The Leading Contenders to Replace the Seahawks’ Pro Bowl-Sized Hole
Friday, April 03, 2015
The Seattle Seahawks subscribe to my gambling advisor’s theory, as it turns out. They were more than willing to give up a starting, Pro Bowl-credentialed center (and an additional first-round draft pick) in Max Unger in exchange for adding the latest receiving savior to the Seahawks’ offense. While they also recouped at fourth-round pick in the deal to acquire tight end Jimmy Graham, the cost to the offense’s ability to give Marshawn Lynch running lanes and Russell Wilson throwing lanes is significant. There is no obvious heir apparent. There will be no sure-fire first-rounder, blocking-talent-for-the-ages coming via the draft.
With the additional departure of starting guard James Carpenter, the Seahawks have serious re-tooling in mind for their interior offensive line. Miss on one or both of the required replacements and those running and throwing lanes will be overrun with jerseys not colored navy blue and action green.
Here are the most likely replacements at the Seahawks’ starting center position:
In the latter part of the 2014 season, Patrick Lewis was the starter for the Seattle Seahawks, only to be replaced for the playoffs when Unger finally returned to action. Plucked off of the Cleveland Browns’ practice squad in October, the 6’ 1’’, 311-pound lineman also spent time with the Green Bay Packers and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
As a Seahawk, his greatest advantage in the Unger replacement derby is his tenure as the 2014 center with the most games started (four). There were four starting centers for your Seattle Seahawks in 2014, with a recurring rash of injuries hitting this position the hardest before and during the season. Lewis edged out fellow competitor Lemuel Jeanpierre (three starts) and Bellevue native Stephen Schilling (three starts) as the Seahawks struggled to find a healthy starter all season long.
As the roster stands right now, Lewis would be the clubhouse leader.
Although a bit undersized at 301 pounds, Jeanpierre has managed to hang around the Seahawks as a valuable and versatile utility lineman ever since he first joined the team in 2010. “Utility player” seems to be his calling card and fate in the NFL — valuable for depth, but only reluctantly used as a fill-in starter when needed.
It’s not unlikely that as a versatile guard/center Jeanpierre could stick for another season in Seattle. However, if he manages to start at center you can bet that the Seahawks will be continuing to look to upgrade, either via trade or free agent acquisition.
Schilling was signed as a free agent one year ago after spending the first three seasons of his career with the San Diego Chargers. A 6-foot-5, 312-pound mauler, Schilling was placed on season-ending Injured Reserve on Nov. 8 with a knee injury. He is still listed on the Seahawks’ roster but technically is a free agent. It is unknown how interested the Seahawks are in bringing him back, but ESPN 710 (Seattle) claimed on March 25th that the Seahawks are attempting to sign him for what will almost certainly be the league minimum.
After first entering the league as a guard/tackle and later shifting to center, plus coming off of a knee injury, local boy Schilling seems the least likely to earn the starting role, if he makes the final roster at all.
Stefen Wisniewski, the former Oakland Raider, was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft. He was expected by many to be a relatively hot commodity in the 2015 free agent market. To date, he has yet to agree to terms with a new team. He is the nephew of long-time Oakland Raider offensive lineman Steve Wisniewski and his father, Leo, played for the Baltimore Colts for four seasons.
If there’s a name at the top of the Seahawks’ Unger replacement wish list, it’s probably Wisniewski. The biggest barrier to signing Wisniewski may very well be Russell Wilson. With Wilson’s expected new contract to reach new heights in NFL quarterback compensation, moderate-to-high-priced veteran additions are a pipe dream for the Seahawks’ front office. Until Wilson’s contract is settled — plus the new contract the Seahawks would like to get done with linebacker Bobby Wagner — the Seahawks will probably focus their search on far less expensive options.
If the Seahawks’ new starting center is Chris Myers, it will be good news for Lynch. For Wilson, not so much. As the long-time starter for the Houston Texans who was cut loose last month due to being owed $6 million ($8M cap hit) for the 2015 season, while bearing the burden of being 33 years old, Myers is the latest example of an older, yet still capable veteran being given the boot by his team. Expect Myers to accept a far less lucrative short-term contract from whatever team he joins next.
His pedigree earned Myers a visit with the Seahawks a few days ago. It is simply this: Myers has long been considered a stout run blocker, with a plus-10 or better run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus in each of the past seven seasons, save for 2012. What deficiencies he may have as a pass blocker are not going to improve at this stage of his career. While he may fit right in in support of Beast Mode, the Wilson express may suffer at the hands of quicker, penetrating inside rushers.
The likeliest of Seattle’s options — for both cost and talent/upside considerations — may very well be this month’s NFL draft. While the Seahawks would be loath to spend a 2015 first-round draft pick on a center (due to the lack of first-round worthy centers) fortunately for them, they no longer have a first-round pick to spend.
The prospects of Seattle spending their remaining highest pick (63rd) on a center look a little stronger. Some have mentioned Oregon’s Hroniss Grasu and Auburn’s Reese Dismukes as sensible choices late in the second round. Should the Seahawks find that top-rated center Cameron Erving from Florida State is still available at 63 he would be hard to pass up. Don’t be surprised to find that Seattle takes a project right tackle-type and groom him to play center as a longer term development plan.
The Seahawks have about one more month to decide how they want to re-build the interior of their offensive line. Depth will be easier to come by than starting talent. Unfortunately for the blue birds, depth they have. It’s a starter they lack. Whichever path they take, it’s a gamble. Let it roll.
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