As the offseason has progressed and free agent activity has skidded to a halt, the Seahawks have largely ceased making additions. Though their most important free agent, Jadeveon Clowney, remains unsigned, it is increasingly unlikely he returns to Seattle. John Schneider has said, multiple times, that the team has moved on, and it has possibly been months since the two sides last talked.
However, while the large majority of the Seahawks’ roster is settled, there is still a move to be made—a big one.
Pete Carroll and John Schneider’s time in Seattle has provided 10 years’ evidence that the Seahawks will identify a glaring need, and be bold—in one way or another—in acquiring players to address that need. Exiting the 2019 season, Seattle’s glaring need was on the defensive line. While they have replenished much-needed depth in free agency and looked long-term through the draft, they haven’t yet added a game-altering talent.
The elusive Clowney is that, but so too is the Chiefs’ Chris Jones. And following the Seahawks’ offseason business, it’s Jones, not Clowney, who makes the most sense for Seattle.
The Seahawks have completely restocked their defensive end group, with multiple options at both LEO and 5-tech on early downs, passing downs, and as situational rushers. In the short-term, Benson Mayowa and Bruce Irvin will provide a boost as bona fide producers, with Rasheem Green developing into a reliable rotational player, as well. In the long-term, Green, L.J. Collier, Darrell Taylor, and Alton Robinson could potentially make up the core of both ends.
The roster construction, in 2020 and beyond, suggests a high-impact addition would be better served in the interior of the defensive line than on the edge.
In looking inward and evaluating Seattle’s defensive line, Jones’ fit is obvious. Looking outward, at the team’s most frequent opponents in the Rams, Cardinals, and 49ers, Jones’ impact can’t be understated.
In games against Arizona, with a blossoming high-powered offense, Jones’ alignment from the inside could wreak havoc. Kliff Kingsbury and the Air Raid utilize wide offensive line splits, which allows for interior rushers to shoot gaps or take on guards in one-on-ones. Jones would have ample opportunity to disrupt Kyler Murray and the Cards’ offense. Crucially, too, would be his high-level athleticism, helping him to stick with the joystick Murray.
Against L.A. and San Francisco, where outside zone is the bread and butter of both offenses, Jones’ ability to shoot gaps and penetrate, or defend laterally, would help to defend a scheme that has gashed the Seahawks in recent years. His ability to collapse the pocket and pressure quarterbacks would be a massive boost in defending two quarterbacks in Jared Goff and Jimmy Garoppolo whose production falls off drastically when pressured.
Since 2016, Jones has been right there with DeForest Buckner as the best defensive tackle in the NFL behind Aaron Donald. Here’s how the three compare:
Donald: 53 sacks, 215 hurries, 145 QB hits, 71 knockdowns, 276 pressures, 56 TFLs, and 13 forced fumbles.
Buckner: 28.5 sacks, 116 hurries, 86 QB hits, 48 knockdowns, 155 pressures, 23 TFLs, and 3 forced fumbles.
Jones: 33 sacks, 118 hurries, 67 QB hits, 39 knockdowns, 157 pressures, 18 TFLs, and 6 forced fumbles.
There is the question of why Kansas City would be inclined to deal an elite defender ahead of his age-26 season. With less than a month to strike a long-term deal with Jones before he plays out 2020 on the franchise tag, reports suggest the two sides haven’t spoken in three months. They’re pressed up against the cap already, with under $5 million in space (though an extension with Jones would likely lower his ‘20 cap hit), and have Patrick Mahomes’ mega-extension still to come. As Nate Taylor of The Athletic wrote in April, “Mahomes’ deal will happen, and the team will do its best to retain Jones.” Having already given long-term deals to several key players, there appears to be at least some hesitation to add a Jones extension to the books.
The best-case scenario in a trade, for Seattle, would be to put together a package that includes Jarran Reed. Though the Seahawks do need to add a defensive tackle either way, Reed is too expensive to be a part-time player. The Chiefs could be interested in Reed for a few reasons, too: he’s an easy—if not lesser—replacement for Jones, he has previous production playing with Frank Clark, and Andy Reid has never hesitated to take on players with red flags off the field. However, Reed’s inclusion in any trade would be unlikely—his departure would leave Seattle with $5 million in dead cap hits in 2020 and ‘21. A more likely package would be made up entirely of picks, headlined by the team’s 2021 first-round selection.
For as talented as Jones is, there is a valid argument against trading for a player who needs an extension. The incoming player immediately has a tremendous amount of leverage, as seen previously in the Bears’ acquisition of Khalil Mack (became the highest-paid EDGE by $4.5 million AAV), the Colts’ acquisition of Buckner (topped Fletcher Cox, then the second-highest-paid DT, by almost $4 million AAV) and Bill O’Brien’s trade for Laremy Tunsil (topped the previous high among tackles by $4 million AAV).
The Seahawks would need to be prepared to at least match Buckner’s four-year, $84 million contract with Indianapolis to get an extension done with Jones and not risk losing him next spring. They are, however, in a far better position to do so than Kansas City. Seattle’s set to have $67.8 million in cap space next spring, with only one player in line for top-of-his-position money: Shaquill Griffin. Beyond Griffin, it’s mid-priced veterans coming off the books, such as Bradley McDougald or Bruce Irvin, and bottom-of-the-roster depth players to be replaced or re-signed. (Poona Ford, a restricted free agent in 2021, would likely be able to be retained for a second-round tender, which would come in below $4 million.)
They took their medicine over the last couple of years, eating dead money and cleaning up the books for the future. Now they can benefit.
For any perceived loss of leverage or value in trading for a player in Jones’ situation, there are clear gains, too. Mack was the driving force for a defense that improved from 14th to 1st in DVOA. Buckner is going to be the final piece of a young, talented Colts defense. Clark came alive in the playoffs and was a crucial part of Kansas City’s Super Bowl run. Tunsil allowed eight fewer sacks than his predecessor, helping to keep Deshaun Watson healthy.
Similarly, Jones would make the Seahawks’ defense so much better. Seattle currently has a stable of secondary and tertiary pass rushers, something they lacked last year. To add Jones would be to raise the defense’s ceiling and floor by a considerable amount. It wouldn’t be just adding the production of Jones. It would, in turn, increase the production of every player around them. Jones was double-teamed on just under 70 percent of snaps last season. His presence would allow talented rotational pieces to benefit from his disruptive play and gravitational pull.
The chaotic nature of the 2020 offseason had numerous unexpected consequences, one of which was the Seahawks, in mid-June, left without Clowney or a similarly talented replacement. While they did a superb job adding sorely needed depth, bold action is required for the defense to reach its ceiling this year and moving forward. Unafraid of taking a big swing, Schneider and Carroll should do so once again, and add Chris Jones to a team capable of contending for the Super Bowl.