With starting left tackle Russell Okung and right guard J.R. Sweezy about to enter unrestricted free agency, the Seattle Seahawks have plenty of decisions to make about the future of their often-criticized offensive line.
Some have theorized that the Seahawks may wind up with a completely different starting five up front in 2016 -- something that some fans would welcome.
Others have theorized that given the struggles of the offensive line in 2015, general manager John Schneider and his staff would be crazy not to try to figure out a way to keep Okung, almost universally viewed as Seattle's best blocker -- when, of course, he's healthy.
The durability issues which have plagued Okung throughout his NFL career could keep him from receiving the massive pay day he expects. Okung's stock isn't helped with the fact there are some other talented tackles also hitting free agency, including Buffalo Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn and Cincinnati Bengals right tackle Andre Smith, as well as an above average rookie crop at the position available.
Pete Carroll spoke glowingly about Okung following the division round loss to Carolina, calling him a "leader" and praising the left tackle's consistency.
The Seahawks do not to be well prepared at this time to replace Okung. His primary backup, Alvin Bailey, is a restricted free agent himself and is clearly a downgrade at the position. Current starting right tackle, Garry Gilliam possesses the athleticism to consider making the switch to the left side but, again, the Seahawks would be losing significant bulk and physicality at the most critical position along the offensive line if asking the former tight end to make this transition.
Perhaps the most important decision the Seahawks have to make then isn't Okung or Sweezy but what to do with Justin Britt.
Though he was often criticized during his rookie season, Britt fared pretty well at right tackle for a first year player. He's a classic mauler whose strength, is quite literally his strength (and length). As such, it seemed like a natural to slide him inside to guard and let him provide the powerful run blocking the team lost when James Carpenter was lost to the NY Jets.
While Britt did handle this role well -- helping Seattle finish third in the NFL in rushing yardage -- his lack of agility and the revolving door at center made pass protection on the interior a weekly issue. Given that the Seahawks will be facing arguably the NFL's elite interior rusher -- Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald -- for the forseeable future, Britt either needs to be much, much better in 2016 or the Seahawks must replace him with someone else.
Unfortunately, while this year's rookie tackle and center class are considered above average groups, the crop at guard isn't a talented. And while Seattle has shown a preference for drafting "toolsy" defensive linemen and converting them to blockers, the Seahawks may have learned this past season of the danger of plugging in raw athletes too soon and expecting Russell Wilson to escape.
Should Seattle lose Okung in free agency, it is entirely possible that the club would open up the competition at left tackle between Bailey, Gilliam and perhaps a rookie. Britt, individually, would appear best suited to right tackle.
With Sweezy potentially coming back (and the Seahawks appear relatively capable of handling his loss with Mark Glowinski waiting in the wings), the big concern would then be left guard.