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The Seahawks defense is very expensive and very mediocre

How many more years will it take for Pete Carroll to build an above-average defense again?

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Jane Gershovich/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks have invested and continue to invest a lot of resources into rebuilding a defense that was once the envy of the NFL. It’s not been a good unit for at least the last four seasons, and while there are exciting players such as Boye Mafe, Riq Woolen, and Devon Witherspoon who figure to be foundational pieces for the next great defense, they’re not collectively great right now.

Seattle currently ranks 21st in FTN Fantasy’s DVOA metric, which if it holds up will be the third straight season the Seahawks have been no higher than 20th. That “improved” run defense is 18th and the pass defense sits at 23rd. If you prefer EPA/play, the Seahawks are about average for dropback and now one of the worst run defenses.

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I’m being a little hypocritical here by focusing so much on the defense given I said before the start of the season that the offense, not the defense, had to demonstrate significant improvement in order for the Seahawks to contend. Well the offense has considerably regressed (and are now 19th in DVOA), which in itself has eliminated any reasonable expectation of being a serious playoff threat. The defense making minimal improvement (if at all) from previous seasons means this season is about three weeks from being DOA.

With all of that said, the offense is generally not that costly, at least not for 2023. Three of their offensive line starters are on rookie contracts, as are all of their running backs, and more than half of the wide receivers. Geno Smith’s contract is nowhere near Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott, etc. territory. In terms of 2023 cap numbers, the Seahawks have one of the NFL’s least expensive offenses and the 10th most expensive defense, over OverTheCap.

To visualize this some more, take a look at Arjun Menon’s graph showing the most expensive defenses by cash spent (not cap hits) for the 2023 season, and how well they’re performing from an efficiency standpoint entering Week 12. If the graph is a little hard to follow, I’m here to tell you that you want to be above the X-axis.

I’m almost certain the Seahawks have dropped more as a result of the 49ers game, but the main takeaway is that the 2023 Seahawks are the second-highest cash spenders on defense and have once again trotted out a mediocre (at best) group. Outside of Jamal Adams’ four games missed and Uchenna Nwosu’s season-ending pec tear in Week 6, very few players have missed multiple games.

If you want to blame the offense’s struggles as having a knock-on effect on the defense, then feel free even though I fundamentally disagree. Funnily enough, the Seahawks defense has a higher DVOA when trailing and rank near the bottom when playing with a lead of any sort. They’ve started a league-worst five games by giving up opening drive touchdowns, so I don’t think they’re exhausted after 0 snaps played. The Jets, Browns, and Steelers defenses are in the top-10 by DVOA and EPA/play, so that ought to blow up the entire “the offense not scoring/sustaining drives is hurting the defense” argument to smithereens.

I wanted to highlight how much the Seahawks have invested in recent seasons, but I’m lazy so I’ll just let Rob Staton’s piece on Seahawks Draft Blog do the heavy lifting:

Think about how much has been spent on this unit. Three recent second round picks on edge rushers (Taylor, Mafe, Hall). A huge free agent splash (Jones). An aggressive trade on a rental involving a second rounder (Williams). Another reasonable free agent addition (Reed). A first rounder at linebacker (Brooks) paired with a returning veteran (Wagner). A top-five pick at cornerback (Witherspoon) and a hugely expensive safety duo (Diggs & Adams) with one of the pair costing a fortune via trade. Then you’ve got all the big salaries dished out to the likes of Nwosu, Jones, Diggs and Adams.

Is there a team in the league that has used this much resource on the defense? At this level you expect more than simply beating up Daniel Jones behind a shocking Giants line and competing against the Carolina’s and Arizona’s. You expect a unit that can make you competitive. It isn’t happening.

Even if the Seahawks reshape the defensive side of the ball and move on from some of the more expensive contracts, you know what that means? Likely investing even more draft capital on the defense! As if that’s not what they’ve been doing for years, to repeatedly sub-par results.

How much longer do we have to wait for this unit to actually be demonstrably good? Not “good against the absolute worst offenses” or “good for about five weeks and then below-average the other 12 weeks.” If this is going to persist for as long as Pete Carroll is in charge, then the only way the Seahawks can be elite again under his watch is if they have a quarterback and consequently an entire offense that can consistently overcome less than stellar defensive play. This ain’t like when Seattle drafted Russell Wilson at a time when the defense was already bordering on if not outright top-10 in the NFL, and became elite the minute Wilson took his first snaps. Anything less than that? Then don’t even entertain the idea of a Super Bowl contender any time soon.