“What we’re trying to find is a real premier pass-rush guy to play the LEO spot.” — Pete Carroll
John Schneider has never been shy to trade his first-round pick for a shot at an impact player. He did it in 2013 (for Percy Harvin) and 2015 (for Jimmy Graham). Now, fortunately, it looks like he is willing to do it again.
Schneider and Pete Carroll know the only way their Seahawks are going to improve their defense enough to contend for the Super Bowl in 2020 is to add impact veteran pass rushers.
As Carroll said on 710 ESPN, they really want a stud LEO — like they once had with Chris Clemons (38 sacks in 62 games), then Cliff Avril (34.5 in 67), then Frank Clark (35 in 62).
At the Combine, Schneider spent some serious time exploring the market for those kinds of guys, and he reportedly has the framework for a deal for Yannick Ngakoue, Jacksonville’s prolific pass rusher (37.5 sacks in 63 games) who sure sounds like the LEO that Carroll said he wants.
Analysts say it’s a weak draft for standout pass rushers. And Schneider already has learned from his recent drafts that rookie pass rushers are not going to help much — not where Seattle drafts anyway. Schneider has selected just two or three impact defensive linemen in his 10 years in Seattle, and only Bruce Irvin (a top-15 pick) did anything as a rookie (second-round pick Clark stepped up in his second season).
Schneider largely has relied on veteran pass rushers (e.g., Clemons, Avril, Michael Bennett, Jadeveon Clowney), and he absolutely must do so again.
Schneider has been one of the league’s top wheelers and dealers and has leaned heavily on draft picks to add quality veterans over the past three years. In 2017, he acquired Duane Brown, Justin Coleman and Sheldon Richardson. Last year, he made great deals to land Clowney, Jacob Hollister and Quandre Diggs.
Most of those moves were reactionary, to fill holes in the roster just before or during the season. This year, Schneider knows he needs to be aggressive before the draft — like he was in 2013 and 2015.
Trades already are beginning to come together around the NFL, even though they can’t be made official until March 18. Former Seahawk Russell Okung reportedly is going from the Chargers to Carolina for guard Trai Turner, and Jacksonville agreed on a deal that will send cornerback A.J. Bouye to Denver.
While talking to the Jags about Ngakoue, Schneider probably asked about Calais Campbell, his longtime D-line crush, as well. He also should call Denver and Cleveland to check on the status of Von Miller and Myles Garrett — as far-fetched as those ideas might seem. Interior rusher Kawann Short might be available from Carolina, which apparently is open for business as it rebuilds under new leadership. And Schneider should call Chicago about Akiem Hicks and maybe Baltimore about Matt Judon (another tag-and-trade candidate).
Whether it’s a big trade for Ngakoue or one of those other guys or just adding moderately priced, still-productive pass rushers such as Everson Griffen, Robert Quinn or Gerald McCoy, Schneider knows he needs to make a couple of big moves for his defensive front.
Before the Combine, we said the Hawks would need to add D-linemen via free agency and trades and look to the draft for a right tackle to replace Germain Ifedi (and probably George Fant). The Combine showcased the best class of offensive linemen in years, according to longtime analysts, so that meshes with our ideal plan.
The proposed deal for Ngakoue still would leave Seattle with two second-round picks (42 and 64 overall), enough to perhaps draft a couple of tackles — offensive and defensive.
TCU D-tackle Ross Blacklock, often mocked to Seattle at 27 overall, probably won’t last to 42. But maybe Alabama’s 6-foot-6 Raekwon Davis or Texas A&M’s Justin Madubuike will. At right tackle, the Hawks should consider using a second-rounder for USC’s Austin Jackson, TCU’s Lucas Niang, Georgia’s Isaiah Wilson or Louisiana’s Robert Hunt. Or perhaps Justin Britt’s eventual replacement, LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry.
The draft also is considered historically strong at receiver, and most people want the Hawks to jump on that bandwagon. But they can save that for the third round. Those second-rounders should be used to fortify the lines and/or add a cornerback.
Of course, if Schneider fixes his D-line without trading any top picks, he will trade down and end up with three picks in the second round — and then he can take a receiver if he wants.
But it sounds like he is ready to wheel and deal before draft time in order to get Carroll that “real premier pass-rush guy to play the LEO spot.” And that’s good news.