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After years of heavy investment, the Seahawks defense must significantly improve in 2020

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Cynthia Frelund of the NFL Network released her ranking of defensive lines. The Seahawks ranked last. Setting aside how she reached that conclusion, it’s not exactly surprising. I wasn’t trolled. I wasn’t click-baited. I clicked on the link because I was pretty sure Seattle would rank last and they did.

It’s hard to envision how Seattle could have the worst defensive line in the NFL and still end up with a good defense, but they must, they really must this year. With due appreciation for what he’s done, and acknowledgment that he is the best head coach in Seahawks history, if Pete Carroll cannot improve Seattle’s defense, he’s not doing his job.

For the past three seasons, Seattle’s defense has been no better than average. By DVOA they finished 18th last year, 14th in 2018 and 13th in 2017. A charitable interpretation of those three seasons is that 2017 was a transitional season in which the last members of Seattle’s great defenses were either injured or past their prime. This precipitated an unavoidable decline in Seattle’s overall performance as a defense. This decline could be seen as a justifiable cost of retaining Seattle’s best defenders through their prime seasons. The players and their agents, quite fairly, asked in exchange pay for some of their post-prime seasons too.

Allowing for that charitable interpretation, the rebuild should be all but over. Three seasons is an eternity in the NFL. It encompasses more than a few careers. And the Seahawks have been anything but stingy in pursuing defensive talent.

Here’s the raw investment of draft resources Seattle has invested into offense, defense and special teams since 2017.

Factoring in trades Seattle has made for Duane Brown, Sheldon Richardson, Jadeveon Clowney, Jacob Hollister etc. does not really change the distribution.

These charts would look even more lopsided in favor of the defense if we were to anticipate the draft value spent in acquiring Jamal Adams. Defense in the above chart represents 2,258.1 units of draft value. Adams could potentially cost Seattle 401.4 to 1,041 additional units. Which in translation is anywhere from costing Seattle the third overall pick to costing Seattle something in excess of an entire draft class.

Seattle’s 2020 defense is the realization of a long-term plan by Carroll. It’s built from the outside in. Its best players play positions of debatable importance: middle linebacker and strong safety. Given that, it has to at the very least stop the run. But it should be good. Not only has Seattle invested heavily through the draft into improving the defense, the Seahawks’ greatest non-player resource, the head coach, also contributes to the defense’s performance, and very possibly at the expense of the offense.

I think we all know of the turmoil which looms after the end of the 2022 season. By trading for Adams, Seattle is undeniably going for it. Even Russell Wilson, who we’re all in the habit of thinking of as impossibly young, is likely nearing the end of his prime. Serious contention, not fringe contention, not contention contingent on a dozen unreliable factors, not a miracle run owing to the favor of Tyche, but serious contention made possible by a great team would justify Seattle spending so heavily on defense for so long.

Carroll likes to say “you’re either competing or you’re not.” After three years stuck in the doldrums, finding wind neither favorable nor foundering, it’s time this defense start competing again. Because you’re not gonna convince me, and you’re not gonna convince any other serious Seahawks fan, that another finish in the teens is good enough.