Making sense of the Seahawks' offensive line philosophy

The Seahawks hope to continue and develop their offensive line, while keeping Russell Wilson healthy in 2017. Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Two days after the Seattle Seahawks' season ended, Pete Carroll was asked if the team needs to invest more financial resources into the offensive line.

"I don’t think that way," Carroll said. "That’s not how we think, like, 'ok, let’s take money and put it here,' and all of the sudden you’re going to be better. You have to get guys that will play worthy of it, and when they demonstrate that, they get paid. We’ve shown that we understand that, and we’re committed to that mentality.

"I don’t think you can just buy your way to it. We’re not going to do that. We’re not going to go out and spend a ton of money on free agency on one guy to try to save day. That’s not how we function at all."

Identifying the problem is easy: The offensive line has not been good enough. Last season, Russell Wilson was sacked on 6.6 percent of his dropbacks (fourth-worst). And Thomas Rawls averaged 1.69 yards before contact, which ranked 40th out of 42 qualifying players.

But figuring out how to fix the issue is more difficult. One idea would be to spend more money it. According to OverTheCap.com, the Seahawks had $6.3 million to the offensive line last year, the lowest number in the league. No other team was below $13.3 million.

Looking ahead to 2017, Seattle has $5.5 million committed to the line, meaning that heading into the offseason, they again rank last.

But to suggest that the Seahawks have ignored the offensive line is misguided. Their plan has been to draft and develop players up front. The problem? Whether the blame rests on the personnel staff or offensive line coach Tom Cable, they haven't been very good at that.

Since Carroll and general manager John Schneider took over, the Seahawks have drafted 14 offensive linemen. That's tied with the San Francisco 49ers for most in the league during that span. Overall, 21.2 percent of Seattle's picks in the past seven years have been used on the offensive line. That's second-most behind only the Indianapolis Colts.

And six of those picks have come in the first three rounds. Only the Miami Dolphins (seven) have used more capital on the first two days of the draft.

"We’re going to bring the young guys up, keep developing them and make them be part of this program," Carroll said. "Then as they go, and they earn their opportunities, we’ll reward them as we can. I hope that it’s really clear that that’s the way we’ve done this with really clear intent."

The Seahawks' biggest issues right now are at the tackle spots. Right tackles Bradley Sowell and Garry Gilliam both got benched on separate occasions. And George Fant got thrown into the fire too early at left tackle.

In 2014, the Seahawks spent a second-round pick on Justin Britt. He played right tackle as a rookie, then got moved to guard in 2015 and is now playing center.

Last year, Seattle used a first-round pick on Germain Ifedi to play right tackle, but he got moved to right guard, and the plan for now is to keep him there.

"He has the ability to play both spots, but in the effort and spirit of continuity, I think he would bank more if we could keep him in the same spot at right guard," Carroll said. "But we’ll see."

The Seahawks' philosophy on building the offensive line isn't different than their philosophy on building other parts of the roster. They want to draft and develop players, reward them financially when warranted and be opportunistic with trades and free agency.

Among the team's 22 regular starters, only three -- Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Ahtyba Rubin -- were originally added as free agents. And those were all short-term deals. Bennett and Rubin each initially signed for one year; Avril for two.

Last offseason, the Seahawks signed Sowell and J'Marcus Webb to low-risk deals, but neither worked out. Webb was released during the season, and Sowell was inactive for three of the final four games.

So what's the plan this offseason?

"I think we made a ton of progress," Carroll said. "Knowing how much guys improve from one year to the next, and particularly the youngest guys improve the most. We have nothing but good things to think that will take place. Guys are going to get better. We’re going to work really hard in the offseason to make sure we make that spot really competitive again. We’re not going to rest on anything or sit back like we think we got it know.

"We’ll continue to work, and there’s opportunities of course in the draft and free agency and all of that that we’re open to, and we never turn away from any of those chances. If nothing happened, these guys are coming back, and they’ll get after it, and they’re going to get after it and be farther along than they were. It couldn’t be more obvious. That’s just the natural thing that’s going to happen. We need that natural occurrence to take place and help us be better from the start."

There is no easy answer for the Seahawks. They just need to do a better job at executing their plan, which is to draft and develop players. And they need to maximize their opportunities through trades and free agency. Adding one starting-caliber tackle would probably make a big difference with this unit.

The bottom line is that they can't waste away the prime years of Wilson's career because of failures up front. Wilson showed in the second half of 2015 that he can pick teams apart from the pocket when he has time.

Even last season, when Wilson was healthy and playing behind the offensive line of Fant, Mark Glowinski, Britt, Ifedi and Gilliam, he completed 67.7 percent of his passes, averaged 8.48 YPA and threw 14 touchdowns against two interceptions. He can make up for some deficiencies up front, but the organization needs to give him a chance.

"I think we have a chance now that this is maybe one of the two or three years out of the seven or eight where we have had a chance to come back with kind of the same group and have a chance to build with that," Carroll said. "We’re going to try to, but we’re going to challenge the heck out of those guys too. We’re not going to be satisfied, like I said. It’s been a good challenge though, and we’re working at it."