On the first full day of a new phase of NFL free agency — the day when signings no longer factor into the formula for 2020 compensatory draft picks — Seattle struck the first big blow, agreeing to terms Wednesday night on a one-year contract with defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah.
A league source confirmed the news to The Seattle Times, with ESPN and the NFL Network also having reported that a player regarded as maybe the best pass rusher still available as a free agent will play next season for the Seahawks. The NFL Network reported Ansah will fly to Seattle Thursday and officially sign his contract.
The signing gives Seattle a proven replacement for the traded Frank Clark, with one big caveat — Ansah is coming off shoulder surgery that ended his 2018 season with Detroit after he had played just seven games (he officially went on Injured Reserve on Dec. 11 to have the surgery to repair a labrum injury).
ESPN reported the deal is expected to include $5.5 million in guaranteed money, with incentives that could boost it roughly another $8 million.
It had been expected any contract for Ansah would likely include substantial bonuses for being on the active roster, and also possibly incentives related to production, since Ansah is not only coming off of shoulder surgery but also hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2015, having missed 14 games in three years since then.
And while the shoulder is undoubtedly a reason Ansah was still available almost two months after he became a free agent, the Seahawks were able to meet with Ansah last month and look at the shoulder and appear to feel confident he will be ready for the 2019 season. Reports have stated Ansah expects to be fully cleared by mid-August.
Ansah, who will turn 30 on May 29, has 48 sacks in six NFL seasons, with a high of 14.5 in 2015 when he also made his only Pro Bowl appearance. He also had 12 sacks in 14 games in 2017.
The 6-6, 270-pound native of Accra, Ghana had just four sacks in seven games last season.
But as Pro Football Focus detailed, he was one of the most-effective overall rushers in the NFL when he did play in 2018.
As PFF stated: “Counting only the weeks that Ziggy Ansah played in last season (weeks 1, 9-14), he ranked first in pass-rush productivity among all edge defenders, totaling 20 pressures (4 sacks, 3 hits, 13 hurries) on just 101 pass-rush snaps.’’
Ansah played three seasons at BYU and then was taken as the fifth overall pick of the 2013 draft by Detroit, for whom he then played the next six seasons.
Ansah played the 2018 season on a franchise tag paying him $17.1 million. But after the injury-shortened 2018 campaign the Lions let Ansah try free agency.
He was one of a handful of big-name players who did not sign earlier due in part to teams such as the Seahawks hoarding their projected 2020 comp picks and appearing to wait until after May 7 to make any further big moves. Seattle appears set to get the maximum four comp picks in 2020 — in the third, fourth, sixth and seventh rounds, according to OvertheCap.com — for the losses via free agency of players such as Earl Thomas and Justin Coleman.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider each said following the draft last month that the Seahawks would continue to pursue defensive linemen and particularly pass rushers to help fill the void created by the trade of Clark to the Chiefs, for which Seattle got a first-round pick in 2019 that it used to eventually end up with 11 picks, as well as a 2020 second-rounder.
Carroll told reporters following the draft when asked about the team’s pass rush that “we’re not done’’ and visits to Seattle over the last month or so by the likes of Ansah, Nick Perry (formerly of the Packers) and Shane Ray (formerly of Denver) made it clear the Seahawks are pursuing veterans to try to replace Clark specifically and bolster the defensive line in general.
Seattle has about $26 million in available cap space at the moment — with the Clark trade having cleared out $17.1 million — and if players such as Doug Baldwin and Kam Chancellor are removed from the roster sooner than later, that total will only increase, meaning the Seahawks have more than enough flexibility to make a few signings.
Assuming he is healthy, Ansah will likely step right into a role as Seattle’s primary player in its edge rusher, or LEO role. Others who figure to contend at that spot include free agent signees Cassius Marsh and Nate Orchard, as well as Jacob Martin and maybe Rasheem Green.
But none are as accomplished as Ansah, who has some fond memories of playing at CenturyLink Field, making two sacks against Russell Wilson in a regular season game in 2015 and two more in a wild-card playoff game following the 2016 season (he did not play against the Seahawks last season when Seattle won at Detroit, 28-14).
The Seahawks drafted defensive end L.J. Collier out of TCU in the first round in last month’s draft. But he is expected to play primarily as a five-technique end, or essentially the role Michael Bennett played in his years with the Seahawks and that Quinton Jefferson, Green and Branden Jackson played last season.
The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport had reported early Wednesday that the Seahawks were the “front-runners” to sign Ansah, who was also said to be considering the Bills, Ravens and Saints.
Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane, though, said later in the day to a Niagara Falls radio station, 1270 The Fan, that the Bills were still heavily courting Ansah.
Via Mike Rodak, who covers the Bills for ESPN, Beane said: “We’re still in talks with him and his agent. Everything has been very good. All I’ll say about reports (Seattle is emerging as the favorite) is I don’t buy into that garbage, especially when I consider where some of the sourcing comes from.’’
Beane then appeared to take an even more direct shot at Rapoport, stating of the report that: “I don’t know where it came from. Maybe it is fact. From the people I talked to that represent, they don’t see it as fact. Time will tell. … Certain people have been wrong more than they’re right and I think it’s a poor job that they’ve done.”
But the Seahawks got the job done and Ansah will help solidify a defensive line that loomed as Seattle’s biggest remaining area of need.
The Seahawks had 89 players on their roster as of Wednesday so they won’t have to get rid of a player to make room for Ansah.
Seattle, though, is likely not done making moves now that the comp pick deadline has passed.
With Ansah in the fold the Seahawks may turn to strengthening the middle of their defensive line with Seattle having been linked to some of the veteran defensive tackles who remain unsigned such as Al Woods and Earl Mitchell — who have each visited the Seahawks — as well as maybe Ndamukong Suh, with whom Seattle has extensive talks a year ago before he signed a one-year contract with the Rams.