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Seahawks 2021 pre-draft checkup: Aspiring Super Bowl contender seeks starting linebacker

Part 4 of a 9-part series

New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

I fear that the Seahawks might be misinterpreting the concept of a “4-3” defense. They currently have 4 linebackers on the roster with 3 starting positions to fill. The problem is that only 2 of the 4 linebackers are starter-caliber players.


Turnover, thus far

Out:

  • Bruce Irvin - free agent, unsigned
  • K.J. Wright - free agent, unsigned
  • Shaquem Griffin - free agent, unsigned

In:

  • Zip
  • Zilch
  • Nada

Net result: We’re down 3 linebackers. Or 2 linebackers and an EDGE, depending on how you define Bruce Irvin.

Note: Most would probably consider Irvin an EDGE, but Seattle has always listed him as a linebacker on their official depth chart which is why I included him here.


Our current linebackers

The snarkiness of my intro aside, linebacker is the one position group that has me scratching my head. I am genuinely bewildered as to what the thought process is here.

I am not necessarily concerned (yet) - even though I probably should be.

I am definitely curious though.


Bobby Wagner

Bwagz is a future first-ballot Hall of Famer and the “quarterback” of our defense. He calls the plays and makes the adjustments; everything we do as a defense revolves around him.

While a case could be made that he’s overpaid and/or that he’s lost a step, removing him from our defense is akin to removing Russell Wilson from our offense - there is no scenario in which the team is better off without him . . . not from the standpoint of team performance and/or our ability to win games.

That said . . .

There are 37-point-5 million reasons to consider doing the unthinkable.

And there will be twenty million three hundred fifty thousand reasons to consider that option again next year.

Could Seattle trade Bobby Wagner?

Let’s take a quick look around the league . . .

How many team have a pressing need for a linebacker?

This article lists linebacker as one of the top 4 “needs” for 11 teams, but we’re not trading Bobby to the Rams so let’s call it 10.

In alphabetical order: Carolina, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Green Bay, Kansas City. (the Rams), New England, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington.

Now that we have a list . . .

How many of those teams have the cap room to add a player like Bobby via trade?

According to OTC’s Salary Cap Tracker, probably half a dozen - depending on where you place the cutoff and whether or not you think the acquiring team would restructure Bobby’s contract to fit him in.

And now for the most important question . . .

What would any of those teams honestly consider giving Seattle in terms of draft capital?

Personally, I think the absolute best-case scenario would be either Carolina or Detroit giving us their 2nd round pick for Bobby and our 3rd round pick next year.

Carolina’s R2 is #39 overall, and Detroit’s R2 is #41.

In theory, that could be a tempting offer.

Seattle could definitely use the 39th or 41st pick in this year’s draft.

But making that trade would leave the Seahawks without a first round pick and without a third round pick next year (which seems sort of familiar).

And . . .

We would then only have three linebackers on the roster - and none of them would have more than 2 years of experience.

Count me among those that think the result of such a trade would be not very good.

Let’s be realistic . . .

First off, someone offering us a 3rd-round pick for Bobby straight-up is probably the most likely scenario. If so, hard pass. You don’t cripple your team for a single R3.

Frankly, my money is on Bobby signing an extension before the season starts that both reduces his 2021 cap hit and ensures that he retires as “a Seahawk for life.”

Worst case, Bobby doesn’t sign an extension, Seattle doesn’t restructure his contract, and he ends up accounting for 9.4% of this year’s cap ($17.15M).

Speculation aside . . .

Let’s just say that I have Bobby’s name written into the starting lineup with a Sharpie.


Jordyn Brooks

Last year’s surprising 1st round selection had a solid rookie season and would seem to be set to start for Seattle for the next several years.

At outside linebacker.

Whenever Bobby exits the equation, Brooks could move to to the middle linebacker position. But as long as Bobby is in a Seahawks uniform, Brooks is gonna be on the outside looking in. (See what I did there?)

It’s not all bad news for Jordyn though . . .

I have his name written into the starting lineup with a Sharpie too.


Cody Barton

For those that need a refresher, Barton was a 3rd round selection in 2019, picked #88 overall. He was a middle linebacker in college but started at the SAM spot his rookie season when Mychal Kendricks was out.

And, as I recall, he made a decent first impression.

2020 was a step backwards though - in part because his path forward was blocked by the addition of Brooks, the presence of K.J. Wright, and the team’s decision to bring back Bruce Irvin.

The bigger issues are that Barton’s coverage skills are (currently) lacking, his play-making ability appears to have regressed rather than improved, and the coaching staff doesn’t seem to have a lot of faith in him.

Personally, I would say that I’m in the camp that doesn’t think Cody is an NFL-caliber starter.

But . . .

I am a pragmatist at heart and understand that no team can have top-of-the-league starters at every position.

And, as mentioned, I remember him having some good games his rookie season.

Thus, I won’t be rooting against him or leading the charge to replace him should he end up getting a starting role in 2021.

But I will also be hoping that he doesn’t get a starting role in 2021.


Ben Burr-Kirven (BBK)

I am a UW Husky through and through. So you’re not ever going to find me disrespecting one of my fellow Dawgs. At least not intentionally.

Instead you’ll find me reminding folks that CBS Sports listed BBK as their 18th best prospect in the 2019 draft. Not the 18th best linebacker prospect, the 18th best overall prospect.

Say what you will about CBS Sports (and I say a lot because I think they’re a joke most of the time), but they only listed 17 players ahead of BBK 2 years ago and we got him in the 5th round (#142 overall).

Two years into his NFL career, I think it’s safe (and not at all disrespectful) to say that BBK isn’t a top-20 talent.

He might have been a tackling machine in college (BBK finished with 176 tackles his Senior year; the #2 guy nationwide had 158), but that talent doesn’t translate to stardom in the NFL - not when you’re viewed as undersized and don’t project as a starter.

Personally, I think BBK would be better off on a different team - one with a different scheme; specifically, one with a defense that forces pass plays to the middle like the UW did when BBK was there.

That said, I’m a fan and I’m glad he’s a Hawk and I hope (for my sake) that he remains one for years to come.

His ceiling in Seattle though is emergency starter / special teams standout. As much as it pains me to say, expecting anything more than what we’ve already seen is probably expecting too much.

BBK is a depth piece, nothing more.



Idle Speculation

Seattle doesn’t appear to be making much effort (if any) to add to their linebacker group. Which begs the question: WHY?


Speculation #1

The Seahawks are planning to draft a linebacker.

Don’t laugh.

But maybe consider crying a little bit if this is actually what they’re planning to do.

I see maybe half a dozen linebackers in this year’s draft that could start for Seattle in 2021. Four for sure. Maybe as many as six.

And there is no reason for Seattle to use a pick on a linebacker this year if they’re not grabbing a potential starter.

The four that could definitely start for Seattle, in no particular order, are Penn State’s Micah Parsons, Tulsa’s Zaven Collins, Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (JOK), and LSU’s Jabril Cox.

I have a sports-crush on Zaven Collins and think that JOK is probably going to be the best of this group in the NFL. If Seattle landed either of them, I’d be smiling for a month.

However, it is extremely doubtful that any of those four players will be on the board when Seattle gets on the clock at #56.

Frankly, if any of them were one board at #40, I think Seattle would have to consider moving up - and I don’t see the Hawks making that move this year; not with only 3 selections and no R1 next year.

Number 5 on my own personal list is Missouri’s Nick Bolton. Mr. Bolton is a middle linebacker though and does not project to either of the outside spots. As long as Bobby Wagner is on the team, Nick wouldn’t have a role. Thus, I’m not including him as one of the “half dozen” who could theoretically start for the Seahawks in 2021.

Ohio State’s Baron Browning and Kentucky’s Jamin Davis are the other two linebackers that I think might be interesting (from Seattle’s perspective) and that I think could potentially win a starting role in training camp. Neither one is a slam dunk but there’s at least a chance they’ll both still be on the board when we make our first pick.

Speculation aside, I don’t honestly think Seattle is picking a linebacker in this year’s draft so let’s move on.


Speculation #2

The Seahawks are going change their defensive scheme to accommodate their personnel. Whether this means switching to a 4-2-5 defense or means using Jamal Adams as a hybrid linebacker is something that we can discuss for days, weeks, months . . . whatever.

Both options would, by default, mean that Seattle only having 4 “true” linebackers on the roster is a non-issue and that Seattle has zero “need” to draft a linebacker this year or to add a linebacker in free agency.

Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks would be the starters. Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven would be the backups.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Kind of makes a whole lot of sense.

But would the soon-to-be-70, seemingly set in his ways, Peter Clay Carroll actually DO this?


Speculation #3

The Seahawks are going to sign a free agent . . .

And they think that it will be a very specific free agent . . .

But they’re planning (slash hoping) to do it a whole lot closer to training camp - i.e. when that player’s decision will come down to taking a team-friendly deal or not playing in 2021 (and maybe retiring instead).

Do I even need to say who that “very specific free agent” is?

How about if I use a picture instead?

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Who doesn’t love that picture? You’ve got a fan-favorite Seahawk laying out a certain thorn-in-our-side (Kyle Juszczyk) who plays for a hated division rival. Instant classic!

Bringing back K.J. Wright is way too obvious of a “solution” to not be on the table.

Resigning him would solidify our starters, maintain our current scheme, eliminate the need to draft a linebacker, keep Barton in his role as the primary backup, and allow BBK to focus on special teams.

All of which is as it should be.

Plus, he was arguably our defensive MVP in 2020 and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down with 2019 and 2020 being 2 of the most productive seasons of his career.

And the 12s love him.



Final Thoughts

We currently have 2 starting linebackers and 2 not-starting linebackers. This seems like a problem - but is it?

Changing our defensive scheme to fit our personnel seems like the best choice.

And changing our scheme wouldn’t be unprecedented since Seattle did just that the year they “never” played nickel because they “liked their linebackers” (too much) and wanted to keep those linebackers (Wagner, Wright, and Kendricks) on the field for every. single. play.

But showing contempt for CB3 because you like your linebackers “better” isn’t the same as making a change from a 4-3 defense to a 4-2-5.

Nor is it the same as moving your most significant recent acquisition to a new position - a position, it should be noted, that Seattle’s defense has never had before.

Personally, I kind of hope they make a schematic change - but I’m not holding my breath.

Drafting a linebacker . . . certainly an option. Drafting a linebacker that could start this year (with the picks we have) . . . that’s questionable.

Unless we are seriously considering the idea of starting Cody Barton, free agency seems like the obvious call for addressing this position (assuming we don’t make a scheme change).

There are still some quality linebackers available and more could join the list as the season approaches.

Deep down, I think resigning K.J. Wright is probably the route Seattle ends up taking. I just wish they would do it already.