After fielding the NFL’s best line in 2005, the Seahawks lost guard Steve Hutchinson to the Minnesota Vikings in a now-infamous “poison pill” deal when Seattle gave Hutchinson the transition tag instead of the franchise tender. The money-saving move proved disastrous when Minnesota signed the elite guard to an offer sheet that would prove impossible for Seattle to match.
Though the post-Hutchinson line still featured future Hall of Fame left tackle Walter Jones, Pro Bowl center Robbie Tobeck and excellent right tackle Sean Locklear, the Hutchinson deal both accelerated and confirmed the real value of the best guards in the business. The Seahawks went through a rotation at just about every position in the line, due to injuries and effectiveness. Hutchinson’s replacement, Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack, couldn’t elude nagging injuries throughout the year. Rookie Rob Sims from Ohio proved very effective in Womack’s place – he’s a potential star as Locklear was in his first year.
The Seahawks’ offensive line finished 30th in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards statistic in 2006, after finishing sixth in 2005. In Adjusted sack rate, Seattle dropped from ninth to 28th in the same single season. At one point late in 2006, the Seahawks actually ranked dead last in ALY. Shaun Alexander went from NFL MVP and touchdown champ to injured, sub-1,000-yard rusher. Matt Hasselbeck missed four games with his own injury and wound up running for his life more than ever before. It wasn’t all due to Hutchinson’s departure, but it was close enough to let Seattle know that their formerly lockstep system of guard devaluation wasn’t working anymore.
While they struggled in 2006, the virtual mirror image of Seattle’s 2005 team offense thrived in San Diego. LaDanian Tomlinson broke Alexander’s single-season touchdown record, the Chargers finished the season with the NFL’s best record, and Dielman was at the heart of it all. His presence was a primary reason that rookie left tackle Marcus McNeill had such a wonderful initial NFL campaign, and San Diego finished 2006 as the top team in Adjusted Line Yards, and the ninth-best in Adjusted Sack Rate.
Unlike the Seahawks, the Chargers seemed to understand the value of their left guard before the 2006 season, when they extended the fist-round tender to Dielman, who was then a Restricted Free Agent, and signed him to a one-year deal. Dielman played tight end and on the defensive line at Indiana University for former Chargers offensive coordinator and current Miami Dolphins coach Cam Cameron, and signed with San Diego as an undrafted free agent on May 2, 2003. Over his first two seasons, Dielman went from the practice squad to the special teams unit to a few game reps at his current position. By 2005, his stock was rising, and he started the final 14 games of the seasons at left guard. 2006 was truly his breakout year, as he was the cornerstone of the league’s most statistically effective line.
The Seahawks, having learned their lesson in this matter, may be about to teach the Chargers the same class: How to Lose Your Undervalued Guard Without Really Trying. And if the Seahawks are to have any hope of returning to the Super Bowl after an off-year, they must get their offensive line in order. Signing Kris Dielman, who would certainly be the best available free agent guard, would be the optimal solution.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, and a contributor to FoxSports.com. Feel free to contact him here.