Seaside Bonus: JJ Watt to Cardinals
Seahawks can upgrade o-line without UPGRADING o-line
Watt’s the deal with the Cardinals?
Not since Arrington, Nelson, Moses, or McCleskey have the Cards employed a player named “J.J.”, but that all changed on Monday when J.J. Watt announced plans to move to Arizona in his twilight. Not only did my 80-year-old father beat him to the punch by moving there a year sooner, but he went there to retire; not to work.
The Cardinals signed Watt to a two-year, $31 million contract with $23 million guaranteed. It either makes him an expensive one-year rental or an appropriately priced two-year … rental. Frankly, if people are going to refer to players as “rentals,” why limit it to only one-year arrangements? After all, that’s not how renting works. If it is, then I should have never returned my VHS’s to Blockbuster.
Many hacks, including myself, have already jumped to the obvious issue for the Seahawks: the NFC West has more pass rushers than an avalanche and it’s on the verge of breaking.
Ignoring potential cap casualty candidates, the non-Seattle NFC West features Watt, Aaron Donald, Nick Bosa, Chandler Jones, and Arik Armstead as prominent pass rushers. There are also potential up-and-comers like Javon Kinlaw, Terrell Lewis, and Isaiah Simmons. The 49ers may also choose to keep Dee Ford or replace him with someone who has a similar skillset. The Cardinals may give the franchise tag to Haason Reddick. The Rams may retain Leonard Floyd, who had literally seven sacks against the Seahawks last season.
I know how annoying it is to use the word literally, but it’s excusable when you’re talking about Leonard Floyd and sacks. His previous career-high for an entire season was seven sacks. If the Rams had traded up for Floyd in 2016 instead of Jared Goff, they might have had two Aaron Donalds. Against Seattle, at least.
I just thought of two Aaron Donalds for a moment and my stomach swallowed my brain.
The point being that we can’t even say for sure yet if the NFC West pass rushers will be even better by Week 1. And that’s only focusing on part of the game, as Pete Carroll would probably be Pete-lated to hear all of this news if it meant that these defenses would struggle to stop the run.
He’ll be Pete-sapointed to find that the Rams ranked third, the 49ers ranked 10th, and the Cardinals ranked 14th against the rush by DVOA in 2020. It’s Pete-fortunate … which could go either way.
(The Seahawks ranked seventh, said the parenthetical.)
Watt seems like the kinda guy who would improve a team’s run defense, so I’m going to consider this an opportunity of improvement for defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. As the head coach of the Broncos in 2017, Joseph’s defense finished first in yards per carry allowed and fourth in DVOA against the run. Linebacker Isaiah Simmons, 2020’s eighth overall pick, also seems like the type of prospect who would struggle as a rookie and show large steps of development in year two. The Cardinals also hold the 16th and 49th picks in the draft, whereas the Seahawks don’t pick for the first time until 56.
The 49ers hold pick 12 and they had the number six defense last year even without Bosa. His return, possibly Ford’s return, the development of Kinlaw and Kevin Givens, and the fact that Fred Warner is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate would all suggest that nepotism works and Kyle Shanahan will be right back into the NFC Championship race.
The Rams had the number one defense in the NFL last season and the Seahawks have been completely flummoxed since Donald entered the league. That’s the other defense in the division.
So what are the Seahawks supposed to do if they want to improve on their 12-4 record next season against a harder schedule? Luckily, the answers are probably something you can read in a quickly thrown together blog Monday afternoon blog post.
The best changes may be few changes. With only one selection in the top 120 picks and only a little bit of presumed spending money, Seattle does not have many non-trade paths towards new starters next season. If free agent center Ethan Pocic is re-signed, then the only expected difference will be at left guard after the departure of Mike Iupati. That role could be filled internally by Phil Haynes or Jamarco Jones or restricted free agent Jordan Simmons, following a competition that Carroll might already have a strong favorite for in mind.
If this feels like a white flag to you, that’s only because you haven’t yet read the narrative that many good-to-great offensive linemen were castoffs or depth chart pieces immediately before becoming quality starters. I am not sure why mainstream media doesn’t let this be more known, but I believe you are as likely to find your next starting offensive lineman on your own roster or the waiver wire as you are from the upcoming draft.
Chiefs center Austin Reiter has started nearly every game of Patrick Mahomes' starting career. A seventh round pick of Washington in 2015, waived by Browns in 2018, a quiet pickup by Kansas City when he was 27. Tackle Andrew Wylie was a UDFA. Tackle Mike Remmers was a 31-year-old veteran pickup last year. Guard Nick Allegretti was a seventh rounder in 2019. Other than first overall pick Eric Fisher, KC's line is largely made up of unwanted players.
Packers tackle Billy Turner was a free agent signee at age 28 in 2019. Drew little interest after bouncing around the NFL for five years. Turner's been a versatile and important piece to Green Bay's offensive line in the last two years. Nobody on Green Bay’s line is a first round pick and 27-year-old guard Lucas Patrick came from undrafted obscurity in 2017 to start 15 games last season.
The Bills had one of the most exciting offenses in the NFL in 2020 and the only starting offensive lineman that was even drafted by Buffalo was tackle Dion Dawkins. Daryl Williams and Brian Winters were late-20s castoffs signed by the Bills last offseason. Ike Boettger, undrafted out of Iowa in 2017, started seven games last season and received positive marks.
The Browns get credit for drafting Jedrick Wills and Joel Bitonio, plus signing JC Tretter and Jack Conklin to big free agent deals. But the star of the offensive line in 2020 was Wyatt Teller, a guard let go by the Bills after one season in 2018 and acquired by Cleveland at the cost of basically a fifth round pick in 2019.
The Titans had a great season from tackle Dennis Kelly last year, a player who had only started 16 games over the previous four campaigns combined. The Colts have some high profile stars on the offensive line, but right guard Mark Glowinski was a castoff that Seahawks fans remember who has become a mainstay for Indianapolis over the last three years.
The Rams are enjoying the benefits of the Browns giving up on Austin Corbett and the Colts giving up on Austin Blythe.
Of course, the Seahawks did just fine by replacing Justin Britt with Pocic, despite little positive to take from his first three seasons. Their best lineman was a rookie third round pick, if not Brandon Shell, a low-tier free agent. Just because it took me until my mid-30s, there’s little reason to think that Haynes or Jones couldn’t show signs of progress in their mid-20s.
When Seattle’s quarterbacked asked for help along the offensive line, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly who he’s throwing under the Russ. Duane Brown, Brandon Shell, and Damien Lewis all seem to be in the plans for next season, and fortunately so. As noted, we haven’t even seen full opportunities for Haynes and Jones and Kyle Fuller yet, so why don’t we see how that plays out? If it’s a better tight end that Wilson wants, we know that’s probably going to be a Pete-riority anyway.
We don’t want Russ to get a Pete-riority complex.
So the Seahawks likely do not have any significant external upgrades coming to their starting offensive line, unless some unexpected move is made at center for Corey Linsley despite virtually no evidence that Pete and John like to get involved in top-tier free agency, and the most we could see is perhaps Seattle going after Austin Blythe. He would pair with the other component that could help the Seahawks through this time of bleed, which is offensive coordinator Shane Waldron.
Waldron and run game coordinator Andy Dickerson, two people even more familiar with the frustrations of facing Aaron Donald after spending the last four seasons as offensive coaches for the Rams, must focus on putting Seattle in winnable third down situations by consistently winning in the running game. The focus today will be on how many sacks are in the NFC West, but even the elite pass rushers rarely get to the quarterback in anything but passing situations. The most common of which being third-and-long.
The Seahawks do need to improve their offensive line play next season and they probably won’t be able to add any players of note before the games begin. That doesn’t mean that tomorrow’s “players of note” aren’t already on the roster or soon to be available at a low cost. Part of the way for them to get “noted” is to be a part of a successful offense with a strong running game and that will be up to Waldron to create around Wilson. (Imagine if you were Rams tackle Joe Noteboom, you’d be loving this part.)
The NFC West did get a little bit tougher on Monday. But the Seahawks could still be a lot better by Week 1, even if they don’t look that much different.