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The Seattle Seahawks Look at their Defensive Line Options

Thursday, March 05, 2015

 

Russell Wilson

The Seattle Seahawks are known as a “draft and develop” organization. While this always sounds good to both the personnel executive saying it and to myriad NFL observers, the economic realities of the NFL make all teams “draft and develop” organizations. But that’s not all.

The Seahawks are also known for making a splash or two in the free agent waters, either by bringing in supposedly key veteran talent (Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Matt Flynn, Sidney Rice, Zach Miller), taking flyers on bargain veteran talent (Tony McDaniel, Kevin Williams, Antoine Winfield) or by resigning about-to-be free agents (Bennett again, Brandon Mebane). The Seahawks have shown a willingness to trade for the occasional veteran difference-maker (Marshawn Lynch, Percy Harvin). That’s still not the core of their approach.

Like any strong organization, the Seahawks have also produced a track record of making major investments in “homegrown” (drafted by Seattle) talent: Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman have all been the beneficiaries of generous second contracts with the franchise. Quarterback Russell Wilson will, no doubt, soon join that list. 

The Yellow Brick Road

It’s draft and develop. Emphasis on both aspects. NFL free agency, for the Seahawks, is a distant third option. So why are we talking about it right now? Because at this moment in time (early March), the only way the Seahawks can move the needle up or down in terms of personnel acquisition is via free agency. Drafting will happen on April 30. Developing happens all the time behind the scenes. Those results will only make themselves evident months down the line. 

What’s the got the attention of Seahawks fans? Free Agency. Every team has needs. Fix them now or hope the right fixes materialize in the draft or the expected development of young players recently drafted bears fruit. 

One perceived need: defensive line. The Cadillac option available via free agency: Ndamukong Suh. Ooh. Adding a man named Suh to the Seahawks’ defensive line is a tantalizing prospect. Recent stories have posited that the Seahawks could make such a move. They could, but it would ruin them. Now that we know the Detroit Lions have wisely opted to not place the franchise tag on him, Suh is available for a sum that would dwarf the amounts the Seahawks recently paid to Sherman and Thomas. 

However, those same pundits that posited that Suh could be had by Seattle seem to conveniently forget that Wilson is about to break the bank — dramatically shifting the Seahawks’ salary cap landscape. 

Marshawn Lynch

Worth It?

Sure, they could land Suh. But with top-dollar contracts to Suh, Sherman, Thomas, Wilson (imminent) and good coin committed to Bennett and a $10 M offer extended to Lynch, your future Seahawks would consist of about five stars and 48 Brock Coyles. Does that sound like a recipe for success?

If the Seahawks are aiming for sustained success, and they can achieve it with a franchise quarterback locked in place for several seasons to come, then a different path — one that includes free agency — emerges. 

Here are some other strong defensive line possibilities as we embark on a journey into NFL free agency. Keep in mind the Seahawks are looking for impact and upside — the Holy Grail of free agency.

B.J. Raji — 6’2”, 338 lbs., age: 28

The former first-round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers got off to a good start early in his career playing primarily as a nose tackle. In retrospect, he was miscast in his subsequent years as a 3-4 defensive end / hybrid tackle. The Packers planned to play him exclusively at the nose in 2014 and indications were such that he was primed to revert to Pro Bowl form when he tore his biceps in the 2014 preseason. He missed all of last season and can probably be had for a contract in the realm of $2 – 3 million a year on a “prove it” deal. 

Stephen Paea — 6’1”, 301 lbs., age: 26

It’s always a good sign for the player in question to post one’s best season just before free agency. Paea did just that in 2014 with a career high of six sacks from the tackle position for the Chicago Bears. He also notched a career high of 16 games started. Whereas he has proven to have the quickness and explosion to disrupt as an interior pass rusher, his ability to hold up against the run remains in question. Is it a tradeoff worth making for a smallish, young interior pass rusher?

Dan Williams — 6’2”, 327 lbs., age: 27

The fifth-year veteran from the Arizona Cardinals has a little bit of everything: size, power, explosion, experience. Known as an effective run-stopper who ably filled in when the red birds’ defensive front seven was decimated by injuries, he also offers more pass rush ability than his career numbers indicate. If he gets out of Arizona, his versatile upside will make him appealing to several teams. 

Terrance Knighton — 6’3”, 331 lbs., age: 28

Like Raji, at the top end of the “potential” spectrum, Knighton has excelled amid other star defenders on the Denver Broncos. Can he do it without Von Miller? While that may be a concern for some teams, the Seahawks can certainly view Knighton as a viable plug-and-play option alongside Bennett, Avril, Mebane, Bobby Wagner, Bruce Irvin and the Legion of Boom. Knighton is both durable and excels against the run. His ability to create pass rush havoc may be underrated. Probably won’t come at a bargain rate.

Other free agent veteran possibilities Jared Odrick (versatility), George Johnson (edge rusher), Darnell Dockett (injury concerns, age), Nick Fairley (expensive, injuries, character), Greg Hardy (PR nightmare).

Best ​Bet

If you were inclined to bet on whom the Seahawks are most likely to rely upon for improved defensive line play, the safest bets are probably already on the roster: Jesse Williams and Jordan Hill. While Williams has remained an injury enigma, he is still all potential. He’ll get one more shot to make an impact. On a happier note, Hill (although he finished the 2014 regular season injured and missed the postseason) provided some much-needed interior pass rushing havoc with 5.5 sacks in the final six games of the season. 

Teams can begin negotiating with free agents on March 7 but must wait until March 10 to sign contracts. While the Seahawks have shown they will avail themselves of all aspects of player acquisition, it will be shocking if they commit major cap space early in free agency to shore up the defensive line. Look for them to rely heavily on homegrown talent in 2015, (with an early round draft pick earmarked for the defensive line) perhaps augmented by a mid-level or lower veteran defensive line addition (or two) after the first waves of free agency have subsided. 

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.

 

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