This is the big question facing the Seahawks this off-season. It’s not the offensive line. They do need more weapons for Russell Wilson but the #1 priority is to create an actual pass rush and significantly upgrade the defense.
We’ve looked at a number of different scenarios — from free agency to the trade market to the (thin) D-line options in the draft.
The Seahawks were given a blue-print to success by the NFC Champion 49ers. Their dynamic four-man rush was central to their Super Bowl run. Kyle Shanahan is always going to produce a productive offense. What really elevated San Francisco in 2019 — along with Jimmy Garoppolo’s return — was the drafting of Nick Bosa and the creation of the leagues best pass rush.
This isn’t anything new to Seattle. The signing of Ziggy Ansah and trading for Jadeveon Clowney looked like a potent double-threat before the season started. Obviously Ansah flamed out and his NFL career appears over. Jarran Reed’s suspension didn’t help and neither did L.J. Collier’s ineffective rookie season. They probably felt, not unfairly, they’d done enough to create the kind of defensive line needed to be successful.
Now, it’s time for another try.
The Seahawks aren’t going to be able to exactly copy the Niners. They don’t own the #2 pick and they haven’t got a #3 pick (Solomon Thomas), #7 pick (DeForest Buckner) and #17 pick (Arik Armstead) already on the roster.
They can make some moves though to create similar production.
First and foremost they have to re-sign Jadeveon Clowney. He’s a different player to Nick Bosa. He doesn’t have the same quickness and bend off the edge. I don’t think people realise how impressive Bosa’s 4.14 short shuttle was at last years combine despite weighing 266lbs. Clowney, at the exact same weight, ran a 4.43.
Nevertheless, he’s the closest thing they can possess to a game-wrecker. People can question his consistency and yet last season he faced countless double-teams and was basically a one-man show in many games. Support him properly and we’ll see the best of Clowney.
Arik Armstead is a free agent so technically the Seahawks could pursue him and steal one of San Francisco’s linemen. However, after a strong 2019 season, his price could be too rich for the Seahawks — especially if they retain Clowney.
As brilliant as Bosa was for the 49ers, the two hulking interior tackles were equally threatening. They weren’t great against the run but paired with Bosa they were a non-stop force against the pass.
Gaining the interior size, intimidation and production to pair with Clowney could elevate the Seahawks to a new level alone.
Recently I pitched the idea of trading for Calais Campbell. I’m still not convinced the Jaguars will let him go. For the last three years he’s produced at a top-five level at his position. Aside from Aaron Donald and Chris Jones, there’s probably not been a better performing defensive tackle in the league.
Yet strangely there are rumours and suggestions of a parting. Jacksonville does need to create cap space but that’s easily achieved by cutting Marcell Dareus and some other fringe players. Even so, Jags owner Shahid Khan was recently asked about Campbell’s future and he merely said he’s ‘hopeful’ he’d be with the team in 2020.
If there’s any chance to acquire Campbell — either via trade or if he’s cut — it must be taken. He would provide the interior rush Seattle needs. He’d upgrade their run-defense. He’d provide toughness, leadership and respect. He would anchor the line and make life so much easier for Clowney.
If a $15-17m cap hit is too high — extend his contract for an extra season. Supply him with guarantees and incentives to lower his number.
Again — who knows how realistic this is? The Seahawks likely wouldn’t be the only suitor either. Even with Campbell aged 33, I can’t think of a better addition for Seattle’s defense this year.
Why stop there though? The Niners line up two tall, sizeable interior linemen. Why not pair Campbell with an heir apparent via the draft?
Raekwon Davis is 6-7 and about 315lbs. For two years he was considered a likely high first round pick. Yet his pass-rush production has fallen off a cliff and he’s only recorded two full sacks in the last two seasons.
I spent some time re-watching Davis this week and there’s still an awful lot to like, especially for the Seahawks.
For starters, he has special traits. The size, the length, the athleticism. The Seahawks love difference-making traits and upside and he has it. Despite being so tall his leverage is excellent. His gap discipline (important in Seattle’s scheme) is good, he can anchor the line and absorb double-teams in the run game. He doesn’t get pushed around but he can equally move down the line to string out plays. Davis can line up as a big power end or at defensive tackle.
Physically, he’s the nearest thing to Campbell to enter the league since Calais was drafted in 2008.
Even if he never develops his pass-rush potential, there’s a lot to like with Davis. If he drops because of a lack of production he could provide terrific value. Campbell lasted until pick #50. Could the same happen to Davis? Either way, the Seahawks would have options — at #27, after trading down, by making a small trade up in round two (as they did for Jarran Reed) or simply with their two late second round picks.
Pairing Campbell with Davis would create a formidable defensive interior. Along with Clowney, the Seahawks would have the biggest and by far the most physical defensive front in the league. If L.J. Collier and/or Rasheem Green take a step forward in 2020, they’d even have a quality rotation to add even more size and power.
The only thing they’d still be lacking is speed.
One way or another they’ve got to add some quickness to their pass rush. Re-signing Clowney and adding Campbell would absorb a lot of their cap space — but they could structure the deals to lessen the year one cap hit. That could enable them to look at the options available. It’s assumed Dante Fowler, for example, will get a big contract. Yet a year ago he had to settle for a one-year prove-it deal worth $12m with incentives. In 2013, nobody expected Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril to receive a cold market. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility he could provide the Seahawks with an ideal, productive, cost-effective solution. Let’s see what offers he gets.
Another option of course is Everson Griffen. If he’s released with Minnesota in cap hell, there could be a reasonable deal to be done there too.
If they need cheaper options they could explore the second wave of free agency and the trade market. If you’re lining up Clowney, Campbell and Davis — it’s more palatable to take on a reclamation project like Vic Beasley (a 4.53 runner with a 1.59 split). Emmanuel Ogbah ran a 4.63 (with a 1.58 split). Kyler Fackrell ran a 1.61 split. And there’s always old friend Bruce Irvin. These are not premier options you can rely on to make a big difference but if you’ve already made significant moves across the line, they are more agreeable.
These additions also open up the possibility to the Seahawks drafting someone who could be more of a situational rusher in order to gain that speed element. You can’t rely on Joshua Uche as a full-time LEO because of his size. K’Lavon Chaisson has a superior build but even he is probably best served sitting out early downs. Julian Okwara is more of a speed EDGE than a SAM/LEO and could be another option.
Compliment such a player with the names listed above and you’re creating a strong looking arsenal. Suddenly, rushing with four and creating regular pressure doesn’t seem so unlikely. Although it’s worth noting that Bruce Irvin’s shift to SAM/LEO was likely in order to get Bruce, Bennett and Avril on the field at the same time. They haven’t really gone back to that type of role since Irvin’s departure.
The scenarios pitched here aren’t the be-all and end-all of course. Pairing Clowney with Everson Griffen would immediately improve the D-line — and retaining Jarran Reed to play next to Poona Ford and potentially Raekwon Davis would still look like an overall upgrade. Dante Fowler and Clowney are at a great age to potentially be Bennett and Avril for the near future. They might be able to find cheap talent to play defensive tackle — re-creating the Tony McDaniel signing from 2014.
Whatever happens though, they have to go into the 2020 season believing they can effectively rush with four.
If you missed Friday’s bonus podcast check it out below…
You can now support Seahawks Draft Blog via Patreon by clicking the tab below.