The plan the Seahawks envisioned for their defensive line at the beginning of the 2020 season didn’t come to fruition.
But by the end of the season, the defensive line had helped the Seahawks finish seventh in the NFL with 46 sacks. That was a huge leap from the 28 of 2019, which was fewer than all but one other team in the league.
As we continue our overview of Seahawks position groups entering the offseason, let’s look at the defensive line.
Snaps played in regular season: 316.
Contract situation: Entering final season of contract restructured after being traded to Seattle. He’s due to make $10.1 million in base salary and have a $14.1 million salary-cap hit.
Snaps played in regular season: 572.
Contract situation: Unrestricted free agent after making $3.018 million in 2020.
Snaps played in regular season: 848.
Contract situation: Entering second season of two-year deal in which he is due $8.325 million in base salary with a cap hit of $13.975 million.
Snaps played in regular season: 967.
Contract situation: Restricted free agent after playing out his three-year, undrafted-rookie-free-agent contract. He made $750,000 in 2020.
OTHER KEY PLAYERS
Snaps played in regular season: 560.
Contract situation: Entering third season of four-year rookie contract, due to make $1.48 million in base salary in 2021.
Snaps played: 365.
Contract situation: Entering final season of four-year rookie deal, set to make $920,000 in 2021.
Snaps played: 228.
Contract situation: Now an exclusive-rights free agent after making $675,000 in 2020.
There was no Jadeveon Clowney when the season began, with the Seahawks unable to reach an agreement to keep him. There also was no Darrell Taylor, who was drafted in the second round but missed the season while recovering from leg surgery. And by the end of the second game of the season there was no Bruce Irvin, who was signed to help replace Clowney but suffered an ACL injury.
Seattle also had to play for stretches without Green and Mayowa.
But the Seahawks kept adding pieces, trading for Dunlap and signing Damon Harrison, to name the most notable. Eventually, like the rest of the defense, the line found its stride in the second half of the season.
Sure, safety Jamal Adams’ 9.5 sacks were a big contribution to Seattle’s total, as was the decision to blitz a little bit more. Seattle blitzed 33.5% of the time in 2020 compared with 26.9% in 2019, according to Pro Football Reference.
But the line had 30.5 sacks, including 6.5 by Reed, six by Mayowa and five by Dunlap.
Seattle also finished fourth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per attempt at 3.9, down markedly from the 4.8 of 2019.
And when the season ended, coach Pete Carroll said he hopes Seattle can bring back the same line in 2021.
“I want to put together this past rush again and see what happens when Darrell comes back and enters into it,” Carroll said, adding he also wants to keep as many of the inside linemen as possible. “ … That’s the main focus, is make sure this pass rush comes back intact and we can grow from there.”
The good news in Carroll’s quest to keep the line intact is that the Seahawks have most of the key pieces up front under club control. Dunlap, Green, Collier, Taylor, Alton Robinson and Jarran Reed are under contract.
But because Seattle has only about $2.75 million in available cap space, according to numbers updated this week on OvertheCap.com, there will be speculation about whether the Seahawks will do something to lessen the cap hits for Dunlap and/or Reed. The Seahawks might consider extending Dunlap’s contract to lessen the 2021 hit.
Dunlap said he hopes to stay in Seattle. The line came to life after he was acquired, and he had his five sacks in just eight games with the Seahawks.
And of Reed’s $13.5 million cap hit, $5 million is in dead money, so another extension could be an option.
After a breakthrough third NFL season, Ford can expect to get the highest tender possible for a player who entered the league as an undrafted free agent — a second-rounder — projected to be at $3.4 million. That means Seattle could match any offer Ford receives or receive a second-round draft pick in return if he signs elsewhere.
The Seahawks can keep their main interior rotation intact by exercising the exclusive-rights option on Mone, who they felt played well enough to essentially render Harrison expendable.
Carroll said he’d like to re-sign Mayowa as well. The veteran flourished in a complementary role when he returned from injury and stayed fresher playing limited snaps at the rush end, or LEO spot, with the arrival of Dunlap.
One key is Taylor. He returned to practice the week of the playoff game against the Rams, and Carroll was impressed. If the Seahawks are confident Taylor can hit the ground running in 2021, they may not need to add much from the outside.
The 2021 season is key for Green, who will be an unrestricted free agent afterward, and Collier, a 2019 first-round pick who showed flashes in 2020. Collier has two years left on his rookie deal but could be extended following the season. Or Seattle could pick up his first-round option next year if he were to have a big season.
Green and Collier mostly manned the team’s five-technique end spot but also moved inside in the nickel defense, which usually allowed Seattle to get by with just three true tackles on game day.
Up next: Linebackers.