Rost: 3 thoughts on the Seahawks’ big defensive line shuffle

Mar 26, 2021, 8:31 AM | Updated: 1:51 pm
Seahawks Carlos Dunlap...
DE Carlos Dunlap is rejoining the Seahawks weeks after being released. (Getty)

The second week of free agency brought four major moves for the Seahawks’ defensive line. First, there was the reported re-signing of defensive end Benson Mayowa (six sacks in 2020) and the addition of ex-49ers defensive end Kerry Hyder (8.5 sacks). Then another signing, and a bit of bad news, both within a few hours of each other Thursday.

Carlos Dunlap to re-sign | Jarred Reed released, Al Woods to return

With one star on the move and another returning, here are three quick takeaways from a week of D-line moves.

The Seahawks could use a cheap, long-term answer in their pass rush, but Carlos Dunlap buys them time.

Every team enters the offseason with a few holes to fill. Injuries take their toll, older players retire, free agents sign elsewhere, and young players fall short of expectations. But the Seahawks haven’t been able to nail down one particular position group for a few seasons now: the pass rush.

After trading Frank Clark in 2019, the Seahawks looked to a pair of short-term veteran options at defensive end. They acquired Jadeveon Clowney in a lopsided trade with Houston – though his franchise tag kept him to just a one-year deal – and signed Ezekiel Ansah. Both additions at the time were a bargain; Seattle gave up two backup defenders for a first-round talent in Clowney and beat out a couple other teams were also reportedly vying for Ansah.

As smart as the plan seemed at the outset, it didn’t pay off in sacks. The Seahawks’ defense racked up just 28, which sat near the bottom of the league.

Last year, the Seahawks acquired their biggest difference makers via trade: Dunlap and safety Jamal Adams. They also opted to avoid any big spending on another contract for Clowney, instead adding Mayowa on a cheaper deal. They saw a drastic increase in production with 46 sacks (concentrated to the second half of the season after the midseason acquisition of Dunlap and Adams’ return from injury).

One gamble worked, another didn’t, and all moves involved players who weren’t drafted by the Seahawks. There’s nothing inherently wrong with building a position group via free agency or trades – it can be an important step in building a championship roster – but ask any general manager what would make great talent even better and they’ll tell you the answer is spending less.

The Seahawks have drafted three defensive ends since trading Clark, and none have quite been able to replicate his success. There’s important context, of course. Former first-round pick L.J. Collier is a 5-tech rather than a LEO rusher, and 2020 second-round pick Darrell Taylor hasn’t had a chance yet to play a snap. As for last year’s fifth-round pick Alton Robinson, rather than compare his performance to Clark’s most recent impact, perhaps it’s better to compare his rookie season to Clark’s rookie season, where Robinson outperformed Clark in sacks and tackles for loss.

Still, those are three young defensive ends playing on rookie contracts. And while Dunlap gives the Seahawks’ D-line a substantial boost, a breakout season from Taylor or Robinson would give them something they haven’t had in a while: a solid idea of what the pass rush will look like next year.

Give John Schneider credit for his gamble.

Seahawks general manager John Schneider is a gambling man. Seattle’s decision to release Dunlap earlier this month made sense at the time, even if it did leave fans nervous about the state of Seattle’s defense. The 32 year old was one of the most impactful players in the pass rush, but he carried a $14.5 million cap hit that seemed an overwhelming burden for a cash-strapped team.

Give credit to Schneider, who made a gamble that saved the team a few million dollars. Dunlap was reportedly re-signed Thursday on a two-year, $16.6 million deal that carries a cap hit for 2021 that is $6 million less than his previous contract.

A tough sell with Jarran Reed.

Two hours before NFL insiders were breaking the news of Seattle re-signing Dunlap, veteran defensive tackle Jarran Reed tweeted his goodbye to Seahawks fans. It was a bit of a surprise, not just because Reed was under contract, but because there were no reports beforehand of Reed being traded or released.

Reed carried a $13.5 million cap hit in 2021, which made him a prime candidate for a restructure or trade to clear cap space, but the Seahawks ended up having to let him walk Friday afternoon without netting a pick in return.

According to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Seahawks wanted to create cap room by converting some of Reed’s contract. Reed, who is in the final year of his deal, wanted a long-term extension that the Seahawks were unwilling to agree to. Seattle was left with two options: find a trade partner to take Reed, or release him and absorb his $5 million in dead cap (a difference of $8.5 million).

The Seahawks are in desperate need of draft picks, but finding a partner willing to take on Reed’s current contract apparently proved to be too tall of a task. There’s always the possibility a team will bite, but instead Seattle enters the weekend short one starting defensive tackle and still holding just three picks for next month’s draft.

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