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

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Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

In examining the upcoming class of free agent linebackers, it became apparent the Seattle Seahawks best course of action would be to re-sign K.J. Wright on a short-term deal. The options currently set to become available to the Seahawks when free agency opens don’t move the needle, and most would simply be stop-gap solutions.

However, as more players at every position invade the market following their release from their current clubs, the free agent class will become more appealing. This extends to linebacker, where at least one above-average starter should be expected to be released in the coming days.

Bud Dupree

Though for the most part, this exercise is to find a replacement for Wright at the second level of Seattle’s defense, Dupree is an extremely intriguing option for the Seahawks on the other side of Bobby Wagner. The role of the SAM linebacker in Pete Carroll’s defense is unique; ideally, the defender should be as comfortable dropping into a zone as he is rushing the passer. Here’s how Carroll explained the role in 2013, following Bruce Irvin’s switch to the position:

He’s extremely versatile, and that’s why we’ve loved him from the start. He’s really fast. He’s 250 pounds, and he’s exactly fitting the right kind of body type to play outside ‘backer in the 3-4 system. We’re a 4-3 personnel system that plays 3-4 looks. He’s extremely valuable for us.

The unique skill set needed to play the position is why I believed Barkevious Mingo would be a great addition, and at times in 2018, he appeared to be. However, his snaps dwindled down the stretch, and now Seattle can save $4.8M by cutting him—which seems likely after a season in which he played just 52 percent of the defense’s snaps. And so, the Seahawks’ search for a long-term answer at SAM would continue. Enter Bud Dupree.

Dupree represented a change in philosophy in Pittsburgh, as the Steelers began to pursue great athletes as aggressively as any team. Dupree was just that entering the NFL, testing in the 97th percentile. However, after four seasons, Dupree’s largely been a disappointment. Playing predominantly as a rusher, the 26-year-old has 20 sacks to his name—good, but not great. On a team with a Super Bowl window which is rapidly closing, it’s unlikely Pittsburgh will pay Dupree $9.2M on a fifth year option for good but not great play.

As an outside linebacker in the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme, Dupree has essentially been playing the same role that would be asked of him as Seattle’s SAM. With the experience and athletic profile, Dupree would make a great fit. Still just 26 and having flashed upside as a rusher, Dupree could not only fill a unique position, but become the long-term answer the Seahawks have been searching for since Irvin left.

Jamie Collins

Much like how Dupree would be a long-term solution at SAM, Collins could be a long-term partner for Bobby Wagner on the weakside. The versatile, athletic linebacker has two years and $25.5M left on the deal he signed with Cleveland in 2017, however the Browns can get out of the deal while taking a dead money hit of just $3.75M. Collins represents the old Cleveland regime, at a time when they had to overpay to bring talent in. That’s no longer the case, and with Joe Schobert, Christian Kirksey and Genard Avery on the roster, Collins is surplus to requirements.

For as talented as Collins is—and he is tremendously talented—his (potential) departure from the Browns simply won’t be a blow to an upstart Cleveland team. Collins was often knocked for effort during his time on the Browns, and was traded from the Patriots under mysterious circumstances.

However, if a team can unlock Collins and get him playing at his best week-in, week-out, he would be a tremendous addition to any defense. Collins can set the edge, rush the passer, drop into zones, and cover tight ends and running backs down the field. He’s athletic, rangy and has all the makings of a modern linebacker. Should Carroll and Seattle believe they can be the ones to get Collins playing consistently, he could be a cornerstone player for the foreseeable future.

Two other linebackers expected to hit free agency in the next couple of weeks are Sean Lee and Brandon Marshall. Both linebackers would theoretically fit alongside Wagner, but like Thomas Davis, for the money they would command, the Seahawks would be better off simply running it back with Wright for another season or two.

Ultimately, that seems like the best direction. However, with Carroll’s coaching tree spread to Atlanta, L.A. and San Francisco—the latter two teams in need of a linebacker—Seattle could be priced out of Wright’s services quickly. If that happens, they shouldn’t have a shortage of options to replace him.