Last week I penned an article entitled "In Ruskell We Trust?", in which I examined the three areas of the Seattle Seahawks that team president and general manager Tim Ruskell had ignored during his five drafts at the helm of this franchise, with an emphasis on the offensive line.
Five days later, the Seahawks placed future Hall of Fame left tackle Walter Jones on the injured reserve list, ending his 2009 season, and in all likelihood, his career.
Since the Jones announcement was made, a lot of blame has been placed at the feet of the Ruskell administration for not doing enough to address the offensive tackle position. Jones' injury, and subsequent injuries to Sean Locklear and a failure to draft anyone capable of playing left tackle in an NFL game in any of last five drafts, has put the Seahawks smack dab in the middle of what appears to be a 20-game stretch—from Week 14 of the 2008 season to Week 1 in 2010—of a revolving door at the left tackle spot.
Some, however, are using one of three defenses to absolve the Seahawks' front office and its ho-hum approach to the offensive tackle position, which calls for a one-by-one debunking.
"Seattle was too busy winning the NFC West to draft an heir apparent to Walter Jones at left tackle"
While researching last week's article, I found that 51 of the 64 projected starting offensive tackles entering the season were drafted by their current team. 37 of those 51 were drafted within the last five years, including 29 who were chosen in the first three rounds. These figures do not include Philadelphia Eagles left tackle Jason Peters, who was acquired for a 2009 first-round pick, nor does it include 2009 second-rounders Sebastian Vollmer and Will Beatty, who have started games already for their respective teams.
Bottom line: To get starting-caliber offensive tackles, you need to be shopping for them in the early rounds of the NFL Draft.
It's true that the Seahawks have been winning division titles, which has resulted in them choosing late in the first round, far too late to draft the top tackles. If given the choice between the two, winning is always preferable to rebuilding. So the point is well taken, but has this front office given any indication that it values the position enough to even draft a tackle that highly?
Last February, three months before what was one of the most bountiful offensive tackle harvests in NFL Draft history, where eight (8) were chosen in the first round, the Seahawks laid out what their succession plan was for the left tackle position by re-signing Sean Locklear to a five-year, $32M contract, with $12M guaranteed.
Those who would apologize for the Seahawks' front office not choosing a tackle at any point in the last five years are likely to point out that the team originally had the 25th pick in the 2008 NFL Draft before trading down to draft Lawrence Jackson, and that the only tackle they could've chosen in that draft was Duane Brown, who went to the Houston Texans with the 26th pick. It's a fair point, but neither Carolina nor Atlanta were in position to draft Jeff Otah (19th) or Sam Baker (21st), but unlike the Seahawks, they had prioritized the tackle position to the point where they were compelled to trade back into the first round to make those selections.
"No one could've foreseen this many injuries"
After a 2008 season which saw the offensive line use 11 different combinations, including four left tackles, there couldn't have been enough contingency plans in place for the left tackle position.
Instead, the Seahawks opted to stick with Jones and Locklear as the only two legitimate options at left tackle, despite both finishing last season on injured reserve, and one turning 35 years old a month after undergoing microfracture surgery on his knee.
The two tackles Jones is most associated with are Jonathan Ogden and Anthony Munoz. Both of those great tackles were out of football entirely by the time they were 35, yet somehow this front office expected to get a full season of a 35-year old left tackle coming off microfracture surgery, despite him having a kidney condition that prohibits him from taking anti-inflammatory medications?
And if something were to happen to Jones, it'd be up to Locklear, an unknown commodity at the left tackle position with a sketchy injury history of his own, to protect Matt Hasselbeck's blinside?
Beyond that, the contingency plan was to scour the waiver wire?
"What about Ray Willis?"
Willis, whose balky knees limit him to the right side only, came back on a short-term, low-money deal after no other team was interested in paying him starter money as a free agent last off-season.
Furthermore, what did the Seahawks do with Willis during the off-season? They changed his position to guard on their official website.
(They also toyed with the idea of starting Locklear, the back-up left tackle, at right guard this season. Underline that nugget in your head and reference it whenever you're curious about whether or not this front office takes the tackle position seriously.)
"You can't rob Peter to pay Paul"
I couldn't possibly agree more with the sentiment that there are only so many resources you can devote to one position, before you begin to weaken others. However, that perfectly describes why this front office is to blame for the team's current predicament at the offensive tackle position.
In addition to using a fourth-round pick on Ray Willis and a seventh-round pick on Doug Nienhuis, here's what the Ruskell administration has done to improve the offensive tackle position in the last five years:
- Signed Tom Ashworth to five-year, $13M contract in 2006. (Released in 2008)
- Re-signed Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack to one-year deals in 2007 and 2008.
- Re-signed Sean Locklear to five-year, $32M contract with $12M guaranteed in 2008.
- Re-signed Ray Willis to two-year, $6M contract in 2009.
- Signed Na'Shan Goddard off the New York Giants' practice squad in 2008.
- Paid Walter Jones $37.5M in bonus money and salary between 2005-09.
Now compare that to the prime resources (free agent dollars and first- and second-round draft picks) spent at cornerback:
- Signed Kelly Herndon to five-year, $15M contract in 2005.
- Signed Andre Dyson to five-year, $17.5M contract in 2005.
- Drafted Kelly Jennings with 31st overall pick in 2006 NFL Draft.
- Drafted Josh Wilson with 55th overall pick in 2007 NFL Draft.
- Signed Jordan Babineaux to five-year, $13.1M contract extension in 2007.
- Re-signed Marcus Trufant to six-year, $50.2M contract with $28M guaranteed in 2008.
- Signed Ken Lucas to one-year, $2.3M contract in 2009.
And the prime resources spent at linebacker:
- Signed Jamie Sharper to five-year, $17.5M contract in 2005.
- Traded up to draft Lofa Tatupu with 45th overall pick in 2005 NFL Draft.
- Drafted Leroy Hill with 98th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
- Signed Julian Peterson, who also played DE on passing downs, to seven-year, $54M contract with $18.5M guaranteed in 2006.
- Re-signed Tatupu to six-year, $42M contract with $16M guaranteed in 2008.
- Placed $8.304M franchise tag on Hill in 2009.
- Traded Julian Peterson, absorbing $4.6M cap hit in 2009.
- Drafted Aaron Curry with 4th overall pick in 2009 NFL Draft.
- Re-signed Hill to six-year, $36M contract with $15.5M guaranteed.
- Signed Curry to six-year, $60M contract with $34M guaranteed.
And the prime resources spent at defensive end:
- Signed Bryce Fisher to four-year, $10M contract in 2005.
- Drafted Darryl Tapp with 63rd overall pick in 2006 NFL Draft.
- Signed Patrick Kerney to six-year, $39.5M contract ($19.5M guaranteed) in 2007.
- Traded Fisher to the Tennessee Titans for sixth-round pick in 2008 (Tyler Schmitt).
- Drafted Lawrence Jackson with 28th overall pick in 2008 NFL Draft.
- Acquired Corey Redding, guaranteed him $1.5M of $2M base salary in contract restructure.
There's certainly nothing wrong with trying to build a solid defense—though it'd be nice if that unit could play well against a good offense at home or against anyone on the road—but when you're devoting the bulk of your resources into the same three positions, sometimes in the same off-season, other positions are going to go neglected.
Offensive tackle is arguably the one position teams should continuously invest an early-to-mid round pick in each draft, as quality free agents at the position rarely, if ever, become available. Yet, it's the position this front office has neglected each year, but they're somehow not to blame since addressing the position at any point in the last five years would've weakened another area of the team?In addition to writing for NorthwestFootball.net, Brian McIntyre blogs daily at Mac's Football Blog. You can follow Brian on Twittah, and if you'd like to e-mail him, you can always do so by clicking here.