Suddenly, in the span of a few hours Thursday morning, the Seattle Seahawks offensive line fell into place.
When the day began, the second of the NFL free agency signing period, there remained the question of who would fill the team’s guard positions in 2019 in the wake of the departure of J.R. Sweezy to Arizona earlier in the week and uncertainty over whether D.J Fluker would return.
But then it was revealed that the Seahawks were signing nine-year veteran Mike Iupati away from Arizona to replace Sweezy — a trade with the NFC West-rival Cardinals, in a sense — and shortly after came even bigger news, that Fluker was also set to return.
Fluker posted confirmation on Twitter, first stating “unfinished business” next to a picture of him running out of the tunnel at CenturyLink Field in a Seahawks uniform and then later tweeting: “GOD HAS BLESSED ME AND MY FAMILY WITH A GREAT OPPORTUNITY. I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE WHAT THIS SEASON HAS IN STORE.”
Details of the contracts of each had yet to be revealed as of Thursday afternoon. But the bigger news for the moment was that the two signings appeared to set Seattle’s O-line heading into the 2019 season with Fluker returning at the right guard spot he manned last season, Iupati stepping in for Sweezy at left guard and the other spots remaining the same — left tackle Duane Brown, center Justin Britt and right tackle Germain Ifedi.
Seattle also put a second-round tender on restricted free agent George Fant, who played a valuable tight end/eligible tackle role last season, essentially assuring he will return, and also still has on the roster the likes of Ethan Pocic, Jordan Simmons, Jordan Roos, Joey Hunt and Elijah Nkansah, who all have seen action over the last two seasons.
Fluker, who turned 28 on Wednesday, signed with Seattle initially last March on a one-year deal worth up to $1.5 million. He stated at the end of the season he hoped to stay in Seattle, but was also expected to test the market.
Seattle’s urgency to keep Fluker — as well as maybe the money it had on hand to give him — likely increased following the loss of Sweezy.
Coach Pete Carroll had said the team wanted to keep as much of the offensive line together as the Seahawks could after a 2018 season in which they led the NFL in rushing after having ranked near the bottom in 2016 and 2017.
Carroll, whenever asked, lauded not only the physical presence Fluker brought to the team’s offensive line, but also the enthusiasm with which he practiced and played.
“He fit us just right,” Carroll said last month at the NFL Combine. “Attitude-wise, you couldn’t imagine a guy having more of an impact. His aggressiveness, his toughness his desire to keep getting better and pushing it and fighting through the hard things and the difficulties. He was banged up some during the year and then he was just a monster playing. I think he played better than he did the year before for (Seahawks offensive line coach) Mike (Solari) with the Giants. He was more consistent and more effective I think because we ran the balls much more, you could see his style come to life. He was a big part of it.”
Iupati comes to Seattle in similar fashion as did Fluker a year ago, off an injury-plagued season and having a history with Solari.
Iupati played just 10 games last season for Arizona before going on IR with a knee injury and played for Solari with the 49ers from 2010-14.
Iupati told the team’s website, Seahawks.com, that his familiarity with Solari helped make his decision to sign with Seattle.
“They’re a winning team,” Iupati said. “They’ve been competitors and contenders for the nine years I’ve been in the league. It’s close to home, and Mike Solari is also one of the biggest reasons I wanted to come here because he was my coach in San Fran. He’s awesome.”
That Fluker and Iupati have each dealt with injuries in recent seasons — Fluker has played just 19 of 32 regular-season games the past two seasons and Iupati just 11 — will make the development and readiness of depth critical at the guard spots.
But the Seahawks will hope there’s a lot more of what Fluker brought the Seahawks in 2018 available for two more years.