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Clayton: Seahawks set up to improve on defense with draft, free agency

The Seahawks could add to their defense either in the draft or free agency this offseason. (AP)

Defense. Defense. Defense.

If you look at the 2019 free-agency and NFL Draft classes, all you see is defensive players. In the draft you could see 65 to 70 percent of the first-round picks be defensive players, and the top of the draft will have a run on defensive tackles and defensive ends. Meanwhile NFL.com published its top 25 free agents this week, with 21 spots on that list being taken up by defender. Stunning.

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That helps the Seahawks because they have more of a need to add to their defense than offense this offseason. The Seahawks made some of the most dramatic defensive changes we saw in the NFL prior to the 2018 season, going from eight Pro Bowl starters on defense to two, with one of the remaining Pro Bowlers (K.J. Wright) playing only five games.

Things worked out well. Frank Clark jumped from being Seattle’s No. 3 defensive end to a Pro Bowl-caliber No. 1 starter. Jarran Reed emerged as a Pro Bowl-caliber defensive tackle with his 10.5 sack season. Barkevious Mingo did well at strong side linebacker.

In the secondary, Tre Flowers was exceptional as a rookie cornerback. Bradley McDougald had a Pro Bowl-caliber season at safety. Tedric Thompson and Delano Hill did some nice things at safety filling in after Earl Thomas’ season-ending injury.

Though it’s nice to add Pro Bowl-type players, I contend it is better for the Seahawks to stay out of the first wave of free agents. It will be too costly and could lead to more disappointments than success stories.

That was the case this season. The top 15 free agents made more than $10 million a year, but Kirk Cousins couldn’t get the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs. Sammy Watkins was good but wasn’t the Kansas City Chiefs’ best wide receiver even though he signed for $16 million a year. Nate Solder got $15.5 million from the New York Giants but didn’t play at that level at left tackle. Trumaine Johnson, Ndamukong Suh, Malcolm Butler, Ryan Jensen, Star Lotulelei and Jimmy Graham didn’t live up to their contracts.

What will happen in 2019 is that many of the top 10 free agents aren’t going to leave their current teams. There is a good chance that DeMarcus Lawrence gets a deal in Dallas. Frank Clark, Dee Ford, Trey Flowers (not to be confused with the aforementioned Tre Flowers), Landon Collins and C.J. Mosely could get franchised or sign new deals with their teams.

Anthony Barr would be a consideration at linebacker for Seattle, but here’s the problem: the Seahawks only have four draft choices. General manager John Schneider likes to have eight to 10 draft choices, and to do that he needs assets. That’s why getting 2020 compensatory picks is a must.

Compensatory picks can be traded, which would provide Schneider with more to work with. Thomas and Wright, who both made the NFL.com top 25 free agents list, could get more than $10 million a year on the market. Those deals would be worth third- or fourth-round compensatory picks for the Seahawks.

If teams come hard after D.J. Fluker, J.R. Sweezy, Mike Davis and Shamar Stephen, they could get as many as four compensatory picks, but the Seahawks really need to keep Fluker and Sweezy. In the compensatory game, you get picks if you lose more free agents than you sign.

One thing to keep in mind is the Seahawks finished the season as the second-youngest team in football behind only to the Cleveland Browns. Getting good defensive draft choices would only add to a good, young core.

The Seahawks won’t have any compensatory picks this year. They signed five free agents and lost four, costing them two third-round choices and a fourth-rounder. But the circumstances were different than this year. The Seahawks needed the veteran players – Fluker, Stephen and Mingo are starters, while Ed Dickson and Jaron Brown were key contributors.

We’ll study the mid-market of free agency in the next few weeks.

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