Rost’s Seahawks Takeaways: What does Seattle’s defense look like without K.J. Wright?

Mar 30, 2021, 9:58 AM

Seahawks LB K.J. Wright...

K.J. Wright is the Seahawks' longest-tenured player, having been with the team since 2011. (Getty)


One of the more hectic months of the NFL offseason got even crazier when the San Francisco 49ers used three first-round picks to move up to No. 3 overall. How does it change the landscape of the NFC West? Meanwhile, Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright is being linked to another NFC team.

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What does the Seahawks’ defense look like if their longest-tenured player moves on?

Here are the week’s top two headlines for Seahawks fans:

The story: K.J. Wright ‘in talks’ with Cowboys

The question: What would Seattle’s defense look like without Wright?

Veteran linebacker K.J. Wright, a free agent who has spent the entirety of his 10-year career with the Seattle Seahawks, is in talks with the Dallas Cowboys, according to a Monday report from Sports Illustrated’s Mike Fisher. The 31-year-old Wright told Fisher Dallas has always been on his list of dream teams. And like many, Fisher hypothesized whether a reunion with former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn – who now holds the same position with the Cowboys – could be a contributing factor in Wright’s final decision.

The question here isn’t whether Wright will move on, but what will happen when he finally does. Because no matter what Wright decides this offseason, one of the league’s best linebacker duos over the last decade will be inevitably broken up sooner, rather than later.

Seattle took a step toward securing this position last year when they drafted Texas Tech’s Jordyn Brooks in the first round. Brooks played his final season as middle linebacker for the Red Raiders but moved to the weakside spot in his first season with Seattle. Wright, who had been the starting weakside linebacker since 2012, made the transition to strongside. It paid off. The longtime vet blitzed more often (72 times in 2020, compared to 40 in 2019) and had six pressures (compared to a combined two over the last two seasons) and two sacks. Despite being the most tenured player on the team, Wright racked up 11 tackles for loss, second only to the 12 he had in his sole Pro Bowl season (in 2016, when he was 27 years old).

Simply put, Wright has continued to produce as one of Seattle’s best defensive players, regardless of age, and Seahawks fan shouldn’t overlook the very real hole he’d leave on the defense. It’s hard to see a situation where the linebacker group doesn’t take a step back without him. And for many fans, that’s an unfamiliar sight.

That regression needn’t be permanent, but it’s easy to see the learning curve for the less experienced Brooks and Barton (assuming the latter is the starting strongside linebacker). On the plus side, Brooks put together a promising rookie season and earned a higher regular season Pro Football Focus grade than his oft-compared peer Patrick Queen.

What would it mean in the interim? That there must be more consistency up front along the defensive line, which would be without the safety net of a savvy, veteran linebacker. It also places additional pressure on the secondary, headed up by safety Jamal Adams. Seattle’s addition of Kerry Hyder and the return of edge rusher Carlos Dunlap ease some of that pressure up front. has the Seahawks hovering at about $1.2 million over the cap, which means they’d need to make room to add Wright.

The story: 49ers acquire third overall pick in trade with the Dolphins

The question: Are we in for another wild, wild NFC west?

Before going in depth, the answer is most likely yes.

The 49ers gave the Miami Dolphins their 12th overall pick in 2021, plus a pair of future first-round picks, to trade up to No. 3 in this year’s draft.

San Francisco is widely expected to draft one of four potential quarterbacks who will be on the board after the Jacksonville Jaguars likely select Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall pick. Those four remaining quarterbacks are BYU’s Zach Wilson (predicted to go No. 2 overall to the Jets), North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Alabama’s Mac Jones.

Multiple reports, including one from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, indicate the 49ers plan to hang onto veteran Jimmy Garoppolo for at least this year, but adding a new quarterback would alter the landscape of the NFC West for years to come.

It’s not even the first quarterback shakeup!

The Rams got out in front of free agency by sending Jared Goff and two first-round picks to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford (oh, and they also managed to hang onto linebacker Leonard Floyd and cornerback Darious Williams).

The 49ers will have a slew of starters and Pro Bowlers returning from the injured reserve, while the Cardinals have attempted to bolster their squad by adding pricey free agents, with ex-Texans edge J.J. Watt leading the pack.

Seattle’s biggest addition may have been one it made before free agency: the hiring of offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. If Waldron can help the offense return to the high-scoring, efficient unit it was in early 2020, it could be Seattle’s best hand in a tough division battle.

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Rost’s Seahawks Takeaways: What does Seattle’s defense look like without K.J. Wright?