Following a long offseason - okay, compared to the nightmare that was 2020, the past several months have been a breeze - the Seahawks will officially usher in the 2021 season by reporting to training camp on July 27.
Continuing our camp preview series, here's a close look at the state of the safety position, including the depth chart, a key question that must be answered, and a bold prediction for the upcoming season.
2020 In Review
Shortly before the start of camp, the Seahawks traded a king's ransom to the Jets to bring Adams to the Pacific Northwest, pairing him with Diggs to form one of the NFC's best safety duos. Injuries were an issue throughout the season for the ex-LSU star, as he missed four games with a groin strain and then played through cracked fingers and a torn labrum. Still, he broke Adrian Wilson's single-season record for defensive backs with 9.5 sacks in only 12 games and brought tremendous energy to Seattle's defense down the stretch. As for Diggs, he quietly put together the best season of his career, intercepting five passes and recording 10 passes defensed in coverage. Both players were selected to the Pro Bowl at the conclusion of the season, while Adams garnered Second-Team All-Pro recognition.
With Adams and Diggs still under contract, the Seahawks didn't make any significant splashes at the safety position during the offseason. However, the team will welcome back Marquise Blair from a torn ACL and though he's expected to compete for the starting nickel corner spot, he may still be in future plans at free safety and will serve as the primary backup at both positions. Ryan Neal will return after being retained as an exclusive rights free agent and undrafted rookie Aashari Crosswell may be the sleeper to watch in training camp after a stellar college career at Arizona State.
Starters: Jamal Adams, Quandre Diggs
Few teams offer a comparable duo to Adams and Diggs, whose skill sets perfectly complement one another. While some view him as a glorified linebacker, Adams' ability to rush the passer off the edge and wreak havoc in the backfield as a run defender make him a unicorn at his position. Meanwhile, Diggs finally has started to earn respect for his outstanding play in center field, as in spite of Seattle's issues stopping opposing passing games in the first half last year, he continues to excel at his job by limiting opportunities for opponents to win down the seam or on post/corner routes.
Reserves: Marquise Blair, Ryan Neal, Ugo Amadi, Aashari Crosswell, Joshua Moon
Arguably the MVP of training camp last August, Blair took a huge step forward transitioning to the slot corner position. Unfortunately, his knee injury prevented him from showcasing what he could do playing alongside Adams and Diggs. Expectations remain high for the former second-round pick, who once again should be in line for extensive snaps assuming he's fully recovered. Neal proved invaluable last season, stepping in as a starter for Adams in four games and picking off a pair of passes. But with Blair's return, he likely won't see the field much, if at all, defensively and will have to cut his teeth on special teams once again.
Like Blair, Amadi offers Seattle great positional versatility and could play free safety in a pinch if Diggs were to go down. For now, he'll see action out of the slot and as a gunner on special teams. Moon will likely be little more than a camp body, but Crosswell could be worth monitoring in the preseason due to his tackling and ball skills. It's possible Seattle could stash him on the practice squad for further development.
Will the Seahawks extend both Adams and Diggs before the start of the season?
While a contract holdout can't be ruled out, it would be an absolute stunner if Adams and Diggs weren't in the starting lineup for the Seahawks in Week 1 against the Colts. But it remains unclear whether or not the franchise will be able to afford to keep both beyond 2021. Viewing himself as a defensive weapon rather than a safety, Adams reportedly wants to obliterate the record for highest-paid player at the position, seeking upwards of $18 or $19 million per year. Since the organization gave up two first-round picks to acquire him, they have little leverage in negotiations and will have no choice but to open up the checkbook to keep him.
Coming off his first Pro Bowl selection, the 28-year old Diggs won't be cheap to re-sign either and given his recent production, he could demand $12 million-plus per year as a free agent next March. If general manager John Schneider were to pony up the cash to extend both, the Seahawks could potentially be looking at $30-35 million per year invested in the safety position. Even with the salary cap expected to grow exponentially in future seasons, that may not be a tenable financial arrangement considering the other huge contracts the franchise already has on the books.
Adams will break his own record for sacks by a defensive back, while Diggs will secure his place amongst the NFL's best free safeties with six interceptions.
The Seahawks were the only team in the NFL with multiple safeties selected to the Pro Bowl, and yet, it feels as if Adams and Diggs have only scratched the surface of their potential as a tandem. Though his contract situation has yet to be resolved, Adams should be far more comfortable in coach Pete Carroll's defense in his second season and will be fully recovered from multiple offseason surgeries. As long as he stays healthy, he should have a great chance to improve upon his numbers across the board, especially in coverage. As for Diggs, he believes his best football remains ahead of him and with an improved pass rush up front, he should have even more opportunities to make plays on the football in 2021. Having already proven himself as a ball hawk over the past three seasons, another year of milestones could be in store.