This is the eighth part of a guest-post series written by Curtis Allen
#8 defensive backs
Players under contract for 2021: Quandre Diggs, Jamal Adams, Marquise Blair, Tre Flowers, Ugo Amadi, DJ Reed
Players under contract for 2022: Marquise Blair, Ugo Amadi
Restricted Free Agents: none
Unrestricted Free Agents: Quinton Dunbar, Neiko Thorpe, Shaquille Griffin
Exclusive Rights Free Agents: Ryan Neal, Linden Stephens
Players Signed to Futures Contracts: Gavin Heslop, Jordan Miller
Salary Cap Notes
2021 Cap Commitment: $21.4 million (12.02% of $178m cap)
None of Diggs’ $5.5m salary or Adams’ $9.86m salary are guaranteed in 2021
Franchise Tag — the 2021 numbers have not been finalized yet but we can look at the 2020 numbers for a good idea of approximately what they will be:
Tag for Safety in 2020: $11.4m exclusive, $9.86m transition
Tag for Cornerback in 2020: $16.3m exclusive, $14.2m transition
2020 Season Overview
It was a dreadful season for this group. Injuries, lack of pass rush from the defensive line and lack of chemistry all badly hurt this unit.
– Three of the projected starting four (Griffin, Dunbar, Adams) missed a total of 18 games and had their performance seriously diminished by injury in many others
– Key players Marquise Blair and Tre Flowers missed another 18 games
Bringing Jamal Adams into the defense introduced another set of challenges. The Seahawks blitzed Jamal Adams out of the strong safety position almost as much in only his first three games (31 times) as they had Bradley McDougald in his previous two seasons total (34 times).
That introduced the factor of the corners, linebackers and free safety getting less coverage help than the Seahawks usually scheme for.
Add in the fact that the Seahawks did not add effective pass rushers to an already poor defensive line and this unit was seriously lacking support and frequently left to their own devices. They just could not live up to handling that kind of workload.
The 2020 quarterback ratings allowed by this starting group demonstrated that clearly:
– Griffin 93.3
– Diggs 92.7
– Dunbar 111.0
– Adams 106.3
– Flowers 106.1
If there was ever an offseason that the defensive backs needed to get healthy and on the same page as a group, this was it. Unfortunately, the shortened offseason, injuries and major scheme changes all conspired to make this an historically bad unit in the first half of the season.
At one point in the early going, an exasperated and embarrassed Pete Carroll told reporters the backfield played ‘like they did not practice all week.’ Later he expressed frustration that the players were doing everything the coaches needed to see in practice but could not translate that to the game on Sunday.
In the second half they improved enough to avoid going into the record books as the worst of all time but this unit was adjusting on the fly all season, without a solid base to work from. That frankly caused too many problems to effectively put a cohesive unit together.
There are some bright spots to be found in 2020 though.
Jamal Adams collected 9.5 sacks on all those blitzes and killed some drives. He helped an improved pass rush put up better numbers in 2020.
DJ Reed proved to be an excellent find by John Schneider. Plucked from San Francisco when they waived him with an injury designation, he turned out to be durable, fiery and fantastic in coverage. He brought a spark in the return game as well. He was praised by Pete Carroll for having ‘elite’ foot quickness and acceleration.
He then took another big step forward, taking on the vacant outside cornerback spot and playing very well. Carroll remarked that Reed does not fit his physical ideals for the outside position, that Schneider talked him into acquiring him and he has worked out well for the club.
The Seahawks have Reed under contract for another season. If he can translate his 2020 play into 16 games of 2021 play they will have found a gem and saved themselves a lot of money.
Ugo Amadi was clearly behind Marquise Blair on the depth chart in Pete Carroll’s mind going into the season. Yet when Blair got hurt, Amadi got his shot and proved to be a nice option at the nickel spot, earning praise from his coach and putting his name into the mix for 2021. There were times in 2020 that Amadi seemed like the only corner on the field who both knew what he was doing and was doing it with skill and toughness.
Ryan Neal was an intriguing player in 2020. He went from nearly quitting football to being a valuable piece to occasionally starting in Jamal Adams’ place. He had some key plays early in the season, including an interception to put the game on ice against Dallas and a couple fantastic hits. He also showed some ability when called on to blitz in the Adams role and had a blocked punt in the Giants game. He is an Exclusive Rights free agent and an easy choice to bring back for depth in 2021.
Offseason Questions to Address
1. Are the Seahawks really going to shape their defense as well as their salary cap around Jamal Adams?
We need to talk about the offseason elephant in the defensive room. Jamal Adams.
Absent a Russell Wilson trade, what they do with Jamal Adams could determine the entire direction this team takes this offseason, from how they deploy the players they already have on the roster, to who they draft, to what free agent decisions they make, to how much cap money they have available in the next 3-4 seasons.
It demands the team’s attention. Right now.
The Seahawks made probably the biggest trade splash in their history last offseason, trading first round picks in 2021 and 2022, a third-round pick in 2021 and Bradley McDougald to the Jets for Adams and a 2022 fourth round pick.
Pete Carroll spent all season praising Adams as well as John Schneider for working so hard to get this trade done. Doth protesting a little too much perhaps. It might have been a public attempt to justify giving up such a massive haul to upgrade the strong safety spot.
While he did have 9.5 sacks and a couple of key defensive tackles, he returned a terrible QB rating in coverage, only had three passes defensed and did not record an interception. Put another way, when he was not getting a pressure on the quarterback, he was not much of an asset to this team at all.
PFF was not swayed by Adams setting the sack record for defensive backs, rating him at an uninspiring 64 grade in 2020 (53rd ranked safety).
An acquisition of that magnitude should answer more questions than it raises. Yet the harsh reality is the opposite is true. The Seahawks have several questions they need to work through when it comes to Jamal Adams.
Can he stay healthy for 16 games? He had groin and shoulder injuries in 2020. Given his size, how long can he stay healthy regularly lining up across players who outweigh him by 60-80 pounds and then throwing his body at running backs trying to block him?
Is it acceptable that he only created one turnover in 2020?
Honestly – where does he fit in Pete Carroll’s vision of the defense?
Pete has never blitzed his strong safety this much. Can the Seahawks reconcile the cost of having a safety so frequently blitzing with the results he brings?
Is he going to improve in coverage? Or do you need to blitz him eight times a game to get max value? If that is the case, what do you get with him that you do not get with say Ryan Neal at a fraction of the cost?
If the Seahawks are going to pay Adams like a feature piece of the defense and play him the way they did in 2020, they are going to need the corners to be outstanding in man coverage more frequently than Pete’s system traditionally calls for.
Also, the free safety will not have the freedom (pun not intended) to roam around and make plays – he will regularly be too busy covering deep looks and making sure the region behind the linebackers is not completely empty. Are those factors worth the 9-10 manufactured sacks they will get from Adams, or will it put too much strain on the defense?
Plainly put, if Adams is free to blitz unblocked, that means there is an offensive player that is uncovered. It is very likely that clever coordinators and accurate quarterbacks, having had a season of tape on Adams, can take advantage of these scheme concerns enough to control the flow of the game.
Do they have an answer for these issues?
Adams is highly strung and never fails to speak his mind. While the vibe is fun when he is happy and motivated, it needs to be asked – what kind of effect will he have on the team when he is unhappy?
He will likely require a top market contract and be justified in asking for it since the Seahawks gave up so much capital in trade without conditioning the deal on working out an extension. How much will it be? The floor seems set at Budda Baker’s $14.75million per season but Adams will likely ask for much more, if the leverage wielded by Jalen Ramsey and Laremy Tunsil is any indication.
Brass tacks: Adams played 784 defensive snaps in 2020. He got 25 quarterback pressures in 98 blitzes. So, 73 of those snaps he blitzed and did not record a pressure and the backfield was on their own. The rest of those 686 snaps? He was a league average player.
Are those 25 pressures worth a contract averaging $15million per season? Let alone the $20million he will likely ask for?
Can the team reconcile all these questions and concerns?
The Seahawks have put the expensive engagement ring on his finger. Are they ready to book the chapel and rent a tuxedo?
If you are going to consider trading him, this is the offseason to do it. His value will never be higher.
2. Do they need to completely revamp the outside cornerback spot?
They have Tre Flowers and DJ Reed currently on the roster with starting outside corner experience but that is it.
Shaquille Griffin and Quinton Dunbar, the starters in 2020, are unrestricted free agents. They did nothing to inspire hope that they will be effective in 2021. Nor did either of those players make the team think of giving them any kind of serious contract in terms of years or dollars.
The Seahawks coaches have been very positive about Griffin but he recorded a 64.1 PFF grade in 2020. He surrendered six touchdowns and was often very open about this awful play. After a very poor performance in the Dallas game, he admitted the Cowboys lulled him to sleep by not throwing his way much and then hitting him with a deep ball.
It was generally thought that Griffin had made excellent progress in his third year but in 2020 he regressed. The best that can be said about Griffin at this point is he has been a four-year starter in the league.
The Seahawks will likely let Griffin test the market and see what his value is. In this depressed market he could need to accept a bargain one year contract and try to reestablish value for 2022. Some team may feel like he is worth a nice contract but absent a serious leap in performance, that team should not be the Seahawks.
Dunbar was clearly an upgrade from Tre Flowers when healthy. That did not last long. His knee was an issue for him all season and the Seahawks finally shut him down. They paid a draft pick in trade and over $3m in salary to Dunbar and got very little in return. He will have to prove his knee issue is not chronic and likely take a veteran minimum deal to prove he can still play in the NFL at this point. With his legal and injury troubles, 2020 was a lost season for Dunbar.
Tre Flowers should not be counted on to be a starting corner in the NFL. The experiment has not produced the results that the Seahawks have hoped for. He openly struggled with his confidence off and on all season and his play reflected that.
He will have one more year on his cheap rookie contract and if he is brought back in 2022, it would likely be for the veteran minimum and the promise he can fight for a spot on the roster, no more. In the meantime, it would not be wise of the Seahawks to consider him a starter in 2021.
So, can DJ Reed take one of the two starting spots? Can the Seahawks go into the offseason thinking they have the right cornerback spot covered between Reed with Flowers as his backup?
If so that just leaves the left cornerback spot to be filled.
Richard Sherman might be a great fit at that spot. He has expressed that he is likely done in San Francisco and a return might be a welcome option for both parties. The Seahawks badly need some leadership in the backfield and with their thin depth, Sherman could assist in grooming the next late round corner find on the roster.
As the Seahawks will likely be still working out their pass rush issues in 2021, there will be games they will need the corners to take their man without help. Sherman could do that.
One of the underrated areas where Sherman could really be a great addition to Seattle is in run support. He is an able and willing tackler in the run game. He is not afraid to take on the pulling blocker and disrupt the play or lower his head and take a runner’s feet out from under him.
Griffin has not been very good in this area. Several games this season he was blocked right out of the play and the ball carrier ran right through the spot he was supposed to seal off and had nice gains.
Sherman has been injured, so the Seahawks would really have to do their homework on him to get him checked out first.
As well his contract demands would have to be reasonable and he would need to desire to play in Seattle again. It still appears to be a fit.
3. What do the Seahawks do with Marquise Blair?
Pete Carroll raved about Blair perhaps more than any other player on the roster in 2020.
He frequently singled him out for praise unprompted when talking to the media.
In his final press conference for the season, Carroll confirmed Blair’s rehab is going well and reiterated how excited he was about having him on the team in 2021. It will be very interesting to see where the Seahawks deploy him next season.
Do they keep the nickel cornerback experiment going? Or do they shift him back to a role as one of the safeties?
Trading Jamal Adams would open up a big, big role at strong safety.
Quandre Diggs is also in the last year of his contract. Would they groom Blair as the free safety to be the first up if Diggs gets hurt and then take the job over in 2022?
Ugo Amadi has impressed with his play at nickel. Would they want to move him back to free safety to get Blair on the field?
Finding out where the Seahawks think Blair fits best will be an interesting development to watch this offseason.
Rob’s thoughts on this draft class and potential Seahawks targets
It’s a deep class with several attractive options. I’ve updated my horizontal board in the last few days and it shows off the depth of talent:
In particular for the Seahawks, I think Benjamin St. Juste has the length, intelligence, run defending skills and attitude to be a project with serious potential at corner. I’ll be posting an interview with him over the weekend.
Eric Stokes at Georgia could also present a decent option. He was very consistent in the SEC and has the required size and length.
There were a cluster of other defenders with +32 inch arms at the Senior Bowl:
Bryan Mills (CB, NC Central)
6-1, 180lbs, 32 inch arms — flashed some good moments during the Senior Bowl
Robert Rochell (CB, Central Arkansas)
6-0, 195lbs, 32 3/8 inch arms — has been tested and ran a 4.38 then jumped an 11-8 broad and a 41 inch vertical
Mark Webb (CB, Georgia)
6-1 1/2, 210lbs, 32 1/8 inch arms — good reviews from his week in Mobile
Ifeatu Melifonwu (CB, Syracuse)
6-2 5/8, 212lbs, 32 1/8 inch arms — the brother of former combine standout Obi Melifonwu
D.J. Daniel (CB, Georgia)
6-0, 183lbs, 33 inch arms — also received positive reviews from Mobile
Basically if the Seahawks want to take a corner in this draft — they can do.
If they want to shift away from the strict parameters on arm length, Washington’s Keith Taylor had a terrific Senior Bowl. Ambry Thomas flashed cover talent and an aggressive playing style at Michigan.
Elijah Molden is one of the best players in the entire draft. He’s likely to go too early for the Seahawks.
It’ll be a stunning set of events if the Seahawks take a safety in this draft. There are still a handful of options but nobody you’d necessarily want to bang the table for over other, more serious needs.
If you’re on Twitter, please share this tweet and help change the conversation on this whole Russell Wilson trade saga:
For the last week, I've been trying to dispel the 'Russell Wilson can't be traded because of his dead-cap hit' myth. Here's a breakdown of the situation…
— Rob Staton (@robstaton) March 6, 2021
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