On the precipice of falling on the wrong side of history in the first half of the 2020 season, the Seahawks' defense course corrected for the final stretch and became a strength of the team's towards the year's conclusion. That momentum, however, was anticipated to be greatly disrupted this offseason, with several key starters set to become unrestricted free agents this past March.
With limited salary cap space, it was hard to imagine how Seattle would escape free agency without suffering a handful of devastating blows to its defensive core, or at least be able to fill these potential newfound openings elsewhere. But though they've lost two 2020 starters in cornerback Shaquill Griffin and defensive tackle Jarran Reed, one could make the argument they've built a deeper defense than the one they boasted last year.
Using a few loopholes to his advantage, general manager John Schneider has manifested one of the worst cap situations in the league into something of a shopping spree. Pushing money out to future years to reduce 2021 cap hits, the Seahawks have bolstered their defensive line with pass-rushers Kerry Hyder Jr., Carlos Dunlap, and Benson Mayowa, as well as run-stuffer Al Woods. They also quickly jumped on the opportunity to sign former 49ers corner Ahkello Witherspoon following Griffin's departure.
The quartet of Mayowa, Hyder, Dunlap, and Witherspoon will only account for roughly $11.1 million - or nearly six percent - of the team's salary cap space in 2021. This, of course, does not factor in Woods's reported one-year, $3 million contract, which is yet to be determined from a cap perspective. No matter what that final number ends up being though, the Seahawks have replenished their defensive unit and then some while working within their severe restrictions. And they still have some money to play with.
With the recent extensions of guard Gabe Jackson and receiver Tyler Lockett, they're once again under the cap limit. They also have more strings they can pull, if they so wish.
Although their attention may shift towards the offensive side of the ball from this point forward, there are still a couple defensive areas they could look to address in the coming weeks. Given their maintained interest in re-signing both linebacker K.J. Wright and cornerback Quinton Dunbar, it appears safe to assume they're also generally involved in the market at both positions. Whether they land one - or both - of the aforementioned names remains to be seen, but the Seahawks are likely to haul in some competition for Witherspoon at left cornerback and solidify their strongside linebacker role at some point.
This may also be a point of emphasis in this month's draft, though the Seahawks carry a league-low three picks with just one in the top-100 as of now. If so, they'll have to strike early in a top-heavy class, meaning they're unlikely to come out of the event with answers at both positions in tow—at least in terms of likely contributing prospects.
Another spot they could key in on is defensive tackle, despite the quick exchange of Reed for Woods. The Seahawks kicked their offseason into high gear by inking blossoming star Poona Ford to a two-year deal, and they really like the profiles of Bryan Mone and Cedrick Lattimore. They could, in fact, already have their Week 1 defensive tackle unit on the roster, but it would seem wise for more depth to be added to a group that's still incredibly young even after the addition of Woods.
The free agency pool of defensive tackles is still one of the more saturated markets in the NFL right now. Veterans are aplenty with Geno Atkins, Kawann Short, Jurrell Casey, and DaQuan Jones headlining the group. The Seahawks may very well stand pat, but if not, they aren't short of options at the moment.
For now, the defense looks to be in place aside from perhaps one or two more complementary pieces. Seattle has undeniably exceeded the expectations of many with its work this offseason, and any other additional moves along the defense could arguably be viewed as luxuries.
The fact that can be said, and that acquiring 'luxuries' is a real possibility despite the Seahawks' financial situation, is quite the accomplishment.