One of Pete Carroll’s oft-stated sayings is that a team can never have enough pass-rushers.
But after Monday’s release of Carlos Dunlap II in a salary cap move that saved Seattle $14 million in 2021, who exactly the Seahawks will have for their pass rush next season is a bigger question than ever.
The Seahawks appear likely to take the steps to assure that the interior of their defensive line — Jarran Reed, Poona Ford and Bryan Mone — stays pretty much intact in 2021.
But the Dunlap release only adds to the intrigue of how Seattle’s defensive line will look in 2021.
In the latest of our position overviews as the free-agent signing period opens on March 17, let’s review the line.
Players under contract
DT Jarran Reed: Reed is set to have an $8.325 million base salary in 2021 on the last season of a two-year deal and a $13.975 million cap hit, now the fourth-highest on the team after the release of Dunlap. That has led to widespread speculation that Reed could be in line for another extension to bring down that cap hit this year. Reed played a career-high 848 snaps in 2020, 74% of all available on defense.
DE L.J. Collier: Seattle’s first-round pick in 2019 enters the third season of his rookie deal set to make $1.48 million in base salary in 2021 and is again ticketed for a significant role as a strongside end and tackle in the nickel.
DE Rasheem Green: Green, a third-round pick in 2018, is entering the final season of his rookie deal and is again projected to play a substantial role in the defensive-line rotation. He had just two sacks in 2020, though.
DE Darrell Taylor: A second-round pick out of Tennessee a year ago, Taylor did not play a down last season while recovering from surgery to repair a shin injury from his final year of college. Taylor returned to practice late in the season, and Carroll said he might have been activated had Seattle lasted longer in the playoffs. That Taylor at least got on the practice field some late in the year undoubtedly makes the Seahawks more comfortable he can contribute in 2021. But until he does, it’s hard to know exactly how much of an impact he can make right away.
DE Alton Robinson: A fifth-round pick last year out of Syracuse, Robinson became a regular member of the rotation after the first two games and finished with four sacks. Seattle will also be counting on a significant uptick in his contribution in 2021.
Also under contract are defensive tackles Cedrick Lattimore and Myles Adams, who each signed futures deals following the 2020 season.
Impending unrestricted free agents
DE Benson Mayowa: The 29-year-old recorded six sacks in 13 games last season, making $3.050 million. He could probably be retained with a similar deal in 2021 and again thrust into a substantial role as an edge rusher.
DE Damontre Moore: Moore has always been something of a personal favorite of Carroll’s, so he could be back for the same role in 2021 on special teams and as a rotational end. He had a sack and seven QB hits in 10 games last season.
DE Jonathan Bullard: Bullard played in six games after being claimed off waivers from Arizona.
DE Branden Jackson: Missed the season after a neck injury, and it’s unclear what his football future holds.
Pending restricted free agent
DT Poona Ford: Seahawks are certain to tender a qualifying offer to keep Ford for the 2021 season, likely giving him a second-rounder, which would mean a $3.384 million salary for the 2021 season. Ford could still negotiate with other teams but Seattle would have right of first refusal or would get a second-round pick in return. Ford could then become an unrestricted free agent in 2022.
Pending exclusive-rights free agent
DT Bryan Mone: Expect the Seahawks to tender Mone and keep him in the fold as a rotational tackle.
Street free agent
Carlos Dunlap: Dunlap became what’s known as a “street free agent’’ when he was released Monday, meaning he can now sign anywhere. As he said last fall, he is betting that he might get something better than Seattle offered in a multiyear deal. The Seahawks obviously didn’t think Dunlap was worth $14 million a year. (Exactly what they did think he was worth is unclear.) Dunlap obviously thinks he’s worth more than Seattle did. Now to see who is right. Dunlap had five sacks in eight games for the Seahawks last year as the defense became one of the best in the NFL in the second half of the season. Conversely, the ESPN’s “pass-rush win rate’’ metric rated Dunlap 45th out of 46 who had enough attempts to qualify. That Seattle got Dunlap for so little — B.J. Finney and a seventh-round pick — obviously has the Seahawks thinking it’s worth the gamble.
Possible free-agent targets
The Seahawks might still just try to make runs at Dunlap and Mayowa to fill the LEO/rush-end role.
If not, here are a few other potential candidates:
Ryan Kerrigan: The 32-year-old was widely linked to Seattle as a possible trade acquisition last fall before the Seahawks picked up Dunlap. He might be had pretty inexpensively now that he’s on the back end of his career. Still, he had 5 1/2 sacks last season.
Everson Griffen: The Seahawks had a couple chances to get Griffen last year and didn’t. But he’s again a free agent at the age of 33 after getting six sacks in 14 games with two teams last season. And there is still the connection with Carroll and USC.
Haason Reddick: The Cardinals might not be able to keep Reddick after signing J.J. Watt, and maybe Seattle can swoop in and get him for a bit less than the $14 million due Dunlap with questions swirling over the validity of his 2020 breakout season. After getting just 7 1/2 sacks in 48 games his first three seasons, he had 12 1/2 last year alone when he was just more as an edge rusher instead of an off-ball linebacker.
Aldon Smith: After being suspended for the previous four seasons, Smith returned and had five sacks in 16 games for Dallas last season. Three, though, came in week three against the Seahawks — he had just one sack and eight QB hits in the final 13 games. But someone will take a shot on the kind of player who seems likely to have to settle for a relatively low-risk, one-year deal.
Jadeveon Clowney: OK, so probably not. Also, it’s worth remembering the Seahawks didn’t really view Clowney as a true rush end, one reason there was such a difference of opinion between Seattle and Clowney as to his value. But Clowney is again a free agent, and with the Seahawks, never say never. PFF estimates Clowney to get a one-year, $13 million deal similar to what he had last year with Tennessee.
The Dunlap move shouldn’t have been too unexpected — few really thought he’d play the 2021 season on a $14 million cap hit. But his release does put the onus on the Seahawks to add to the rush-end group, unless they are really just that confident that Taylor will be able to play a significant role next season. The guess here is Seattle adds a couple of veteran pieces, and maybe still ends up with Dunlap. But his release adds that much more intrigue to Seattle’s offseason.