Seahawks make huge gamble on pass rush after missing out on Jadeveon Clowney originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest
The Seahawks desperately needed to improve their pass rush this offseason. That, of course, was blatantly obvious after the team posted a meager 28 sacks in 2019. But here we are, exactly a week away from the opener against the Falcons, and the Seahawks have made only modest improvements to their biggest deficiency from a year ago.
All of the top free agent pass rushers are now officially off the table with Jadeveon Clowney agreeing to terms on a one-year, $12 million deal with the Titans with incentives that could boost it to $15 million. Make no mistake, the Seahawks could have landed Clowney months ago. Instead, they opted to play a game of chicken over a few million dollars. Meanwhile, Seattle also missed out on names like Dante Fowler, Robert Quinn, Shaq Lawson, Jason Pierre-Paul and Everson Griffen.
Seattle spent a combined $9 million on Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa in free agency. By comparison, Griffen signed with the Cowboys for $6 million. Sure, Irvin and Mayowa posted a collective 15.5 sacks in 2019. If they’re able to replicate those numbers, the Seahawks will look like geniuses. But that’s a big what if.
The Seahawks made their biggest investment in Jarran Reed, re-signing him to a two-year, $23 million deal. Reed, like Mayowa and Irvin, is far from a sure thing. He had a monster 10.5-sack season in 2018 playing alongside Frank Clark but has mustered just a combined 5.0 sacks during his other three seasons. And yet, Seattle paid Reed based on that 2018 production under the expectation that he’ll be that caliber of player moving forward. Another risk.
Seattle used two draft picks on pass rushers, notably trading up to select Darrell Taylor in the second round. Taylor may end up being a dominant player, but he’s starting the season on NFI and there’s no telling when he might be ready. The Seahawks knew that Taylor had offseason surgery to repair a stress fracture in his shin and took him anyway. Again, more risk.
Fifth-round pick Alton Robinson showed some promise in camp, but you can't bank on significant production from him. Last year's first-rounder L.J. Collier looks to be in great shape, but he didn't show anything in camp that points to a breakout sophomore season. We still don't know whether Rasheem Green is a nice rotational piece or a legit pass rusher.
The only sure thing on Seattle’s pass rush might be Jamal Adams. Adams had 6.5 sacks in 2019, more than anyone on Seattle’s roster. That pass rush ability showed up on a daily basis during training camp. Adams seemed to get through clean on every blitz, regularly getting would-be sacks or foiling running plays. He may end up being the piece that keeps the defensive line from being a liability once again.
But making a blockbuster trade for Adams only makes their frugal spending along the defensive line even more curious. Seattle paid a mint to acquire Adams from the Jets. It was an all-in move that indicated an acknowledgement of the team’s championship window with Russell Wilson in his prime. So why not then do everything you can to re-sign Clowney? Is it worth saving a couple million bucks over one year when he would have been off the books next offseason? It doesn’t add up.
Seattle nickeled and dimed much of its cap space away, notably investing $4.5 million guaranteed in B.J. Finney and $7 million in Greg Olsen. Those are two additional signings in which the Seahawks won’t get the benefit of the doubt if they don’t pan out.
The Seahawks have never let public perception influence their decision making. It’s why John Schneider and Pete Carroll have never been bashful about taking chances. However, it’s an inherent gamble when you continue to zig while everyone else is counting on you to zag. This season, maybe more than ever, we’ll find out if Carroll and Schneider are indeed the smartest guys in the room. They’ve built an offense with juggernaut potential and a secondary with a Legion of Boom-caliber ceiling. And maybe that will be enough to get the Seahawks over the hump and back into the NFC Championship Game or even the Super Bowl. But if they fall short and are once again hindered by a pass rush that can’t get home, they won’t be given any benefit of the doubt from their fan base.
This isn’t to say that anyone is on the hot seat or that it’s a make or break year for Seattle’s leadership, only to note that Schneider and Carroll are assuming significant risk. The Seahawks are better than they were a year ago, but it’s hard not to believe that they could have done more to address their most glaring weakness.