russell Wilson was sacked WAY too many times last year. 44, to be exact. And this year, we have the Defensive Lines Of Death to worry about. The Rams are a fucking bonanza of pass-rushing talent. The 49ers are always stout (and, by the time we play them, you’d think they will have brought back Aldon Smith). The Cardinals overall are tenacious and relentless. Tack on the Packers (with a healthy Matthews for game 1), the Panthers, the revamped Broncos with DeMarcus Ware … the list goes on and on.
We need more than just healthy bodies on the offensive line. We need TALENT. It would be nice if that talent could stay healthy for a long period of time. Russell Okung has the type of talent where you don’t have to worry about him. He HAS an All Pro level of skill! With him at 100%, you don’t even have to think about him. Save your worries for the other four guys on the line.
Contrary to 2013’s level of line play, the 2014 O-Line actually has the potential to be great. It would require health out of Okung and Unger, and big steps forward out of our guards, and hopefully a diamond in the rough at right tackle. I’m not saying it’s a guarantee, but the potential is there! And, frankly, it all starts with Okung.