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Pass-rushers top Seahawks’ wish list as free agency gets set to start

The Seattle Seahawks entered the 2013 offseason in a similar position to the one they’re in now.

Badly in need of pass-rushers — plural — they struck free-agent gold with Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, who helped the Seahawks ride the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense all the way to a Super Bowl XLVIII victory in the first of their five seasons in Seattle. Bennett and Avril formed one of the league’s top defensive end duos and will go down as arguably the two best free-agent signings in franchise history.

What’s more, the deals Seattle signed them to in 2013 carried a combined annual average of only $11.3 million per season.

Maybe general manager John Schneider and cap guru/contract negotiator Matt Thomas can find similar bargains this year in a deep pool of veteran pass-rushers. But they might have to spend some serious cash — and maybe some draft capital for a tagged player — in order to improve a defense that was one of the worst in the league last season at getting after opposing quarterbacks.

That could mean re-signing Jadeveon Clowney and adding a second pass-rusher to pair with him, or letting Clowney walk and putting the $20 million or so per year it would have taken to keep him toward two players who are legitimate double-digit-sack threats.

Either way, the Seahawks figure to need more than one stud pass-rusher lest they experience a repeat of 2019, when they had Clowney and not much else in that department. That need would be even more pronounced if they lose Jarran Reed and/or Quinton Jefferson in free agency.

Finding immediate-impact pass-rushers in the draft is easier said than done for teams picking near the end of the first round like the Seahawks, who have the No. 27 pick and eight selections in all. They got a reminder of that last year, when L.J. Collier gave them next to nothing as a rookie after he was drafted No. 29 overall. The Seahawks need Collier, Rasheem Green and Shaquem Griffin to take steps forward in 2020.

But the more significant improvements to their pass rush might have to come from an outside veteran or two. Here are some options, with a focus on edge players.

Tag-and-trade candidates

The Seahawks are familiar with this route, having tagged and traded Frank Clark last year before acquiring another tagged pass-rusher in Clowney. The wide range of draft-pick compensation exchanged in those trades makes it tough to predict what the Seahawks would have to give up for the Jaguars’ Yannick Ngakoue or the Ravens’ Matthew Judon, who could be tag-and-trade candidates.

To acquire Clark before last year’s draft, the Chiefs gave up the No. 29 overall pick and a 2020 second-round pick (the teams also swapped 2019 third-rounders). When they acquired Clowney in September, the Seahawks gave up a 2020 third-round pick plus Barkevious Mingo and Jacob Martin, two rotational players. San Francisco got Dee Ford before last year’s draft for a 2020 second-round pick, which was like getting him for a 2019 third-rounder.

A tag for Judon would be worth between $16 million and $19 million depending on whether he’s designated as an outside linebacker or defensive end. Whatever price that ends up being would mark the starting point for negotiations on a long-term deal. Ngakoue (37.5 sacks in four seasons) is a more accomplished player than Judon (28.5 in that span), and as such he would likely cost more to acquire and to extend.

Upper-tier free agents

While the Seahawks have inherited sizable salaries in recent trades (Jimmy Graham, Sheldon Richardson, Duane Brown and Clowney), the $9 million base value of Ziggy Ansah‘s one-year deal in 2019 represents the highest average of any contract they’ve given to an outside free agent in at least the past five years. So making a significant financial splash on any one player would be a departure from their usual M.O. in free agency, but it might be a necessary one.

Dante Fowler Jr. and Arik Armstead are in line to command well north of $10 million per year as players in their mid-20s coming off career seasons. Veteran Robert Quinn matched Fowler with 11.5 sacks last season and easily leads the league in pass rush win rate over the past three seasons at 30.9% (Joey Bosa is next at 27%). Vic Beasley Jr. has a 15.5-sack season on his résumé and has played in a Falcons defense that’s similar to Seattle’s. Everson Griffen played for Pete Carroll at USC and has remained productive in his early 30s.

Ten of the top 25 finishers in PRWR last season — including Clowney — are not under contract for 2020 (see chart).

Former Seahawks

Bennett, who’s 34 and coming off a 6.5-sack season, told Joe Fann of NBC Sports Northwest this week that he’d be open to returning to Seattle if he decides to continue playing in 2020.

Bruce Irvin‘s Twitter replies suggest he would be as well. The 32-year-old Irvin had a career-high 8.5 sacks in 13 games last season. His ability to play strongside linebacker on early downs could have added appeal with Mychal Kendricks‘ status uncertain. Another former Seahawk, 28-year-old Benson Mayowa, is coming off a career-best seven sacks and could be a bargain addition.

The circumstances that led to Bennett’s somewhat messy exit from Seattle after the 2017 season could work against a reunion. Then again, that didn’t stop the Seahawks from bringing back Marshawn Lynch when injuries decimated their backfield late last year.

The Seahawks need pass-rushers about as badly as they needed running backs last December. Fortunately for them, they’ll have plenty of options.

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