John Schneider is living his own version of Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day.”
A year ago, he had to decide whether to pay his best pass rusher. He didn’t, so now here he is again, in the exact same situation.
As the Seahawks entered last offseason off a terrible playoff loss in Dallas, their biggest need was to fortify their pass rush. Schneider didn’t want to pay $20 million a year to Frank Clark, though, so the GM made a move that was unprecedented for him: getting great draft value for a star in his prime.
Now, a year and another playoff loss later, Schneider is in the exact same spot — with Jadeveon Clowney now in Clark’s seat and Seattle still needing a second pass rusher as well because Ziggy Ansah did not work out.
Unlike last year, though, Schneider can’t trade Clowney, because he promised not to franchise-tag him. So, will he pay Clowney? And who else will he get?
Last year, with no capable young edge rushers, Schneider needed to add two veterans after he traded Clark. Ansah did not work out, but Clowney, despite playing injured from Week 12 on (and off), was one of the NFL’s top 10 pass rushers.
Clark, meanwhile, had eight sacks for the Chiefs (and a team-record three in their playoff win over Houston) while also playing injured for much of the season. He and Clowney are both gamers who don’t quit on their teams.
The Hawks, who had just 28 sacks, sure could have used Clark’s help. The guy Schneider drafted with the first-rounder from K.C. for Clark did nothing as a rookie. Obviously, the team is not going to give up on L.J. Collier, but he also gave us no reason to think he will offer anything in the pass rush in 2020.
Pete Carroll said Collier should play inside and outside in 2020 — a la Michael Bennett — and the goal is for him to take the same kind of step Rasheem Green did in 2019. Green, a third-round pick in 2018, turned into a good rotational guy, with four sacks and 15 pressures.
“I thought Rasheem had a terrific season this year to help us out and start to get his career rolling,” Carroll said. “Hopefully L.J. will make the same kind of advance.”
But neither of those recent draft picks are going to be the foundation of the pass rush, and Carroll made it clear he wants to fix it: “We didn’t get enough consistent production. At times, we were as good as anybody, but not with the consistency that we need. It’s so much better to play football when you’re rushing four guys and you’re kicking butt. Everything works when you do that.”
So it comes down to finding two good veteran outside rushers. Schneider probably won’t want to pay two guys top dollar, but he cannot be afraid to pay elite money to one guy and a lot more cash to another. With over $60 million in cap space, Seattle can afford it.
In our offseason to-do list, we listed paying Clowney as the No. 1 chore and mentioned a bunch of star rushers who will get paid (Shaquil Barrett, Dante Fowler, et al.) and a few who might be in the second contract tier (Robert Quinn, Emmanuel Ogbah, Shaq Lawson).
Everson Griffen, 32, might be out in cap-strapped Minnesota. It also sounds like he could be a free agent if he chooses, voiding his deal. Would he be up for a reunion with his old USC coach, Carroll?
There also is plenty of speculation that Denver will look to trade 30-year-old star pass rusher Von Miller. He probably would cost the 27th overall pick, but he would be worth it (Seattle would just waste the pick anyway or trade down).
So, what will it cost in cash to add two good rushers?
Barring a new NFL CBA, a deal for Clowney (or any top-market edge rusher) would require a cap hit around $16 million in 2020. (Salaries beyond the final league year cannot exceed 30 percent pay raises, which limits the creativity of negotiators until a new CBA is struck.)
Griffen’s last three contract years with the Vikings, which can be voided, are all valued at around $14 million. He shouldn’t cost more than that even if he becomes a free agent. Miller, who tallied eight sacks and 37 pressures in 2019, is signed for two more years at $18 million each year.
Quinn, 29, had a great bounce-back year in Dallas, playing for just $8 million. Maybe some team will pay him a lot more, but maybe he can be had for around $12 million. Schneider should have pursued a trade for him last year; will he try to get him this year?
Ogbah and Lawson should be cheaper than those guys. Buffalo also might be willing to trade Jerry Hughes, 31, in favor of keeping the younger Lawson, 25.
Whether Schneider manages to keep Clowney or starts all over with two new guys, he has to make a couple of big pass-rush moves if the Hawks are going to contend in 2020.
If he doesn’t, he will end up with another “Groundhog Day” next year at this time — after the Hawks get bounced short of the Super Bowl again.