INDIANAPOLIS — Of the many offseason questions facing the Seahawks defense — their area in need of the most improvement — the biggest involves the future of free agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
As Seahawks general manager John Schneider told reporters Tuesday, the team and Clowney’s representatives plan to meet sometime this week during the NFL combine, with Seattle hoping to get a clearer sense of what it may take to keep Clowney, who can become an unrestricted free agent March 18. The general feeling is that he will likely hit the open market.
But Clowney’s fate is far from the only personnel question the Seahawks will have to sort out over the next few weeks.
Here are four more, with some of what Schneider and coach Pete Carroll said during their media sessions in Indianapolis this week:
Will Jarran Reed return?
Aside from Clowney, Reed is probably the highest-regarded Seattle defensive player hitting free agency.
But Reed’s value — generally viewed as being around $10 million a year but with varying opinions on deal length and guaranteed money — may be in the eye of the beholder.
Do you pay Reed based on the 10½ sacks he had in 2018? Or on the combined five he had in his other three seasons since Seattle drafted him in the second round out of Alabama in 2016? Or do you split the difference, realizing the 10½-sack season was an outlier for a tackle?
Carroll and Schneider offered no real specifics about any free agents this week. But Carroll noted that Reed’s 2019 season, when he had just two sacks, began with a six-game suspension by the NFL in relation to a domestic violence incident in 2017. Carroll also indicated the team would like to keep him around.
“I’m not going that way, at all,” Carroll said, when asked if he thought the 2018 season was, indeed, an outlier. “When you go back and watch his film that we’ve been through, his stuff already, and watch all the attempts at making sacks and the opportunities that were there, right in front of him, you know, he had six, probably five or six plays were he could have made a clean sack and it got away from him for one reason or another. That changes everything.
“He missed six games; he could have had five or six sacks anyway, easily. So I do think that he’ll benefit as we pick up our pressure on the outside; I thought our outside guys could have done more so. He’ll benefit from that. We’d love to have him back with us, and all that, with the expectation that that year is within his reach.”
And will Quinton Jefferson be back?
Jefferson is easy to overlook with all of the discussion about Clowney and Reed. But he is coming off his best season, when he was as consistent as any Seattle defensive lineman, playing 589 snaps (second-most among Seattle linemen, behind Clowney’s 605).
At 26, Jefferson will be looking for the biggest payday of his career after making just over $2 million last season. Spotrac.com recently assessed Jefferson of having a market value of just over $5 million a year.
As he did with Reed, Carroll suggested strongly that the team hopes to bring Jefferson back.
“He had a very, very good year,” Carroll said. “I think coming in we didn’t know that he would make another jump (in production). But he did make a jump forward understanding the game, being flexible enough to play different spots. Playmaking. Knocking balls down in crucial situations. Making short-yardage tackles and plays, as well as causing some problems in pass rush. We thought he did a really good job last year.”
Will the Seahawks make a change at right cornerback?
Seattle got solid play last season out of left cornerback Shaquill Griffin, who played in the Pro Bowl for the first time in his three NFL seasons.
But right cornerback Tre Flowers was the target of much scrutiny for his play at the end of the season, particularly for giving up a few critical receptions in the playoff loss to the Packers and drawing two pass interference penalties the previous week in the wild-card win against the Eagles.
Flowers, though, also led the Seahawks with three interceptions in what was his second season playing the position after making the switch from the safety spot that he played at Oklahoma State.
And given Seattle’s likely need to have to spend big on its defensive line, the Seahawks seem to be hoping that Flowers — who will have a cap hit of just $734,682 in 2020 — will make a significant leap in year three rather than pursuing a higher-cost option.
“Tre is a hard-working kid,’’ Carroll said. “He wants to get it done. I thought he was pretty much the same one year, two years. Now this is a good chance for him to really make a jump. There’s no reason that he shouldn’t with the experience that he’s had. All the play time that he’s gathered in, he should be ready to make a good step forward.”
Will Seattle make a move to solidify the nickel back spot?
The Seahawks were the focus of much curiosity last season for playing more base defense — meaning, leaving three linebackers on the field — than anyone else in the NFL, at roughly 70% of snaps. That’s in contrast to most teams using a fifth defensive back roughly 70% of the time.
The main reasons for that were the return of Mychal Kendricks as a strongside linebacker — the position that comes off the field in the nickel — and the belief that he could defend the pass well enough while providing sturdier run defense than an extra DB would; as well as the lack of a proven nickel cornerback.
But Kendricks is a free agent and also suffered an ACL injury in December which leaves his readiness for 2020 in some question regardless, and Schneider was noncommittal on whether he would be re-signed. Cody Barton is the heir apparent to Kendricks and the Seahawks could use him as much as they did Kendricks a year ago. Or, they could beef up the nickel spot to provide more options there.
Both Carroll and Schneider professed confidence that if needed, Ugo Amadi — a rookie in 2019 who ended the year as the primary nickel — could hold that spot in 2020, if needed.
Carroll also said to expect the team to bring in a player or two as competition for Amadi.
“It’s really Ugo’s to lose right now,’’ Carroll said. “If we were going back, that’s where we would begin, but he’s going to be under siege now, he’s going to have to really work hard to keep it, which is what the competition is all about.”