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Paul Kruger and the Seahawks’ free-agency model


By Brady Henderson

Danny O’Neil and Dave Wyman began Thursday’s edition of “Cold Hard Facts” with a question about whether Ravens pass rusher Paul Kruger could be a free-agent option for the Seahawks.

John Clayton thinks he ultimately could be based on need and how he would fit schematically.

The Seahawks will certainly be looking to add a pass rusher – whether it’s via free agency or the draft – and Kruger is among the top pass rusher expected to hit the market.

He’s spent all four of his NFL seasons with the Ravens, playing outside linebacker in Baltimore’s 3-4 defense. The Seahawks run a 4-3, so Kruger would be playing a different position in a different scheme. But, as Clayton noted, Seattle’s defense has some 3-4 principles that could make that transition easier.

Ravens outside linebacker Paul Kruger has 2.5 sacks in the playoffs after posting a career-high nine sacks during the regular season. (AP)

The one potential issue Clayton noted was cost.

“The question is going to be the money and I don’t think in this case they’ll be going above four or five million [per year],” he said.

That probably won’t be enough to land Kruger, who’s in position to command a more lucrative deal because of his age and production. He’s 26 years old and will be coming off his best season.

The Seahawks had trouble generating a consistent pass rush last season, even before Chris Clemons went down with an ACL injury that will likely force him to start next season on the physically unable to perform list. Bruce Irvin led all rookies with eight sacks during the regular season, but his performance in the divisional-round loss to Atlanta – when he took over for Clemons at weakside defensive end – raised questions about his readiness for an everydown role.

The Seahawks need a pass rusher and they’ll have money to spend; they’re $18.6 million under the salary cap, according to Clayton’s projections. So why might they be unwilling to splurge on a free agent like Kruger?

Perhaps they will be, but their free-agent history under coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider suggests Kruger might not fit their M.O.

Not including players the Seahawks re-signed once their contracts expired, Seattle’s most notable free-agent additions over the past three offseasons were quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson, wide receiver Sidney Rice, tight end Zach Miller, guard Robert Gallery, defensive tackle Alan Branch and defensive lineman Jason Jones.

All but Gallery and Jackson had two things in common: they were in their mid-20s and coming off their first contracts when the Seahawks signed them. Jackson wasn’t far off; he was 28 at the time, having played five seasons with the Vikings.

Kruger, a second-round pick out of Utah in 2009, fits that pattern.

But while there’s precedent for the Seahawks signing a 20-something player whose rookie deal had just expired, the most significant investments they’ve made with those players have been on offense. Flynn’s deal is worth $26 million over three years and includes $10 million guaranteed. Rice and Miller each signed five-year deals worth $41 million and $34 million, respectively.

The Seahawks made smaller commitments to Branch and Jones, both in terms of money and the length of their contracts. Branch’s deal was for $8 million over two years. Jones made $4.5 million on a one-year deal.

The free-agent defenders Seattle has passed on could be telling as well. The Seahawks had money to spend and a need for pass-rush help the last two offseasons but sat back as Ray Edwards and Mario Williams signed big deals elsewhere.

Is it merely a coincidence that the Seahawks have yet to sign a free-agent defender from another team to a lucrative long-term deal? Possibly.

But it would certainly make sense if that trend is by design. Players can become less motivated once they hit the free-agent jackpot. That’s true on both sides of the ball, but the carrot of hitting free agency can make a player hungrier, something that lends itself to playing defense in particular.

Either way, the Seahawks’ free-agent pattern is impossible to ignore when wondering whether a player like Kruger might fit into their plans.