The Seahawks could have their best defensive line since winning the Super Bowl in 2013 after trading Friday for Sheldon Richardson of the New York Jets.
When the Seahawks drafted Michigan State defensive lineman Malik McDowell with their first pick last April, they had not only the future in mind but also their own past.
What the Seahawks hoped to do by drafting McDowell was again assemble the kind of deep defensive line that was an underrated key to the 2013 Super Bowl champion team — one in which seven defensive linemen played 47 percent or more of the snaps but no one played more than 57 (Michael Bennett). One in which the relatively unheralded Clinton McDonald could play 65 percent of the snaps in the Super Bowl win and be viewed by some around the team as having played as much of a role in the defensive dominance that day as anybody. With McDonald, Chris Clemons and Red Bryant moving on after that season, Seattle hasn’t had the same kind of depth since.
“We’ve been looking for a pass-rushing three-technique (for a long time),’’ general manager John Schneider said when McDowell was drafted. “We’ve (he and coach Pete Carroll) talked about this a lot.’’
Which leads us to Friday’s Seahawks blockbuster trade when Seattle dealt receiver Jermaine Kearse and a 2018 second-round pick to the New York Jets for lineman Sheldon Richardson (with the teams also swapping 2018 seventh-round picks).
McDowell can’t fit the role the Seahawks had for him this season due to injuries sustained in an ATV accident in July — while the team hasn’t said he’s out for the year officially everything seems to be pointing to that.
So instead, the Seahawks got the best player available to fill that role instead — one who could transform the Seattle line into the best its been since 2013.
The 26-year-old Richardson was the 12th overall pick in 2013 out of Missouri and has started four years for the Jets, named the defensive rookie of the year in 2013 and to the Pro Bowl in 2014.
Richardson, listed at 6-3, 294, lined up everywhere in the Jets’ 3-4 defense last year with Pro Football Focus judging him as having the fifth-best run defense grade of any linemen. He’s also noted for his pass rushing ability — he had eight sacks in 2014 and has 18 for his career.
Figure the Seahawks to use Richardson in ways similar to how they use Bennett – and how they planned to use McDowell — lining up inside on run downs and outside on passing downs and possibly pairing him in a line with Bennett, Cliff Avril and Frank Clark that would be the envy of just about every team in the NFL. Seattle was tied for third in the NFL last season in sacks with 42 as it was. Add Richardson and maybe Seattle can get to 50 (though the fact that it’s simply a different game these days means that the team record of 61 in 1985 may forever be out of reach).
To get Richardson, the Seahawks had to agree to pay all of his $8 million salary this season — on the trading block for a while now, he’s reportedly turned down other deals because teams wanted him to restructure his contract, including apparently from Seattle earlier this summer.
And Seattle is looking at the possibility that this could be a one-year rental as Richardson will be an unrestricted free agent this season with some thinking he could command a salary beginning in 2018 that would make him among the highest-paid defensive linemen in the NFL — and more highly-paid than any Seahawk other than Russell Wilson, which would undoubtedly be a little dicey.
“If Richardson has a big year in Seattle and has no off field issues or run-ins with teammates he should command $18 million a year,’’ wrote Jason Fitzgerald of OvertheCap.com.
Richardson also comes with some off-field baggage. He was suspended for the opening game of the 2016 season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy after being arrested for driving 143 miles per hour and he was also suspended for the first four games of the 2015 for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. He’s also said to have clashed with Jets coach Todd Bowles.
But the Seahawks have never shied away from taking gambles — Percy Harvin? — and this in some ways is also relatively low risk. If the Seahawks don’t re-sign Richardson after this season (or at any time before) they would almost certainly get a third-round pick as compensation in 2019. (It’s thought each side is going to play this out before any talk of a contract.)
The other cost is Kearse, a player who was unlikely to be back in 2018 due to a ballooning contract and who the team feels it can replace with younger, up-and-coming receivers (and yes, it’s at least coincidental, if not ironic, that one of those is Kasen Williams, who like Kearse grew up in the area, attended the University of Washington and after suffering the disappointment of going undrafted is forging a career with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent).
Kearse was a reliable player who was popular with teammates and coaches for his willingness to do whatever asked, and who developed a rapport with Wilson that resulted in the two hooking up for some of the most memorable plays in team history.
Everyone remembers the juggling catch that set up the ill-fated end of Super Bowl XLIX as well as the catch against Green Bay two weeks earlier that got them there. Seeming almost forgotten is a catch that was no less important — a 35-yard touchdown on fourth-and-seven that put Seattle ahead for good against the 49ers in the 2014 NFC title game.
The Seahawks will be counting on the likes of Williams to emerge and players such as Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett to stay healthy — say what you want about Kearse’s inconsistency catching the ball but he missed just two games in five years due to injuries.
There was also a little cost in re-working the contract of Doug Baldwin to convert most of his 2017 salary into signing bonus, allowing the Seahawks to gain almost $6 million in cap room for this year, cap hits that the team will now take in 2018, 2019 and 2020. But a continually rising salary cap makes such moves easier to handle.
The Seahawks also seem to be illustrating more than ever that they are in win-now mode.
Richardson gives Seattle’s defense eight players who have been to at least one Pro Bowl including three on the line — Bennett and Avril the others.
The early consensus was that a defense that already looked like it could be the best in the NFL this year just got that much better.
“The Seahawks defense just became even scarier,’’ Tweeted Pro Football Focus.
The Seahawks hope as scary as it was to the Broncos that glorious night in New Jersey.