The silence from Seattle throughout much of the second day of the NFL’s legal tampering period for teams to negotiate with free agents might have seemed deafening to Seahawks fans anxious for the team to do something, anything.
(The Seahawks did add offensive lineman B.J. Finney Tuesday night, but that probably wasn’t the big splash move most fans were hoping for.)
That anxiety only grew when the news broke in the afternoon that free-agent defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson was moving on, reported by NFL.com to be signing a two-year contract with the Buffalo Bills worth a reported $13.5 million.
Jefferson had foreshadowed the news when he tweeted “It’s been real Seattle! Nothing but love’’ at 4:57 p.m.
Jefferson became the second significant player in two days to head east, joining offensive tackle George Fant, who on Monday agreed to a three-year deal with the Jets.
Many had assumed Jefferson would be back after a 2019 season when he was one of the team’s most dependable defensive linemen, and undoubtedly he will be missed.
But maybe the loss of Jefferson and the silence could also be heartening, at least when it comes to the topic of keeping Jadeveon Clowney, who by the end of the day was regarded as the top NFL free agent whose fate had not yet been determined. Specifically, Seattle’s letting go of Jefferson, and that many of the other best edge rushers in the NFL were getting snapped up, led to the idea that maybe there was suddenly a better chance for the Seahawks to retain Clowney than had been assumed.
The two sides were unquestionably still talking.
And maybe the more they talked and the longer this went on, the edge would to go the Seahawks and Seattle, a place Clowney made clear he enjoyed getting to know last year. That was one growing thought, anyway.
What was certain is that by 4 p.m. Tuesday, Clowney was the only one of the top 10 on NFL.com’s list of the top free agents still available, and there had been almost no reports from any of the usual national media about anything related to Clowney all day.
Meanwhile, many of the other best edge rushers available were long gone. In the span of a few hours Tuesday, Robert Quinn agreed to a five-year, $70 million deal with the Bears, Vic Beasley agreed to a one-year, $12 million deal with the Titans and Carl Nassib agreed to a deal with the Raiders, just to name a few.
The Titans had been a team mentioned as potentially interested in Clowney, and every team that added a pass-rusher logically became one fewer team that Seattle might have to compete against for his services.
Still, it only takes one, and there remained the thought Clowney would want a deal to top the $21 million a year that DeForest Buckner had gotten on Monday from the Colts.
Seattle has been thought not wanting to go that high.
And while cap space can always be created, Seattle also had cut into its room with the moves it had made on Monday, significantly the re-signing of tackle Jarran Reed, who has a $9.4 million cap number for 2020, the seventh-highest on the team and third-highest of any defensive player behind Bobby Wagner ($14.75 million) and K.J. Wright ($10 million).
But Seattle also needs pass-rushers, and while there remained some decent players available such as Dante Fowler (11.5 sacks with the Rams in 2019) and Everson Griffen (eight with the Vikings), the list was shrinking. Add the loss of Jefferson to that, and the urgency seemed to be increasing for Seattle to somehow keep Clowney in the fold.
A fifth-round pick out of Maryland in 2016, Jefferson had his best season in 2019, playing in 14 games and starting 12 with his 589 snaps the second-most of any of the front four aside from Clowney’s 605.
He recorded 3.5 sacks and 26 tackles, each career highs, while playing in the role Michael Bennett did so well during his time in Seattle, of generally lining up outside on running downs and then able to go inside on passing downs.
Jefferson had surgery to repair an injury in his foot suffered in the playoff loss to Green Bay. But it wasn’t considered serious and wasn’t expected to be a factor in his free-agent status, and coach Pete Carroll had indicated at the NFL combine last month that the team hoped to bring Jefferson back, saying he had “a very, very good year’’ in 2019.
Jefferson’s departure came on the heels of the news the night before that Reed was staying put.
And maybe a template for what Seattle planned to do for its defensive line in free agency was beginning to come into place, one that maybe will still include Clowney.