Lefko: Weighing 3 Seahawks options on defense in free agency

Feb 23, 2023, 1:26 AM | Updated: 12:46 pm

Seahawks free agency Daron Payne...

Defensive tackle Daron Payne of the Washington Commanders tackles Eagles running back Boston Scott. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The Seahawks need help on defense, which you probably didn’t need me to remind you but I’m here to do it anyway. They do have a myriad of draft picks and enviable early-round draft capital, but the multi-leveled problems on that side of the ball could require the addition of an established veteran to supplement a handful of rookies who will be expected to come in and play right away.

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This isn’t the best offseason to need free agent help on defense with a thin class of players available, but there are three high-end options for the Seahawks to consider. Let’s take a look, along with the chances that each of them ends up in Seattle.

Daron Payne, DT

Payne has been the hottest name linked to defensive line-needy teams, and for good reason. Payne will be just 26 years old when the 2023 season begins and is coming off a season where he racked up 11.5 sacks, a noteworthy number for an interior lineman.

Sam Fortier, the Commanders beat writer for the Washington Post, joined us on Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob on Tuesday and mentioned that Payne became more versatile in his game this past season.

“Before this year he was a run stuffer, really good up the middle but not as good of a pass rusher,” Fortier said (listen here). “He took a massive step forward this year, double-digit sacks, really disruptive and finished rushes.”

That type of gamewrecker is critical for a Seahawks defensive that is in desperate need of tackles to anchor it’s maligned 3-4 defense. Former Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright was on our show Wednesday and broke down what type of players the Seahawks need in order for this defense to be successful.

“It was not pretty at all, just watching those guys get pushed around,” Wright said. “I want more big boys up front. If you want to go 3-4, let’s get something, some big guys up there, some big Al Woods at all three spots.”

From that aspect, Payne is a perfect fit, but there is a one problem: the Commanders want him back as well and are likely to put the franchise tag on him. That would all but end the discussion for the Seahawks, and any other team, because the Commanders would need to be given two first-round picks if Payne signs elsewhere after being tagged.

Seahawks’ chances to sign: Slim

Javon Hargrave, DT

The Eagles led the NFL in sacks, and Hargrave was one of four Eagles to record at least 10 this season. There is a lot to like about the 30 year old who has seen his sack totals increase each of the past four seasons and started every game for the past two years in Philadelphia, finishing with 7.5 sacks in 2021 and a career-high 11 this year. That number jumped out to Dave Wyman, who took a closer look at Hargrave during Wednesday’s Wyman and Bob show.

“That’s hard to get 11 sacks on the inside. You’re getting double-teamed a lot,” Wyman said.

Hargrave seems like an ideal fit to return to the Eagles but could find greener pastures elsewhere due to the limited salary cap space and high number of pending free agents on defense for the NFC champs. Therein lies the problem for the Seahawks: he will be expensive.

The contract that Hargrave just finished out was for three years, $39 million. Coming off a career-best year in sacks, and with the salary cap the highest it has ever been, Spotrac’s market projection tool puts him at a value of slightly over $20 million per season. Sure, turning 30 doesn’t signify the seemingly automatic decline it used to in the NFL, but that is still a lot to shell out for a guy on the back end of his playing career.

Seahawks’ chances to sign: Not happening

Lavonte David, LB

The under the radar option. Linebacker is a glaring need hiding in plain sight for the Seahawks and David is the perfect short-term fix. The timeline for Jordyn Brooks to return from his ACL injury is uncertain and the Seahawks don’t have anyone else currently under contract who is a viable option at either inside linebacker spot.

Lavonte David has played for the Buccaneers his entire career and is a beloved player for a franchise that has seen some defensive greats. However, Tampa Bay is $55 million over the salary cap and they would have to do some maneuvering to get him under contract. It comes down to cold, hard numbers, something the Seahawks experienced last offseason with their own beloved linebacker in Bobby Wagner. In fact, Greg Auman, who covers the Bucs for FOX Sports, mentioned the similarities between David and Wagner when he was on Wyman and Bob on Tuesday.

“He made $12.5 million a year on his last contract. I don’t know that they can pay him that,” Auman said (listen here). “So it’s going to be a matter of whether he wants to finish his career with one team or whether he wants to get the most money he can.”

I have avoided the elephant in the room about why he is available, and why he will be so cheap to sign. Yes, Lavonte David is *gasp* in his mid-30s. He just turned 33 last month, but because of that he should be inexpensive to bring in. Spotrac values him at one year, $9.7 million. If that is all it takes, then by all means get it done.

Auman also went on to say that David was a nine-year captain in Tampa. That type of veteran leadership could be invaluable for a young Seahawks defense, and you could justify a one-year deal by what he can bring from a leadership and mentoring perspective as well as his contributions on the field.

No one is saying that a move like this is what all of sudden turns the Seahawks’ defense into an elite unit, but it’s a necessary step to bring stability to a group with plenty of questions around it heading into this season.

Seahawks’ chances to sign: He’s there if they want him

Rost: Will the franchise tag figure into Seahawks’ QB answer for 2023?

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Lefko: Weighing 3 Seahawks options on defense in free agency