With the arrivals of offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and then-run game coordinator Andy Dickerson, the Seahawks employed an increased number of under center looks and zone run concepts in 2021. But the schematic and philosophical shift wasn’t the only change their offensive line underwent ; the unit had a pair of new primary starters in center Kyle Fuller and right guard Gabe Jackson, and also featured a switch in positions for second-year guard Damien Lewis.
To allow the veteran Jackson to stay at his more natural spot on the right side, Lewis moved over to left guard—a role he never filled at LSU, nor during his accomplished rookie season with Seattle. As to be expected, there were some highs and plenty of lows, resulting in a slight uptick in pass blocking efficiency from 2020 (96.9 percent) to 2021 (97.3 percent) and severe dips in Pro Football Focus grading (70.2 overall to 57.1; 81.5 run blocking to 60.3).
He posted an overall grade north of 70—what the outlet views as the minimum to be considered “starting-caliber”—just once in a game all season long, allowing zero pressures on 30 pass blocking snaps in a 23-13 home loss to the Cardinals. In all, he was tabbed with a modest 21 pressures surrendered on the year.
Not to be overlooked: Lewis was absent for four games with a laundry list of ailments, including a dislocated elbow, an AC joint sprain and a perineal cyst that had to be removed via mid-season surgery. He had battled through numerous injuries as a rookie as well, but was able to make an appearance in all 17 of the team’s games that year, including playoffs.
The permanence of his stay at left guard may be contingent on what happens with Jackson this offseason. The 6-foot-3, 335-pounder is undeniably talented, but he’s not an ideal fit for Seattle’s particular scheme, which is only going to be emphasized further with Dickerson’s recent promotion to offensive line coach. Cutting Jackson before or after June 1 would not save the Seahawks any money towards the salary cap in 2022, per AboutTheCap.com† But trading him after that date would free up $6 million in available cap space while incurring dead cap charges of $3 million in each of the next two seasons.
Theoretically, that would open the door for Lewis to return to the right side. It would also create even more work for the Seahawks this offseason, however, with center Ethan Pocic and tackles Duane Brown and Brandon Shell already set to hit unrestricted free agency on March 14. The former LSU standout would then be Seattle’s only primary starting offensive lineman from the 2021 season who are under contract for 2022.
But whether or not Jackson remains in the Pacific Northwest, Lewis could still be on the move—to center. It’s a position he’s played at just once in his lifetime, filling in for an injured Pocic in Week 11 of his rookie campaign. He gave up a way-too-easy sack to Arizona defensive tackle Angelo Blackson on his very first snap of the game, but recovered well enough to get through the rest of the night with just one other added pressure to his credit.
Revisiting this experiment is something that has been widely floated for some time, and there may be no better chance to do it than now considering Pocic’s impending free agency and the team’s lack of a clear replacement at the moment. Exclusive rights free agent Dakoda Shepley and 2021 undrafted rookie Pier-Olivier Lestage could factor into the conversation, but the inexperience of both make either one a less-than-ideal alternative. Lewis is also inexperienced when it comes to the position, but he certainly has the tools to handle its duties and an offseason’s worth of preparation would go a long way to helping him make the jump if Seattle made a decision early on.
But it’s hard not to worry about the potential detriment of shifting Lewis to his third position in as many seasons. His first year earned him All-Rookie honors from the Pro Football Writers of America; then he was moved to left guard and very clearly regressed some. The Seahawks cannot afford to let that continue by overwhelming him and stripping away any sense of consistency and comfortability he has after such a promising start to his professional career.
At the very least, it would behoove Seattle to accompany such a move with a contingency plan if Lewis proves incapable of taking on the new role, eg re-signing Pocic to provide considerable starting experience off the bench. This year’s draft class also contains several intriguing interior offensive line prospects, and the upcoming free agency pool is rich with talent as well.
In the end, perhaps the best route for the Seahawks to take with Lewis is to move him back to where he’s most comfortable—right guard—and find a trade partner for Jackson. After that, they can dive into the amateur and veteran pools to sort out the rest of their currently dismantled offensive line without having to bank on a huge gamble paying off. They have rolled the dice to start far too many seasons in recent memory, and they simply cannot afford to allow that much uncertainty at such a critical part of their roster once again.
Not with the financial flexibility they have this year.