The Justin Britt Experiment

Last year, during the entire offseason, I wrote exactly three posts dedicated to speculation on the Russell Wilson contract negotiations, before he finally signed it and we could all move on with our lives.  Around Seattle, that was a pretty huge story; you couldn’t turn on any of the sports radio stations without hearing talk of it.  You couldn’t go on Twitter without being bombarded by a thousand articles a day.  It was THE story, until it wasn’t.

This year, we’re just past the draft – we’ve got MONTHS before we get to real football – and yet I feel like almost every post I write has something to do with the offensive line.  I’d think I’m running this story into the ground, but part of me feels like this is the difference between REAL football fans, and everyone else.  Everyone else is interested in the daily speculation on a quarterback contract you 100% should know is going to get done (Russell Wilson was never going anywhere); real fans obsess over the real aspects of their football team that’s going to make a difference between winning a championship and coming up a little short.  In this case, if you’re not obsessed with the daily goings-on of the Seahawks’ O-Line, you need to hop aboard the train and ride with me a while.

Does anyone else get the feeling the Seahawks don’t know what in the fuck they’re doing with Justin Britt?

Add this name to the long list of reasons why the organization crippled itself by trading for Percy Harvin (2013 first rounder & seventh rounder, huge contract preventing the team from re-signing Golden Tate, making the 2014 offense too much about him, getting off to a slow start in the process, losing that 2014 third rounder).  Know why Britt is a member of the Seattle Seahawks?  Look no further than not having a draft pick in the third round in the 2014 NFL Draft.  The Seahawks ended up trading back a couple times, before drafting Paul Richardson at #47; we would pick again at the end of the second round – #64 – and then we wouldn’t pick again until the fourth round, #108 overall.  With 44 picks in between, the Seahawks had a need along the offensive line (specifically right tackle, with Breno Giacomini signing a big free agent contract with the Jets).  Per their draft chart, they noted a significant drop-off in talent after Justin Britt, who obviously was still available, but likely wouldn’t have been at pick 108.

Had the Seahawks still had their third rounder, would they have passed on Britt, and landed on someone in the third round (perhaps using their surplus of picks to trade up in the third round to get him)?  Tough to say.  It’s not out of the realm of possibility that regardless of whether or not the Harvin trade happened, by virtue of drafting last in every round, the Seahawks would’ve been stuck with him either way.  The point is, they ARE stuck with him now, and he’s seemingly a riddle the coaching staff is unable to solve.

He started every game as a rookie at Right Tackle.  He had growing pains early, but was ultimately a disaster in pass protection.  He went into last season as the incumbent, but after a disastrous first pre-season game, Tom Cable hit the re-set button on the whole line, bumping Britt over to left guard, where he would go on to start all 16 games.  Again, he had growing pains early, but was ultimately a disaster in pass protection.

The allure of a Justin Britt is that he’s big and powerful and nasty and will run block the hell out of you.  And, for all the crap he gets, he was still a second round pick (at probably a third round value) and a starter from Day 1 for a reason.  He was never a project like Glowinski or Gilliam, who had to sit for the most part during their rookie seasons.  Britt has starting-calibre stuff, but it’s the technical details he’s lacking.  On top of that, he’s sort of gotten a bum go of it from Day 1.

Britt was brought in because the Seahawks had an immediate need that they couldn’t fill from among their reserves on the roster or in free agency.  The Seahawks probably knew from the minute they drafted him that Britt’s best position was going to be along the interior of the line, and NOT right tackle (in spite of the fact that tackle is where he played most in college; again, at the college level, you put your best linemen on the outside, even the ones who project to be guards at the NFL level).  But, the Seahawks never had the luxury to bring Britt along slowly, or to immediately convert him to guard/center as a rookie, so he could have more time to adjust and learn the intricacies of the position.  They NEEDED a right tackle, and he was the best man for the job.  Then, they NEEDED someone to replace James Carpenter at left guard, and again, Britt was the best man for the job.  He may not be suited to play either position, but we’ll never know, because he’s been jerked around more than Brandon Morrow during the Bavasi/Zduriencik transition years.

Now, here we are, in 2016, and once again the Seahawks have a huge hole to fill, this time at the center position.  They just used a draft pick on a tackle-turned-guard in Ifedi, who is getting immediate play on the right side in place of Sweezy.  Free agent Webb is filling in at tackle on that side, at least to start, where best-case scenario has him playing all 16 games reasonably well, while at the same time helping guide Ifedi along and show him the ropes.  We all pegged Glowinski to be Sweezy’s replacement, but Ifedi has only really succeeded on the right side of the line, so it’s looking like Glow will be gunning for the left guard spot.  Again, this could all change once the season starts, but I know the team really likes Glow as a guard, and he should lock up one of those spots for the next three years if he stays healthy.

That leaves the obvious opening at center.  Yeah, Patrick Lewis came in and the line as a whole improved over the second half of last season, but Lewis is far from a polished or perfect line captain.  He’s what you’d consider Replacement Level in baseball.  Britt has a size advantage over Lewis, as well as probably a greater skillset overall.  With his run blocking ability, sandwiched between Glowinski and Ifedi, you’re looking at some serious beef in the interior.  Likewise, as a pass protector, there are fewer instances of the center going 1 on 1 against a defender, which would hopefully mean Britt would be on the hook for fewer hurries and sacks allowed.  And, he apparently does have some experience snapping the ball, so it shouldn’t be 100% foreign to him.

What it all ends up meaning is anyone’s guess (what it tells us right now is rookie center Joey Hunt is all but assuredly not ready to start as a rookie).  I think what it shows is that the incarnation of Justin Britt that we have now is probably more of a solid backup than a true starter.  You’d think, barring injury, sticking at center is going to be his best bet to make it to a significant second contract in the NFL.  What we know for sure is that this is his third year in the league, and he’s already proven he’s not fit to start at either of the tackle or guard spots.  He’s got this offseason to prove he’s got what it takes to play center, and if he wins the job, he’s got this one year to prove he’s got what it takes to be a starter at the position going forward (ideally, Hunt will be ready to assume the starting duties in 2017).

Not that it’ll really matter, for what the Seahawks are doing.  One thing I think a lot of fans need to start wrapping their brains around is that when the Seahawks draft an offensive lineman, it’s generally not so they can draft a lifelong Seahawk.  Hell, Russell Okung was a Pro Bowl-quality left tackle, and even HE couldn’t get a second contract out of this organization!  Anyone who has proven to be a starter for this line, from Giacomini to Carpenter to Sweezy to Okung, has ultimately gotten paid elsewhere when the Seahawks were finished squeezing as much value out of them as humanly possible.

Bouncing Britt around from tackle to guard to center isn’t about finding a place where he’ll land for the next 8-10 years; it’s about maximizing his second round value until his four years are used up and they can replace him with the next hot, young rookie prospect.

It’s why we saw so many offensive line projects being drafted in the 4th round and later last year.  We ultimately didn’t have any holes for them to fill in 2015, but we had our eye on 2016 when we knew we probably couldn’t re-sign Okung and Sweezy.  Now, we have Glow and Sokoli and to a lesser extent Poole on the roster, competing with the likes of Ifedi and Britt and whoever else, to really nail down the five best linemen possible.

That’s why you shouldn’t look at a guy like Ifedi as this project or this huge risk.  The Seahawks drafted a guy at the end of the first round who they know, right now, can step in and be a starter.  He may not be perfect, but he’s good enough right now to get the kind of value we want out of the position.  Then, in 4-5 years, when his contract is up, he’ll also move on to another team, as the Seahawks should have hopefully figured out who his successor will be.

It’s not a perfect system, but it’s the Seahawk Way.  Value over quality, at least when it comes to the offensive line.

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