Russell Okung’s way of going about free agency isn’t like anyone else’s.
The Seahawks’ veteran left tackle is due to become an unrestricted free agent March 9. On Wednesday multiple national reports said Okung personally emailed every NFL team to announce he was having surgery to repair the shoulder he dislocated in Seattle’s season-ending playoff loss at Carolina Jan. 17. His message to the league: don’t worry prospective new employers, I’ll be back good to go by June.
The reason Okung did this instead of his agent: he is his agent.
So the semantics of him informing the league appear clumsy in light of the league’s tampering rules for players still technically under contract. The bottom line is the Seahawks are about to need as new left tackle for the first time since 2010.
On Jan. 18, the day after the Seahawks’ final loss of this just-completed season, the game in which he got hurt pass blocking, Okung was already speaking in the past tense about the only NFL team he’s known since he was the sixth overall pick in 2010.
“I have to remove myself and ask myself what the truth is about the situation. Once I can do that I have clarity about what I want, what I think I’m capable of and what my value is,” Okung said Jan. 18.
“Seattle will always be a home to me. It’s been amazing what the community has been able to do for me, and the people. There will always be a place that I’ll come back to.”
He wouldn’t be contacting every team in the league to provide an update on his status if he wasn’t convinced the Seahawks were going to let him go into free agency without trying earnestly to re-sign him. And that seems extremely likely to happen. For all his injuries and inconsistency the last couple seasons Okung is just 27 years old and a former first-round draft choice who’s been a six-year starter. He’s started in two Super Bowls and been selected to the Pro Bowl -- and at a premium position in the game: the backside protector of a right-handed quarterback.
Okung will command annual money the Seahawks have not been willing to give offensive linemen in the last several seasons, while they have decided to invest their top money in their young core defensive backs, linebackers and QB Russell Wilson.
This means the Seahawks need a new left tackle.
Alvin Bailey is scheduled to become a restricted free agent in March; Seattle has the right to match any offer Bailey might get from another team and would receive compensation should he sign elsewhere. Bailey hasn’t distinguished himself in the times he’s been Okung’s injury fill-in. Garry Gilliam could be a candidate to move from right tackle, where he started for the first time in the 2015 season, to left to replace Okung in 2016. Justin Britt (the 2014 starting right tackle) would then be a possibility to move back to right tackle from left guard. That would leave left guard open for Mark Glowinski. The 2015 rookie was impressive in his NFL debut at right guard last month filling in for injured J.R. Sweezy in the regular-season finale at Arizona.
Or Seattle could do what general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll haven’t done since 2011, when they picked James Carpenter to begin their second draft leading the team: select an offensive lineman in the first or the second round.
This appears to be the year to do it. The line has had problems much of the last two seasons. Plus, Sweezy may also become a potential unrestricted free agent in March, though he is more likely to get an attractive offer from the Seahawks to stay than Okung if for no other reason than to avoid losing 40 percent of their offensive line in one month.
As for representing himself in getting a new deal from another team, Okung said on Jan. 18 what he proved with his email Wednesday.
“I’m still a full head of steam on that,” Okung said then. “I’m not the first one to do it. Hopefully I won’t be the last as well. There are a lot of guys in the past who have done it -- not many who’ve done it in the prime of their career.
“It’s going to be a really interesting experience.”
Judging by his email and early reaction to it, it already is.