Seahawks coach Pete Carroll hinted last week the team was not done making moves to add to what has been a swift-moving cornerback carousel throughout the preseason.
And after trading for or signing four cornerbacks since Aug. 24, the Seahawks are on the verge of adding another — former Jets starter Blessuan Austin.
The team’s radio analyst, Dave Wyman, reported Saturday night that Austin will sign and fill the one open spot on the Seahawks’ 53-man roster created when they traded cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon to Pittsburgh on Friday. A source confirmed to the Times that the move is expected to happen.
Austin was drafted by the Jets in the sixth round in 2019 out of Rutgers and has started 16 games the past two seasons, 10 a year ago.
All have come at right cornerback, according to Pro Football Reference. Seattle’s current apparent starter there is Tre Flowers, who won a battle for that job in camp with D.J. Reed after Reed missed much of training camp with a hip injury and then was moved to the left side.
Austin played in two preseason games for the Jets, listed with 26 snaps at right cornerback, before being waived and after the team had reportedly tried to trade him
His waiving was generally considered a surprise given his status as a starter the past two years. But media reports stated first-year Jets coach Robert Saleh preferred what he saw out of a trio of rookies in Brandin Echols, Jason Pinnock and Isaiah Dunn. The Jets have six cornerbacks on their roster.
Interestingly, Saleh is a former Seahawks assistant — he was the defensive quality-control coach from 2011 to 2013 — and runs a system similar to that of Carroll. So, the Seahawks figure to have at least gotten a feel for what Austin will look like running their cornerback techniques and overall scheme.
A native of Queens, Austin played just five games his final two years at Rutgers due to two ACL injuries, which was thought to have impacted his draft status.
But at 6-foot-1, 198 pounds and with 32-and-a-half inch arms, he has the kind of measurables the Seahawks generally prefer in their corners.
“Tall cornerback with good length who possesses good change of direction talent and short-area quickness to stay within striking distance of ball production,” wrote NFL.com about Austin before the 2019 draft. “Austin is a little inconsistent mirroring the release from press and he may lack upper body strength to reroute bigger receivers in the league. While teams can figure which coverage is best suited to his talent, his draft value may end up being tied directly to concerns over durability which have already impacted my own grade.”
Austin had a 71.4 grade from Pro Football Focus as a rookie in 2019 but fell to 51.1 last season. PFF had Austin allowing 21 receptions on 34 attempts for 237 yards and one touchdown in 388 snaps in 2019, a completion percentage of 61.8. He allowed 41 receptions on 59 attempts for 369 yards and three touchdowns in 681 snaps in 2020, a completion percentage of 69.5.
Austin will give the Seahawks six cornerbacks on their 53-man roster — Flowers, Reed, Tre Brown, Sidney Jones and Nigel Warrior are the others. They also have Michael Jackson and John Reid on the practice squad.
All but Flowers, Brown and Reed have been acquired either via trade or signed as free agents in the past 12 days as Seattle has shown it has not been satisfied with its play at cornerback — with just a week left until the regular-season opener Sept. 12 at Indianapolis.
Jones, a former UW standout, was acquired in a trade with Jacksonville on Monday and Warrior was claimed off waivers from the Ravens on Wednesday.
Seattle traded Witherspoon, who entered camp as the starter on the left side, to the Steelers on Friday for a 2023 fifth-round draft pick.
The Seahawks also released or waived Damarious Randall, Gavin Heslop, Will Sunderland, Jordan Miller and Pierre Desir, who all began training camp as cornerbacks.
Carroll said Wednesday when asked about the cornerback position that “you’ll see a couple of other things that happen there, too.”
That was before the trade for Witherspoon, and now the signing of Austin.
Whether that means the Seahawks are done is hard to know.
But one thing the Seahawks have to sort out is the health of Brown, who is battling a knee issue that held him out of the final preseason game.
And for now, Flowers and Reed appear to be the starters heading into the regular season. But the addition of three new cornerbacks shows that their jobs may be far from safe.