The 2017 season began with some analysts wondering if the Seahawks might have the best defensive line in the NFL. Barely six months later, it’s possible only Frank Clark will be left.
It featured three players who had made at least one Pro Bowl — ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett and tackle Sheldon Richardson — as well as rising star Frank Clark.
Barely six months later, only Clark is assured of returning in 2018.
In the last 24 hours, the Seahawks declined to place a franchise tag on Richardson, meaning they will likely have to fend off a slew of other suitors to re-sign him, and Bennett was traded to the Eagles.
In just the last 24 hours the Seahawks declined to place a tag on Richardson, meaning they will likely fend off a slew of other suitors to try to re-sign him, and Bennett was traded to the Eagles, ending months of speculation about his future.
Avril, meanwhile, hasn’t played since Oct. 1 when he suffered a nerve/neck injury against the Colts with his future remaining uncertain.
Intriguingly, within an hour or so of Bennett being traded, Avril gave an interview to the NFL Network in which he said his future could be decided soon. The reality is that it has to be with the new league year beginning next Wednesday and Seattle likely will want some clarity to his situation by then.
“It’s still up in the air honestly,” Avril said. “Actually, in the next few days I’ll know a little bit more. I’m going to meet with my surgeon here in the next couple days. And once I meet with him we’ll kind of figure things out and see how it plays out. Hopefully the Seahawks still want me and hopefully I can still play. We’ll see.
“I just want to do what’s right for me from the standpoint of (life) after football and how that would affect it. If the doctor comes back and says things aren’t healing right, or even if things are healing right (and) one hit could mess you up … then that’s an easy decision. But right now, in my head, I definitely want to start training and doing things like I am going to play.”
The cold, hard truth is that Avril is also likely to be gone soon with the Seahawks deciding to release him and save about $6.4 million against the salary cap.
That move will mean the end of a fun and productive era in Seahawks football. Bennett and Avril signed as free agents in March 2013 with Seattle aiming to beef up a pass rush that had been the most glaring weakness at the end of the 2012 season.
The two quickly became best friends off the field while proving even better than advertised on it, serving as the finishing pieces as the Seahawks went 13-3 with the best defense in the NFL and won the Super Bowl.
So what now with Bennett gone, Avril likely joining him and the conventional wisdom being that Richardson is likely to get a better offer elsewhere?
At least we know for sure that Clark returns, possibly soon to get an extension as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.
Expect Seattle to also tender restricted free agent Dion Jordan, who came on quickly at the end of the season and seems poised to serve as Bennett’s replacement.
Third-year player Jarran Reed and second-year man Nazair Jones return inside and the Seahawks can easily keep the likes of ends Marcus Smith, Quinton Jefferson and Branden Jackson if they want. Jefferson was drafted to specifically fill the same role Bennett has served.
And who knows, maybe with the money the team is shedding it can make a deal with Richardson?
But expect Seattle to also scour whatever they can off the waiver wire, free agency and the draft, with the defensive line emerging as being as big of a need as any for the Seahawks.
The Times confirmed reports on Wednesday that the Seahawks brought in longtime Houston standout Brian Cushing for a visit. Cushing was recently released by Houston after a 2017 season in which he played just five games after being suspended for a second time for using PEDs.
Cushing played for Pete Carroll at USC so the tie-in is a natural.
But given that Cushing will turn 31 in July and has played a full season only once since 2011, expectations probably need to be tempered for what he could bring if he does sign.
Cushing projects as likely being a situational pass rusher and maybe able to fill the strongside linebacking spot.
But that still leaves the Seahawks with some work to do to fill out the defensive line.
The options in free agency aren’t great — Richardson is generally regarded as one of the top two or three players available — and the draft is always a crapshoot, especially when hoping for immediate impact (the Seahawks can likely rule out any shot at Vita Vea, but maybe they can get University of Texas-San Antonio’s Marcus Davenport, regarded as one of the top two or three pass rushers available).
What’s also important to remember is that the Seahawks traded Bennett in part because they think his best days are over. He’ll be 33 in November and has dealt with a slew of injuries of late. The thought is the team’s assessment of how he played in 2017 may not have been as rosy as those on the outside, with the Seahawks thinking they were better off getting what they could instead of witnessing a further decline.
Bennett also has threatened to hold out twice in recent seasons and Carroll publicly wondered if maybe Bennett’s play was impacted by his incident in Las Vegas before the season, when he alleged he was the victim of racial profiling and excessive force.
In other words, the Seahawks figured if Bennett came back in 2018 they would mostly get an old Bennett instead of the Bennett of old.
Still, the Bennett of old will be almost impossible to replace.
Despite his injuries of last season, he played 931 snaps, almost 85 percent, the most of his Seattle career, ranking second in sacks with 8.5 and continuing to fill his valued role as an end in the base defense and a tackle on passing downs.
Maybe Bennett was never going to again be what he was.
Now that he is gone, the Seahawks have work to do to get back where they were.