Seahawks bolster the trenches; sign Iupati, re-sign Fluker

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Mike Iupati graduated from Idaho in 2010. He was a consensus All-American with the Vandals and a first-round draft pick.

The Seahawks just nailed their biggest free-agent priority. Their own starting right guard.

Hours after league sources told The News Tribune agreeing to a Pro Bowl veteran linebacker K.J. Wright had agreed to a two-year contract late Wednesday night to stay in Seattle, D.J. Fluker confirmed he was returning to the Seahawks instead of leaving in free agency.

Mike Garafolo of NFL Network had the first news of Seattle’s two-year contract with Fluker Thursday morning.

That was an hour or so after Seattle had agreed on a one-year contract with former Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers left guard Mike Iupati.

Iupati will get the chance to be Fluker’s partner on the line. He has played left guard in all nine of his NFL seasons. That’s the position J.R. Sweezy played for the Seahawks, until he signed a free-agent contract with Iupati’s now-former Cardinals this week.

But the Fluker signing is big. Almost as big as Fluker.

This, to me, was Seattle’s biggest priority to re-sign this month once the team gave the franchise tage to Frank Clark to keep its top sack man from free agency.. Fluker perfectly fits way Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and line coach Mike Solari want to run the ball and play offense, and he proved last season to be a lively, perfect fit in their locker room, He has more value to the Seahawks than he would any other team in pass-happy NFL.

Why do they love Fluker?

It’s this, two scenes from the Seahawks’ narrow home loss to the eventual NFC-champion Rams in October:

“He fit us just right. Attitude-wise you couldn’t imagine a guy having more of an impact,” Carroll said two weeks ago. “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 Mike 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, the former University of Idaho Vandal, comes relatively cheaply because he turns 32 in May and has played in just 11 games over the previous two seasons for the Cardinals because of injuries.

If he isn’t healthy enough to win the left-guard job in 2019 with Seattle, the Seahawks believe they have a young option. Jordan Simmons impressed them in three starts last season when Fluker was injured. Simmons, Seattle’s waiver pickup from Oakland in September, made his first pro start in November at the Rams. He was part of the Seahawks’ 273 yards rushing through Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and the Rams’ star-packed defensive front that day in Los Angeles.

Simmons is returning from a season-ending knee injury in December. Coach Pete Carroll said two weeks ago at the league’s scouting combine that Simmons is progressing well in his rehabilitation. The team expects Simmons back for the start of the 2019 season in September, if not the start of training camp in late July.

Thursday’s deal with Iupati is the short-term, low-risk contract in which Carroll and general manager John Schneider have specialized for years. Once again this week they have waited as other teams make giant splashes with tens of millions of dollars in long-term dice rolls on free agents. Then, after the expensive shopping has mostly ceased, the Seahawks strike more strategically and methodically.

They do this because they know their future salary-cap room must go to franchise cornerstones Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner and now, after his $17 million franchise tag this month, Frank Clark. Wilson’s and Wagner’s contracts ends after 2019. And the Seahawks’ plan is to give extensions for 2020 and beyond to their elite quarterback and middle linebacker at the top of the league market for their positions.

So for most of the rest of the positions, it’s the bargain buys such as Iupati.

And, yes, the Seahawks intend to run the ball again and more than anyone in 2019. Run blocking is Fluker’s and Iupati’s specialties.

Even the Seahawks’ defensive line was immediately pumped about the O-line for the coming season.

———

©2019 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

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