Once upon a time, the Seahawks had the NFL’s top-paid players (or close to it) at three defensive positions, along with the No. 2-paid quarterback.
In 2019, they made Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner the league’s top-paid QB and middle linebacker — but they have not been interested in paying anyone else in that stratosphere since 2017, when they gave Kam Chancellor another top-three deal.
They didn’t want to pay Earl Thomas and Frank Clark in 2019, and they don’t want to pay Jadeveon Clowney this year.
Basically, they don’t want to pay elite pass rushers. So they used Thomas and Clark to draft a few. And, like it or not, they are counting on those swaps to work out.
While Thomas and Clark went on to great financial and on-field success last season — Clark helping the Chiefs win the Super Bowl — the Seahawks traded for their replacements, Quandre Diggs and Clowney. Diggs is still around for a couple more seasons, but it appears Clowney was a one-year rental (a la Sheldon Richardson in 2017 – more on that below).
The Hawks used the compensation they got for Thomas and Clark to draft three pass rushers — L.J. Collier, Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson — and guard Damien Lewis. With the Hawks not expected to sign Clowney or another top pass rusher, Pete Carroll and John Schneider are counting heavily on those very young players in 2020 (and beyond).
To recap how Clark and Thomas were swapped out for the pass rushers (and a projected starting guard):
**Clark was traded to Kansas City for a 2019 first-round pick and a 2020 second-rounder (plus a swap of thirds). The first-rounder became Collier last year and the Hawks traded the second this year for a third and fifth, which became Lewis and Robinson.
**Thomas netted a third-round comp pick this year, which Seattle used to move up in the second round to draft Taylor.
After the draft, Carroll expressed hope that Taylor and Robinson, paired with once-and-future Seahawks Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa, would create a solid pass-rushing quartet. Seattle had just 28 sacks in 2019 – 15 fewer than 2018. The club needs to be over 40 again.
“The four guys that we’ve added that rush the passer (average) 8-9 sacks apiece. You put them all together, that would be great,” he said. “If these guys can come up and create something like 36-40 sacks combined, we’ll really have hit the mark.”
Because they have chosen to go the cheap route, they really, really, really need to.
What are the chances these young guys will step up and become Seattle’s pass rushers? Schneider has never had much success with defensive linemen: Of 18 picks, second-rounders Clark and Jarran Reed have been the best.
They are still hoping to see Collier do something after a busted rookie year. And they hope 2018 third-rounder Rasheem Green takes another step after a pretty good second year. Those guys will be inside rushers next to the four outside guys Seattle added.
But, more than anything, the Hawks really are hoping Taylor becomes their next great LEO — in the fashion of Clark, Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons.
Since Clowney seems unlikely to return, it raises the question: Was the trade last August that cost a third-rounder (and a couple of backup players) worth it?
It is turning out somewhat like the Richardson trade in 2017, though at a lesser cost and with better results. Richardson cost a second-rounder (plus Jermaine Kearse and a swap of seventh-rounders) and did not amplify the defense in 2017 the way Clowney did last year (and Clowney played through injury for half the season).
The Hawks still declined to pay Clowney, though, and also will not get a comp pick for him. But Seattle has been pretty bad in the third round in recent years, so did Schneider really give up much for Clowney?
Here are some good breakdowns of Taylor (courtesy of Sam Gold and Cliff Avril) and Lewis (from Corbin Smith):