The Seahawks are likely to keep Frank Clark somehow, but Seattle will still have some work to do to solidify the defensive line for 2019.
The first line of defense for the Seahawks looms as the first area to address as they head into the offseason.
Seattle has just six defensive linemen under contract for 2019 and, as you may have heard, the future of the biggest name in that group from a year ago — Frank Clark — remains uncertain.
Clark is one of six Seahwks defensive linemen who can be a free agent when the new league year begins March 13.
The expectation is that Clark won’t be a free agent then, with the Seahawks likely to place a Franchise Tag on him for the 2019 season. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said several times they will not let Clark get away. The tag would pay Clark roughly $18 million next year, all guaranteed upon signing. But that wouldn’t settle the matter of Clark’s long-term future.
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A few other key contributors a year ago — notably, starting tackle Shamar Stephen and ends Quinton Jefferson and Dion Jordan — are either unrestricted or restricted free agents.
Here’s our overview of the defensive line.
There was the good in 2018 — Clark and third-year tackle Jarran Reed combining for 23.5 sacks, the most by a pair of Seahawks teammates since 1996 (Mike McCrary and Michael Sinclair with 26.5).
And there was the bad — no one else on the line had more than three sacks and a run defense that allowed 4.9 yards per carry, third-worst in the NFL.
Along the way, Clark stamped himself as a future star and Reed as one of the more underrated players in the NFL. But much of the rest of the line ended 2018 with some uncertainty.
Jordan, regarded as such a bright spot with four sacks in five games at the end of the 2017 season, had trouble staying healthy and had just one sack. Stephen played a lot, but the stats seemed to indicate there wasn’t as much run-stuffing being done up front as the Seahawks needed. Rookie third-round pick Rasheem Green was fairly nonexistent, due in part to injuries, after a sterling preseason. And second-year tackle Nazair Jones mysteriously became an almost total nonfactor for much of the season and finished with just seven tackles and no sacks while being a healthy scratch six times.
There was also the Tom Johnson saga. The Seahawks signed the veteran to shore up the tackle spot and released him in the second week to create a roster spot for safety Shalom Luani, which backfired when Johnson re-signed with the Vikings instead of the Seahawks, meaning they paid him $1.85 million for one game.
The struggles of some of the others allowed Jefferson and rookie sixth-round pick Jacob Martin to play greater roles than might have been expected. Undrafted rookie Poona Ford might have been the brightest spot of all, emerging as a regular in the rotation the last month of the season and a contender for a starting role in 2019.
Key stat: A statistical revision has Clark officially listed with 13 sacks for the 2018 season instead of the 14 cited at the end of the year. Still, that’s the second-most of any Seahawk in a season since 1998.
Contract status: Clark will be an unrestricted free agent on March 13 unless he gets slapped with a franchise tag.
Key stat: After battling injuries his first two seasons, Jefferson played 558 snaps, third-most of any Seattle defensive lineman.
Contract status: Is a restricted free agent.
BACKUPS/OTHERS ON ROSTER
Key stat: Has 8.5 sacks in 43 career games, four coming in five games in 2017.
Contract status: Is an unrestricted free agent.
Key stat: Played 258 snaps in nine games with 10 tackles and a sack.
Contract status: Is an Exclusive Rights Free agent.
Key stat: All three sacks came in the final seven games.
Contract status: Will be entering the second year of his four-year rookie deal, with a base salary of $570,000.
Key stat: 102 of his 201 snaps for the season came in the first three games.
Contract status: Will be entering the second year of his four-year rookie deal, with a base salary of $639,000 in 2019.
Key stat: Spent the season on Injured Reserve after a preseason injury and has not played in an NFL game.
Contract status: Will be an Exclusive Rights Free Agent.
Key stat: Career-high 10.5 sacks were the most in a single season for any Seahawk defensive tackle other than Hall of Famers Cortez Kennedy and John Randle.
Contract status: Entering the final season of his four-year rookie deal and slated to make $1.16 million in base salary in 2019. Seattle may have to try to extend him this offseason rather than wait.
Key stat: Ranked 98th out of 112 defensive tackles with enough snaps to qualify by Pro Football Focus.
Contract status: Will be an unrestricted free agent.
BACKUPS/OTHERS ON ROSTER
Key stat: Ranked 10th in run defense among interior defenders by Pro Football Focus.
Contract status: Entering the second season of a three-year deal, slated to make $570,000 in 2019
Key stat: Didn’t play last season but has 95 tackles in 43 career games with Cleveland.
Contract status: Was signed last month to a one-year deal for the 2019 season that will pay him a base salary of $720,000.
Key stat: Played just 132 snaps in 2018 after playing 284 as a rookie in 2017.
Contract status: Entering the third of a four-year deal, slated to make a base salary of $668,000 in 2019.
Clark’s situation is job one. The momentum seems to be leaning toward a Franchise Tag and continued negotiations.
Seattle also has to take care of Reed at some point over the next year. Reed took to Twitter Sunday to remind everyone of that fact, writing: “I know for a fact I’m one of the top 5 Dlineman in the NFC west and in the league point blank the tapes speak for itself ..they want me to be silent.” So maybe Clark isn’t the only defensive lineman Seattle is going to have to pay big money to this offseason.
Stephen may not be back and Seattle already has found a potential replacement in Meder, whose rep is as a good run defender.
Jefferson could get a tender (the lowest at just over $2 million would seem to make some sense). And the Seahawks will hope for a bounce back year from Jones, a better year two from Green and more of what they saw in December from Marton and Ford.
The Seahawks might also move on from Jordan.
Regardless, the Seahawks have to add some pass rushers, be it through the draft or free agency, and another player to compete as an interior defender.
POSSIBLE FREE AGENT TARGETS
The Seahawks made a big run at Ndamukong Suh last season, and he’s a free agent again if they want to go back for round two.
More likely is that the Seahawks — even with about $52 million in salary cap space at the moment — will probably have to go for veteran, bargain types, of which there are plenty.
A few tackles available who the Seahawks had talked to in free agency over the last few years include Bennie Logan (Titans), Earl Mitchell (49ers) and Ricky Jean Francois (Lions). Former UW Husky and Auburn High grad Danny Shelton, who just won a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots, is also a free agent.
There are also a couple of ends who are free agents with Seattle ties — 2012 first-round pick Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa. Wes Horton, who started eight games for Carolina last year and played for Carroll at USC, is also available.
The good news for the Seahawks is that this is regarded as an exceptionally strong year for defensive linemen in the draft, with many mock drafts predicting Seattle to take a defensive lineman with its first pick at 21 (assuming, of course, the Seahawks don’t trade it).
To cite one example, a recent mock by ESPN’s Todd McShay showed how strong the draft is regarded for linemen, listing 14 as going in the first round, including the first four picks.