Thursday morning brought news Seahawks fans had long been waiting for: They were back in the market for a pass rusher.
After wisely filling out their defensive line rotation in free agency, adding secondary and tertiary rushers sorely missed in 2019, there was the sense they still lacked a clear-cut lead rusher—despite the overwhelming numbers at the position. A Jadeveon Clowney-sized hole remained and, while it’s unlikely Clowney will be the one to fill it, Seattle has begun sizing up other pass rushers to do so.
NFL Network’s Mike Silver reported interest from the Seahawks in both Everson Griffen and Clay Matthews, with Clowney in the rear-view mirror.
While the Seahawks appear to have moved on from Jadeveon Clowney, who wants more than they're willing to pay, the team has interest in two veteran free agent pass rushers: LB Clay Matthews and DE Everson Griffen. A deal could happen soon.— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) August 6, 2020
Interest in Matthews, a long-time thorn in the side of Seattle and owner of too many late hits on Russell Wilson, understandably gets a certain reaction (and it isn’t a pleasant one). However, Matthews has remained a disruptive pass rusher well into his 30s even while changing teams and positions.
In 2019, Matthews enjoyed the luxury of playing with Aaron Donald and co. to turn in a strong bounce-back campaign, with eight sacks and 37 pressures. Those are good enough numbers as a part-time player, but the per-snap numbers show an even greater impact, as he registered a pressure on 14.3 percent of rushes. (For comparison, Griffen hit eight sacks as well, but his pressure rate came in at 11.7, on nearly 250 more pass rush snaps.)
Matthews would presumably be able to replicate his role as a rotational pass rusher for the Seahawks. With many tools in his bag, he should continue to produce despite waning athleticism. For a sack-hungry team, Matthews would be a positive addition on the field. However, there is the lingering question of his fit on the roster.
The easiest thing to point to when doubting a Clowney reunion is the simple numbers at EDGE. There are at least five and perhaps as many as seven EDGEs locked into Seattle’s roster currently. While some of those players can play elsewhere, such as L.J. Collier inside at 3-tech or Bruce Irvin at SAM, it remains a crowded group.
What isn’t crowded, however, is the Seahawks’ choices of interior rushers. Jarran Reed will man one spot, but the spot next to him is less concrete. After the draft in April, Pete Carroll said the expectation was for Collier and Rasheem Green to contribute inside, but there’s an element of projection there. While Green’s development in 2019 was encouraging, his play strength isn’t yet at a point where he can win inside consistently. Collier, meanwhile, remains an unknown.
Enter Everson Griffen.
Griffen has enjoyed an excellent decade-long career with the Vikings, almost exclusively as an edge rusher. Last season, however, he began to slide inside on occasion and wreaked havoc. Even at age-32, Griffen’s short-area quickness is too much for most opposing guards.
In Seattle, Griffen could join Reed inside in certain situations, giving the defensive line a truly disruptive rusher flanked by bona fide producers, such as Bruce Irvin. If Collier or Green proves to be viable options inside, Griffen would simply add to a group on the outside comprised of productive veterans and developing younger players.
Despite his advanced age and one of the best EDGEs in the league opposite him in Danielle Hunter last year, Griffen was still relied upon against the run and pass, playing nearly 80 percent of defensive snaps. At 74.5 career sacks, however, rushing the passer remains Griffen’s specialty. With many different tricks in his bag, Griffen’s hand usage is outstanding and he possesses a tremendous spin move.
The Seahawks deserve a pass rusher with a nasty spin move in his bag after Dwight Freeney's brief time in Seattle pic.twitter.com/AO8uxXdyJi— Alistair Corp (@byalistaircorp) August 6, 2020
So, while Matthews may have had a more productive 2019 on a per-snap basis, Griffen would be able to provide a similar impact on the edge, while enabling the Seahawks’ pass rush to hit its ceiling by reducing inside. Either player would provide Seattle with a needed shot in the arm, but Griffen would do wonders for completing the Seahawks’ rebuilt defensive line.