NFL News & Analysis

Seattle Seahawks 2021 free agency and NFL Draft preview

Inglewood, California, USA; The Seattle Seahawks offense huddles before a play against the Los Angeles Rams during the first half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

In the lead-up to the start of free agency on March 17 and opening day of the 2021 NFL Draft on April 29, we'll be taking a position-by-position look at all 32 NFL teams with a focus on the starting spots that have question marks heading into next season.

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The Seattle Seahawks are next on our list, and there has been no shortage of drama already this offseason thanks to trade talks centered around franchise quarterback Russell Wilson. As fun as drawing up potential deals may be, Wilson is not going anywhere unless things reach Deshaun WatsonHouston Texans level of tension.

Still, it’s in Seattle’s best interest to placate Wilson’s desire to bring in more talent on the offensive line and potentially add another receiver into the mix. This is a team that once again figures to compete in a strong NFC West next season.

Projected cap space (Over the Cap): $18,612,987 (12th in NFL) 

Picks in 2021 NFL Draft: 56, 129, 168, 233

Projected 2021 offense 
Position Player 2020 PFF grade rank 2021 cap hit
QB Russell Wilson 6 / 32 $32.0 million
RB ?
WR DK Metcalf 15 / 127 $1.3 million
WR Tyler Lockett 28 / 127 $15.0 million
WR ?
TE Will Dissly 39 / 71 $1.1 million
LT Duane Brown 5 / 38 $13.4 million
LG ?
C ?
RG Damien Lewis 10 / 40 $1.1 million
RT Brandon Shell 17 / 38 $5.4 million

On offense, Seattle is slated to lose several contributors from its 2020 team in free agency. Running backs Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde, wide receiver David Moore and center Ethan Pocic are the notables on that list.

With Carson and Hyde likely gone, 2018 first-round pick Rashaad Penny figures to step into a lead role after missing much of the 2020 season due to injury. Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas have also both seen some playing time in recent years. Expect Seattle to utilize a committee approach in 2021, potentially adding another low-cost running back into the mix in either free agency or the draft.

There isn’t much depth to speak of at wide receiver behind Metcalf and Lockett. The Seahawks could look to bring back Moore following several solid showings as the team’s WR3, but they could also look for an upgrade. Seattle has been frequently mentioned as a potential destination for any veteran wide receiver who becomes available of late — namely, Josh Gordon (who did sign with the Seahawks in 2019) and Antonio Brown.

Interior offensive line is the other glaring area of need for this team. Mike Iupati’s retirement and Pocic’s potential departure in free agency could open two starting spots inside next to the 2020 rookie Damien Lewis. Brown and Shell both played well this past season, making the tackle position less of an emphasis. Seattle could still look to add some youth at the position with Brown set to play in 2021 at 36 years old.

How does the offense change with the transition from Brian Schottenheimer to Shane Waldron as offensive coordinator?

Waldron didn't reveal much when answering a question in his introductory news conference regarding how much of Seattle’s offense will resemble the Los Angeles Rams’ offense in recent years compared to how much will remain in place.

Via ESPN’s Brady Henderson, Waldron said, “I have a core set of beliefs that I’m going to stick to, but we’re going to build this thing together. I think that the one thing with Russell and with the rest of the players that are on this team, they have a great foundation and they have won a lot of football games together, so will there be parts of stuff that carries over? Absolutely, because there’s been some great things they’ve done in the past.”

Waldron isn’t tipping his hand. One has to assume that there will be a good amount of change, though. Otherwise, why would Seattle get rid of Brian Schottenheimer? Waldron has spent the past four seasons working under Sean McVay in Los Angeles as the tight ends coach, passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at various points in time. There’s a good chance that some of that zone run game/play action-heavy/condensed formation offense will be making its way to Seattle.

How do the Seahawks best convince Russell Wilson that they’re doing everything possible to build around him? 

The most obvious answer here is to make a concerted effort to improve the offensive line. Wilson invites pressure with his propensity to hold onto the football in the hopes of making a play. However, the offensive line hasn’t helped matters. The Seahawks haven’t had an offense finish in the top half of the NFL in team pass-blocking grade over the course of Wilson’s nine-year career. Seattle has finished among the bottom three teams in the NFL five times over that same span. 

Brown (84.9 pass-blocking grade) and Shell (78.0 pass-blocking grade) actually played well in that area in 2020. The bigger need to improve is inside. Even Lewis has a long way to go in pass protection. His strong PFF grade as a rookie in 2020 was largely due to his effectiveness as a run blocker. Adding a proven veteran or two in free agency to tighten up the pass protection on the inside should be the top priority on offense.

Seattle should also seriously consider adding a third difference-maker at the wide receiver position. Wilson lobbied for the team to sign Antonio Brown last season, only to see him end up in Tampa Bay. It doesn’t have to be Brown, specifically, but bringing in another legitimate threat to pair with Metcalf and Lockett would not be a poor use of resources. That especially rings true if it means keeping one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL happy. 

How long can Duane Brown continue to perform at this level?

Brown has easily been the Seahawks’ best offensive lineman since coming over in a trade with the Houston Texans back in 2017. He also just so happens to be fresh off his best season as a Seahawk, earning an 87.8 PFF grade this past season at left tackle. It was the fifth-highest mark at the position and a truly impressive feat at 35 years old. The question becomes: How long can Seattle continue to expect that elite level of play?

2021 is the last season Brown has remaining on his current contract, so the Seahawks may need only one more strong year out of him. Brown has shown no signs of slowing down, though.

There is a chance that he could continue to play at a high level for three to four more years, following Andrew Whitworth‘s guide to aging well. Whitworth finished one spot below Brown in PFF grade at left tackle in 2020 at 38 years old, and all signs point to him returning in 2021. At the very least, Brown should once again do a good job of anchoring the left side of Seattle’s offensive line next season.

Potential targets at open spots

Running back: Chris Carson, Tevin Coleman, Kenneth Gainwell

With Seattle deciding not to franchise tag Carson, another team will likely outbid them for his services on the open market. 

There is also a chance that the team could transition toward more of a zone-heavy rushing attack under new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. For that reason, I listed Coleman, who has experience in the Shanahan offense from his time with both Atlanta and San Francisco. Injuries derailed his 2020 season, but he has proven to be a capable rotational piece of a backfield both on the ground and through the air. 

On the other hand, most of Gainwell's value is in the passing game. He has the ability to run legitimate receiver routes from the slot with good hands and shiftiness in the open field. He had rushing and receiving grades above 85.0 during in 2019 at Memphis.

Wide receiver: David Moore, Antonio Brown, Amari Rodgers

Bringing Moore back at WR3 would be the least exciting of Seattle's potential moves this offseason. He has given the team solid play since 2018 but has yet to top a 67.4 PFF grade in his four seasons in the league. 

There are no such questions about Brown’s ceiling. One of the top wide receivers of the past decade, Brown returned to the NFL in Tampa Bay and endured a successful campaign. The 11-year veteran earned an 82.2 receiving grade while sharing the field with a number of talented wide receivers. Of course, the big concern with Brown is his off-field baggage. In that regard, it should be noted that Brown has support from the team’s most important player. Wilson reportedly lobbied for Seattle to sign him last season.

If looking toward the draft, Rodgers is an intriguing target out of Clemson. He can do damage with the ball in his hands and projects as a guy who could contribute early in his NFL career from the slot. Rodgers earned an 80.0 receiving grade this past season with Clemson (highest of his four-year career).

Interior offensive line: Joe Thuney, Corey Linsley, Kendrick Green

If Seattle goes big somewhere in free agency, you have to think it’s interior offensive line given the drama that has unfolded in recent weeks with Wilson. Thuney and Linsley are the best left guard and center on the market, respectively. Both are capable of providing a real boost to the Seahawks’ offense.

Green is an interesting fit in the draft. He projects best on an offense that can get him on the move in the zone run game. That doesn’t necessarily mesh with what Seattle has done in the past nor the team's recent draft selection of Lewis at right guard, but Waldron is familiar with that type of offense from his time in Los Angeles. Green earned a 93.6 run-blocking grade on zone runs in 2020, and he played both left guard and center for Illinois.

Projected 2021 Defense
Position Player 2020 PFF grade rank 2021 cap hit
DI ?
DI Jarran Reed 89 / 125 $14.0 million
LB Bobby Wagner 2 / 83 $17.2 million
LB Jordyn Brooks 56 / 83 $2.8 million
LB ?
CB ?
CB D.J. Reed Jr. 14 / 121 $0.9 million
CB Ugo Amadi 41 / 121 $1.0 million
S Jamal Adams 53 / 94 $9.9 million
S Quandre Diggs 52 / 94 $6.2 million

Seattle has some moving parts defensively, particularly on their line. 

The team should brink back Poona Ford as a restricted free agent to start inside. Reed is the incumbent to play beside him, but his name has been discussed as a potential source of salary cap savings. On the edge, Carlos Dunlap’s release, combined with Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa’s free agent status, leaves Seattle thin on proven depth. Younger players, such as Darrell Taylor, L.J. Collier and Alton Robinson, will compete, but the team could use a reliable, veteran presence.

At linebacker, 2020 first-round selection Jordyn Brooks is poised to take over for long-time Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright, who could very well depart in free agency. The Seahawks actually ran significantly less base defense in 2020 than they had in years past. That makes the third linebacker spot less significant, but Cody Barton is the likely candidate to fill in there as things stand.

In the secondary, both Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar are set to be free agents. Reed acclimated himself well to a CB2 role in 2020, but the Seahawks will still need a starter outside at the least. Adams and Diggs should return as the team’s starting safety duo, and it remains to be seen how 2019 second-round pick Marquise Blair factors into matters in his return from injury.

How do the Seahawks replace what Carlos Dunlap provided over the back half of last season?

Dunlap's start to the 2020 season as a Cincinnati Bengal stood in stark contrast to one of the best seasons of his career in 2019. He earned just a 53.9 overall grade in the first seven games of the season with Cincinnati, clearly in conflict with the coaching staff and losing playing time. The move to Seattle was a needed change for the veteran edge defender.

All Dunlap did in his first game with the Seahawks to show he still had it was put up three sacks and five total pressures in a Week 9 game against the Buffalo Bills. His play picked up in Seattle, and he ended the year as the only defensive linemen on the team with a pressure rate above 10% (12.6%). 

But outside of linebackers and safeties coming on the blitz, Seattle struggled to generate pressure in 2020. Without Dunlap or any other proven veteran pass rusher currently under contract heading into 2021, there’s not a whole lot of reason to expect that to change. Adding some competition off the edge should be a top priority for the Seahawks in free agency next week.

Is Jordyn Brooks ready to step in for K.J. Wright?

You have to imagine that the Seahawks selected Brooks in the 2020 NFL Draft with the intention of him stepping in for Wright in 2021. However, Wright’s play this past season should have at least begun a dialogue about bringing him back this offseason. 

Wright ended the 2020 season as the sixth-most valuable linebacker in the entire league, per PFF WAR. He trailed only teammate Bobby Wagner, Lavonte David, Demario Davis, Fred Warner and Blake Martinez among all off-ball linebackers. Linebacker may not be the most valuable position on defense, but having two playing at a top-10 level like Wagner and Wright is a luxury.

Still, there's a good chance that the Seahawks let Wright test free agency. In that case, Brooks has large shoes to fill. Coming out of Texas Tech, he was considered as sure a run defender and tackler that was available in the draft. On the flip side, he didn’t project as someone who was going to make much of an impact in coverage. That was exactly what showed up in his rookie year, with a 73.7 run-defense grade and a 29.4 coverage grade.

Do the Seahawks re-sign either Shaquill Griffin or Quinton Dunbar in free agency?

Prior to the 2020 season, Seattle looked relatively set at their two outside cornerback spots. Griffin and Dunbar were both coming off impressive 2019 campaigns. Add in the addition of Jamal Adams at safety, and you could even make the argument that they projected to field one of the better secondaries in the NFL. It’s an argument that I made myself prior to the season.

Things didn’t quite pan out that way. Dunbar dealt with both off-the-field issues and a knee injury, ending the year ranked 110th out of 121 qualifying cornerbacks in overall grade. It was a massive step back from what he put on tape with Washington in 2019. Griffin wasn’t the same kind of liability in coverage, but he did see his grade rank at the position fall to 49th after placing inside the top 10 the prior season.

Griffin is the more likely of the two to return, but if Seattle opts to spend big on an offensive lineman or a pass rusher, he might not fit into their plans financially. Griffin was a franchise-tag candidate, but that deadline has now come and gone. The Seahawks could be looking to add several lower-cost options at the position rather than paying Griffin $10 million-plus per year on a new deal.

Potential targets at open spots

Interior defender: Poona Ford, Kawann Short

Ford doesn't seem likely to depart as a restricted free agent. He has developed into a reliable run defender in the middle of Seattle’s defense, coming away from each of the past three seasons with run-defense grades above 73.0. He played 700-plus defensive snaps in 2020 — impressive for someone his size.

Short is a veteran who several teams will have interest in, but a combination of age and injury history should keep his next contract at a reasonable price point. Prior to the 2019 season, Short was listed as PFF’s 27th-best player in the entire league. It’s unreasonable to expect that level of dominance in 2021, but he could still provide quality play at defensive tackle should Seattle decide to part ways with Reed for salary cap reasons.

Edge defender: Payton Turner, Melvin Ingram III

Turner’s versatility to play inside and outside should interest Seattle given the team's unique defensive front. At Houston, Turner began his career as an interior player before transitioning to an edge role outside the tackles in 2019 and 2020. He could provide some additional competition to Collier (60.2 PFF grade in 2020) in the strongside defensive end competition.

Ingram would be an alternative to compete with Taylor for the left edge defender spot next season if the team doesn’t opt to bring back one of its 2020 free agents. He has dealt with injuries in each of the past two seasons but has remained an effective pass rusher when on the field, posting 75.0-plus PFF grades in both 2019 and 2020. Turning 32 in April, he could come at a discount given his recent injury history.

Linebacker: K.J. Wright, Kyle Van Noy 

Wright is still very much an effective linebacker in this league, and the Seahawks should attempt to bring him back if they can make it work financially. 

Alternatively, Seahawk Maven’s Matty Brown recently wrote about the potential for Seattle to add more of a natural pass-rushing threat at Sam linebacker, even with Brooks in line to take over as the second linebacker alongside Wagner in nickel. The recently released Van Noy was a player floated toward the end of that piece who does make some sense at a reasonable price point.

He has transitioned into much more of an edge-rushing role these past few seasons but has plenty of experience at off-ball linebacker and in coverage. Van Noy is one year removed from a career-high 84.2 PFF grade in New England. 

Cornerback: Shaquill Griffin, Tay Gowan

For Griffin, it’s going to come down to cost. There’s a good chance that he can make more money on the open market than the Seahawks are comfortable paying him.

Gowan has flown under the radar thus far, but he comes in as the 50th-ranked prospect on PFF’s big board. He opted out of the 2020 season due to family concerns surrounding COVID-19, but his 2019 tape impressed. He allowed just 20 catches on 50 passes into his coverage that season. Gowan is also the kind of tall and long cornerback that the Seahawks have made a habit of targeting.    

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