For the Seahawks to improve on their 9-7 record next season, they’ll likely have to get better internally. In fact, it is probably in part due to their cap restraints that the team even felt compelled to fire both their offensive and defensive coordinators, because the real change needed is an improvement of what they’ve got rather than trying out new players to execute the same game plans.
Seattle is currently looking at $14 million in cap space per OverTheCap.com, and perhaps $26 million if they release Jeremy Lane and Cliff Avril. As John Gilbert points out, this extra money really would only cover what they need to spend on rookies, IR, practice squad, and to fill out a 53-man roster.
That would leave 44 players under contract. Team would need $4.5M more to fillout roster, ~$4M for IR, $1M for PS and $2.5M for draft picks. Total of approximately $12M in additional cap space needed to set aside. https://t.co/7Y5MwgLcEP
— John Gilbert (@SeahawksMachine) February 18, 2018
So that puts the Seahawks back in the range of having around $14 million in room to spend on free agents, including their own. Between Sheldon Richardson, Paul Richardson, Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson, Luke Joeckel, Byron Maxwell, DeShawn Shead, Bradley McDougald, and others, there’s only so much to go around. They are not likely to retain most of those guys — especially the biggest three names — so in many cases they will need players on the roster to step up and take on more significant roles on offense and defense.
Those opportunities could breed both pleasant surprises and huge disappointments. For the offensive line to get better under new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and new offensive line coach Mike Solari, the replacement for Joeckel at left guard could be the key to that success.
That’s where third-year lineman George Fant comes into play.
The Seahawks appear set at left tackle with Duane Brown and at center with Justin Britt, so they are at least very comfortable with two of the most important positions on offense. To get to that next level of opening lanes for running backs and giving time in the pocket to Russell Wilson however, they’re going to need significant improvement at both guard spots and right tackle.
Germain Ifedi spent his rookie season at right guard, then moved over one spot to tackle in 2017. His play was not considered good by many, but Ifedi did seem to get more praise as the year went on and given that he was a first round pick and that many linemen take at least 2-3 years to become reliable starters, it would be a surprise to not see Ifedi at right tackle in Week 1.
That leaves the guard spots as open competitions.
Seattle spent their second round pick on Ethan Pocic last year and he started 11 games, all at guard. Pocic filled in for Joeckel for five games while he was recovering from knee surgery, then moved to right guard because the coaching staff felt he earned it and was better than their other options. His play may have also been uneven, but the staff and the scouts who drafted him clearly had an affection for Pocic, so I’m sure there is rooting interest for him to continue to start at guard. Many fans would also likely agree since Pocic is a young piece with a good draft pedigree, so he’d likely open the offseason as the favorite at right guard, where he ended last season.
Fant, the favorite at left tackle in 2017 who is now roughly seven months removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL, may then be one of those unexpected positive “additions” to the roster for next season and he could do so by replacing Joeckel at left guard.
Undrafted out of Western Kentucky in 2016 for any number of reasons (played tight end in college but nobody expected him to continue that at the pro level, was at a small school), Fant debuted as an offensive lineman for the first time in his career with the Seahawks that season. He made 10 starts and was two things that everyone expected him to be:
- Inconsistent, mostly bad
- Extremely gifted athletically
Fant only drew pro attention at all because he tested at 6’5, 296, with a 4.84 40-yard dash, 37″ vertical, 9’11 broad jump. His transition from tight end to tackle was and continues to be a long road, but it’s the same transition we’ve seem from Pro Bowlers like Walter Jones, Jason Peters, and Joe Staley. Gilbert told me that he personally feels that the comparison to Staley is extremely apt in athleticism and build.
Of course, Staley has frustrated the Seahawks for each of the last 11 seasons as a tackle for the San Francisco 49ers, which includes six Pro Bowl appearances. These players have all excelled at tackle, which is where Fant was expected to be a year ago, but the addition of Brown and the presence of Ifedi may force him inside for 2018. Not that it would be a bad thing, and certainly it is the area on offense in which Seattle is most desperate for an upgrade.
Every Pro Bowl guard in 2017 weighed at least 305 lbs, starting with Richie Incognito as the lightest. (Figures from Pro-Football-Reference, which could absolutely be a little off the mark in weight.)
Trae Turner, Carolina Panthers, 6’3, 310 lbs (92nd overall)
Brandon Scherff, Washington, 6’5, 320 lbs (5th overall)
Brandon Brooks, Buffalo Bills, 6’5, 343 lbs (76th overall)
You’ll notice that the players on the lighter side also tend to be a bit shorter, making BMI a more accurate judgment on these guards than just weight. Incognito has a BMI of 38.1, while Brooks would sit at 40.7. A further outlier might be Warford at 41.5, but not by much. If Fant were still 6’5 and 296, then his BMI of 36 would be considerably low for a guard, but it was regularly reported last offseason that Fant had bulked up and the photos supported the reports. If Fant was really at 320 lbs, then he’d basically be the same size as Scherff.
Scherff was a left tackle at Iowa, drafted by Washington at fifth overall with the intent to move him to guard. He had a broad jump of 8’11 (one foot shorter than Fant), a 40-yard dash of 5.05 (.21 seconds slower), and did 22 reps on the bench (same). Of course, Scherff did this at 319 lbs, 23 lbs heavier than Fant, but that may only mean that they’re closer to equal in those figures now, and Fant may also have increased his reps on the bench. It’s hard to find an exact arm length for Fant, but it appears it could be over 33″. Scherff was also a shade over 33″ arms.
These are all fascinating reasons to me to consider that the 2018 Seattle Seahawks starting offensive line could include zero outside additions:
Duane Brown-George Fant-Justin Britt-Ethan Pocic-Germain Ifedi.
Others on the roster currently include Rees Odhiambo, who now has experience at tackle and guard and could be a swingman backup, Jordan Roos, Joey Hunt, Tyrus Thompson, Isaiah Battle, and Willie Beavers. Solari could also decide to push for sweeping changes to install “his guys” after a long career with the Chiefs, Seahawks, 49ers, Packers, and Giants that likely has him mostly set in his ways, but as noted before, options are very limited.
The Seahawks wouldn’t stop their search for outside help if this was the case, but because they spent their second and third round picks to add Brown and Richardson, plus the aforementioned lack of cap space, they can only do so much. It’ll likely include additions similar to the ones they have had in recent years with Matt Tobin, Battle, Hunt, and Bradley Sowell — low-cost, low-upside signings, late draft picks, and minor trades.
That’s about all they can do, but with Fant they at least have a little bit of hope that they might already be set. His recent Instagram posts suggests that he’s feeling great about where he’s at (though this is also just some item promoting, he still looks the part):
The odds have been against George Fant for a few years now but this year he may have his best opportunity yet to shine as a football player. Much of that will depend on how Solari decides to build and mold this line, but he probably has to work with much of what the team already has.
Fant is perhaps the most interesting of those assets and he’s one we shouldn’t forget about.