The Seahawks made official the signings of two more free agents to bolster their defense Friday.
One, inside linebacker Devin Bush Jr., is something of a mystery who the Seahawks hope provides an answer to one of the biggest questions the team had entering free agency.
The other, defensive back Julian Love, is a player whose signing in the moment seemed to raise as many questions as answers but made a lot more sense the deeper one looked into it.
Bush signed a one-year contract with Seattle for what as of Friday afternoon remained undisclosed financial terms.
Bush comes to Seattle after four seasons with the Steelers, who traded up with Denver to make him the 10th overall pick of the 2019 draft out of Michigan.
Bush then turned in a solid rookie season that seemed to indicate he’d live up to his draft billing, named to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team after leading the Steelers with 109 tackles, including 72 solo tackles. His 109 tackles were the most by a rookie in Steelers’ history, and he was the only rookie in team history to ever record more than 100 tackles in a season.
But he suffered an ACL injury early in his second season in 2020 and hasn’t been the same since.
Bush lost his starting job with the Steelers late last season after making 48 starts for Pittsburgh, with the team deciding to go in another direction this offseason, leaving him available for Seattle.
But Bush is just 24 years old — he turns 25 in July — and the Seahawks are hoping a change of scenery will make a difference.
Bush became the first addition at a position that Seahawks general manager John Schneider had said during his weekly appearance on Seattle Sports 710 AM on Thursday “definitely is a need.”
The ILB spots have loomed uncertain because starting middle backer Jordyn Brooks is recovering from an ACL injury suffered Jan. 1, and it’s unclear if he’ll be available for the start of the season while weakside backer Cody Barton became a free agent and signed this week with Washington.
Bush now slots in to fill one spot or the other — the Seahawks feel he can do either.
But that leaves the question of how Seattle fills out the rest of its linebacking corps, with the Seahawks undoubtedly trying to get some insurance in case Brooks doesn’t make it back for the start of the season.
Could that mean there’s still a chance Bobby Wagner could return?
Indications are that’s still in play, as the signing of Bush was thought not to preclude that Wagner could return.
But, as of Friday afternoon, nothing appeared imminent on that front, and Seattle will also consider other options, including other free agents and the draft, which is considered pretty deep in linebackers this year.
On his radio show, Schneider said the depth of the linebacking class in free agency and the draft was one reason Seattle hadn’t yet made a move until signing Bush.
“It’s just a position where there’s numbers there,” Schneider said. “… There’s just more numbers there, so you really have to focus on other areas where there’s less numbers.”
That there are numbers is likely helping hold down the market for Wagner, with many of the linebackers who have signed so far doing so for less than had generally been projected.
After agreeing to terms with Bush, the Seahawks reeled in Love on a two-year deal reported by several outlets to be worth up to $12 million. Like Bush, Love had visited the Seahawks on Thursday.
The signing of a player listed as a safety, though, immediately raised eyebrows among Seahawks fans wondering if it foreshadowed something about any of the team’s current players at that spot, and specifically Jamal Adams.
The large contracts of Adams and Quandre Diggs and Seattle earlier in the week tendering restricted free agent Ryan Neal mean the Seahawks are already committing more than $39 million to the position this year. That’s $10 million more than any other team, according to OverTheCap.com.
Adams has three years remaining on a four-year deal worth up to $72 million signed in August 2021. But as many took to social media to note when Love’s deal was announced, Seattle could make Adams a post-June 1 cut and save $8.4 million against the cap while taking a $9.6 million dead cap hit and no guaranteed money beyond this season.
All indications are that the signing of Love does not mean the team is looking to cut Adams.
Instead, Seattle views Love as insurance in case Adams has any setbacks in his recovery from a knee injury suffered in the season opener in 2022 against Denver, as well as versatile enough to play several other roles.
According to Pro Football Focus, Love, who started 16 games for the Giants in 2022, played 494 snaps at free safety, 154 as a nickel corner — so maybe he could compete with Coby Bryant for that spot — and 271 in the box, or essentially lined up as a linebacker.
Seattle also likes the idea of Adams playing significantly at weak side linebacker. And if Adams is ready for the start of the season, he could play linebacker with Love and Diggs as the safeties, something that was going to be a significant part of the team’s defensive game plan in 2022 before Adams was injured. In fact, Adams was hurt when he blitzed and hit Russell Wilson on a play when he’d lined up at linebacker.
Seattle appears to have just seen a player who it felt was too good to pass up in Love, who was voted by teammates as a captain of both the Giants defense and special teams last year and was also given the duties of wearing the “green dot” helmet, serving as the playcaller in the defensive huddle.
Seattle was particularly enthused to sign Love for the price as the safety market did not develop the way many expected. PFF, for instance, had projected Love to get a three-year contract for up to $25 million with $15 million guaranteed.
Instead, Seattle got a young player (he turns 25 on Sunday) at a price it didn’t expect who could play a variety of roles in 2023, serve as valuable depth and insurance and be a key part of the defense for years.
And Seattle learned the value of depth at safety last year. After Adams got hurt, the Seahawks started four other players at strong safety alongside Diggs — Neal, who started 10 games while also battling knee and ankle injuries, Josh Jones, Teez Tabor and Johnathan Abram.
Love was a 2019 fourth-round pick, No. 108 overall, by the Giants out of Notre Dame. He was largely a situational and special teams player his first three years before becoming a full-time starter last season.
PFF had rated Love as the sixth-best safety available in free agency and the most underrated of that position group.
“Love was a full-time starter in 2022 and, in turn, delivered a career-best 70.9 PFF coverage grade,” PFF wrote. “A more-than-capable tackler, Love has missed just 7.9% of his career attempts. This past season, he tied for fourth among all safeties with 30 tackles resulting in a defensive stop.”
Love is the fifth external free agent Seattle has added since the free agent signing period began Monday, four of whom are defensive players — Love, Bush, and defensive linemen Dre’Mont Jones and Jarran Reed. Seattle also has added center Evan Brown.
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