Why did Seahawks choose to keep Shaquem Griffin over Austin Calitro?

Sep 5, 2019, 10:44 AM | Updated: 7:58 pm
Former Seahawks LB Austin Calitro...
Austin Calitro was claimed by Jacksonville after the Seahawks waived him Monday. (Getty)

Just as it seemed the dust was settling on a busy weekend of roster cuts, there was one more surprise from the Seahawks on Monday: They cut linebacker Austin Calitro in order to open up a roster spot for the return of fullback Nick Bellore.

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This move came as a bit of a shock as most roster projections predicted Shaquem Griffin being the odd man out in Seattle’s linebackers corps. Calitro was a big role player when injuries kicked in for the Seahawks last year, registering 45 tackles and a half-sack in 16 games. He was also a prominent part of the defense this preseason, playing in all four games and recording 25 tackles.

Griffin, meanwhile, injured his knee in the first preseason game against the Denver Broncos and is still struggling to get healthy. He returned for the Seahawks preseason finale against the Raiders but was limited to special teams duties because he was still not feeling 100 percent.

Seattle’s decision to part ways with Calitro has been met with criticism due to the fact that Calitro clearly had a stronger body of work than Griffin in the same time period. Seahawks radio color commentator and ex-NFL linebacker Dave Wyman gave his thoughts about the possible reasoning behind cutting Calitro during Tuesday’s edition of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny, Dave and Moore (listen here).

“They don’t need backup linebackers really – they’re heavy there. They’ve got (rookies) Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven so that’s where (Calitro) got kind of caught in the wash,” Wyman said. “The other thing is… I would say that Shaquem Griffin is a way better special teams player than Austin Calitro. It’s not like he’s terrible but the speed… that’s where he kind of got caught up.”

As Wyman points out, it’s not as simple as saying that Griffin was chosen over Calitro. Cutting Calitro shows that the Seahawks were confident that Barton and Burr-Kirven are capable backups to their starting trio of Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks. There was a focus on special teams ability for the final linebacker spot on the roster and, as Wyman mentioned, Griffin’s speed gives him the edge.

With Calitro out of the mix, could we see more of Griffin besides just on special teams this year? The Seahawks used Griffin as a weakside linebacker in their season opener in 2018 and it was not a strong debut for the then-rookie. In mini camp this year, the Seahawks decided to give Griffin some opportunities as a strong side linebacker, which is a more natural position for him and where he excelled in his college career at UCF. Unfortunately due to injuries to Barton and Burr-Kirven, Griffin still saw a lot of reps at weakside before suffering his own knee injury.

Seagawks coach Pete Carroll was still hoping to get a chance to see what Griffin could do on the outside when the Seahawks faced Oakland last week in their preseason finale.

“He’s really featured as the SAM backer on the outside so we can get him on the edge,” Carroll said. “That’s the position that gets the pressure from the edge, it’s not that kind of blitzing through the line of scrimmage. He’s looked good at that stuff because he’s so darn fast. Been a little disrupted with his knee being banged up a bit, but he’s back and he’s ready to go.”

It turned out Griffin was not ready to go. His injury limited him to special teams play, but it sounds like the Seahawks are still curious to see what he could do at as an occasional edge rusher.

As for Calitro, any hopes that he might return to the Seahawks were dashed when the Jacksonville Jaguars claimed him on Tuesday. The Jaguars are thin at linebacker, meaning Calitro could have a chance to start for Jacksonville.

It Calitro does wind up in a starting role, it appears no one would be happier to see it than Seattle’s top linebacker.

Correction: A previous story incorrectly identified the linebacker positions Shaquem Griffin has played for the Seahawks.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Maura Dooley on Twitter.

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Why did Seahawks choose to keep Shaquem Griffin over Austin Calitro?