The 2021 NFL Draft just wrapped up Saturday afternoon. 259 players were handed NFL contracts, launching a whole new generation of players to compete on the country’s biggest stage. There will be superstars, tons of busts, and many players that will ply their trade in perpetual anonymity. Conventional wisdom in recent years has dictated that the teams that have the most success tend to have the most picks, the proverbial “most bites at the apple.” The Seattle Seahawks, as is their want, decided to go against the grain – trading four of their seven 2021 draft picks during the season for proven veterans. One was during the offseason, Jamal Adams, one during the season, Carlos Dunlap, and one was after the season, Gabe Jackson. While none of these players are younger than 25, Seattle was smart to make these moves given their recent track record in the draft. Nothing is more valuable than finding young, cost-controlled talent – but John Schneider and the Seattle front office have failed to find many of those gems in recent years. This team feels close to a breaking point, given Russell Wilson’s offseason comments. Schneider’s current biggest sell to Russell for a long-term commitment has been his successful trade record.
We’ll start with Jamal Adams, not just because Seattle spent the most capital for him but because he has changed the way Seattle does things defensively at a fundamental level. Seattle went from a team that played more base defense than anyone else in football in 2019 (an old-fashioned scheme that plays three linebackers instead of three cornerbacks) to one of the most blitz-heavy teams in the league. In 2019, Seattle struggled against both the pass and run as they could not properly cover modern offenses. Adams changed everything for them, especially since he was fully healthy in the back half of 2020, which allowed the team to lean into his strengths.
Seattle had 37 sacks in the final 10 games of the season. 7.5 of those were from Adams, which is insane when you consider that Adams is a safety, emblematic of the impact he has made since arriving with the Seahawks. He has turned a plain, rigid Cover 3 defense into a team that would send extra rushers on 33.5% of their snaps, good for 11th in the league. Over those final 10 games where the Seattle pass rush came to life, the Seahawks ranked as a top 10 unit in the league in total defense.
The cost to attain him, though, was high, as Seattle traded this year’s first and third-round picks, as well as another first next year. He is also about to become very expensive, as he is entering the last year of his rookie contract. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to make an argument that anyone that the Seahawks would select with those picks would have anywhere near that type of impact, and his high price tag will reflect that.
Carlos Dunlap, the Seahawk’s midseason acquisition, was brought in for the low price of a 7th round pick. At 31 with a big contract, the Cincinnati Bengals were willing to dump him cheaply, especially since he was losing snaps to a young roster. Seattle bet big that Dunlap still had something to give, which is a bet they won handily. Debuting against the Buffalo Bills in week nine, Dunlap would contribute 5.0 sacks, 14 quarterback hits, and 6 tackles for loss during the 2020 stretch run. Along with a healthy Adams, he helped transform Seattle’s moribund pass rush into one of the most dangerous units in the league. He was precisely the piece they needed, as defenses were forced to key in on him with chips and double teams, opening up holes for other rushers or blitzers to make their way to the QB. If that was all he contributed, packed his bags, and left after Seattle decided to cut him, Seattle would’ve more than gotten their return for a measly seventh-round pick. Instead, the Seahawks saved costs by releasing him and, due to an ugly COVID-depressed market, were able to keep him for a two-year, $16.6 million contract with $8.5 million guaranteed. It’s possible to find gems in the seventh round, but none will contribute at the level Dunlap will during this upcoming season.
The last trade Seattle made using its 2021 draft capital was flipping their fifth-rounder for offensive guard Gabe Jackson from the Oakland Raiders. While he is the only player covered in this article that has yet to play a snap for the Seahawks, his impact this coming season is clear – keep Russell Wilson upright. Entering his age 30 season, Jackson was a stalwart for years on the Raider offensive line. Jackson gave up a whopping zero sacks over 1062 snaps in 2020 and just 13 across seven seasons. While his run blocking has been hit or miss across his career, he is still an upgrade over what Seattle has thrown out in previous seasons. By acquiring him, Seattle eliminates the risk of an overmatched rookie or career backup handling the right guard spot on the line. Another sign of a Seahawk change in philosophy is that he’s more known for his ability to prevent sacks rather than move people off the line of scrimmage. Coach Pete Carroll is known to prefer pounding the rock, so spending a draft pick on a player that has a reputation for not doing that could signal a further shift away from his tried and true methods. It could also hint at new OC Shane Waldron’s intentions, possibly adapting the Los Angeles Ram’s scheme to Russell Wilson’s strengths.
Trading away draft picks come at a cost, most notably cap space. Seattle was already up against the ceiling and still have yet to give Adams what will most likely be a market resetting contract. Also, a casualty of this philosophy was Shaquill Griffin, Seattle’s pro bowl corner, who fled to Jacksonville this summer for a much more lucrative deal than what the Seahawks could offer. This article also isn’t to discredit the Seahawks’ players actually drafted, as D’wayne Eskridge, Tre Brown, or Stone Forsythe all could emerge as prominent players. Eskridge, in particular, looks to have already been given the third wide receiver role, which means he’ll be seeing a lot of the field in 2021. But they are far from sure things, and Seattle’s Russell Wilson clock is now ticking. The team has been in the playoffs for the last couple of years but has been far from title contenders. This team needs to strike lightning soon to ensure they don’t start to have an Aaron Rodgers situation emerge as it has for the Packers this offseason. Betting on established difference makers is the route Seattle has decided to take, and it has started to bear fruit.