Rost: Seahawks’ change to defensive spending reflects new philosophy

Jun 26, 2024, 9:49 AM

Seattle Seahawks Leonard Williams...

Seattle Seahawks DL Leonard Williams looks on during practice on June 3, 2024. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

New Seattle Seahawks assistant head coach Leslie Frazier won a Super Bowl as a cornerback for the Chicago Bears and won another as a defensive backs coach with the Indianapolis Colts. When he talks defense, you listen.

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That’s especially true for a team like the Seahawks, who are looking for drastic improvement for a defense that’s ranked 30th or worse against the run in consecutive seasons. They’ll be listening to Frazier plenty; new head coach Mike Macdonald hired Frazier, also a former assistant with the Ravens, to an important role on his staff.

And Frazier has something to say about matchups. That insight came courtesy the latest episode of Move the Sticks with Bucky Brooks and Daniel Jeremiah. It’s insight that highlights why a change in investment on Seattle’s part could pay off.

It started with a question about whether he’d build a defense from front to back or from back to front.

“You’ve got to find ways to get after these quarterbacks,” Frazier said. “And this goes back to my playing days as well. You know, we had some good players on the back end (in Chicago), but our front was nasty. We got a Hall of Famer in Richard Dent, Dan Hampton, Steve McMichael’s about to go in the Hall of Fame. And in my career as a coach, I’ve learned that when you get the Von Millers of the world, they affect the passing game. And it is a passing league, as we all know, and you’ve got to find ways to disrupt the passers. As good as Deion (Sanders) was as a defensive back, without the pass rush, those receivers are going to get open. The rules are so liberal now. You’ve got to give (pass catchers) room, so they’re going to catch some balls. Well, how can we disrupt the timing at quarterback?

“What I’ve found is the greatest mismatches are usually the matchups between offensive tackles, these fast defensive ends, these guards who are OK guards against some tremendous athletes that are playing defensive tackle. That’s where your greatest mismatches are.”

It’s not revolutionary, but it’s valuable perspective: in today’s league, an elite defensive lineman’s ability to bulldoze through an average guard or tackle pays dividends that cornerback matchups don’t. It’s not to say that elite corners don’t make teams better and limit what opposing passers can do — they do! Seattle won a Super Bowl with one of those guys. But nightmare matchups are more effective closer to the line of scrimmage.

That change is reflected in league spending. In 2016, franchise tag costs for a cornerback and defensive tackle were roughly the same: around $13 million. This year, a defensive tackle franchise tag will run you $22 million, which has outpaced corner and safety. Prior to Justin Jefferson’s mega extension, the highest-paid non-quarterback was a defensive lineman: Nick Bosa. Prior to Bosa, it was another defensive lineman: Aaron Donald.

The Seahawks haven’t been following that trend, though. It’s been some time since a player not named Jamal Adams or Bobby Wagner led defensive players in spending for Seattle, but prior to the two of them it was Richard Sherman who, briefly, carried the team’s largest cap hit ($12.2 million in 2015).

That started changing last season and has most certainly changed this year. Yet to be seen is whether the investment will pay off, but it’s certainly been made. Seattle is fifth in interior defensive line spending this season ($36.6 million), which is the most ever under general manager John Schneider and the most for any Seahawks positional group. Who knows whether a change in philosophy – or also likely, a change in timing and available talent – is behind that shift, but it brings with it an expectation of real change.

Hear more on this from Seattle Sports’ Stacy Rost in the Four-Down Territory segment from Tuesday’s edition of Bump and Stacy in the podcast at this link or in the player below.

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