With free agency opening on March 14, the group of pending free agents will begin to inflate in the coming days and weeks. A wave of players will soon flood the market, deemed too expensive by their current teams to stick around. At some positions, it will be a welcome influx of talent.
Count EDGE among those positions which will need a boost, with the majority of the top end talent certain to be retained by their current clubs. Luckily for pass rush needy teams such as the Seattle Seahawks, more talent should soon be made available. Here are the EDGEs at risk of getting cut (or already have been) who could be a fit in Seattle.
Among all players listed here, Vernon is the most talented and would be the most impactful addition; not a coincidence, he’s also the most likely to remain with his current team. The Giants signed Vernon to a massive, five year, $85M deal with $40M fully guaranteed in 2016. Since then, Vernon’s been a solid, if not great player in New York, with 22 sacks and 28 tackles for loss in three seasons.
The Giants can save $11.5M towards the cap if they release Vernon, though they would incur a dead money charge of $8M. With approximately $28M in cap space currently available, and just Landon Collins needing to be re-signed among their premier talent, New York could wait until next offseason when the dead money is much more palatable ($4M). However, Vernon’s been floated by Over The Cap’s Jason Fitzgerald and NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal as a potential cut.
If Vernon were to hit the open market, the Seahawks would surely be interested. He’s a true three down lineman capable of playing the run and pass, and would make a terrific partner for Frank Clark. Though Vernon had just seven sacks in 2018, his pressure rate of 11.1 reflects the type of disruptive presence he is, and the type of rusher Pete Carroll desires—someone who affects the quarterback.
All-Pro vs All-Pro: Olivier Vernon goes speed bull vs Jason Peters. Violent hat & hands sends Peters backwards. After Peters recovers, Vernon finishes with a club/arm over! #PassRush #NYGiants pic.twitter.com/Rs4G3iNV5P— DLineVids (@DLineVids) October 12, 2018
A footnote in the Rams’ busy 2018 offseason was a trade that sent Quinn to the Dolphins, ridding themselves of the $22M remaining on his contract at the time. Now, Miami themselves are likely to get rid of Quinn, saving just under $13M in the process.
The Dolphins pending release of Quinn is a reflection of the realities of the NFL rather than Quinn’s play last season. In just his second season as a stand up rusher, Quinn registered 6.5 sacks, 35 pressures and nine tackles for loss. More impressive was his NFL-leading pass rush win rate of 40 percent, a staggering number and five percent higher than the next closest rusher (Jadeveon Clowney).
Quinn will be in his age-29 season in 2019 and can certainly still help a team. Landing in Seattle would allow Quinn to avoid double teams, like he enjoyed when playing with Aaron Donald, as well as giving him a chance to play his former team in L.A. twice a season.
The Eagles’ depth inevitably had to take a hit following their Super Bowl victory in 2018, and their inability to retain Curry was a part of that. As a free agent, Curry signed a three year, $23M deal with the Buccaneers, only to be cut after one season. On an entirely terrible defense last season, Curry was a disappointment for Tampa Bay: 2.5 sacks, five tackles for loss and a pressure rate of 9.4.
Similar to his former teammate Brandon Graham, a deal between the Seahawks and Curry would likely be one of two EDGE additions this spring, as Curry is much more of a depth addition than difference maker like a Vernon or Ezekiel Ansah. Curry has been a starter in just one season of his career (2017); the most productive season of his career came in a year in which he played 32 percent of the defense’s snaps.
Depth in a pass rushing group is a must in the modern NFL, and it’s something Seattle currently lacks. The signing of Curry would be unlikely to inject double-digit sacks into the group, but it would absolutely provide depth.
In writing about free agent pass rushers the Seahawks could target, I likened Graham’s production and situation to Clayborn, who signed a two year, $10M deal with the Patriots last spring. Clayborn plummeted back to Earth after a 9.5-sack 2017, producing just 2.5 sacks and three tackles for loss in 2018.
Adrian Clayborn sets his pass rush up with a jab step. Once the OL punches, he goes cross chop/club/rip for the sack. If you beat the hands, you beat the man!— DLineVids (@DLineVids) December 29, 2018
via @WillieCashmore pic.twitter.com/0dS0ZJphyY
Now, New England can release Clayborn and save $3.9M, while incurring a cap hit of $2M. The Patriots have $15.7M in cap space currently, and need to sign Trey Flowers, their best defensive player, to a new deal. Clayborn is a reliable edge defender who can play against the run and pass, but could be released to make the room needed to round out a roster expected to make another Super Bowl charge.
Clayborn isn’t a flashy player by any stretch, nor would he particularly move the needle. However, in the name of restoring the depth that left Seattle, he would be a solid addition to the Seahawks rotation.
Through four seasons in the NFL, Beasley has remained an entirely puzzling player. Though he wasn’t aided by Dan Quinn and the Falcons repeatedly switching his position, from defensive end to linebacker and back again, Beasley has thoroughly disappointed in three of his four seasons. The one season he didn’t disappoint, however, Beasley led the league in sacks with 15.5 and was named a first-team All-Pro.
Now set to play 2019 under his fifth-year option worth $12.8M, it’s expected Atlanta will cut ties with the former first round selection. If Beasley does indeed hit the open market, he could be a highly intriguing option for Seattle. He has familiarity with Carroll’s defense, having played his entire career in Quinn’s system. Additionally, he clears all of the Seahawks’ athletic thresholds at the position—with the lone exception being arm length, where he falls 1/2” short—and is a 99th percentile athlete.
Above all else, Seattle prioritizes the three cone drill with their EDGEs. Three times in the Carroll era, the Seahawks have taken the pass rusher who posted the best three cone in their class. Frank Clark was one of those three, but only because Beasley and his three cone of 6.91 seconds was grouped in with the linebackers, as opposed to defensive linemen. The fit is obvious, as is the need for Seattle. Beasley has an element of risk to him, but the upside is extremely high.
It’s worth noting another big name pass rusher likely to be cut, Justin Houston, would be extremely unlikely to land with the Seahawks. The reason for Houston’s expected release—besides his $21.1M cap hit—is his fit in new Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 defense. If Seattle’s going to give a free agent pass rusher a sizable deal, regardless of length, it isn’t going to be for one who’s a questionable fit within the scheme.
Despite the likelihood of the top pass rushers being re-signed by their current teams, the Seahawks and their $51.9M in cap space should have an impressive group of EDGEs to target next month. Retaining Clark is the top priority, and once that’s accomplished, Seattle can begin to bring in some help for him.