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Clayton: With Sheldon Richardson, Seahawks’ D-line could be NFL’s best

The addition of Sheldon Richardson should make life easier for Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. (AP)

The Seahawks had arguably one of the best defensive lines in football prior to the Sheldon Richardson trade. It’s hard to think there is a better defensive line now that Richardson has been added as a three-technique defensive tackle.

Richardson’s arrival gives the Seahawks three Pro Bowlers on the defensive line: Richardson, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Add Frank Clark as a pass-rushing defensive end when the Seahawks are in their pass defense packages, and Clark and Avril will rush from the outside while Richardson and Bennett can dominate the middle.

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Sure, the cost of acquiring Richardson was expensive. He will make $8.069 million this year and is a free agent after the season. What’s amazing, though, is that the Seahawks have eight total Pro Bowlers on their defense, including five who make $9.8 million a year or more, but their 2017 payroll along the defensive line ranks just 15th in the league. That’s according to Sportrac, a website with great salary analytics. This year, the Seahawks have $20,844,482 million invested along the defensive line, while the Buffalo Bills have $41,014,704 million.

But let’s get to the real bottom line of the Richardson trade – the Seahawks wanted desperately to upgrade the inside pass rush of the defensive line, and the biggest benefactor of the Richardson trade will be Bennett.

The Seahawks were going to try to improve from last year’s pass rush when Cassius Marsh was rushing from defensive tackle in the so-called “Cheetah Package.” Rookie Malik McDowell was supposed to supply the inside rush alongside Bennett but his ATV accident put him on the non-football injury list indefinitely. Marsh was decent. Richardson will be better. He had eight sacks in 2014. He’s been to the Pro Bowl. And now that he’s out of the 3-4 defense, he can concentrate on being a three-technique defensive tackle and dominating.

Where he helps Bennett is that he has a great chance to beat single blocking. Offensive coordinators now have tougher choices. Often, they had double- and triple-team blocking on Bennett, and his sack numbers dropped from 10 in 2015 to five last year with all the extra attention. With Richardson, Bennett’s sack numbers should get back near the 8.5 to 10 range that he and the Seahawks expect.

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The 2013 Seahawks defense set the standard for what Pete Carroll wants. Clinton McDonald gave the Seahawks the inside pass-rush in 2013, making 5.5 sacks. Had McDowell been able to contribute as a rookie this year, a five-sack season would have given the Seahawks the chance to have their best sack season in years. Richardson could be able to top anything McDonald did or McDowell might have, though.

Another thing I like about what the Seahawks did this offseason along the defensive line is they added some valuable role players. Marcus Smith, a former first-round choice from the Philadelphia Eagles, is a backup Leo. David Bass came from the Chicago Bears and can rush the passer. Jarran Reed and Nazair Jones are good young defensive tackles. And who knows, maybe the Seahawks could talk Ahtyba Rubin, who didn’t make the initial 53-man roster, into signing for the minimum salary next week.

This is the best defensive line – in my opinion – the Seahawks have fielded under Carroll. I still can’t say this is the deepest defense, as the 2013 defense had 21 players who were making or eventually made $3 million a year. But this should be a defense that could hold teams to 16 or less points a game.

Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out his all-new “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on 710Sports.com.

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