The Seahawks have had a busy 2021 so far. There have been trades, signings, players staying, and players going in what has been a clear signal of intent by the front office. They have taken Russell Wilson seriously. In these initial five days, they’ve acquired a high-quality offensive lineman, re-signed his backfield partner, and let prominent members of the defense go to make it happen. With little wiggle room, Seattle has made the most of having very little cap space.
This is an easy one, as offensive guard Gabe Jackson is both the biggest name brought in and the best player. As an additional bonus, he also fills quarterback Russell Wilson’s biggest offseason wish for help in pass protection. Pro Football Focus credited him with a whopping 0 sacks allowed last season. While the man he will be taking over for, Mike Iupati, wasn’t awful, he wasn’t anywhere near that good at keeping the quarterback clean.
His biggest weakness is in run blocking, where PFF hasn’t given him an above-average grade in that department in any of his seasons as a starter. That downside should be minimized, though, with Chris Carson’s return, who is powerful and elusive enough to create yards on his own. Also, Jackson’s lack of penalties is key as well, as he won’t contribute any net negative yards meaning his struggles opening up running lanes should be a minor one.
With this acquisition and the decision to bring back starting center Ethan Pocic, the Seahawks now know what their starting offensive line will be. At left tackle is the ever-excellent Duane Brown, whose age-related concerns should be nullified as he is coming off yet another superb season. Jackson will line up next to him, with Pocic on his right manning the center pivot. The right guard will be occupied by rookie sensation Damien Lewis, who will hopefully continue to improve in pass protection while keeping his nastiness in the run game. At the other bookend will be Brandon Shell, whose solidity last season was a welcome surprise after years of sub-par play at the right tackle spot. All-in-all, there will be three good-to-very-good starters in front of Wilson, along with two pretty decent ones. That is a MASSIVE upgrade compared to what Russ has had to deal with in previous seasons and will hopefully be enough to allay his concerns in Seattle in the future.
The acquisition of Jackson also meant a serious reduction in cap space, which was likely a key contributor in the loss of Pro Bowl corner Shaquill Griffin. While he was a borderline top-10 player at his position in 2019, he ended up having an up and down 2020 due to injuries and inconsistent play. That didn’t stop the Jacksonville Jaguars from ponying up, though, signing Griffin to a 3-year, $40 million contract with $29 million of that guaranteed.
It is in no way a prohibitive contract and less than what I predicted he would get. But with the nerfed salary cap this year and the front office’s focus on improving the offense, Seattle could not match that deal, leaving a huge hole in the secondary. To partially plug up the leak, Seattle signed ex-49er Ahkello Witherspoon to a cheap, one-year prove-it contract. While some advanced stats like what he brings to the table, the reality is he is someone who has been plagued by benchings and injuries during his young career. While he did have a nice finish to 2020, I doubt he will be the sole answer to Seattle’s weakened defensive backfield.
Some prominent names are still out there on the market. Kevin King is a long, rangy corner who attended school at the University of Washington. While he has had a bumpy road in Green Bay, maybe a return to the city where he played college ball would put him back on an upward trajectory. AJ Bouye was once a fearsome shutdown corner for both the Texans and Jaguars but is coming off a season shortened by injury and could be had for a reduced price. Ditto for former Seahawks legend Richard Sherman, who may be at age 33, willing to take a pay cut to return to the place that made him a legend.
Still to Come:
As free agency enters its later stages, Seattle will most likely prioritize holding onto the players that were on the team for the past calendar year. KJ Wright first and foremost, as the franchise stalwart, is currently on the market for anyone to sign. While reports came out earlier that both sides had already discussed a new deal, no terms have been agreed to as of yet. It wouldn’t shock me if that was intentional so the Seahawks could use cap space to sign high-profile free agents immediately then fit KJ’s contract in at a later time, but it still makes me nervous that he’s still out there for any team to grab.
The other player that Seattle will look to bring back is Carlos Dunlap, who Seattle cut to open up cap space for other dealings. After coming in and helping transform the Seahawks defense into an above-average unit, I assumed a team would have signed him to a contract already. He had 5.5 sacks during his abbreviated stint in green and blue, and Seattle has no clear-cut replacement for that production. Figuring out a way to open up more cap space and bringing him back would be a shrewd move for this upcoming season.