Why Seahawks' Depth at Defensive Tackle Is Concerning and What They Can Do About It

There's potential to be found in the Seahawks' group of defensive tackles, but the depth they have is too uncertain for a team of their standard to be comfortable with. If they so desire, it doesn't have to be that way.
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It's hard to fault the Seahawks for any aspect of their approach this offseason. To take one of the worst salary cap situations in the league and the worst draft pick value in over 20 years and turn it into what they have has been impressive to witness. 

Coming off one of the organization's most deflating playoff eliminations in its 45-year history, maintaining and improving a roster that flashed signs of a championship contender felt like an impossibility. Arguably, general manager John Schneider has done just that.

There is one pretty obvious blemish on their record thus far, however: the loss of defensive tackle Jarran Reed. Unwilling to restructure the respective contracts of quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner, Schneider turned to Reed in search of financial relief. 

With their backs against the salary cap wall, Reed left the Seahawks with two options to mull over: either extend his contract past the 2021 season, or cut him. They weren't willing to go the first route, nor was the Alabama product interested in simply lowering his cap hit without a commitment past this year. So Seattle chose door No. 2, cutting Reed to save nearly $9 million.

In doing so, the Seahawks bid farewell to their most well-rounded interior player. Now, that isn't to say Reed's necessarily irreplaceable, and it's not a knock on the three-year progression of Poona Ford, but there's a noticeable drop-off in the talent that remains compared to the talent that departed.

While Ford's become a special player in his own right, there are significant question marks behind him on the depth chart. Al Woods, a 34-year old pure run stuffer who hasn't played since Week 15 of the 2019 season, is their de facto No. 2. After that, a crop of young players with limited-to-no experience to speak of.

Bryan Mone is seemingly the other lock on the roster for now. And while his tape tells a better story than his stat sheet, that's a lot of confidence to place on a player with just 272 career snaps. 

Other options to either push Woods and/or Mone - or compete for a fourth roster spot - are Robert Nkemdiche, Cedrick Lattimore, Myles Adams, Jarrod Hewitt and Walter Palmore. Each has their own merits, and with the uncertainty of the Seahawks' depth, any of them could legitimately factor into consideration for the 53-man roster.

Of the five names listed, Nkemdiche has the most experience. But a troubled past and a lack of production on the field doesn't inspire a ton of confidence in the former first-round pick's ability to crack Seattle's roster this summer. That potentially leaves Lattimore in the driver's seat after playing well following his unexpected promotion to the active roster for the team's wild-card loss to the Rams in January. But that one game is all there is to work off of when it comes to evaluating Lattimore, so it's impossible for outsiders to determine if that performance is repeatable or not. 

Overall, there's a lot of projection in this group. That's not ideal for a team with Super Bowl aspirations, whose interior was gashed by running back Cam Akers and the Rams' offensive line that January evening. 

An even bigger cause for concern is what happens in the event of an injury to one of Ford or Woods, particularly the former. Suddenly, the Seahawks would solely be reliant upon a select few of these aforementioned names to play significant starting snaps in a crucial year for their championship window. That's just not where they can afford to be, even if they're right about Mone and Lattimore. It's too big of an ask for players with minimal experience. 

Thankfully for them, there is a very clear and simple solution to this that doesn't involve surrendering significant draft capital or throwing around money they don't have. 

Right now, there are four veteran defensive tackles - all with long histories of success - sitting out on the free agent market. Some have their warts, sure, but any would give the Seahawks some much-needed insurance on the interior.

Geno Atkins is the biggest name to keep an eye on here. An eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro, Atkins was released by the Bengals this March for a multitude of reasons. One of them being the 33-year old's recent shoulder injury, which landed him on the injured reserve in December.

Dealing with the ailment since training camp, Atkins didn't see the field much in his final year in Cincinnati. This was also largely in part to the Bengals pivoting towards a youth movement, essentially phasing out the veteran presences of Atkins and current Seahawk Carlos Dunlap. 

Reuniting the two has long been speculated this offseason, and it genuinely makes the most sense for both sides. Atkins is nearing the end of his illustrious career, but should still be able to contribute if healthy. He earned Pro Bowl honors as recent as 2019, registering 29 tackles and 5.0 sacks on 53 pressures. And despite his personal accomplishments, he's never won a playoff game, let alone a ring. Seattle gives him the opportunity to potentially do both in 2021.

The other strong possibility here is a reunion with Sheldon Richardson, who was released by the Browns to ironically make room for former Seahawks edge Jadeveon Clowney. Seahawk Maven's Matty F. Brown has speculated a possible fit, citing Richardson's ability to play the role of Reed at three-technique.

It's ultimately just a matter of the two sides being open to the possibility of linking up again, considering Seattle didn't re-sign Richardson after a letdown campaign in 2017. That year proved to be an outlier, however, with career-lows posted pretty much across the board for him. Since then, he's gotten back to being a solid commander of the run game and a fairly consistent pass rusher. Last year, he earned a 71.1 overall grade from Pro Football Focus to the tune of 44 tackles and 6.0 sacks on 43 pressures.

Jurrell Casey and Kawann Short are the other two household names still looking for a home in 2021, though the latter has played in just five games over the last two seasons due to shoulder issues. Casey, on the other hand, has primarily played 3-tech since 2018, putting up 13.0 sacks on 82 pressures with 70 tackles in that time. However, a torn biceps injury quickly ended his lone year with the Broncos, for whom he only appeared in three games in 2020. 

Still, the Seahawks have options. Ideally, they won't let this opportunity to get deeper at a shaky position group pass by. There's simply too much uncertainty within their current defensive tackle ranks for a team of their standard to bear. One injury could derail everything, but even if they stay healthy, there are valid reasons to be concerned about their ability to produce aside from Ford and maybe Woods. 

They still have $8.3 million in cap space to play with, according to OverTheCap.com. And while reunions with linebacker K.J. Wright and cornerback Richard Sherman are fun in theory, a veteran 3-tech may be the most necessary item remaining on their to-do list.