It’s that time of year, when offseason workouts for teams are coming to a close, and the dead zone of the summer NFL news cycle is right around the corner. For the Seattle Seahawks, this means the final organized team practice activities (OTAs) are set to take place Tuesday and Wednesday, and then it’s six weeks off before training camp.
In the time between now and when the Seahawks report in late July, the news across the league will be largely limited to injuries, suspensions being handed down and contract news. Along with, of course, media outlets publishing predictions and rankings to fill the news void. As was seen on Monday, and reported on by Field Gulls Managing Editor Mookie Alexander, the Hawks are expected by Pro Football Focus to have the worst offensive line in the league in 2022.
Whether or not the Seattle line performs as the actual worst in the league or not is likely irrelevant as the team appears to be looking past 2022 with the unit and into the future. With a line that is likely to feature rookies at both tackle spots in Charles Cross and Abe Lucas and a third year Damien Lewis at left guard. That’s a possible core group that is likely to struggle at times in 2022, but which could grow and develop into a cohesive unit over time.
On the flip side of things, however, are the projected starters at center and right guard, Austin Blythe and Gabe Jackson. Blythe, of course, was likely brought in due to his experience with Andy Dickerson and Shane Waldron with the Los Angeles Rams, and Gabe Jackson spent three seasons playing in an outside zone blocking scheme with the Oakland and Las Vegas Raiders before being acquired for a Day 3 pick.
One of the reasons for the projection by PFF that the Seahawks will have the worst offensive line in the league is “Gabe Jackson’s decline in recent years, there’s not a single quality starter this unit can rely on.” That statement earned some pushback among fans, but an abrupt end to Jackson’s career would not be unexpected given his athletic profile.
Specifically, to get an idea of Jackson’s career longevity relative to peers of similar athleticism, here is look at offensive linemen above 320 pounds who ran the 40 in 5.38 seconds or slower, posted a 3-cone time above 8.00 seconds and a shuttle of 4.60 seconds or slower since 2000. Also included in the table is the age at which they played their last game in the NFL. (Author’s Note: While 59 players met the criteria, this list only includes the 12 players who accumulated at least 20 points of Career AV. The majority of the 59, like former Seahawks Avery Young and Justin Senior, never played a snap in the NFL.)
Zach Strief of the New Orleans Saints is, of course, the outlier in that group of players, pairing up with Pork Chop Womack as the only members of the group to start games after turning 30. Strief and Womack are both interesting case studies in that they did not see extensive playing time until reaching their late twenties. Womack started a total of 23 games over the first five years of his career, with 31 of his 71 career starts coming after his 30th birthday. Similarly, Strief started just 7 games over the course of his first five NFL seasons, and actually started more games after turning 30 (62 starts) than prior (32 starts). Further, while Trai Essex spent his age 30 season as a backup with the Indianapolis Colts, his final start in the NFL came just weeks after his 29th birthday late in the 2011 season.
While on the subject of longevity, also noteworthy here is the other name on the list who is currently a starter in the NFC West, Rob Havenstein. Havenstein, when healthy, has been the starter for the Rams at right tackle since they selected him in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. However, as can be seen by comparing his athleticism to the others in the table, it appears likely that Sean McVay and company could be in the market for a new right tackle in the coming years. That said, it’s certainly possible that the Rams sport science department could keep Havenstein playing longer than might otherwise be expected. Their work in getting Cam Akers back on the field during the 2021 season after suffering a torn Achilles last summer was certainly remarkable, but even that might come in second behind their ability to keep Andrew Whitworth performing at a high level as the second oldest player to start a game this past year.
In any case, the first step in determining Jackson’s future will obviously be seeing how he returns from offseason knee surgery, and how the competition between Jackson, Phil Haynes and Jake Curhan shakes out at right guard during training camp. Obviously, there’s no guarantee that Jackson won’t return to performing at a high level during the upcoming season, so for the meantime it’s enough to simply keep in mind that a dip in performance is possible, if not likely, at some point before his contract is up at the end of the 2023 season.