One of the main reasons this team has taken such a major step forward this year is the improvement of the pass rush.
An eight-sack outing against Green Bay inflated the 2012 stats. Seattle wasn’t pressuring the quarterback enough, simple as that. Bruce Irvin had a niche role, but the entire pass rush was dependant on Chris Clemons.
That was too much responsibility for any man not named J.J. Watt.
Clemons’ ACL injury and age (he’s 33 next October) put a lot of things into perspective.
It’s no surprise that the Seahawks attacked this area and found more options. Clemons and Irvin are still there, but the additions of Cliff Avril and Michael Bennet cannot be overstated.
They’ve turned a one dimensional pass rush into a monster.
Bennett in particular has been a crucial signing. He’s given the Seahawks something they haven’t had under Pete Carroll to date — a player who can rush from all angles, including the interior. He doesn’t just rely on speed. He can match up to any team, any offensive line in the league and get it done.
While all the focus has been on Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas — make no mistake — Bennett is just as much a MVP for this defense.
He’s also a luxury. He signed a one-year deal quite foreign to the NFL. Not many top free agents can’t find a market and are willing to play on a ‘prove it’ contract like this. Bennett took a gamble and it’s paid off.
He proved it. And now he will get paid.
Now it’s going to be incredibly difficult to keep him beyond 2013. Not unless you want to risk losing one of Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Golden Tate — three players I’d expect to get extensions in the off-season.
Bennett is just as much of a priority, but could be the hardest to keep. Sherman and Thomas aren’t going anywhere. Period. They will be paid this off-season. 100% guaranteed. It’s about rewarding the guys that helped turn this around from the start. Tate comes into that category too — and I suspect they’ll want to maintain some consistency with Russell Wilson.
If those three re-sign it’ll take one hell of a creative strategy to get another big contract in there, twelve months before Russell Wilson cashes in.
In an ideal world there’d be a solution (and cheaper replacement) in the draft. There may well be a gem hidden away somewhere that we don’t know about. Bennett himself was an UDFA, after all.
But those gems are hard to identify without thoroughly researching multiple college conferences.
Even when you think you’ve found a prospect who would work, it’s hard to tell whether they’ve got ‘it’.
There aren’t many guys in the NFL who do what Michael Bennett does, with his range of pass rushing skills, technique and raw athleticism. We wondered a year ago whether Datone Jones could do this role in Seattle. He’s an athlete with all the size, speed and college production you look for.
He has just 3.5 sacks in Green Bay this year. He’s not been awful, but he hasn’t been anything like Bennett.
Yet we have to look at what’s out there and try again, just like the team will be out there looking for that guy who might just save them a small fortune.
Right now, I’m struggling to find players that could be early picks for Seattle and fit the bill.
Florida’s Dominique Easley would’ve made sense, but his injury history is a major red flag. Ra’Shede Hageman at Minnesota has the upside and physical ability to ‘be a Bennett’ but his upside will likely secure a fairly high grade. Missouri’s Kony Ealy has the same kind of size, and is someone I’m going to spend some time looking at this week. Not many people see him as a round 1/2 guy though.
If anyone else has any suggestions, I’m all ears…
It won’t just be about replacing Bennett either. The Seahawks can’t re-sign every player on the roster. Not with the way they’re playing right now. Sherman and Thomas will be protected. Others will, sadly move on.
The likes of Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, Clemons and Avril will eventually need to be replaced with cheaper alternatives. Tony McDaniel and Clinton McDonald — two impact players this year — are free agents.
After taking such a major step forward in 2013, we don’t want to see the defensive line go back to the dark days of relying on one guy to get it done. Or worse…
We also shouldn’t write off the front office and their ability to find value late in the draft. After all, they found a franchise quarterback and a shutdown corner with 3rd and 5th round picks respectively. They plucked McDaniel and McDonald from obscurity and had the foresight to do the deals with Avril and Bennett.
But this is going to be a major challenge for the Seahawks if they really do want to ‘win forever’.
One to keep an eye on could be Benson Mayowa. He’s been stashed and protected as a redshirt player this year, only featuring in the first game or two due to injuries. He flashed enough in pre-season to warrant some time to grow and he could blossom into a productive pass rusher.
They’ll also need to go and bring in some proven talent, which made me consider the option of trading up in 2014.
If maintaining the pass rush is a priority by May next year, do you do what it takes to keep it rolling?
A few mocks, including Todd McShay’s, have Jadeveon Clowney dropping a little. I think it’s unlikely he falls beyond the top two, but let’s run with this for a moment.
Would you move up to grab a player like that? Knowing he has just about the most upside you could wish to have from a defensive lineman? Whatever you want to say about his 2013 season, he has the potential to be a superstar.
You’d have to pay a kings ransom. Two first rounders, maybe a second thrown in too. Major investment for an unproven, albeit talented, rookie.
Ziggy Ansah, last years #5 pick, signed an $18m contract in Detroit over four years. His biggest cap hit comes in 2016 at $5.9m. As a rookie he’s costing just $3.3m and next year it only jumps to $4.2m.
That’s the benefit right there. It’s not costing you a fortune to get a minimum of four year out of a good young player. By the end of the deal, Seattle would likely have seen off the Percy Harvin contract — maybe even Richard Sherman’s deal — plus one or two others. An extension if warranted, even a big one, wouldn’t be out of the question.
So salary cost and impact could be interesting to a team like the Seahawks if they do want to move up.
Now here’s the downside…
It’d better work out. Seattle isn’t just replacing one player, as discussed. It could be a few guys. Spending future first round picks puts a lot of eggs in only one basket. So if you go all in for Clowney, he’ll have to be worth it.
It’s a risk. The kind of risk Atlanta took with Julio Jones, who also lacked amazing production at Alabama but had great character and insane physical attributes. They were comfortable enough to take a chance.
Clowney’s disappointing 2013 season shouldn’t put a team off taking him early next year. But maybe it should make you think twice about moving up and blowing future picks on the guy? Does he want to be as good as he can be? Is he saving himself for the next level? Can he be coached into the next big thing?
Is a trade even likely or possible?
If there are a lot of teams in the top ten focusing on a quarterback and sensing the best value for a QB is in the late first or early second — there might be a few willing buyers. Teams that are rebuilding like Oakland or Jacksonville might appreciate the extra picks.
Would a division rival like St. Louis consider a deal? They’d swap a top-five pick this year to ensure a third consecutive year with two first round picks through to 2015.
There could be more buyers than ever looking to deal down in the next draft, so it’s not impossible to consider.
But it’s still way too early to say whether it’s likely or at all plausible.
And yet so much fun to consider…