With the loss of D.J. Reed in free agency, the Seattle Seahawks’ cornerback depth chart is looking dangerously thin for the second season running. Of Seattle’s many needs this NFL Draft, cornerback is considered high priority along with offensive and defensive line. The likes of ‘Sauce’ Gardner, Trent McDuffie, and Derek Stingley Jr (who Seattle took a closer look at in his Pro Day) have all been considered potential Seahawks picks at #9, even though Seattle hasn’t taken a corner in the first round since 2006 and hasn’t drafted any corners before the third round since 2007.
Seattle’s current outside cornerback depth consists of Sidney Jones, Tre Brown, Artie Burns, Nigel Warrior, John Reid, and Mike Jackson Sr. It’s safe to say that Jones, Brown, and Burns are top-3 on the hypothetical April depth chart. Jones has played well but has an injury history that greatly impacted his draft stock, Brown showed promise as a rookie but is coming off a serious knee injury, and Burns had a serious knee injury just two seasons ago and is trying to resurrect his career after busting out of Pittsburgh.
Doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence, does it?
And yet, I think it’s very possible that the Seahawks do not look for corners... or at least not early in this year’s NFL Draft. It’s not only never been their focus under Pete Carroll and John Schneider, but even with a more dire CB situation after Richard Sherman’s exit they’ve rarely invested in the position. Let’s take a look at the past five offseasons post-Sherman — so we’re counting 2022 but pre-draft — and see the lack of high-end movement at CB.
—Didn’t draft a cornerback, but did take Tre Flowers and convert him from safety to corner.
—Signed Dontae Johnson with the expectation that he’d compete for the CB2 spot, only to lose out to Tre Flowers and get cut.
—Drafted no outside cornerbacks.
—Signed Jamar Taylor to compete at nickel corner, cut him in preseason, brought him back and then cut him again midseason.
—Didn’t draft any defensive backs (safety or corner) at all.
—Traded a 5th rounder for Quinton Dunbar, didn’t re-sign after end of season.
—Drafted Tre Brown in the 4th round.
—Signed Ahkello Witherspoon, traded him to Pittsburgh before final roster cuts.
—Signed Artie Burns and Justin Coleman, the latter of whom plays at nickel.
That’s pretty much it. You can add in guys like Linden Stephens and Gavin Heslop and Akeem King but they hardly ever played first-team defensive snaps; they’re merely honorable mentions if nothing else.
Historically speaking, the Seahawks have always banked on cheap investments at outside corner. Richard Sherman was was 5th round pick, Brandon Browner was a cheap signing after being a CFL standout, and subsequent Browner replacements Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane were both 6th round selections. Deshawn Shead was a UDFA who was a safety before moving to corner and replacing the inept Cary Williams, the only “big” free agent signing Seattle has had at that position in 12 years.
The only Seahawks corner other than Sherman to get a multi-year contract extension since 2010 was Jeremy Lane, who signed a four-year deal in 2016 and was off the team by midseason 2017.
Seattle has had opportunities to take cornerbacks early in recent drafts and opted not to. Jaire Alexander was available at #18 in 2018, but the Seahawks traded down and took Rashaad Penny. The Packers drafted Alexander with Seattle’s pick and he is two years removed from an All-Pro season. In 2019, Washington’s own Byron Murphy Jr was available but they drafted L.J. Collier.
Carroll has been dubbed the “cornerback whisperer” and he likely still sees himself that way. Turning cheap talent into minimum viable starters has been Seattle’s way of addressing cornerback for years and in fact this is arguably the position they’ve had the least amount of initial investment in when combining draft capital used, free agent signings, and salary cap commitments.
There’s very little reason to believe they’ll move away from that system, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Carroll had a much more optimistic view of the CB depth than the fanbase does. Granted, he’s extremely optimistic about everything, but Jones was healthy all season and Brown looked like a capable starter in his limited playing time. Burns seemed to play well for the Bears in 2021 and you know the Seahawks love any opportunity for a reclamation project on a perceived draft bust. Add in Coleman and Amadi (and Blair?) in the slot and the investment at this position through the draft could be very minimal... again. Take a flyer on 4th or 5th round guys, sign a UDFA here and there and that might be it on Seattle’s front. Perhaps in the eyes of the front office, a vastly improved pass rush could go a long way towards making the cornerback play better — or at least take the pressure off of them to cover for such a long time.
...Or maybe I’m talking out of my ass and the Seahawks will surprise us all by changing their ways. That may be their best shot at becoming contenders again.