Rost: 3 unanswered questions after Seahawks’ signing of DE Aldon Smith

Apr 16, 2021, 10:02 AM | Updated: 2:31 pm
Seahawks DE Aldon Smith...
The Seahawks' signing of DE Aldon Smith was made official on Thursday. (Getty)

The Seahawks made it official Thursday afternoon: defensive end Aldon Smith is the latest addition in Seattle.

Seahawks, DE Aldon Smith agree to one-year deal

There are plenty of questions surrounding any new player, but that’s especially the case with Smith. To better understand his potential role on the defense, here are the three most important:

Can he be a difference maker?

Smith is in the unique position of being 31 years old while also having just six years of NFL experience. Of course, that also requires important context; Smith was suspended from the league for four consecutive seasons (from 2016-19) for several issues, including violating the league’s substance abuse policy, as well as the league’s personal conduct policy for legal issues related to DUIs, and a 2018 domestic violence case.

Smith’s ceiling as a player has kept teams interested, though, most recently the Seahawks. The former first-round pick had 14 sacks as a rookie and 19.5 in his second season. After nearly five years out of the league, Smith was reinstated in 2020 and attempted to resurrect his career with the Dallas Cowboys. He finished the season with five sacks, three of them coming in a Week 3 contest against the Seahawks. It was an impressive start to the season, though also a return that cooled off down the stretch. It didn’t stop entirely, though; one of his better games in the second half was a Week 13 performance against the Cincinnati Bengals that saw him return a fumble 78 yards for a touchdown.

So, the answer to the question about whether he can be a difference maker is a less exciting (but honest) one: maybe. Smith is certainly capable of being a dominant performer and was a premiere talent early in his career with San Francisco. It’s tempting to say the easy answer is “yes.” But his limited time back after nearly five years out of the league has likely given teams pause and left him signing in the second wave of free agency. That’s also what makes this a low-risk, high-reward acquisition for Seattle — a gamble they’ve felt comfortable with in years’ past.

Who’s the odd man out in the pass rush?

Credit to Danny O’Neil, who brought this question up on Thursday’s Danny and Gallant show. Adding Smith gives the Seahawks eight defensive ends under contract, and that’s before the addition of 2021 draft picks or undrafted rookie free agents.

For now, Smith joins a group that also includes L.J. Collier, Carlos Dunlap, Kerry Hyder, Benson Mayowa, Darrell Taylor, Rasheem Green and Alton Robinson. He’ll be competing more directly with Dunlap, Mayowa and potentially Green, Taylor or Robinson (Collier is expected to see more snaps inside, while Hyder will likely take over as the five-technique).

An excess of talent isn’t a bad spot to be in for any team, but it certainly makes roster cutdowns that much tougher this summer.

What’s it mean for K.J. Wright?

Not included in that defensive end group is, obviously, linebacker K.J. Wright. But it doesn’t mean he isn’t affected.

Wright remains a free agent and while the addition of Smith doesn’t take a huge bite out of the salary cap, each addition chips away at a spot for a player still on the market. Wright has strung together some of his best seasons post-30 years old and has been a stalwart of Seattle’s defense, but bolstering the pass rush may mean making sacrifices at linebacker.

Importantly: as a reminder, don’t assume the draft is an artificial deadline for bringing Wright back. Teams may be waiting until the third wave of free agency after May 3.

Follow Stacy Rost on Twitter.

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