“Right now it is kind of in the air; but, trust me, the Legion of Boom will never go away.” — Shaquill Griffin.
That’s the sound of Seattle’s defense being blown up by many media and fans over the past month.
It’s the end of an era, they say. It’s time to take the broom to the Legion of Boom and sweep out the “old” guard, tossing out Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas along with presumed goners Kam Chancellor (on the field, if not on the roster) and Cliff Avril. Some oddly would even throw K.J. Wright in there, leaving only Bobby Wagner from the Super Bowl champion defense.
For those folks, the new core would be Wagner and youngsters Frank Clark, Jarran Reed, Nazair Jones and Shaquill Griffin — plus whoever John Schneider gets to replace Bennett, Sherman, Thomas, Chancellor, Avril and Wright.
There is no argument that the Seahawks are entering a period of transition. The big debate, though, is: How long should it take?
Is this defense really as over the hill as those deconstructionists claim? And should the unit be blown up in one offseason?
Based on players who made the majority of starts for NFL teams in 2017, Seattle’s defense was the 10th-oldest in the league. It actually was younger than the 2015 and 2016 Seattle units, which were better because they didn’t lose as many key players simultaneously for such a long stretch.
The 2017 Seahawks played without Avril for the final 12 games and Sherman and Chancellor for the final seven. And Bennett and Wagner played through ailments that could have sidelined them for long stretches, too. All of that followed a 2016 season that saw Bennett, Chancellor and Thomas miss extended time due to injuries — though not all at once.
The last two injury-plagued years are why so many people think it is time to go young, to rebuild the LOB defense. Change is definitely in the air, but should Seattle force it or let it happen naturally?
When Schneider and Pete Carroll built their Super Bowl defense, they did it over four offseasons, basically adding a couple of key players per year to holdovers Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant. In 2010, they traded for Chris Clemons and drafted Thomas and Chancellor. In 2011, they drafted Sherman and Wright. In 2012, they drafted Wagner and Bruce Irvin. In 2013, they topped it off by signing Avril and Bennett. And that loaded defense led the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl title.
Along the way, Schneider brought in a few veteran defensive tackles and Carroll put together a cornerback factory. It all added up to a historic four-year run as the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL — a streak that ended in 2016 as Seattle dropped to third and then to 13th in 2017.
Now, as they prepare to replace some of their stalwarts, how far along are they in building LOB 2.0?
Over the past three drafts, they have brought in Clark, Reed, Jones, Griffin and Delano Hill. They are the presumed future of this defense, with all but Hill already having proved their ability. But Schneider is going to need to add more talent, especially if he cleans house this offseason.
Clark already has stepped in for Avril, but Schneider has to find a replacement for Chancellor (whether he is on the roster or not). It could be Hill. It could be Bradley McDougald. It could be a 2018 draft pick (Florida State’s Derwin James or Alabama’s Ronnie Harrison?).
As for Bennett, Sherman and Thomas, if Schneider gets acceptable trade offers, he certainly will consider moving any of them. He would then have to replace them, of course.
Dion Jordan had four sacks in five games last season and could be Bennett’s heir, although with no guarantee that he would be in Seattle beyond next season. Adding a top pass rusher in the draft this year or next should be a priority.
Sherman could be replaced by Byron Maxwell or DeShawn Shead in the short term, giving Schneider and Carroll time to draft and develop a running mate for Griffin.
If Thomas were traded, re-signing McDougald would seem to be paramount (if it isn’t already due to Chancellor’s situation). But Schneider would have to be on the lookout for a top-notch free safety as well.
All of that said — Bennett, Sherman and Thomas all seem likely to play for Seattle in 2018. Schneider probably won’t get any good trade offers, and he would be an idiot to simply cut his best defensive lineman and his top cornerback (even if they can be annoyingly controversial at times).
People are retrospectively ripping Schneider for extending Bennett in December 2016. Yeah, the 32-year-old is the oldest Seattle defender. But he also was the team’s best pass rusher in 2017, despite playing with a torn plantar fascia. There’s no reason to let him go if Seattle doesn’t get anything in return. Schneider and Carroll can re-evaluate him next year, when he is due $7 million.
Sherman, who will turn 30 on March 30, is the third-oldest defender behind Bennett and Avril (32 on April 8). But Sherman is expected to return from the Achilles injury and play for a new contract in 2018. He should have several good years left, because his game is not based on speed but on length, technique and savvy.
Thomas’ strength, meanwhile, is largely his speed. But Seattle reportedly is willing to pay the 28-year-old, feeling the five-time All-Pro will play at a high level for another two or three years.
Resetting the defense will be a two-year project any way you look at it, so there is no reason to blow it all up now if the Hawks can remain playoff contenders while adding to the next generation. By keeping Bennett and Sherman for one more year and extending Thomas, the Hawks would have a better chance at contending in 2018.
That also would give Schneider two drafts — and he should have a lot of picks in 2019 — to add future starters at pass rusher, safety, corner and maybe linebacker.
Whether the transition happens quickly or in two phases, Griffin thinks Seattle has some good young Legionnaires ready to help the defense reclaim its glory.
“Just because (the core veterans) might not be here or they’re not coming back, the Legion of Boom is not over,” he said recently. “This is a legacy that they created for young guys to come and take over. Trust me: We’ve got some great younger guys that are ready to compete and are ready to play ball. The Legion of Boom is never going to be over.”