This is a guest post written by Curtis Allen
Reviewing the Seahawks’ off-season to date: Defense
We will be reviewing some of the issues discussed in the Offseason Position Reviews posted in January and February:
Questions the Seahawks Have Addressed
DL: Will the front office finally change its offseason mode of operation for addressing the defensive line?
They have definitely broken the pattern they have established the last two off seasons, that’s for sure.
Cutting Carlos Dunlap in order to save cap room with the idea of re-signing him was a bit of a high-wire act.
Dunlap had a major positive effect on the pass rush after arriving and messing with that after two poor seasons on the defensive line could have been real trouble.
The move worked out this time, as they were able to get him back in the fold and accomplish their objective of having more cap room.
The Seahawks spent a good chunk of the previous summer and camp telling the press that their young players would fill big, important roles on the defensive line. Obviously that was unrealistic and the defense paid the price. It would appear they have learned from that miscalculation and are attempting to pad the defensive end position with depth this offseason.
The challenge, of course, is they have let go their second best pass rusher (Jarran Reed) and have made no moves to replace his production. That deficiency needs to be addressed before Week One if they are to reach a standard of getting pass rush with their front four.
Right now, the truth is, who on the defensive line other than Dunlap deserves attention? Who keeps quarterbacks up at night? Who needs to be schemed and planned for by offensive coordinators?
Put another way, this line is Dunlap and a bunch of guys. Can they be more than the sum of their parts?
Unless they get a big leap in effectiveness from Robinson, Poona, Green and Collier, they have not improved all that much from 2020. And despite the common narrative that the Seahawks went from outhouse to penthouse in the second half of the season in pass rush — and the presumption that all woes are in the past — they have merely moved from the bottom of the league to the middle-bottom.
DL: What will they do at the 5-tech position?
In February I wrote:
What do the Seahawks do at this position? Do they bank on these two players for the third year in a row? Or do they commit more resources there?
Will the Seahawks make an investment in the draft or free agency?
The team made a small investment at the position, signing Kerry Hyder to a very modest two-year contract. Hyder has the body type and run defending skills that fit the role very well.
Hyder has had a Benson Mayowa-like career, playing for multiple teams and has been able to sandwich two relatively productive seasons around many that were far less so. He had a good season playing with Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw. With Seattle’s serious lack of talent on the interior, can Hyder be as effective as he was in San Francisco? That remains to be seen. The good news is the Seahawks bought low on him.
While he appears to be an attractive addition, it not only underscores the lack of development of their two young players at the position, it continues the trend of papering over the cracks on the roster with good but not great players to “just get by.”
Even with a small commitment, he appears set to take a good chunk of the snaps at 5-tech, unless Green or Collier come out of nowhere to force themselves further into the conversation.
The team appeared deep if not talented at the position. At least that was the outlook immediately after signing Hyder.
But plans change quickly.
With Jarran Reed being cut, this likely will force either Green or Collier inside more frequently. So the team has lightly strengthened one spot (signing Hyder at 5-tech) and weakened another (cutting Reed at 3-tech).
DL: What does the future hold for Carlos Dunlap and Jarran Reed?
I was wrong in my review. Cutting both players after witnessing them providing nearly the only defensive line pass rush seemed unfathomable. Yet that is exactly what happened.
Dunlap was brought back on a much more affordable contract.
Reed however, is gone.
The team re-signed Poona Ford to an extension and will likely slide him over to take a good number of Reed’s snaps.
Al Woods was brought in to assist on both interior spots. But calling him a “replacement for Reed” is a mischaracterization. Woods has collected 5.5 sacks in his ten year NFL career. Reed got that many in half a season in 2020.
DL: How much can they count on Darrell Taylor in 2021?
It would appear that the Seahawks are preparing for Taylor to not have a key role on the defense in 2021. Signing Benson Mayowa early in free agency, moving quickly to bring Carlos Dunlap back and then adding Aldon Smith may indicate they are not expecting much from Taylor.
I repeat what I wrote in the offseason review: Do not get sucked in by positive reports and even Pete Carroll saying very positive things about Taylor at the draft, over the summer, or even in training camp.
Let’s see him take the field Week One. Then we can move forward.
DB: Do they need to completely revamp the outside cornerback spot?
This is under ‘questions addressed’ only because they have players to line up if Week One were today. Akhello Witherspoon and either D.J. Reed or Tre Flowers will line up outside.
Cornerback is still a work in progress though.
It is possible Witherspoon can be 2021’s version of Brandon Shell — a starter who had been benched by his former team and then allowed to leave in free agency, who makes good for the Seahawks on a middling contract.
It is possible that D.J. Reed can play a full season on the outside and use that feisty attitude and those elite feet to really make a difference on defense.
It is possible Tre Flowers can settle his mind and find the confidence he needs to play a full season of good football.
It is possible Damarious Randall can tap into the talent that made him a first round pick and be a Reed-like gem unearthed by John Schneider in 2021.
Would you bet the house on all those things happening?
No, me neither.
This is where comparing 2020 and 2021’s group of corners may prove a bit of a trap for fans.
This group has just as much of a chance to be as good as last year’s. 2020 was a train wreck of a season for cornerbacks in Seattle.
Shaquill Griffin was a 64 rated corner by PFF.
Tre Flowers mixed bouts of decent play with injuries and ineffectiveness.
Quinton Dunbar is playing in Detroit for $137,000 guaranteed this year. The Seahawks, in desperate need of cornerbacks, decided that price was too rich after getting a front row seat to his play and health in 2020.
Just by stepping on the field — Reed, Witherspoon, Randall and Flowers should equal or better last year’s group.
But it is not enough. The defense needs more.
Particularly if the team is going to continue blitzing their strong safety ten times per game.
A workable prospect from the draft would be a great start. So would a veteran who has a history in Seattle and would not cost a fortune…
Questions the Seahawks Have Yet to Address
DL: How will the team attack the passer in 2021?
LB: What will the linebackers’ role in this defense be in 2021?
This remains to be seen. The defensive line as currently constructed is in a spot where we have to see that they can consistently pressure without blitzing 35% of the time to really grasp that it can be done.
Dunlap has to do what he did last year – make everyone around him better. Can he do it without 2020 sidekick Jarran Reed?
Kerry Hyder will have to stop being a journeyman and put together a second consecutive good season – something he has not yet managed to do. It is time to put all those years of sleeping on couches and studying playbooks to good use and put down some roots in Seattle. Can he?
Alton Robinson will have to take a big step in the right direction. Being able to spell Dunlap and Mayowa and do more than occasionally pop would go a long way.
Can Bryan Mone parlay about 200 snaps in 2020 into about 400-450 snaps in 2021 and maintain his quality of play? Can he turn some of that surprising quickness into pressure more frequently?
Can Ken Norton Jr and Clint Hurtt find some creativity with the front four to keep offenses guessing?
A good number of those questions need to be answered in the affirmative.
Otherwise, buckle up. We are going to see the linebackers and safeties blitzing far too frequently and Russell Wilson and the offense straining to keep ahead on the scoreboard again.
LB: Do they move on from Bobby Wagner?
LB: Do they bring K.J. Wright back?
No movement here on either front.
Wagner has not had his contract restructured nor has there been any talk about a cut, trade, or extension. You can probably interpret the lack of action any way you like.
All the challenges remain though.
His salary is too high.
We have very likely seen his best years already.
He is an asset that can be traded for draft capital the Seahawks sorely need.
And yet the fact remains he is their best player on defense. The lingering feeling that Pete Carroll either cannot or will not depart from Wagner is present and will not go away. Just like K.J. last year, a big cap hit may not be enough to persuade him to move on.
K.J. has indeed found a less than enthusiastic free agent market, even after having a terrific season. He has said he will not give the Seahawks a discount. The fact is, though – the Seahawks can certainly use him at SAM and WILL. But only if the price is right.
The timing on this one will be critical. If the Seahawks want him back, John Schneider is going to have to discern when Wright’s desire to get something locked down for 2021 will be at its peak.
Act too quickly and the price might be too high. Wait too long and Wright could go cold and sign with any other team, feeling the appreciation is no longer there in Seattle.
DB: Are the Seahawks really going to shape their defense as well as their salary cap around Jamal Adams?
In February I wrote:
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.
Just like Wagner, we have heard nothing on Jamal Adams.
It is possible the Russell Wilson drama has provided a bit of a smokescreen – diverting the media pressure away from topics like Adams and Wagner.
But as I wrote, this is a huge decision for the Seahawks.
Trade Adams, recoup some draft capital and get to work on drafting some key positions and build depth in other places.
Or extend him and pray to the heavens above that Adams stays healthy, improves in the other areas of his game and that you can hit on some lottery tickets in the UDFA market.
DB: What do the Seahawks do with Marquise Blair?
This is another issue that will not be settled until training camp and pre-season.
The Seahawks started out having Blair at safety in his rookie season. He got snaps in both positions with mixed results.
After acquiring Jamal Adams, the Seahawks decided they’d like to try him at nickel corner and they seemed thrilled with the results. His work in training camp got Pete Carroll very excited. He then got hurt and Ugo Amadi filled his spot and played effectively.
The thought has occurred to some that given their lack of depth at outside cornerback, that perhaps the Seahawks should try Blair out there.
He has length — which is a plus — but his skillset is better suited to playing inside, where his ability to deliver hits and discern the play developing in front of him and react are what made him so valuable in the first place.
Furthermore, it would be the third season in a row the Seahawks would have tried him out at a different position. They would be taking a real risk in a critical season for his development, particularly one with Blair coming off a major injury.
But we have all learned the past two seasons that nothing is off the table when it comes to the defensive backfield.
Thoughts on the draft
Unfortunately the defense is much like the offense – plagued with players soon out of contract and lacking in long-term building blocks:
DE — Dunlap, Mayowa and Hyder are signed to two-year contracts. Collier and Robinson have a long way to go. The book is closing quickly on Green. Taylor may never play a NFL down.
DT — Poona Ford is the only inside linemen contracted for 2022.
LB — Wagner’s cap hit in 2022 is $20 million. Barton and Burr-Kurven have not been trusted to play on defense for any length of time. Brooks is coming along nicely, though.
S — Adams and Diggs are free agents in 2022.
CB –- Everybody is a free agent in 2022.
It is safe to say the Seahawks can punt on drafting a safety or a linebacker in 2021 (although again, all bets are off when projecting this front office’s priorities).
For every other position on defense, it is all hands on deck.
A cornerback project would be extremely useful.
You can never have enough pass rushers.
Inside pass rushers? The rarest gem of them all. The Seahawks have been chasing a good one of those for years. And the best one they have developed in the PCJS era, they just let walk out the door.
Even if the Seahawks had 5-7 picks, they would still not have enough to cover all of their needs. With only three at this time, well, you must do the best you can with what you have.
You know the best way to eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.
If you just make good picks and find players who can contribute to the team on a rookie contract — that can go a very long way towards building a successful roster.
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