O’Neil: Why don’t Seahawks spend big on pass rushers? Quantity is quality
The Seahawks don’t necessarily prefer quantity over quality when it comes to assembling a pass rush.
Seattle does believe that quantity is a quality in and of itself when it comes to the pass rush, a fact that is critical to understanding the rationale that has guided the team along the defensive line.
Seattle believes it pays to have multiple options, which has informed the decision not to pay too much for any one player.
It’s why they opted to trade Frank Clark to Kansas City two years ago instead of paying him $20 million per year. It’s why they didn’t simply cut the check that Jadeveon Clowney was asking for a year ago. And while it’s too soon to say whether Seattle is moving on from Carlos Dunlap, too, it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that Seattle opted to bring back Benson Mayowa and add Kerry Hyder from San Francisco earlier this week rather than sparing no expense to get Dunlap back in the fold.
It’s been this way in Seattle since John Schneider has been the general manager. The Seahawks haven’t been cheap when it comes to paying for pass rushers. Chris Clemons, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril signed significant contract extensions after being acquired. What Seattle has not done is pay any defensive end a salary that’s at the very top of the pay grade for that position, which stands out when compared to other positions on the defense. Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor each signed contracts that put them at or near the top of the pay grades for their respective positions. Wagner and Chancellor signed two such deals.
Now, one reason that hasn’t happened is that Seattle hasn’t had a player rank among the league leaders in sacks under coach Pete Carroll. Clark set the high-water mark during Carroll’s tenure when he totaled 13 sacks in 2018, which turned out to be his final season with the Seahawks. If Seattle had a player capable of logging 15 or more sacks consistently, I don’t think they’d refuse to pay him the market rate for a top-tier pass rusher when it came time for a new deal.
What Seattle has consistently declined to do, though, is pay that top-shelf price for the guy who happens to be their best pass rusher at the moment. It’s why Seattle traded Clark after first applying the franchise tag to him two years ago, and why the Seahawks decided not to keep upping the ante until Clowney re-signed a year ago.
The Seahawks have never felt backed into a corner in which they felt they had to overspend in part because they’ve believed they can find options elsewhere, whether its for lesser-priced veterans like Mayowa and Hyder this year, or its players that become available via trade, as was the case with Clowney in 2019 and Dunlap last season.
There’s one more factor at work here: namely, a rotation. The defensive line is the one position group on that side of the ball where the personnel changes not just based on the opponent’s formation and scheme, but to account for fatigue and keep players fresh.
When Seattle’s defense was at its best – which was 2013 – it wasn’t because the starters were incredible. They were good. What made the Seahawks so devastating was that their backups might have been even better, with Avril and Bennett serving as pass rushers in the nickel defense that Seattle employed when it expected the opponent to pass.
The Seahawks didn’t have an individual player reach double digits in sacks that season yet finished with 44 sacks as a team, generating pressure that helped hurry opposing quarterbacks into being picked off 28 times against the Seahawks.
Whether Seattle can match the quality of that pass rush remains to be seen. For now, the Seahawks will continue to focus on the quantity of pass rushers to strengthen their numbers.