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Finding Free Agents: Assessing possible EDGE signings for the Seahawks

With free agency just over a month away, it’s time to start identifying targets for Seattle, starting with perhaps their biggest position of need: Pass rush

Wild Card Round - Philadelphia Eagles v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Last week, five of the Seattle Seahawks’ biggest positions of focus this offseason were identified here. Now, we’ll start identifying which players at those positions the Seahawks could target in free agency.

The biggest focus for Seattle at EDGE is retaining their own premier pass rusher, Frank Clark. Beyond Clark, there’s a void. Dion Jordan is a free agent and was a non-factor in 2018, while counting on one of Jacob Martin or Rasheem Green to make a giant step forward in their sophomore season would be a dangerous game to play.

The Seahawks have the cap space to go out and acquire another solid, 8-10+ sack pass rusher, while retaining Clark. In fact, they might even add two in free agency; after all, at Seattle’s peak, they had a quartet of Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Bruce Irvin to depend on. Who might they target?

Ezekiel Ansah

The Seahawks’ defense of 2013 is unlikely to be replicated, if only, because of the incredible depth that team had. Signing Bennett for $4.5M on a one-year deal was a coup, as was the two-year deal given to Avril. However, if we operate under the assumption Seattle will try to double dip on pass rushers again, Ansah could be the Bennett of 2019, coming in on a one-year deal.

Totaling 30 sacks in his first three seasons in the league, Ansah seemed well on his way to a major payday. His fourth season, however, saw him take a large step backwards, as Ansah posted just two sacks in 13 starts. Playing under the fifth-year option in 2017, Ansah seemed to reset his value with a 12 sack season. The Lions didn’t give him a chance to test his market, though, as they placed the franchise tag on him. Ansah couldn’t replicate his bounce back season of 2017 in 2018, as the now 29-year-old defensive end started just two games, collecting four sacks.

Now, Ansah is heading towards his age-30 season without a long-term deal, nor the leverage to negotiate a lucrative one. He may choose to sign a one-year deal on a new team, in an effort to again reset his market value. Both Bennett and Avril parlayed short deals into large paydays, and Ansah could follow suit.

Approximate deal: The closest comparison we have to Ansah’s situation from last offseason was Muhammad Wilkerson—an interior lineman rather than an EDGE—who signed a one-year, $5M deal in an attempt to reset his value following his release from the Jets. There’s a higher premium on EDGEs, and Ansah doesn’t come with the headaches that Wilkerson brought. A one-year deal around $8M could get Ansah in the building.

Brandon Graham

One of the EaglesSuper Bowl heroes will finally hit free agency, after several years of being a rumored cap causality. Graham saw a four-year deal worth $6.5M APY through to the end, and will hit the open market entering his age-31 season, coming off a four sack campaign.

Graham has never hit double-digit sacks in his career (the closest he came was 9.5 sacks in 2017), however Graham’s contributions go well beyond counting stats. He’s a solid run defender, disciplined on the edge—if both Graham and Ansah were signed by the Seahawks, it would likely be Graham starting on early downs, not Ansah. It wouldn’t be a particularly flashy signing, but Graham would be a tremendously steadying presence for Seattle.

Approximate deal: A good comparison in terms of situation and role for Graham would be Adrian Clayborn, who signed a two-year, $10M deal ($5.5M guaranteed) with the Patriots in 2018. Clayborn has never hit double-digit sacks—the closest he came was 9.5 in 2017. Graham’s role, age and production line up with Clayborn’s, and his new deal should as well.

Bruce Irvin

The former Seahawk was potentially going to return to Seattle following his mid-season release from the Raiders, but his hometown Falcons came calling. Now, Irvin hits free agency. While staying with Atlanta may be preferred, one would imagine the Seahawks and Ken Norton Jr. would be a close second.

Irvin doesn’t have the legs to play SAM linebacker in Pete Carroll’s defense anymore, but as a rotational rusher, he would be valuable. At the time of his release from Oakland, Irvin was 33rd in the NFL in pass rush win percentage from the edge. Managing his snaps and allowing him to focus strictly on rushing the passer is the best way to maximize him at this point in his career.

Approximate deal: Irvin has gotten his big contract already, and is likely looking at a number of one- and two-year deals from here on out. A two-year deal around $5M total, with guarantees in the first season, could work for both player and team.

Pernell McPhee

Once upon a time, McPhee represented the Ravens’ hemorrhaging of talent following Joe Flacco’s extension and a Super Bowl victory. McPhee was a terrific rotational rusher, with 7.5 sacks in his final season in Baltimore during the 2014 season.

In his first season with the Bears in 2015, McPhee posted six sacks, continuing on as a valuable sub-package rusher. His output slowly dropped during his final two seasons in Chicago, and it bottomed out in 2018, his one and only season in Washington: Three tackles for loss, zero sacks.

The majority of McPhee’s time has come as a linebacker in a system with three down linemen, however, he absolutely possesses the build and functional strength needed to play with his hand in the ground.

Approximate deal: McPhee, like Irvin, will likely be playing on short-term deals for the remainder of his career. A one- or two-year deal, with guarantees restricted to the first year, would be a wise signing for Seattle. An average per year in the $2M-$2.5M range would be more than palatable.

The free agent class of EDGEs is top heavy, with all the headliners—Clark, DeMarcus Lawrence, Jadeveon Clowney and Trey Flowers—almost certain to re-sign with their current teams. A host of highly intriguing pass rushers are on expiring deals as well—Dee Ford, Shaquil Barrett and Preston Smith—but are restricted to stand-up roles in a 3-4 defense. A handful of rotational rushers should hit the market, but the lack of blue chip talent available means EDGE should remain the Seahawks’ biggest priority in the draft.