Word out of Seattle is that free-agent O-linemen Sean Locklear and Chris Spencer have, in effect, been told to look elsewhere. First-round draft pick James Carpenter, who already has been handed the starting RT role that Locklear filled the majority of last season, apparently has been given Locklear's number (No. 75). Spencer, a former first-round draft pick who has had as many downs as ups as the team's starting center, has been replaced by third-year pro Max Unger, who suffered a season-ending toe injury in Week One last season as the starting right guard.
Nobody's going to miss Locklear. The last relic of Seattle's historic offensive line from 2005 was never the same after his Pro Bowl cohorts disappeared. His last two years have been defined by red-zone penalties and getting wiped out by basic bull rushes.
Spencer is an interesting case. Some will remember his constant injuries and his overblown struggles with line calls and hail the departure of one of Tim Ruskell's first-round "busts". Others will cite his steady improvement in 2007 and see just another hole being opened on the line.
Part of the equation is who's replacing them. Locklear will be succeeded by first-rounder James Carpenter, so that's all good. The center position will be manned by Max Unger, who spent all last year on injured reserve and spent his rookie year getting blasted backward into his own running back several times a game.
I believe that player replacement should first be approached with this question: "Is the status quo really that bad?" Some impatient fans hailed the departure of the consistent but unremarkable Rob Sims last March. Those who protested the move got dismissed because apparently it's silly to criticize the pruning of a merely average player. It was just Sims, right? Not worth getting worked up over. As it turned out, his replacements were worse. Ben Hamilton and Chester Pitts failed to nail down the position despite being perfect "scheme fits". An average left guard would have been a really nice thing to have on this team in 2010.
Likewise, when Julian Peterson was traded two years ago, people cited his "disappearing for stretches of games" and got excited about the #4 linebacker being brought in to replace him. No way a fresh Top-5 pick could be worse than an aging veteran with holes in his game, right?
|Curry vs. Peterson, 2009-2010|
|Player||Tackles||Sacks||Passes Defensed||Fumbles Forced|
(That's not so much affirming of Peterson as it is critical of Curry.)
There's this tendency amongst us to approve of the departure of a steady, underappreciated player, or at least accept it, because it theoretically shouldn't affect a team and certainly shouldn't worsen it. In this case, I'm not so sure. Unger's rookie year wasn't promising at all. He was a second-round pick from a former Seattle GM notorious for his inability to judge line talent. His strength issues are a serious concern.
I was glad Chris Spencer got re-signed in 2010 and hoped it would happen again in 2011, because while he wasn't the world-beater everyone wanted Robbie Tobeck's successor to be, he wasn't a hole on the line either. Even decent players can serve a purpose.
Should a rebuilding team continue tearing down even as it's rebuilding? Does "scheme" make that necessary? At what point are "scheme" considerations superseded by the simple need for good football players? I asked these questions when Sims was traded, and I'm still asking them now. "Scheme" gets blamed all the time when justifying unpopular player moves, by all kinds of GM's. It's a stock excuse all over the league. We all know how the Ben Hamilton "scheme" decision turned out.
Unger has fundamental red flags of his own, although at least Seattle had him as an option before letting Spencer walk. But should Unger struggle, he may negate some of the expected improvement on the line, which will already be modest (or, honestly, non-existent) due to starting two rookies whose development time is being cut short by the lockout. Revamping doesn't automatically equate to better times.
Not the end of the world, I suppose. Let's see where this goes. Maybe Unger will rebound. Maybe Seattle will bring in Samson Satele. Maybe this is more fake-news from Mike Florio and neither is going anywhere. But Tom Cable seems to be getting name-checked in an awful lot of Seattle draft philosophy these days. I hope he earns it.