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The case for trading, rather than extending, DK Metcalf

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a busy offseason for NFL wide receivers, with players across the league signing top of market extensions that have pushed the salary expectations at the position to all time highs. With both DK Metcalf of the Seattle Seahawks and Deebo Samuel of the San Francisco 49ers extension eligible, if either of those two do land an extension worth more than $20M per year, they would become the tenth receiver to sign for $20M or more since the 2021 season ended.

It’s obviously the going rate in the market, with the salary cap having seen the biggest single year increase in league history for the 2022 league year. Add in a projected increase in 2023 that is expected to be the second largest single season jump in league history of around $17M, followed by a potential jump to north of $250M in 2024 and the reality is that salaries at every position are about to explode.

In any case, it was four years ago this offseason that the Seattle Seahawks found themselves in a financial standoff with a player entering the final year of his rookie contract, Frank Clark. Clark, of course, played out the final year of his rookie contract before getting hit with the franchise tag. After having the tag applied, the team and Clark remained unable to reach a long term deal, and he was eventually shipped off to the Kansas City Chiefs for a pair of draft picks.

The Chiefs, of course, gave Clark the giant contract he was looking, inking him to a five-year, $105M deal that he has not lived up to. It may be possible for some Kansas City fans to argue they’ve come out ahead, but when all the calculations are said and done, Clark has cost the Chiefs $51.6M against the cap over the past three years while delivering a total of 18.5 sacks and 46 quarterback hits on 106 pressures. It’s certainly not a horrible statline, but it’s certainly far from what a team hopes for when it pays a player $51.6M and is on the hook for two more seasons and another $42.375M.

So, if the trade hasn’t worked out great from the Chiefs perspective, how has it worked out from the vantage point of the Seahawks? The Hawks, of course, received a pair of picks, a first rounder in 2019 and a second round pick in 2020. (Author’s Note: The teams also swapped third round picks in 2019, with KC receiving pick 84 and Seattle getting pick 92. However, Seattle then packaged 92 and a fifth and sent them to Minnesota for 88 and a sixth round pick, using pick 88 to select Cody Barton.)

In any case, the two picks the Hawks received were:

  • 2019: 1.29
  • 2020: 2.64

The Hawks, of course, did not stand pat with those picks, though, trading down from 2.64 with the Carolina Panthers for 3.69 and 5.148. The final haul from these three picks then became:

  • 2019 (1.29): L.J. Collier
  • 2020: (3.69): Damien Lewis
  • 2021: (5.148): Alton Robinson

Collier and Robinson have struggled to see the field much, combining for just 1,637 defensive snaps, while Lewis has been on the field for 1,664 snaps, but has struggled in pass protection at times. Struggling in pass protection is not all that unexpected for a rookie, so there’s obviously still hope that he can continue to develop and improve going forward. However, Collier and Robinson have brought little in the pass rush department, combining for 8 sacks and 19 quarterback hits in five combined seasons. On a cost per sack and quarterback hit basis, they certainly represent a better bargain than Clark, but the cap savings the team has reaped have come at the expense of an anemic pass rush that has failed to apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks regularly.

To illustrate just how poor the pass rush for Seattle has been over the past three seasons, Collier’s three sacks put him in a three way tie for eleventh most sacks during that timeframe.

To further shine a light on how rarely Seahawks defenders have gotten to the quarterback, here are the top ten Seahawks defenders in quarterback hits over the 2019, 2020 and 2021 seasons combined:

1. Carlos Dunlap (28)
2. Rasheem Green (26)
3. Jarran Reed (22)
4T. Bobby Wagner (18)
4T. Poona Ford (18)
6. Jamal Adams (16)
7T. Darrell Taylor (13)
7T. Jadeveon Clowney (13)
9. L.J. Collier (12)
10T. Benson Mayowa (11)
10T. Kerry Hyder (11)

Of the names on that list, only Ford, Adams, Taylor and Collier remain on the roster with the team hoping that the new faces this season can fill the void and deliver results.

Bringing things back from this tangent, the question remains whether the Seahawks would have been better off giving Clark the contract he wanted or are they better off now with Collier, Lewis and Robinson? It’s a question that certainly warrants discussion, given the team then turned around during the 2020 offseason and traded two first round picks and a third round pick for a safety. Following that trade, the team then turned around and unloaded Russell Wilson for a pair of first round picks and a pair of second round picks.

This discussion brings things full circle to the DK Metcalf question. Specifically, is worth it for the team to sign him to an extension for somewhere in the neighborhood of $25M per year, or would the team be better off trading him for a haul of draft picks?

The answer, of course, depends on what happens with the draft picks. Fans are certainly hopeful that Charles Cross and Boye Mafe develop into All Pros at their respective positions, but what happens if they turn out to be Luke Joeckel and Malik McDowell?

At the end of the day, draft picks are lottery tickets, and lottery tickets are far from guaranteed. Trading proven performers for picks is somewhat like taking the entirety of a retirement account and buying a bunch of lottery tickets. It could work, it could be a disaster or it could be somewhere in between.

Thus, when the question turns to DK Metcalf, the options are to pay a wide receiver whose production is in the top 20 of all wide receivers in NFL history through their first three seasons in the league, or to trade that receiver for draft picks that the teams hopes can develop into one of the most productive at their position so that they can be signed to long term contracts.