The Seahawks’ trade Wednesday for veteran defensive end Carlos Dunlap may not be an admission that the team’s offseason plan to restock its pass rush was flawed.
But it is at least an acknowledgment that the plan hasn’t gone, well, quite to plan as the 2020 season nears the halfway point.
Not that this isn’t obvious in the way the defense has played so far. Seattle has just nine sacks in six games and is allowing an average of 479 yards, on pace to be by far the most in NFL history.
Not that things ever really went to plan, anyway.
Contrary to what may be the conventional wisdom, the Seahawks wanted Jadeveon Clowney back.
They just wanted him back at what they felt was Clowney’s actual market value, and not necessarily at the “all in, do whatever it takes to keep him’’ level that some may have portrayed — and that some Seahawks fans may have preferred.
Seattle was proved right in assessing Clowney’s value given how things unfolded, with Clowney eventually settling for a one-year deal worth a max of $13 million with Tennessee.
And Clowney hasn’t really proven that market value assessment wrong, turning in something of a typically strange season so far. While he has a solid 22 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, he has exactly zero sacks, an overall output that has PFF rating him 22nd of all edge rushers this week, similar to how he had a ton of pressures but just three sacks with Seattle in 2019, a year when the Seahawks had just 28 overall, second-fewest in the league.
That rating isn’t bad, but it’s also not what would be expected for $21 million a year or so, either.
But once Clowney turned down Seattle’s initial offer of right around $16 million (or according to some, simply didn’t even really respond to it), the Seahawks had to change course.
So, they then set sail on a new plan.
In free agency, they brought back a pair of former Seahawks in Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa, who had combined for 15½ sacks in 2019 (Irvin 8½ in Carolina and Mayowa seven with the Raiders).
Coach Pete Carroll several times cited that total, which was more than half what Seattle had a year ago, as if it was almost fait accompli that they’d match it again in 2020.
And while Irvin and Mayowa might not have been the big names some preferred, they were also at least trusted hands who had proven durable, rarely missing games due to injury, Irvin also valued as a leader for an overall young group of linemen.
Then the Seahawks used two of their first six picks in the draft on edge rushers — Tennessee’s Darrell Taylor at 48 overall and Syracuse’s Alton Robinson at 148.
The Seahawks felt they got potential bargains in each, particularly Taylor, who missed the combine after having surgery to put a rod in his leg to repair a stress fracture — they essentially portrayed it that Taylor might have gone in the first round if not for the injury and surgery. The Seahawks, though, said they weren’t too worried about that, having been able to bring him in for a physical shortly before COVID-19 protocols put a halt to travel, and concluding based on what they’d seen that he’d be ready for the season.
Some draft analysts agreed that the Seahawks had hit it big.
“By far Taylor and Robinson were their best picks, so at least it’s good they addressed their massive need on the edge pass rush,’’ wrote Vinnie Iyer of the Sporting News in the wake of the draft.
And then they placed hope in some young players who had come with heavy investments the last few years — 2019 first-rounder L.J. Collier and 2018 third-rounder Rasheem Green — making the kind of massive leap in performance they’d seen happen with other players before (it may be easy to forget now that Frank Clark had just three sacks and 16 tackles as a rookie in 2015 before blossoming), Green having ascended some in 2019 when he led Seattle with four sacks.
But six games into this season, most of that plan has gone awry.
Taylor’s recovery has gone much worse than thought and he has yet to do anything, still on the non-football injury list.
Irvin — through obviously no fault of his own — tore an ACL in the second game against New England and is out for the year.
Green suffered a stinger in the opener at Atlanta and has played just one game.
Collier, while showing a few flashes here and there, remains a work in progress with one sack in 132 pass-rush snaps, via PFF.
And Robinson, somewhat mystifyingly, simply hasn’t played a whole lot, with 99 snaps for the season, on Sunday relegated to seven snaps so Seattle could go with Shaquem Griffin as an edge rusher instead, thinking he’d be a better matchup against Arizona QB Kyler Murray.
Mayowa, at least, has proven durable, having already played 344 snaps, or 72% — he’s never before played more than 49% in a season.
But that, too, wasn’t in the plan, as the Seahawks expected Mayowa would be part of a rotation and able to play his usual 40-50% and not have to shoulder almost the whole load at the LEO or rush end position.
“We were working at it,’’ Carroll said this week, recounting all the moves Seattle made. “Losing Bruce was a bit of a big deal to us.’’
But Irvin isn’t coming back, who knows about Taylor, and Collier remains something of an enigma (he’s also 25, so youth isn’t necessarily on his side).
On the bright side, Green may be back this week after returning to practice Wednesday; Robinson figures to play more going forward after what happened Sunday; and Mayowa has remained upright throughout all those snaps (and to be fair to him, he’s pretty much been the same player he’s always been, with two sacks in six games — he had 20 in 87 career games before this year, so he’s basically on his usual track and it’s not necessarily his fault if the team expected a whole lot more).
Now into the breach steps Dunlap, who has 82½ sacks in a career dating to 2010 but just one this season, his playing time decreased the last few weeks with the Bengals going with younger players.
He arrives with Seattle giving up shockingly little to get him — a seventh-round pick and offensive lineman B.J. Finney, the most disappointing of the team’s free-agent signees, having yet to play an offensive snap all season.
Dunlap also comes heavily motivated to prove the Bengals were wrong to give up on him, and at age 31 either compel the Seahawks to want to keep him around next year at his $10.25 million base salary, or something similar maybe in a restructure, or earn another big paycheck as a free agent.
With Seattle having no real cap room and the trade deadline next Tuesday, Dunlap may be it for significant additions to fix the leaky defense.
The plan, thus, has changed.
But the Seahawks are hoping it can still be salvaged.
The season, and trying not to let another year of Russell Wilson’s prime slip away without another Super Bowl, may depend on it.