As the Seahawks prepare for their three-day mandatory minicamp next week, all eyes have been on the status of All-Pro safety Jamal Adams, who needs a new contract entering the final year of his rookie deal.
While most of Seattle's veterans opted to report for "voluntary" OTAs last week and the team had close to 80 players on the field on Thursday, Adams expectedly stayed away from the facility. It remains unknown whether or not he will participate in next week's festivities or if a training camp holdout could be looming without reaching an agreement on a record-breaking extension.
To this point, little else has been brought to light about contract talks between the Seahawks and Adams, who sees himself as a defensive weapon and expects to be compensated accordingly. After breaking the single-season sacks record for defensive backs in 2020, reports have surfaced suggesting he won't be satisfied with simply becoming the highest-paid safety in the league at $16-plus million per year and he's seeking elite pass rusher money.
The only things that remains certain? Adams will be getting paid and discussions could get quite complicated. After trading away two first-round picks to acquire him from the New York Jets last July, Seattle will need to pony up the cash to retain one of the most unique defensive talents in the NFL.
But looking at future plans for general manager John Schneider and the Seahawks, Adams isn't the only talented safety on the team deserving of a new contract. Due to his ball-hawking skills, on-field leadership, and perfect schematic fit at a vital position, locking up Quandre Diggs should be viewed as an equally important long-term transaction.
Before the start of the 2019 season, Diggs was far from a household name despite being a multi-year starter for the Lions and coming off the best year of his career. Emerging in Detroit's secondary amid minimal fanfare, the former sixth-round pick out of Texas registered a career-high 78 tackles, three interceptions, and eight passes defensed. At the end of the season, he was named a Pro Bowl alternate for the first time.
Under then-coach Matt Patricia, however, the Lions were in the midst of a highly-questioned defensive overhaul and even considering Diggs' past success, the team apparently had other plans at safety moving forward. In an unexpected move that wasn't received well in the locker room, Detroit dealt him to Seattle before the trade deadline in exchange for a 2020 fifth-round pick.
Prior to Diggs' arrival, the Seahawks had failed to find an adequate replacement for long-time starter Earl Thomas, who left as a free agent to sign with the Ravens. Tedric Thompson won the starting job out of camp but was plagued by blown coverages in six starts before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. The coaching staff also had trust-related issues with Marquise Blair, who had struggled to grasp the playbook and made several assignment-related mistakes early in his rookie season.
Without any other viable alternatives and Blair not viewed as ready to start, dealing a day three selection for a player of Diggs' caliber proved to be a steal. Once he recovered from a hamstring injury, he hit the ground running, immediately transforming Seattle's defense with stellar play as the last line of defense at free safety.
In his first five starts, Diggs individually picked off three passes, including returning a pick of Rams quarterback Jared Goff for a touchdown, while also adding a forced fumble and fumble recovery. The Seahawks produced a whopping 16 turnovers during those games, and compared to the first 10 games before he came to town, opposing quarterbacks threw for 20 less yards per game, averaged nearly a yard less per attempt, and threw just seven touchdowns.
Unfortunately, an ankle sprain suffered in Week 15 against the Panthers wound up costing him the final two regular-season games. Further illustrating his importance to coach Pete Carroll's defense, the Seahawks missed his play-making presence dearly as they failed to record a single turnover in back-to-back home losses to the Cardinals and 49ers, missing out on an NFC West title and dropping to a wild card spot.
Rebounding from a strong season that was nonetheless impacted significantly by injuries, Diggs started all 16 regular-season games at free safety alongside his new running mate in Adams and remained a critical cog in Seattle's defensive success throughout a bizarre 2020 season.
While the Seahawks allowed historic yardage totals during the first eight games and ranked among the worst defenses in the NFL at the time, the veteran safety wasn't a main culprit for those struggles. Opponents weren't picking up big gains on post routes or seam routes with him manning center field, instead winning vertically on the outside or with underneath crossing routes and slants that weren't his coverage responsibility. Injuries to Adams as well as cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar only magnified these problems early in the season.
But as Seattle's pass rush improved up front following another midseason trade for defensive end Carlos Dunlap and the secondary around him got healthier, Diggs found his 2019 groove in the second half of the season. Starting in Week 10, he amassed three interceptions and seven passes defensed over the final seven games, helping his team finish 5-2 down the stretch to capture an NFC West crown.
Establishing new career-highs in interceptions (5) and passes defensed (10) while adding 64 tackles, Diggs earned the first Pro Bowl nod of his career. Per Pro Football Focus, he allowed 12 completions on 20 targets, turning four of those eight incompletions into picks. The player himself remains skeptical of those numbers, however, and the fact he laughably wasn't ranked as one of their top 32 safeties, yet another sign he isn't appreciated near enough for his talents and production.
A big hitter for his 5-foot-9, 179-pound frame, Diggs has truly been in elite company over the past two seasons as one of only five safeties with at least 100 combined tackles and eight interceptions. Making these stats jump off the page even more, he accomplished this feat in just 26 regular-season games. The other four safeties on the list, including Broncos star Justin Simmons and Steelers standout Minkah Fitzpatrick, played at least 31 regular season games apiece during that same span.
On those merits alone, Diggs and his representatives should be seeking at least $10 million per year on a multi-year extension, which would make him one of the 11 highest-paid at his position. That would be a substantial raise for the Seahawks to absorb compared to his reasonable $6.144 million cap hit in 2021, especially with Adams poised to shatter records with a contract of his own and potentially pushing towards $20 million per year territory.
But with fans expected to return to stadiums this fall and the COVID-19 health crisis continuing to improve with vaccination rates climbing, the NFL expects a major increase in the salary cap starting next year. A new television deal starting in 2023 will bring another influx of revenue in future seasons, giving teams more financial flexibility.
It's also worth noting Seattle doesn't have many in-house options for replacing Diggs if he were allowed to hit free agency and departed next March. Ugo Amadi could be considered, but he's largely played nickel cornerback in the NFL, while Blair tore his ACL last year and hasn't yet proven himself as an NFL starter. Trying to address the position in the draft again would be risky business as well.
Keeping that in mind and remembering how things played out defensively without him two years ago, Seattle simply can't afford to play the role of cheapskate in regard to Diggs and free safety. One of the most overlooked talents at his position in the game today and just 28 years of age, he should have several years of excellent football ahead of him in a scheme that caters well to his strengths. As an added plus, he's beloved in the locker room and provides outstanding leadership on and off the field.
Schneider may not be keen on the idea of having up to $30 million tied up on a pair of safeties, especially with Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner still having massive contracts on the books through 2023. But the Seahawks know the cost of downgrading at both positions all too well, making signing off on such hefty spending well worth the investment for 2021 and beyond.