So much for the Seahawks keeping their offensive line together heading into the 2019 season, a goal coach Pete Carroll began stating as early as last October.
Instead, the Seahawks watched on Tuesday as free agent guard J.R. Sweezy agreed to a reported two-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals. The news was first reported by Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. Financial details were not immediately reported.
Sweezy started 15 games for the Seahawks last season, 13 at left guard, helping the Seahawks forge a rushing attack that led the NFL with 2,560 yards in 2018. Sweezy and usual starting right guard D.J. Fluker are each free agents and the Seahawks had been hoping to keep both and keep the line intact.
The other three starters from 2018 are set to return -- center Justin Britt, left tackle Duane Brown and right tackle Germain Ifedi.
Carroll said during the team’s trip to London, as it became apparent the line was vastly improved from the previous few years, that he hoped it could stay together.
“We feel like we have the core of a group that can really make a difference,” Carroll said. “And I felt this before and I’ve talked about it before in years past -- when you sense that the core is there, now it’s time to build around that and fortify that. As we have done in the past, we would like to move in that direction if possible. It’s not always as easy as it sounds, but it’s clear with the young running backs and the guys that really have a flair for the style that we want to play in, that we have a chance to do that.”
Carroll repeated similar sentiments whenever asked, including last month at the NFL Combine. But at the Combine he also foreshadowed that the Seahawks would let Sweezy and Fluker test the market and see what happens.
“I don’t know how other teams look at those guys but for us they really fit well so we’ll see if we can get the done,” Carroll said. “I don’t know that.”
And while the Seahawks wanted to keep the line together, they also have a number of challenging financial decisions upcoming such as a long-term deal for defensive end Frank Clark, and did not match Arizona’s offer.
Sweezy, 29, had said he wanted to stay, once even saying he would be happy to end his career in Seattle -- he was originally drafted by the Seahawks in the seventh round in 2012.
But money and security usually win out in the NFL and did here.
This is now the second time Sweezy has left the Seahawks via free agency.
After emerging as a starter in 2013 and starting 46 games in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons, including both Super Bowls, Sweezy signed a five-year contract worth up to $32.5 million with Tampa Bay following the 2015 season.
But Sweezy missed all of the 2016 season with a back injury and then played 14 games in 2017 before suffering a broken leg. That led to him restructuring his contract and then being released last June. He had been due to make $6.5 million last season with Tampa Bay before being cut.
He visited the Seahawks a few days later and then about a month later signed a one-year contract with Seattle worth $1.5 million.
Seattle may be anticipating that third-year guard Jordan Simmons can fill in for Sweezy. Simmons started three games last season, and in his starts against the Rams and Vikings the Seahawks had their two highest-rushing games of the season with 273 and 214 yards, respectively.
Simmons suffered a knee injury against the 49ers on Dec. 16 but is expected to be ready for the season. The Seahawks have given him a qualifying offer as an exclusive rights free agent, something the team is expected to officially announce on Wednesday.
Seattle has 10 offensive linemen under contract for the 2019 season as of Tuesday -- Simmons, as well as guards Ethan Pocic and Jordan Roos, centers Britt, Marcus Henry and Joey Hunt (also an ERFA who has been given a qualifying offer) and tackles Duane Brown, Germain Ifedi, Jamarco Jones and Elijah Nkansah.
Pocic could also emerge as a contender to start at one of the guard spots, though Simmons had moved ahead of him before being injured. Pocic, a second-round pick in 2017 out of LSU, began the season as the starter at left guard with Sweezy at right guard before being injured and then Fluker returning. It was when Fluker entered the lineup at right guard and Sweezy moved to left guard in the third game of the season that the Seahawks’ offense began to clock.
The Seahawks are also expected to give a tender to restricted free agent George Fant, giving them an 11th offensive linemen under contract.
And one additional thought about what the team could do now with Sweezy gone is using Fant as a starter at right tackle and moving Ifedi to guard, where he started as a rookie in 2016 and played one game last season.
SEAHAWKS ALSO LOSE BACKUP QB BRETT HUNDLEY
Brett Hundley, who was Seattle’s backup quarterback in 2018, is also heading to Arizona to sign a one-year contract with the Cardinals, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. The NFL Network reported that the deal is for $2 million with a maximum value of $3 million.
Hundley was acquired in a trade with Green Bay for a sixth-round pick prior to the 2018 season but did not play a down last season as Russell Wilson took every snap, the only starting quarterback to do so.
Seattle in January signed Paxton Lynch knowing that Hundley might not return. Hundley grew up in Chandler, Ariz., and the Cardinals also have a more uncertain quarterback situation, giving Hundley a better chance of playing then he would have with the Seahawks.
Since the Seahawks have yet to agree to any deals with unrestricted free agents they would at the moment qualify for four compensatory draft picks in 2020, according to Nick Korte of OvertheCap.com.