The Seahawks’ defense isn’t topping too many people’s list of concerns right now. But as sports — or at least sports chatter — serves as a proper diversion, it does remain a topic of discussion.
And here’s the thing about the Seahawks’ defense: It was pretty awful last year. Meaning if they don’t figure out a way to sign Jadeveon Clowney or someone who rivals his skill set, that D runs the risk of downgrading from awful to downright absent.
Reports surfaced on Saturday saying Seattle might be closer to re-signing Clowney, although those reports are a long way from certain. As Pro Football talk noted, those rumors might have simply been Clowney’s camp attempting to drum up interest from other teams.
The defensive end is apparently frustrated with the lack of big-money offers he’s gotten this free-agency period, which is rough for him but potentially gold for the Seahawks. The team has implied that it would want to keep his salary between $18-20 million per year, a range that seemed a bit too light a couple of months ago.
But whereas the acquisition of Clowney last year felt like a luxury, bringing him back this year feels more like a necessity. Seattle needs a top-tier player on the edge if it wants to compete.
Last year’s 11 wins came in spite of the defense. The game that best demonstrated this was Seattle’s Week 9 victory over the Bucs, where the Seahawks scored 40 but allowed 34.
The looks on the defensive players’ faces in the locker room almost suggested it was a loss, and though there were a couple spectacular defensive performances (see: the win against the 49ers the following week) throughout the season, the D remained a liability for most of the year.
By season’s end, the Seahawks were 26th in total defense and 29th in yards per play. Their 32 takeaways — good for third in the NFL — allowed them to stay competitive, but it wasn’t a sustainable system.
Moreover, when Clowney didn’t play, the Seahawks got crushed by the last-place Cardinals, and they lost to the Rams and Niners when he saw limited action late in the season.
Save for that one-inch loss against San Francisco in Week 16, Seattle won every close regular-season game it played last year.
You can chalk a lot of that up to grit and Russell Wilson’s brilliance, but there is an element of luck that goes with that, too. There could have easily been three or four more L’s for the Hawks in 2019, and most of the blame would have laid with the defense.
Yes, acquiring Bruce Irvin a few days ago helps the cause. The man had 8.5 sacks last year despite missing the first three games of the season, and was among the best pass-rushers in the league in November and December. But Bruce is no Jadeveon in terms of total impact. Seattle’s defense pressured quarterbacks at a rate of 24.6 percent with Clowney on the field last year, and at just 17.5 percent without him.
The other name being thrown out in relation to the Seahawks is former Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen. The 32-year-old is coming off a Pro Bowl season, but with eight sacks last year and 5.5 the year before that, Griffen isn’t the pass-rushing force he was when the NFL Network ranked him one of the top 20 players in the league before the 2018 season.
Clowney seems like the better option, but if the Seahawks let both get away, a mediocre season could be awaiting them.
The thought right now seems to be that Clowney will set the defensive-end market, and that there won’t be much movement at that position before he signs. But there is always the possibility that Griffen goes somewhere first, Clowney decides not to come back to Seattle, and the Seahawks are left with nothing.
So while it seems like Clowney’s lower-than-expected price is good news for the Seahawks, it will be irrelevant news if they aren’t able to capitalize.