Seahawks Notebook: Did Hawks overpay for Leonard Williams?

Mar 13, 2024, 10:27 AM | Updated: 12:51 pm

Seattle Seahawks Leonard Williams...

Leonard Williams of the Seattle Seahawks reacts on Nov. 5, 2023. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The offseason is underway for the Seattle Seahawks and the rest of the NFL, and there’s plenty to discuss with the Hawks. Stacy Rost, co-host of Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy, breaks down a few of the biggest topics during her latest Seahawks notebook.

Was Leonard Williams an overpay?

Honestly, free agents often are. Supply and demand and competing offers drive up the price for most players available in free agency, and it’s rare that elite players ever hit the market. Aaron Donald has never been a free agent. Patrick Mahomes won’t become a free agent. Even after a horrific tenure with Denver, Russell Wilson hit free agency for the first time ever at age 35 and became one of the first players to sign.

For ESPN’s Seth Walder, Williams’ $21 million per year average – which ranks 10th among all defensive linemen – feels like an overpay for just-above-average play.

Wrote Walder, who gave the signing a C-minus grade:

(Williams’) 11% pass rush win rate at defensive tackle last season was just a shade above average… He recorded 5.5 sacks, and outside of his 11.5 sack season in 2020, he has never gone over 6.5 sacks in a season. His run stop win rate is typically strong but took a step back last season (32%, a shade below average). And he’ll be 30 years old when the season kicks off in September.

All of this is true. However, all due respect to Walder, who’s a talented writer and reporter, this is also devoid of the context of Seattle’s team and the reality of free agency.

Sitting atop the pass-rush win rate metric for defensive tackles are Aaron Donald, Chris Jones, and Dexter Lawrence II – only one of which, Jones, was a free agent, and he signed a $95 million deal with his career team, making him the highest-paid defensive tackle in NFL history. Christian Wilkins (13%) was above Williams but signed with Las Vegas on a four-year, $110 million deal with $84.75 million guaranteed, and Arik Armstead (13%) ranked above Williams and hasn’t officially been released by the 49ers.

The Seahawks have little depth behind Williams. They gave up a second-round pick for him last fall. He was the best available option for Seattle and one they’d already invested in, and who – despite not racking up double-digit sacks, a forgivable “offense” for an interior lineman – was one of their more consistent players on a bad defense in 2023. Heck, Seahawks general manager John Schneider and former coach Pete Carroll had little luck in the draft finding a defensive lineman better than Williams.

In a vacuum, a top-10 salary would be going to a top-five player. Why not? You get more bang for your buck and one of the top defensive players in the game. But instead, the Seahawks’ first move of free agency was to secure a solid starter at a position of need for a defense that badly needs improvement. That’s an A in my book. We’ll see whether a full season of Williams – and another year from Dre Jones – can give Seattle the growth it needs up front in 2024.

Why the slow start for the Seattle Seahawks in free agency?

Seattle has re-signed Williams and tight end Noah Fant, and added former Pats tight end Pharoah Brown and ex-Huskies and former Browns offensive lineman Nick Harris.

Meanwhile, they’ve lost six players to other teams: Jordyn Brooks (Miami), Colby Parkinson (Rams), DeeJay Dallas (Cardinals), Damien Lewis (Panthers), Will Dissly (Chargers), and Drew Lock (Giants).

Popular target Patrick Queen has signed with the Steelers.

That leaves Seattle with a void at inside linebacker (with no rostered players at the position) and backup quarterback among the existing concerns heading into the season.

Frustration as other teams add big names can be expected, but Seattle may need to add depth pieces only, with the top remaining free agents being at positions where Seattle isn’t lacking (receivers Hollywood Brown and Calvin Ridley, left tackle Tyron Smith, and cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Kendall Fuller).

It feels like a salve, but it’s also important to note that Seattle’s best chance at improvement isn’t only going to come from free agency, but from development from its existing draft classes. Seattle has pulled more production from its last two seasons there than it has since 2015, and before then since 2012.

Their best path forward to contention isn’t by signing the best available center (though it’s absolutely an area of need), but by getting as much as they possibly can out of Devon Witherspoon, Kenneth Walker III, Zach Charbonnet, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Riq Woolen, Boye Mafe, Charles Cross and Abe Lucas.

More on the Seahawks

• Huard: Free agency showing why Seahawks won’t trade DK Metcalf
• With Lewis gone, Bumpus expects Seahawks to draft UW lineman
• Huard: Why Seahawks aren’t expected to re-sign Bobby Wagner
• Will Seattle Seahawks draft a QB in first round? A look at what it might take

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