RENTON — In the ideal world for L.J. Collier and the Seahawks, Friday’s game at Dallas would have been a chance for a triumphant homecoming — and likely the weekend off, his place on the roster having long been secured.
Instead, Collier — a native of Munday, Texas, about 190 miles west of Dallas — heads into the final stages of training camp with his spot on the team appearing more uncertain than ever.
Collier, a defensive lineman who was Seattle’s No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft, has not played in the preseason after suffering an elbow injury in the team’s mock game at Lumen Field on Aug. 6.
And while there was some optimism that Collier could return for Friday’s game, coach Pete Carroll said it was still unclear if he would be able to play.
“Not yet,” Carroll said Tuesday. “I can’t tell you yes on that one yet. … Let’s wait and see. We don’t know that.”
And that unavailability means that while the Seahawks would rather not have to cut bait already on a player who was the 29th overall pick, it’s an increasing possibility as Tuesday’s date to cut the roster from 80 to the regular-season limit of 53 grows nearer.
Asked Wednesday if the team has been able to tell where Collier will fit in on the line even though he has yet to play in the preseason, first-year defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt gave a surprisingly frank answer.
“Right now, I mean, it’s difficult,” Hurtt said. “He was doing a nice job while he was out there on the field and he was healthy. But it’s a tough deal — I tell guys all the time, ‘It’s hard to make the club when you are in the tub.’ You’ve got to be out there and ready to go. When he’s out there practicing he gives great effort. But it’s tough.”
This had already become a “prove-it” year for Collier when the team in the spring declined to pick up on an option on his contract for the 2023 season that would have paid him $11.5 million. Given Collier’s relative lack of production in his first three seasons — he has 33 tackles and three sacks in 37 career games and played in just 10 games last year after starting all 16 in 2020 — that was not a surprise.
Declining the option meant that the 2022 season was now the last on his rookie deal, due to pay him a nonguaranteed salary of $986,324.
If Collier were released, the Seahawks would save that amount against the salary cap while taking a dead cap hit of $2.4 million.
That investment, and the relative lack of what Seattle would save, seemed to indicate Collier was in good shape to make the roster heading into the season.
And indeed, both Hurtt and Carroll spoke enthusiastically in the spring of how Collier’s skill set might be a good fit in Seattle’s new defensive scheme, which will feature more 3-4 looks. Specifically, Carroll referred to Collier playing a dual role of being an end in a three-man base defense front, lined up over an offensive tackle, and as a tackle in the nickel defense, lined up over a guard.
“There’s a lot of stuff that he can do in this scheme,” Carroll said in May of the 6-3, 291-pound Collier. “I really want to see his pass rush come to life, particularly in the nickel group.”
Said Hurtt in June: “Out of the entire group of guys on defense, he’s had one of the better springs out of everyone. So really excited for him and where he is going. Continue to be strong in the run game. He’s come in bigger and stronger and faster than what he has been in previous years. Been rushing the passer really well.”
But the Seahawks only got to see 10 days of that in training camp before Collier was injured.
It’s not just Collier’s lack of availability that’s threatening his status but that another player who is essentially playing the same role — three-year vet Myles Adams — has had one of the best training camps of any defensive player and may well steal Collier’s roster spot.
“Unbelievable,” Hurtt said Wednesday when asked about the preseason for Adams, a 6-2, 290-pounder out of Rice (and a native of Arlington, where Friday’s game will be played) who spent all of last season on the practice squad but played in two late-season games, making five tackles against the Rams and Bears.
“But it’s not a surprise. Last year, Myles, you could see his development and him coming along and see some things. The rush ability, playing the run game. He got a chance to play in some games the latter part of last season and he did a nice job. Myles has had an outstanding camp.”
Meanwhile, Collier has had a nonexistent one, and that could make the Seahawks need to decide if they are ready to sever ties with a first-round pick after three seasons.
That would be a first in the Carroll/John Schneider era. Each of the six first-rounders before Collier — safety Earl Thomas (2010), left tackle Russell Okung (2010), offensive lineman James Carpenter (2011), rush end/linebacker Bruce Irvin (2012), offensive lineman Germain Ifedi (2016) and running back Rashaad Penny (2018) — played out their four-year rookie contracts with Seattle before either getting another deal with the Seahawks or moving on to another team via free agency.
“It’s just his growth, maturity, and all of that should help him take the next step to be a real viable part,” Carroll said of Collier in May. “That’s what we are hoping for.”