In the lead up to the draft, we’ll be examining position groups to determine where personnel additions will be needed most. The Seahawks figure to remain a borderline playoff contender in the years to come, so it’s salient for us to start with a group that will be imperative in the both the regular and postseason: the pass rushers. Once the defensive linemen complete their NFL Combine (and Pro Day) workouts, we will immediately update this piece on multiple fronts. First, it’s important for us to understand that Pete Carroll and John Schneider incorporate measurable athletic requirements — information derived from pre-draft workouts — into their draft evaluation process for all positions. For the most part, they feature these athletic requirements in veteran acquisitions as well, however, defensive line — specifically pass rush — is an area where they’ve been a bit more lenient. If the market doesn’t have exactly what they’re looking for, they’ll take what they can get. For now, we’ll be looking at the current state of our pass rushing group as well as which free agent rushers, both inside and out, the Seahawks might be targeting. We’ll dive deeper into the athletic requirement aspect in the post-combine, pre-draft timeframe.
[Update 3/11/19]: Yesterday, we Ian Rapoport reported that Frank Clark has changed his mind. The defensive end will refrain from signing the Franchise Tag tender and instead campaign for a long-term contract.
[Update 3/8/19]: There may be even more of a need to supplement the edge rush soon. Jay Glazer has reported that the multiple teams are considering making a play for Frank Clark via trade. He identified one of the teams as the Buffalo Bills in a second tweet.
[UPDATE 3/4/19]: The Seahawks have placed the Franchise Tag on Frank Clark. The defensive end is expected to sign it, showing goodwill towards the gesture.
Contrary to common sense, the Seahawks chose not to finalize an extension with Frank Clark prior to the 2018 season. The defensive end is now a free agent and will command top dollar at the position. Worst-case scenario, Seattle slaps him with the $17.128 million franchise tag to keep him from walking. On the heels of his Top Ten 13-sack finish to 2018, he’s worth it. It’s more likely that he and the team workout a market-setting deal that keeps him in a Hawks uniform for the next 4 years – but that still has to actually happen. Assuming Clark stays in Seattle, he’ll likely take up $17mil or so of the $51.994 million available in cap space. After Clark, the Seahawks are going to have to comb free agency for steals.
Outside of #55, the contracts of defensive ends Quinton Jefferson, Branden Jackson, Dion Jordan, and Ricky Ali’fua have all expired. Injuries stunted Jefferson’s development as an interior NASCAR-package rusher shortly after he was drafted by the Seahawks in 2016. Regaining full health, he turned in a moderately successful season as one of Seattle’s starting defensive ends, opposite Frank Clark. His lack of sack production (3) could keep him from being extended, though. It’s likely he’s offered a modest deal – perhaps of the prove-it variety. But the front office surely has high hopes for the similar interior rusher-to-defensive end graduate Rasheem Green, taken last year in the 3rd round of the NFL Draft. Questions swirled around Green’s toughness throughout the draft process. It was clear that he preferred to use his rushing skills and athleticism on the outside, rather than go to war against guards on the interior. I expect Jefferson to be given a take it or leave it deal. Pete Carroll and Jon Schneider love having an excess of pass rushing options. They’d be happy to retain Jefferson and have him rotate with Green – assuming the latter deserves it. PCJS often put their ego into their personnel decisions though. They’ve more recently attached their names (and image) to Green, so an outcome of Jefferson walking and Green being promoted is just as likely.
Although Branden Jackson and Ricky Ali’fua will likely be let to walk due to general ineffectiveness, I think we might see Dion Jordan back next year. Carroll gifted Jordan a second chance in the NFL after being ousted from the league over drug testing suspensions a few years back. Jordan produced in a similar manner to Jefferson this year. However, the youthful Jefferson’s potential is far greater. Jordan likely recognizes that his best means of continuing to earn NFL paychecks is by staying in Seattle.
On the interior, Jarran Reed turned in a mammoth 2018 campaign: 10.5 sacks, 24 QB hits, and 50 combined tackles. For comparison, Clark’s 2018 numbers were 13 sacks, 27 QB hits, and 41 combined tackles. Reed is producing at an elite level and although his contract isn’t up until after the 2019 season, the Seahawks would be wise to extend him before he posts another dominant stat line. Unfortunately, the Seahawks haven’t been getting much pressure from defensive tackles Stephen Shamar (an impending free agent unlikely to return) Naz Jones, or Poona Ford. Jones and Ford are solid players – and it’s worth noting that Ford really did have a great rookie season for a defensive tackle – but PCJS will want to add an interior rusher or two to compete in camp.
This leaves us with roughly 4 players to solidly rush the passer in 2019: Frank Clark (assuming he either gets the tag or extended), Jarran Reed, Rasheem Green, and likely one of Quinton Jefferson and Dion Jordan. Let’s take a look at some possible cheap, effective option for the Seahawks in 2019’s free agent class.
Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins
Wake is still producing at age 37. Although he’s no longer the wrecking ball he once was, he turned in 6 sacks last year after totals of 11.5 and 10.5 in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The veteran is likely looking for one last shot at a Super Bowl on a 1 or 2-year deal with a contender.
Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit Lions
Ansah is an extremely interesting option. A victim of poor scheme fit under the new regime in Detroit, Ansah has a good shot at bouncing back to his 2017 form (12 sacks, 17 QB Hits). He’s a hand-in-the-dirt pass rusher that belongs in a 4-3 scheme, not Matt Patricia’s 3-4. After a 4 sack, 7 QB Hit 2018 campaign, the idea of walking into Seattle as the presumed starter opposite Frank Clark on a 1-year prove-it deal could sound awfully appealing.
Brandon Graham, Philadelphia Eagles
[UPDATE 3/5/19]: On March 1st, Brandon Graham signed a 3-year, $40 million contract with the Eagles.
Graham was never much of a dominant producer in the box score. He was an effective rusher though. The former might make him an appealing option for Carroll, from a monetary standpoint.
Shane Ray, Denver Broncos
Ray entered the NFL as a hyper talented pass rusher whose stock dropped a few days before the draft because of an 11th hour marijuana possession. Foolish teams were afraid of the latter and Denver ended up drafting the stud. Due to injury and a crowded Broncos pass rush, Ray never saw enough time on the field to fully develop his skill set. With the duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb wrecking opposing passing games, Ray is not expected to be re-signed in the Mile High City. Carroll loves adding former first rounders – especially along the defensive line. Ray squarely fits the bill for a Seahawks free agent target. If other front offices recognize the potential magnitude of signing Ray to a cheap deal, he could get priced out of our reach though.
Derrick Morgan, Tennessee Titans
At 30 years, the mid-tier defensive end is looking at the beginning of his mercenary days. He did not have a productive 2018 but in the 2 preceding years, Morgan totaled 16.5 sacks and 36 QB Hits. If he could get back to that level as a fresh-legged, rotational rusher, he’d be a steal.
Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens
This one seems fairly unlikely but it’s worth hoping for. Suggs enters his 17thseason, fresh off a 7 sack, 15 QB Hit year. He has 26 sacks and 51 QB Hits over the last 3 – insane production for a player in his late 30s. With Baltimore on the rise, Suggs will probably prefer to stay with the only team he’s every played for. Still, he fits the bill as a potential fit so it makes sense to consider him.
Aaron Lynch, Chicago Bears
Poor conditioning has kept Lynch from reaching his potential. A young player (25-years old) who was formerly productive as a division-rival 49er, Lynch is another player who Pete Carroll likely has his eye on. Lynch’s time in Chicago has been an abject failure. They’ll likely let him walk.
Bruce Irvin, Atlanta Falcons
It’s possible the relationship is beyond repair – Irvin’s worth considering though. In the 6 games he played with Dan Quinn’s “Seattle defense” last year, Irvin recorded 3.5 sacks, 8 QB Hits, and 11 combined tackles. That’s pretty stellar production for a player who was cut by the Raiders mid-season. I’d love to see Irvin return as a rotational pass rusher for 2019 and beyond.
It turns out Mr. Irvin mighty feel similarly. On February 24th, the former Seahawk quote tweeted a shot of the mighty 2013 defense. His response to a fan’s request that he don the Seattle uni once again can be seen below.
David Irving, Dallas Cowboys
[UPDATE 3/5/19]: On March 1st, David Irving was suspended by the NFL for violating the league’s Substance Abuse policy.
This would be unreal. Irving has gone from undrafted free agent to a player deserving Pro Bowl consideration. He’s played both defensive end and defensive tackle, sporting a 6’7”, 290lbs frame. His athletic measurables are top-tier for his size. This guy is a true difference maker. The problem is, he’s faced two 4-game suspensions for both PEDs and substance abuse. His next offense will be met with a lengthy suspension.
This guy really is a game wrecker on the defensive line. A monstrous build and the skill set to play both inside and out – that’s exactly what Malik McDowell was supposed to bring to our team, and we haven’t yet found the latter’s replacement. Seattle needs to aggressively purse David Irving.
Allen Bailey, Kansas City Chiefs
Bailey’s coming off a career year after registering 6 sacks and 10 QB Hits in his 8th season in the NFL. He’s had modest production throughout his previous seasons as a starter and he’d be a great rotational man on the interior. Pete Carroll often talks about how he compiles his team with 3-4 personnel but runs a 4-3 scheme. Allen Bailey fits the bill.
Darius Philon, San Diego Chargers
This tweet from the fantasy GOAT, Evan Silva, crossed my timeline the other day. Philon is a short but talented defensive tackle who’s shown well as both a run-stuffer and pass-rusher. Given the recent success of the similarly built Poona Ford, I’d bet PCJS at least extend an offer to the promising youngster. They certainly should. This guy has the potential to be a stalwart member of a defensive line for years to come.
Margus Hunt, Indianapolis Colts
[UPDATE 3/5/19]: The Indianapolis Colts have re-signed Margus Hunt to a 2-year, $9 million contract.
A big-bodied, athletic specimen with an unrefined toolbox? That’s a Seahawks dart throw if I’ve ever seen one. Hunt’s coming off a modest, yet career-best year: 5 sacks, 6 QB Hits, and 30 combined tackles.