By: Evan Peper/Oregon Sports News
While the Seattle Seahawks may be coming off their most disappointing season of the Pete Carroll/Russell Wilson era, there are still current roster members that contributed significantly to what the team did well in 2021. Worryingly, many of those players are about to hit restricted free agency. While the overall structure of the Seahawks may be shaken up in 2022, the team still should prioritize some of these names if they are looking to rebound next season.
First and foremost, we need to talk about Quandre Diggs. Diggs has truly been the backbone of a tumultuous defensive backfield, a ball-hawking free safety that hits like a MAC truck. The injury issues of fellow safety Jamal Adams combined with the constant changing of the guard at corner has left him as the lone standard-bearer for the unit. He has just been elected to his second pro bowl and is coming off a season where he collected five interceptions, knocked down seven passes, and tallied 94 combined tackles.
While he, unfortunately, came off the field injured in Seattle’s regular season finale, early reports indicate that he broke his fibula and dislocated his ankle. While a very nasty injury to see, it luckily is the type of injury that should put him back on his feet by the start of the 2022 season. Seattle should be very interested in retaining him.
Which lies the rub. What do you pay a player of Diggs’ skillset? He’s a good free safety, but he’s not a star in the way Justin Simmons or Harrison Smith has been. He’s not nearly as good as the man he has spiritually replaced, Earl Thomas. He’s a good safety blanket but not a scheme-maker. A fair price point should be something between Adrian Amos’s 4 yr/36m contract handed out in 2019 and Jimmie Wards’ 3 yr/28.5 million contract given in 2020. If the Seahawks resign him, though, they’d be allocating more resources to their safety tandem than anyone else in the sport. Questions about whether the Adams-Diggs partnership has been good enough to justify that are fair to ponder.
Next up is another member of the secondary, DJ Reed. According to Pro Football Focus, Reed emerged last season after the Seahawks picked him up off of waivers, finishing his first season in the blue and green as the 14th rated corner. There was some noise behind that ranking, though, as he only played a handful of complete games in 2020, and even PFF would attest to being wrong about players with limited sample size. Well, Reed put any doubts to rest in 2021, where he notched two interceptions and pitched in 79 tackles. More impressively, he only allowed 51.4% of passes to be completed when targeted. He proved he belonged in this league and repeated his ranking as a top 15 corner, finishing 9th in PFF rankings.
He is far from an ideal number one corner, though, as he’s short (5’9″) and sleight (188 lbs). His coverage skills are amazing, but bigger wide receivers can take advantage of him. Seattle should be very reluctant to hand out a top-end deal, but instead should try and negotiate a number closer to the 3 yr, 40mil deal that Jacksonville handed out to Shaquill Griffin last season, which would be ironic because Griffin is who Reed has replaced but did perform better by all metrics.
Reed and Diggs absolutely should be the top priorities to retain, and only if a team wants to give them a maximum end contract should the Seahawks let them go. The next priority free agent is a much, much different situation. Welcome to the curious case of Rashaad Penny.
Before December 12th, 2020, Penny had only gained 901 rushing yards across a span of four oft-injured seasons. It was like clockwork; Penny would finally show his potential in a game, get hurt immediately, recover, show potential, get hurt. He always had talent. He just never stayed healthy enough to put it all together. Well, until the last five games of 2020, where it looked like the San Diego St. version of himself had stepped out of a time machine and started dominating opposing defenses. He tallied 671 rushing yards, 6 touchdowns and was the spearhead of a Seattle attack that won three of their last five games.
Where did that come from? The more important question, though, is whether it’s repeatable. Penny has had five injuries on his right leg, including an ACL tear. There was a play in the regular season finale where he got tackled awkwardly, and I had no idea whether he would get up again. He’s been injured enough that he’ll be considered fragile any time he is on the field. Is that a type of player Seattle wants to rely on? What will the team be willing to spend on a risk?
The answer HAS to be not much. The Seahawks are already carrying a 6+ million cap hit with another oft-injured running back, Chris Carson. Giving any type of heavy guarantees to another running back who will likely be hurt would be insane. They have to resist the urge to only look at how the last season ended and shift focus to the rest of the resume. It will be a mistake if they give him anything more than a year-long contract offer for more than four or five million. If another team swoops, Seattle has to be willing to let him go.
Looking back at the defense, Seattle’s other starting corner is about to hit free agency. Sydney Jones proved to be a reclamation project worth taking a risk on. After a pretty nasty Achilles rupture during Jones’ pro day, he really struggled to find his place in the NFL as he tried to regain the athleticism he displayed at the University of Washington. After a very rough first couple of years with the Philadelphia Eagles, he finally started looking like himself a bit after he joined the Jacksonville Jaguars. He barely played half a season, though, and was clearly not in the Jaguars’ future plans.
Which is why the Seahawks decided to ship a 6th round pick in exchange for the 4th year corner. The return that Seattle received on that investment was incredibly high, as Jones started 11 games, knocked down 10 passes, and ranked as the 27th best corner according to PFF. That’s pretty good and was a large reason why the Seahawks vastly improved on the defensive end in the second half of the season.
While he hasn’t proven to be the top corner he was billed as coming out of college, he is coming off an above-average season. He deserves to be a starter next year based on his play. Seattle doesn’t have either of their starters returning this year and should make a play to keep Jones. The one-year flier that Seattle gave to Ahkello Witherspoon should be the starting point (one-year, $4 million) but should be willing to tack on years and a couple million per to retain the former Husky, especially if they cannot hold onto Reed.
If it was any year before this one, Duane Brown would easily be Seattle’s top priority. Unfortunately, at age 36, Brown looks to have finally lost a step in his ability to pass block. From 2018-2020, Brown only let up seven sacks and graded out as one of the best pass blockers in the league. In 2021, he gave up eight total sacks and really struggled to handle elite pass rushers. While PFF still gave him a decent grade, he isn’t the pillar of the offensive line anymore.
Seattle doesn’t have a clear heir-apparent for the position, though, and even in his diminished form, Brown was the most consistent lineman on the team. There are not many tackles in the NFL close to Brown’s age, with the two most prominent being Andrew Whitworth of the Los Angeles Rams and Jason Peters of the Chicago Bears. Whitworth was rewarded with a 3 yr/30 mil contract before the 2020 season at the age of 38, and Peters was recently given a 1 yr/1,750,000 mil contract, also at 38. Both numbers reflect their level of play at this age, as Whitworth is still an outstanding tackle, and Peters has fallen to replacement level. Seattle should offer something in the middle, maybe see if Brown is willing to take a 2 yr/$15 mil contract or something close to it.
The last player the Seahawks should seriously look at extending is Rasheem Green. A 3rd round pick in 2018, Green was extremely young coming into the league at 21 years old. He was a supremely gifted athlete but raw; he was a high upside development pick coming out of USC. For the first three years of his contract, though, it looked like the Seahawks had whiffed as Green struggled to be anything more than a rotation lineman. That changed though in 2021. Green played 67% of available snaps and started 16 games. In all that playtime, he chipped in 6.5 sacks, 24 QB pressures, 4 passes defended, to go with 48 combined tackles (6 for loss). Those are real, big boy numbers.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all sunshines and rainbows. Even though his pass rush numbers look decent by the eye test, Green really struggled to win one-on-one matchups. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr enjoyed utilizing him in a hybrid role, playing the edge on early downs then kicking him inside in sure pass-rush situations. He could get overwhelmed by more athletic tackles on the edge and could get physically bullied by larger guards on the interior of the line. It’s why Pro Football Focus graded him so lowly, 102nd out of 113 qualifying edge defenders. He played hard but struggled to be a player that impacted the game down to down.
All that being said, it’s fair to say that a young player taking on his first significant role would struggle to regularly impact the game. He won’t be 25 for another four months, and it’s fair to argue that he’s finally tapping into his athletic gifts. Which begs the question, what’s that worth? If I had to take a stab at it, a 3 yr/$22 mil contract similar to what New England’s Deatrich Wise signed for this offseason could be a baseline. A contributor, but not a star. It’s also short enough that if Green were to fully live up to his potential, he could easily cash in again for more money.
Seattle most likely won’t bring all these players back next year, but they should certainly try. All of them have proven to play valuable roles in positions that the Seahawks aren’t stacked at. There are others that General Manager John Schneider might try to retain as well, such as Gerald Everett, Ethan Pocic, Brandon Shell, Al Woods, Ryan Neal, Bryan Mone and Will Dissly. But the six listed above are all key performers and helped Seattle win the games it did. Also necessary, they all have the potential to make Seattle look really bad if they move on and succeed at other teams.