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Cap Casualty Connections: Matching potential cuts at DL with the Seahawks

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Divisional Round - Jacksonville Jaguars v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The only acceptable reason for the Seattle Seahawks to come away from free agency and the draft without two difference makers at EDGE, is if they make a splash along the interior of the defensive line. Over the past several years, the Seahawks have been investing heavily, trying to find a dynamic force inside, whether it was the selection of Malik McDowell or the trade for Sheldon Richardson. Though Seattle swung and missed on both players (for varying reasons), they haven’t come away completely empty, as Jarran Reed made an incredible leap in 2018.

Should the Seahawks still desire a penetrative, blue chip talent inside, then the veteran cut market will be their friend. Several high profile, high performing defensive tackles could be joining free agency.

Timmy Jernigan

Acquired by Philadelphia during the Eagles’ masterclass in how to maximize a Super Bowl window during the 2017 offseason, Jernigan fit right into a deep defensive line en route to a championship. In 2018, the 26-year-old was limited to just five games (regular season and playoffs) as a result of a murky situation. Jernigan suffered a herniated disc, which was deemed by Philadelphia as a non-football injury.

As a result, Jernigan waived his future guarantees on a four year, $48M extension that was less than a year old in order to keep his roster spot. After missing time with back spasms following his initial return, the Eagles have reason to be concerned moving forward. Now, Philadelphia can rid themselves of Jernigan’s $11M base salary in 2019 with ease.

When healthy, Jernigan is a supremely talented defensive tackle who can collapse the pocket against the pass, as well as stand up against the run, while playing across the defensive front. He has the potential to be a perennial five- or six-sack defender, whether he’s starting or playing in a rotation.

An injury and a bizarre situation will likely cost Jernigan what’s left on his first big NFL contract, and he’s unlikely to get another immediately. Instead, a one year, prove-it deal should be in his future. Seattle has the need, and the cap space to give it to him.

Gerald McCoy

One of the more surprising bits of news in this young offseason was ESPN’s Jenna Laine reporting a “real chance” the Buccaneers will cut McCoy this offseason. The soon to be 31-year-old has three years and $38.4M remaining on the monster extension he signed in 2014, but without any guaranteed money remaining, Tampa Bay can get out should they choose. McCoy’s remained healthy in recent seasons and has continued to post consistent 6-8 sack seasons, but with a scheme change on the horizon, McCoy may no longer fit.

It would be a shock to see McCoy recoup the $38.4M remaining on his current deal should he sign elsewhere, however, he could certainly fetch a sizable one or two year deal. Ndamukong Suh’s one year, $14M deal with the Rams could serve as a measuring stick. A deal approaching $14M could price the Seahawks out of the running, but depending on how Frank Clark and Jarran Reed’s contract situation shake out this offseason, they could make a one year deal work (or a two year, front-loaded contract).

McCoy has been a fantastic player and leader for the Buccaneers since he arrived as the third pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Though his peak seasons may be behind him, he would be a tremendous addition to any defense. Adding McCoy to a group with Reed and Poona Ford would make for the best defensive tackle group Seattle’s had since 2013.

Malik Jackson

After winning Super Bowl 50 as a member of the Broncos, Jackson signed a six year, $85.5M contract with the Jaguars as the headliner of that free agent class. In three seasons with Jacksonville, Jackson has justified the deal, playing every game and maintaining his level of play as a disruptive force inside. However, after a failed Super Bowl push, the Jaguars must clear cap space, and can save $38.5M over the remaining three years of Jackson’s deal, while incurring a dead money hit of just $6M if they cut him.

Jackson himself acknowledged he’s likely gone from Jacksonville, and like McCoy, his best chance at making back the $38.5M he’ll miss out on if/when he’s released would be by taking a couple shorter deals. However, that may not be the direction he goes. Jackson told The Florida Times-Union in December, after admitting his time was likely up with the Jaguars, “I’m not trying to be a journeyman by any means.”

Like McCoy, Jackson is a consistent, 5-8 sack threat from the inside. And, though 2018 was his least productive season since 2014, Jackson still finished 10th in ESPN’s pass rush win rate among defensive tackles. Jackson is an impactful interior player who could play all three downs, if needed. On the Seahawks, he would be kept fresh and maximized on passing downs.

A three or four year deal, which enables Seattle to get out prior to the last season of the deal, could allow Jackson to avoid becoming a journeyman, and instead become a valuable part of the Seahawks core.

The emergence of Reed and Ford in 2018 has Seattle feeling good about the team’s future at defensive tackle, but needing to beef up the pass rush, the Seahawks could add a difference maker inside. If that’s the direction they choose to go, the cut market will offer several outstanding options.