So with Frank Clark taking his talents to Kansas City, what do the Seahawks do about their pass rush now?
Pass rushers, Seattle coach Pete Carroll reiterated on Monday during the team’s pre-draft news conference, are as valuable and hard to find as anything else in football.
And now Seattle has traded the best outside pass rusher it had — Clark led the Seahawks with 13 sacks in 2018, the most for any Seattle player since Patrick Kerney led the NFC with 14.5 in 2007 — left only with young players on the edge who it hopes will emerge and a few veterans it hopes can break through (Jarran Reed, who had 10.5 sacks last season, remains to solidify the middle).
Trading Clark gives Seattle another first-round pick — the Seahawks now have the 21st and 29th picks in Thursday’s first-round — seeming to assure Seattle will dip into what is regarded as an exceptionally deep class of pass rushers to try to replace him.
The trade also gives Seattle $17.1 million more in cap space in 2019 with which to make moves — that’s the amount the Seahawks were due to pay Clark per the terms of the franchise tag placed on him in March. Seattle now has about $22 million in effective cap space for 2019.
So that means Seattle could take salary back in a trade for a veteran pass rusher, or more likely sign an available free agent such as Detroit’s Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah or Green Bay’s Nick Perry, the latter of whom visited Seattle last month.
And maybe they could also make a run at Ndamukong Suh, who doesn’t play the same position as Clark but could add a significant presence at tackle to help out the overall line.
SEATTLE’S CURRENT DEFENSIVE ENDS
First, let’s look at what Seattle still has on its roster after trading Clark.
Seattle has five players it lists as defensive ends still on its roster — Rasheem Green, Branden Jackson, Cassius Marsh, Jacob Martin and Nate Orchard. Seattle also has plans to play Nazair Jones more at end this year. And Quinton Jefferson, listed as a tackle, is more accurately viewed as an end, having been the primary starter at the left defensive end spot in the base defense last season.
Strongside linebacker Barkevious Mingo also often lines up on the edge in passing situations.
Those eight players combined last season for 14.5 sacks — just 1.5 more than Clark, with 5.5 of those coming from Marsh while he was with the 49ers.
Seattle will obviously be pinning huge expectations on Green and Martin — each rookies in 2018 — to progress rapidly as second-year players in 2019.
Martin showed a lot of promise down the stretch with three sacks in the final seven games. Green was a standout in the preseason who was then held to just one sack in the regular season while dealing with a nagging ankle injury.
Jefferson ended last season as the team’s official starter at left defensive end opposite Clark, though he’s still listed by the team as a tackle, a spot he also played. Jefferson, who had three sacks last season in the best of his three seasons in the NFL, would likely be projected to again be the starter there heading into the 2018 season after playing 558 snaps, most of any of Seattle’s defensive linemen other than Clark and Reed.
Jones is a wild card, having been productive as a tackle as a rookie in 2017 but then lost in the shuffle for most of 2018 before being moved to the five-tech end spot (where Jefferson plays) at the end of the season. Carroll said in his end-of-season news conference the team was excited to see how he will do with a full season at end in 2019.
WHO IS AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?
As noted earlier, the Seahawks could well use some of their newfound cap space to add another veteran or two after earlier signing Marsh and Orchard to one-year deals.
The 30-year-old Ansah is regarded as the top free agent pass rusher still available. He is coming off shoulder surgery in December after playing in just seven games and making four sacks in 2018. He had 14.5 sacks in 2015 and 12 in 2017 and played the 2018 season on a franchise tag paying him $17.1 million.
The Seahawks also had Perry in for a visit in late March after the Packers released him. The 29-year-old had just 1.5 sacks in nine games last season while bothered by a knee sprain but had 18 combined in 2016 and 2017 and is familiar with Carroll, having played for him at USC.
Perry would not count against the formula to determine comp picks for the 2020 draft, given to teams that suffer net losses in free agency.
Seattle currently is projected to get four comp picks, and GM John Schneider has said trying to get four — which is the max — was a part of the team’s free agent strategy this year. That means Seattle could wait until May 7, the passing of the comp pick deadline, to sign some free agents who are available (Ansah, for instance, would count against the formula, as would Suh). Seattle knows Suh well, having talked to him in 2018 before he signed with the Rams.
POTENTIAL 2019 DRAFTEES
It may have made Seattle’s decision to trade Clark a little easier knowing that this year’s draft is regarded as especially deep on the defensive line.
“Defense as a whole, it’s a really good draft,’’ Schneider said Monday.
Wrote Pro Football Weekly of the defensive line class: “This year could be one of the better bounties in recent memory.’’
Now having the 21st and 29th picks, Seattle could use either or both on defensive linemen, and maybe could also use one of those picks — and maybe some of the 12 it currently has for 2020 — to move up if there’s a player the Seahawks really have their eye on.
The Seahawks wouldn’t be able to get the top pass rushers available, such as Ohio State’s Nick Bosa or Kentucky’s Josh Allen, without making a significant move up the draft board.
But there are plenty who could be available in that 21-29 range.
Here are a few:
Clelin Ferrell, Clemson: The 6-4, 265-pounder played almost solely at the right defensive end spot for the Tigers, which was also Clark’s primary position with the Seahawks. He had 11.5 sacks last season for the eventual national champs.
Montez Sweat, Mississippi State: A 6-6, 252-pounder, Sweat had been regarded as a sure first-rounder before it was reported this week that he was found to have an enlarged heart in medical testing at the combine. So maybe that would dissuade the Seahawks. But having two first-round picks might also make the Seahawks more apt to take a risk. Sweat had 22 sacks in two seasons at Mississippi State. NFL Network’s Charles Davis pegged Sweat to the Seahawks in a mock draft he updated Tuesday following the Clark trade.
Brian Burns, Florida State: When Burns weighed in at 249 pounds at the combine after being listed at 235, the perception was that he had solidified himself as a likely top-20 pick and out of the reach of the two picks Seattle currently holds. Still, you never know and maybe he would be there for Seattle at 21. He had 23.4 sacks in three seasons at FSU.
Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech: The all-time NCAA leader in sacks with 45, Ferguson has appeared to slide down draft boards since the end of the season — he wasn’t invited to the combine after being convicted of simple battery in connection with a fight as a freshman in college. But his production and athleticism are intriguing, and he could be a player Seattle would try to get with a pick acquired in a trade down.
Rashan Gary, Michigan: Would the Seahawks take another player from Michigan perceived as a risk to help replace Clark? They are undoubtedly interested in Gary, having brought him in for one of the 30 visits NFL teams are allowed for players in the run-up to the draft. Shortly before the Clark trade Tuesday, reports broke that NFL teams have “flagged’’ Gary as an injury risk due to a labral tear suffered in college. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that teams believe he could play with the injury as a rookie and then have surgery later. Gary has been all over mock drafts from the high teens to the late 20s. He was also regarded as producing a little less than expected at Michigan after arriving as one of the top recruits in the country. But that’s the kind of background the Seahawks have always found intriguing.