Seahawks Should Conduct Open Competition at Right Guard – Sports Illustrated

Back in March 2021, one year before the Seahawks finally decided to pull the plug on their deteriorating relationship with Russell Wilson, the franchise had sights on making one last run at appeasing their star quarterback.
Less than a month after Wilson uncharacteristically aired dirty laundry in a series of post-Super Bowl interviews, including lamenting the number of hits he took behind a maligned offensive line and pleading for the team to add more stars to the fold, Seattle tried to check off both boxes. During the early stages of free agency, general manager John Schneider dealt a fifth-round pick to Las Vegas in exchange for reliable veteran guard Gabe Jackson, signing him to a new contract as part of the trade.
At the time, the Seahawks envisioned Jackson being the missing piece joining an offensive line already featuring perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown and rising sophomore guard Damien Lewis. With the reliable pass protector added up front, they hoped to see Wilson stay upright more often and keep him happy as a result.
Unfortunately, while Jackson started 16 games at right guard for Seattle and it isn't fair to pin the team's struggles protecting Wilson squarely on him, his presence didn't help elevate the offensive line as Schneider banked on when he acquired and extended him. Pro Football Focus ranked the team 25th in pass protection grade, including ranking dead last allowing a sack on 15 percent of third down pass attempts. They also yielded pressure on 49.4 percent of drop backs, dead last in the NFL.
Though other factors contributed to Wilson's eventual departure for Denver four months ago, the Seahawks' lingering inability to protect him undoubtedly loomed large as a primary reason for his unhappiness and desire to take his talents elsewhere.
With that in mind, as the Seahawks transition into a new era without Wilson and embark on a youth movement, Jackson shouldn't go into training camp later this month as the undisputed starter at right guard. In fact, with the franchise looking towards the future more than they have at any point over the past decade, Phil Haynes deserves a legitimate chance to compete for the job.
By Jackson's standards, he endured a somewhat challenging season and contributed to Seattle's dismal pass protection numbers as a team, with Pro Football Focus charging him with a career-high 37 pressures – tied for 10th most among NFL guards – and three sacks. He received a 55.7 pass protection grade, easily the lowest mark of his career and ranking 43rd out of 59 qualified guards. That's not going to cut it.
In Jackson's defense, he only allowed four quarterback hits on 542 pass blocking reps in his first season as a Seahawk. The 335-pound steam roller also performed better than PFF credited him in the run game, helping create running lanes for Rashaad Penny during his late season surge rushing for over 700 yards in the final six games and getting the job done in both man and zone blocking concepts.
Still, Jackson's first year in the Pacific Northwest shouldn't be viewed as anything other than solid, yet unspectacular. That's not exactly what Seattle had in mind when the front office dealt for him and with the player set to turn 31 years old on July 12 and coming off knee surgery, it's worth wondering if the team can reasonably expect for him to be any better from here on out.
Grades from outlets such as Pro Football Focus should be taken with a grain of salt when it comes to evaluating players. But Jackson statistically has been on the decline for the past couple of seasons, particularly in pass protection where his pressures allowed total increased by double digits in 2020 and 2021. He's also yielded at least three sacks in three of the past four seasons, including five apiece in 2018 and 2019.
These numbers were readily accessible for the Seahawks before they traded for Jackson, but with him only being 30 years old and two years removed from a season in which he didn't surrender a single sack, Schneider rolled the dice believing he had a bounce-back season in him. For only a fifth-round pick, it wasn't a bad gamble to take in an effort to shore up protection for Wilson.
But from a long-term perspective, barring a remarkable bounce-back season, Jackson doesn't look to be the answer at right guard. He's an aging player whose best days appear to be behind him and right now, Seattle should be focused on developing young players who could be part of the organization's next contender, and Haynes fits the bill.
After the Seahawks drafted Haynes out of Wake Forest three years ago, they viewed him as a potential starter down the road. A former high school basketball standout with light feet at 6-foot-4, 322 pounds, he projected to be a quality zone blocker with enough physicality to impose his will in the trenches.
However, high expectations coming out of his first offseason program weren't fulfilled due to injury issues. First, Haynes didn't play a snap in the regular season as a rookie after undergoing sports hernia surgery prior to training camp. Then, after impressing in backup duty in a divisional round loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field, a hip ailment landed him on injured reserve twice in 2020 and he played one offensive snap.
Ironically, Haynes' injuries and the lack of development coinciding with him being sidelined helped pave the way for Schneider to trade for Jackson. If he had been healthy enough to play, he might have crashed the lineup earlier and such a deal for a proven veteran may not have been deemed necessary.
With Jackson's arrival and Damien Lewis sliding over to left guard after a strong rookie season of his own, Haynes suddenly became the odd man out. Even after impressing during training camp and avoiding the injuries that had plagued him in his first two seasons, the Seahawks waived him during final roster cuts and brought him back as a member of the practice squad.
For more than two months, Haynes bided his time on the practice squad, healthy and waiting for his opportunity. When the calendar flipped to December, the chance he had been waiting for finally arrived with Lewis and Jamarco Jones both banged up, as he earned his first career start at left guard against the Lions in Week 17.
Eating at the line of scrimmage, Haynes dominated the opposition, knocking defenders off the ball and winning at the second level against linebackers and safeties. Playing a starring role up front, he led the way for Penny to explode for 170 yards, nearly seven yards per carry, and a pair of touchdowns in a 51-29 romp at Lumen Field. In protection, he didn't give up a single pressure on 33 pass blocking reps, holding his own in the interior.
One week later, Haynes started in place of an injured Jackson on the right side and performed equally well, levying a key block to spring Penny on a 62-yard touchdown late in a 38-30 win over the Cardinals. He also yielded only one pressure on 28 pass protection reps, helping Wilson throw three touchdowns in what ended up being his final game with the team.
Sample size must be considered when examining potential positional battles and Haynes still has only 137 offensive snaps on his resume in the NFL. Nothing replaces experience playing at the highest level of the sport and Jackson holds the clear and obvious edge in that department.
But Haynes put two excellent all-around performances on film in December and January, finally showcasing the talent that had Seattle excited about him coming from the college ranks. Only 26 years old, his athleticism makes him a more intriguing fit in coordinator Shane Waldron's zone-heavy scheme and he proved he could hold his own in pass protection playing on both sides of the line.
When the Seahawks kick off camp on July 27, Jackson will be with the first-team offense at right guard. Most likely, with a cap hit north of $9 million in 2022, that's where he will stay throughout camp.
But if coach Pete Carroll wants his "always compete" philosophy to avoid ringing hollow, that shouldn't be the case. Even given his track record, Jackson didn't play well enough last year to simply walk into camp as an unrivaled starter and after Seattle handed him an original round tender as a restricted free agent, Haynes earned the chance to try to steal the job away from the veteran.
Allowing a legitimate battle to play out in August should be a win-win for the Seahawks regardless of the final outcome. Haynes' presence could be enough to coax Jackson's best out of him, which would be great news for the line in the present. If Haynes ends up beating him out, they may have uncovered a long-term starter and could deal Jackson elsewhere for a late-round pick.


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