As the countdown to the new league year and free agency drops under six weeks, NFL fans are salivating over the thought of which players their teams might sign to help them improve.
Seahawks fans know the team needs to focus on the defensive line above all else, and pretty much everyone is hoping John Schneider will break form and pay Jadeveon Clowney the outrageous fortune pass rushers like him make these days.
But what if Schneider doesn’t? Despite having around $50 million for free agents, what if he doesn’t break his MO at all, refusing to splurge on any “superstars” as Russell Wilson suggested he needs to?
The other day on Twitter, we suggested an aggressive Schneider might be able to keep Clowney ($20 million a year), George Fant ($6 million) and Jacob Hollister ($3.3 million second-round tender) while adding pass rusher Robert Quinn ($12 million), center Connor McGovern ($10 million), tight end Austin Hooper ($8 million) and nose tackle Michael Pierce ($5 million). The numbers on Fant, Hooper and Pierce all could end up higher, but Schneider could pay five of those seven players if he really wanted to (assuming they wanted to play in Seattle). Detroit’s Graham Glasgow could be a sub for McGovern, and there are a bunch of other nose tackles, too (D.J. Reader, Javon Hargrave, Maliek Collins, et al).
Of course, that kind of aggressive spending is probably not going to happen with Schneider in charge. So, let’s take a more conservative look at some ways he might go, based on his preferred approach to veteran acquisitions and the cap and personnel situations of some other teams around the league.
In 2017, there was scuttlebutt that Seattle was interested in signing nemesis Calais Campbell from Arizona. The 6-foot-8 defensive lineman ended up going to Jacksonville for $15 million a year — and Schneider tried to find the next Campbell through Malik McDowell and Sheldon Richardson. Three years later, the Seahawks still don’t have an interior rusher like Campbell, but there is renewed hope among some fans that Seattle might be able to get him this time.
The Jaguars need cap space to keep outside rusher Yannick Ngakoue. They likely will let Marcell Dareus go, which would help. But they will need more room for other players, so would GM Dave Caldwell consider trading the 33-year-old Campbell, who is in the final year of the deal he signed in 2017? Would he be worth a Day 2 pick for the two or three years the Hawks might get from him — on an extension at $15 million a year? It might be a trade Schneider broaches with the Jags.
Another inside-rush target could be Akiem Hicks, Chicago’s excellent big man (6-4, 352) who spent much of 2019 injured. The Bears have less than $5 million in cap space and have several free agents they probably want back (e.g., Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Danny Trevathan). They could get the space elsewhere (Prince Amukamara and Taylor Gabriel), but would they accept a second-round pick for the 30-year-old Hicks? If so, Schneider might gladly take on the last two years of his deal at a little over $10 million each.
The Vikings are $11 million over the cap, so they probably won’t try to keep Everson Griffen, whose deal (about $14 million a year) is expected to void. Pete Carroll might be interested in his former USC star, who is 32. The Vikings also might be up for trading DT Linval Joseph; he has a $5.3 million guarantee due on March 20, a couple of days after the trading period begins. The 31-year-old would come with an $11.75 million price tag and three years left on his deal. It might be a bit much for a two-down player, as Joseph seems to have become.
Gerald McCoy would be a cheaper, maybe even better, option. The longtime Buc had five sacks for Carolina last season, playing for $8 million (and out of position as a 3-4 end). At 31, he is probably not going to get much more than that, so Schneider should have a decent shot at him if he wanted.
A few other teams probably will not be able to afford some of their top free agents, but Schneider probably won’t be interested in trying to bid high for Atlanta’s Hooper and Vic Beasley, Pittsburgh’s Javon Hargrave and Bud Dupree, L.A.’s Dante Fowler Jr. or San Francisco’s Arik Armstead (who might get the franchise tag).
Instead, Schneider might lie in wait for the castoffs — like he did with Clowney last year.
Example: Buffalo has plenty of cap space, which could mean the Bills make some roster upgrades. If they were to sign the Jags’ Ngakoue, they might not re-sign Shaq Lawson or might be open to trading veteran Jerry Hughes (set to make $7.4 million).
If Schneider let Clowney go and instead finagled Campbell, Griffen and McCoy, the Hawks would have the basis for a competent defensive line for a couple more years — buying time to find more long-term players (whether Rasheem Green and L.J. Collier or new players).
Schneider also has a way to possibly keep Jarran Reed for one more year. We have said Reed likely will need a one-year deal to rehab his value. He has said he considers himself worth more than $10 million. Would Schneider be interested in using the $12 million transition tag on him? It would allow Reed to shop himself for a better deal; and, if he got no suitable offers, a motivated Reed could rebuild his value in Seattle in 2020 — and Schneider would not be pressured to find another No. 1 defensive tackle (a rookie could work his way into the rotation).
Schneider won’t want to pay three defensive linemen in the $12 million to $15 million range, but he will need to pay a couple — whether it’s Clowney and Reed or one of the other combinations mentioned — and add a third guy.
For those who think even this approach might be too aggressive for Schneider, here’s your worst-case scenario: Schneider ends up with a couple of cheaper pass rushers (probably one rehabbing from injury), gambles on another in the draft and hopes Green and Collier take unexpectedly huge jumps in 2020.
If he does that, though, the Hawks are not likely to take the final steps back to the Super Bowl in 2020. And Wilson, along with the rest of us, would be disappointed.