Things seem to be falling into place quickly for the Seahawks.
With the combine on the horizon and Greg Olsen already filling one vital off-season need, now it’s emerged that Everson Griffen has voided his contract and will be a free agent.
It was always inevitable that Griffen would depart Minnesota one way or another. It was just a question of how it happened. Would they cut him? Would he void his contract? Would he be traded? None of this was a review of Griffen’s value or performance. The Vikings’ cap situation is simply a mess.
Today’s move just about puts them in the black for 2020. Yet they’ll still need to raise major funds if they want to retain star safety Anthony Harris (and presumably that is a priority). They’re also set to lose two cornerbacks in free agency, making it a much tougher call to cut or trade Xavier Rhodes when it would otherwise seem obvious.
In 2019 Griffen had eight sacks — a fair amount as a compliment to Danielle Hunter. Yet he also had 13 QB knockdowns (one more than Nick Bosa), 35 pressures (the same amount as Robert Quinn and Dante Fowler) and 13 hurries (as many as Za’Darius Smith and DaMarcus Lawrence).
The Seahawks don’t just need someone who can provide sacks — they lacked any kind of consistent pressure last season. That’s what Griffen provides. He will test opponents, draw attention and impact games. He’s not Von Miller or a Bosa brother — particularly now he’s 32. He certainly can be Chris Clemons for this Seahawks team though — a productive veteran who consistently delivers.
Seattle’s top priority this off-season will be to make sure the defense is significantly better in 2020. That unit held the team back. Here’s a reminder of the raw stats:
The Seahawks finished the 2019 season with 28 sacks, second fewest in the league behind only Miami (23). Their sack percentage was 4.5% — third worst overall.
They had only 126 pressures, sixth fewest in the league behind Detroit (125), Oakland (117), Houston (117), Atlanta (115) and Miami (96). Seattle’s pressure percentage was the fourth worst in the league (19.3%) behind Detroit (18.9%), Houston (18.1%) and Miami (16.7%).
Seattle hit the quarterback 68 times — fourth fewest. They had 52 TFL’s — again, fourth fewest.
They gave up 55 explosive running plays on defense, seventh most in the NFL. Yet their explosive run play percentage (14%) was the third worst overall behind only Carolina (16%) and Cleveland (15%).
In the passing game they conceded 54 explosive plays — the 14th most.
They also gave up 4.9 YPC — fourth most overall.
The other startling statistic is the sheer number of missed tackles. They had 131 during the regular season — the fourth most.
You can’t win a Championship with a defense ranking in the bottom five in so many categories like this. Bad tackling, no pass rush, poor run defense. You can keep adding and adding to the offense. You can’t roll out one of the NFL’s worst defenses as a compliment and expect to win a Super Bowl.
For that reason, they’re going to need to add multiple pieces as we’ve discussed so often already. It starts with attempting to retain Jadeveon Clowney as the priority. It also includes adding pieces around him.
Griffen would be an ideal compliment. It would provide the makings of a defense capable of rushing with four. They would still need to add some complimentary speed to the pass rush and a defensive tackle (especially if Jarran Reed departs). The draft could provide solutions there — either in the form of someone like Raekwon Davis or Julian Okwara or one of the SAM types who are part of this class.
There could also be opportunities in the trade market or second wave of free agency. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. After all, who expected the Seahawks to be able to acquire Jadeveon Clowney and Quandre Diggs for such a paltry return or sign Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril in 2013, weeks after trading for (and paying) Percy Harvin? The Seahawks have a way of making things happen.
Griffen ticks a lot of boxes. His recent production, his experience, his physical profile (he ran a 4.36 short shuttle at his combine).
So how likely is it that he’ll land in Seattle?
In this case, the Carroll connection would be important; from what I’ve heard, there’s been some interest in Griffen bringing his career full-circle and playing for him. He’d fit in that system, and Seahawks’ practice style could be good for him at this stage of his career.
— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingStrib) February 20, 2020
Ben Goessling immediately made the connection to Seattle as soon as the news broke. This tweet is interesting because it suggests more than a mere ‘he’d be a good fit there’. He says there’s interest, either from the player or Pete Carroll, in reuniting former USC pass rusher with former USC coach.
During the 2019 season John Clayton said on multiple occasions on the radio that the Seahawks had tried to trade for Griffen. Presumably this happened after Frank Clark was dealt to the Chiefs. The Vikings weren’t interested in a trade at the time. Now with Griffen a free agent, the Seahawks have no hurdles to clear.
Already it feels like this is trending a certain way.
Nothing’s ever certain because who knows what other teams will be offering? Yet the Carroll connection feels important. Given Griffen’s recent mental health issues, picking the right environment could be his biggest factor. That would seemingly make Seattle and a return to Minnesota the most likely scenarios. The difference is — Seattle has cap space, Minnesota doesn’t.
A short-term deal could also significantly benefit the Seahawks if they want to make other moves in free agency. We’ve noted a lot recently that just because you sign a player to a significant long term contract — teams often structure the deals to limit the first-year cap hit. Frank Clark’s cap hit in 2019 was just $6.5m despite signing a deal in Kansas City to become the third highest paid EDGE in the NFL. Khalil Mack’s Chicago cap hit in 2018 was $13.8M and last season it was just $11.9M.
Players like Griffen and Greg Olsen might take up a chunk of the remaining 2020 cap but they’ll be off the books by 2021 or, if Griffen signs for multiple years, 2022. This enables the Seahawks to fit bigger contracts in with larger cap hits down the line, as they try to max out the opportunity to contend in 2020. You don’t want to do this with too many players but it’s just part and parcel of the NFL. The Chiefs are already doing it before they even pay Patrick Mahomes and Chris Jones.
If the Seahawks kick off free agency by retaining Clowney and adding Griffen, having already signed Olsen, they will be well placed to have the kind of off-season needed to contend next season.
If you missed yesterday’s 2020 draft tier list, check it out here.
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