Seattle Seahawks Are Still Rebuilding the Line That Walter Jones Built

Chris CluffCorrespondent IIOctober 29, 2009

RENTON, WA - JULY 31:  Tackle Walter Jones #71 looks on during training camp at the Seahawks training facility on July 31, 2009 in Renton, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The anticlimactic announcement Wednesday that future Hall of Fame left tackle Walter Jones will not play this season comes as no surprise.

And it won’t be a surprise if he doesn’t play again after a remarkable 12-year run (1997-2008) during which he became one of the greatest linemen ever to play the game. 

If Jones retires before next season, he will be the Seahawks’ second no-brainer Hall of Famer and join Steve Largent in the shrine in 2015. But, as coach Jim Mora said, it’s not time for a career eulogy yet.

It is time, however, to figure out what the Seahawks are going to do about their offensive line going forward.

With Jones seemingly done, the Seahawks are down to one player remaining from the dominant unit that led them to the Super Bowl in 2005.

Steve Hutchinson, Robbie Tobeck, and Chris Gray are all gone. Sean Locklear is the only one left, and even he is not playing right now.

When team president Tim Ruskell signed Locklear to a five-year extension last year, the Seahawks put financial escalators in it in case Locklear played a certain number of snaps at left tackle. It was the carrot for Locklear to strive to be Jones’ replacement.

Unfortunately, Locklear simply cannot stay healthy. He has missed 13 games since becoming the starting right tackle in 2005. He lasted only one game on the left side this season before he got injured again, and who knows how much longer his latest ailment, a high ankle sprain, will keep him out?

The Hawks found a capable replacement in Brandon Frye, but he got hurt, too. Then Kyle Williams failed so miserably that the Hawks brought in Damion McIntosh, who now will get his turn for as long as Locklear remains out. 

Add the loss of left guard Rob Sims for several weeks, and the early-season injury of center Chris Spencer, and it has simply been deja 2008 all over again.

If Ruskell’s succession plan for the 2005 unit had worked out, the Seahawks’ line at this moment would be Locklear, Sims, Spencer, right guard Max Unger and right tackle Ray Willis.

Ruskell planned on Locklear and Spencer being the anchors of the line into the next decade. Sims and Willis were serviceable finds in the mid-rounds. And Unger is now part of Plan B, since left guard Mike Wahle retired before camp and Spencer has not been healthy or effective enough to be counted on.

At some point, the Hawks still might end up with Locklear, Sims, Spencer, Unger and Willis on the field together. But even if that happens, it’s bound to fall apart again.

Like Locklear, Spencer and Sims have missed multiple stretches of games over the past four years, and the Seahawks would be wise at this point to not count on any of them for the future.

Unger, who is signed through 2012, seems to be the only guy who fits into the future plans, ideally replacing Spencer at center. Willis is signed only for one more season, and he still has to prove he’s worth keeping beyond that.

If there is not a new collective-bargaining agreement between the NFL and its players by next March, the Seahawks will retain the rights to Spencer and Sims, who would be restricted free agents instead of unrestricted. But owning their rights does not mean the Hawks should count on them for the future.

Locklear, who is signed through 2012, is a decent player, but he just can’t stay healthy, and the Hawks have to come up with a good backup plan for the games he misses...or just find a better starter. Frye might be that guy, if his neck injury isn’t career-threatening.

But if there’s one thing the Seahawks have learned, it’s that they cannot count on injury-prone linemen to carry them.

After this season, Ruskell absolutely MUST find three linemen to give this team depth and healthy, good players.

He needs to draft a tackle with one of the Seahawks’ two first-round picks, and he has to add a starting guard and another tackle through the draft or free agency.

By finally putting emphasis on the most important unit on any team, maybe the Seahawks will finally rebuild the line that was once anchored by the best tackle in the game.

Check out the Seahawks' road ahead .