The loss of Steve Hutchinson after the 2005 season was a death blow to the offense. Various stopgaps, such as the injury-prone Floyd Womack and youngster Rob Sims, floated in and out next to Walter Jones while Seattle's offense, particularly its running game, could not get anything going. Wahle, who was drafted in the second round of the 1998 supplemental draft by Green Bay in 1998 -- the last year of Mike Holmgren's time there -- knows fellow '98 Green Bay draftee Matt Hasselbeck very well. However, Wahle knows that the main component of this offense in need of repair is the running game.
The Seahawks finished first in rushing touchdowns and third in rushing yards in 2005, as Shaun Alexander set the NFL single season touchdown record. But Hutchinson's departure, as well as age and injury concerns on the line and in the backfield, turned that once-proud attack into a shell of its former self. Seattle ranked 14th and 27th in rushing yards and touchdowns in 2006, and 20th and 22nd in 2007. In both seasons, the dropoff was severe, leading the team to go completely pass-wacky in the second half of the 2007 season just to get to the playoffs.
"I know that's what they were looking for up here -- to get that running game going," Wahle told Sirius NFL Radio from Sea-Tac Airport on Thursday afternoon during the phone call in which he broke the news of his signing. "Obviously, as I said before, Matt's in the prime of his career. He's playing great football, and we have some great things going on in the passing game. The running game needs to be bolstered a little bit, and I'm certainly going to help do that."
Carolina Panthers' Mike Minter, right, is blocked by Mike Wahle, left, in practice during the NFL football team's training camp in Spartanburg, S.C., Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2007.
Hasselbeck helped recruit Wahle, and the guard was impressed by the team and the organization he saw. "He's a phenomenal football player -- he's turned into one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL," Wahle said of Hasselbeck. "From that standpoint, that's a huge grab for me. When you look around the league right now, the teams that are the best have the best quarterbacks, and I feel that I'm in a situation now where we have one of the best. Being able to block for a guy like that is going to be really exciting.
"I'm just thrilled to be part of such a great organization as the Seahawks. This works out really well in a multitude of ways. They're perennial contenders -- they've won their division (four straight times). Their quarterback is an All-Pro guy -- I know him from Green Bay. He's in his prime right now. My old man's from up here -- he went to Bellevue High School, right outside of Seattle. This is going to be a great experience for my family."
Familiarity with Holmgren and his offense, as well as Wahle's respect for new offensive line coach Mike Solari, played major roles in his decision. "Seattle was at the very top of a very short list of teams I wanted to go in and play for. I couldn't have scripted it any better. When you come up here and talk to these guys -- the administration, coaching staff and some of the players -- it really made all the difference in the world. Being familiar with the offensive line (scheme) is obviously a big help. Obviously, there will be some changes -- Mike Solari is coming in to coach the offensive line. I'm excited about working with him. We're going to make some good things happen this year."
After the 6-6, 304-pound Wahle spent seven seasons in Green Bay, the Carolina Panthers signed him to a five-year, $27 million contract in 2005. Wahle missed three games in 2006 with a shoulder injury, but started all 16 games for Carolina in 2007. The Panthers released him, along with veteran linebacker Dan Morgan, in order to free up approximately $6 million in salary cap space for a team that needs a great deal of rebuilding. This allowed them to re-sign left tackle Travelle Wharton and strong safety Chris Harris. More cuts are most likely coming, because the Panthers will probably have to slap the franchise tag on Jordan Gross, their superlative left guard.
"The team had started pushing money away a couple of years ago, and we thought it might come to a head this year with the salary cap,: Wahle said. "With the directions that both sides wanted to head in, I thought this was advantageous for everyone. I talked to John Fox and wished him the best. I know they just signed Travelle -- I talked to him and he's really excited. I think the future's bright for both parties.
It was a disappointing season for the Panthers -- they finished 7-9 in the horrid NFC South, and started three different quarterbacks after an early-season injury to Jake Delhomme. The offensive line was one of the team's few bright spots. "You never want to use injuries as an excuse, but I think that is a reality at some point. We did have a lot of injuries, especially losing our quarterback a few games into the season. You’re never prepared do deal with that loss," Wahle recalled. "We were putting a new offense, there were a lot of things going on, and having that quarterback as a source of stability was a big deal. I don't think we reacted well in different difficult situations, and you're going to see a lot of changes there. That's a big part of the reason."
But today was about the present and future -- his prospects with the Seahawks, and a very bright view. Wahle said that he had interest from other teams, but "the Seahawks were on the top of the list. Other teams called, but it was a situation where I've been in the league for ten years, I've had some good contracts, and my main focus right now is to get on a team with a great organization, a chance to win immediately, and a history of winning. I thought Seattle met that criteria, and coming in and talking to these people made that even more apparent.
I had a great talk with Coach Solari -- a couple of great talks, actually. He comes off as one heck of a teacher, and I'm excited to work with him. I've obviously talked to Walter Jones before, though I didn’t get a chance to talk to him this time around. I did talk to some other guys, and the general consensus is that any opportunity to get better, the team is all for it. I think a lot of the guys were excited about me coming in, and not just the things I can bring on the field, but we have some young guys here. I've been around the block a couple of times, and I'm eager to share information."
The Seahawks are more than willing to share their line with this veteran, who seems unconcerned about the inevitable Hutchinson comparisons. "Well, Steve's a special player -- he's on his way to the Hall of Fame. He's one of the best, if not the best, (guards) in the league. I'm not looking to fill any shoes -- I’m my own man, always have been. I can be successful in this offense, and I can be very successful with this football team. I do bring a lot to the table. The things they ask you to do here, as far as the (pulling and) movement stuff, the weak side runs, I feel like I can make things go. Trying to replace me in Green Bay has been difficult for that team, I don’t think it's a thing where you're trying to compare one to the other."
One year after failing to
grab the best guard in free agency, the Seahawks discovered a real round-tripper
who has found his new home.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief
of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, a contributing author
to Pro Football Prospectus 2007, and he writes NFL previews for the New York
Sun. Feel free to contact him here.