Throughout his 11 seasons as head coach for the Seahawks, Pete Carroll has reiterated on countless occasions that you can never have too many pass rushers. This offseason, he and general manager John Schneider have clearly taken this advice to heart.
After largely sitting out the first week of free agency, Seattle first re-signed Benson Mayowa, who produced 6.0 sacks last season. Then, the team brought back Carlos Dunlap on a two-year deal mere weeks after releasing him as a cap casualty. To cap off a flurry of activity, former 49ers starter Kerry Hyder was signed to a two-year contract as well, further solidifying the defensive line.
But even after those three moves, Schneider apparently still wasn't satisfied. After visiting with the player on Tuesday, the Seahawks swiftly agreed to terms with veteran defensive end Aldon Smith on a one-year deal, adding another proven talent to the team's stable of pass rushers.
This latest move shouldn't come as a surprise at all, the Seahawks have long been intrigued by the possibility of signing Smith, who previously terrorized them as a member of the 49ers. The team expressed interest when the player applied for reinstatement from suspension in March 2020, but he wound up signing a contract with the Cowboys instead. Schneider made another push to acquire him prior to the trade deadline, only for Dallas to decide to keep him.
Per Mike Fisher of SICowboys.com, Seattle made Smith a contract offer shortly after the start of free agency last month, but the deal fell through due to "personal issues" the player was dealing with. Given his checkered past with multiple substance abuse-related suspensions, that revelation raised major red flags.
But Schneider and the organization maintained contact with Smith since that time and clearly felt the situation had been resolved. Otherwise, a deal wouldn't have come together this quickly.
Assuming Smith is in a good place mentally, his presence should make an already good pass rush headlined by Dunlap even fiercer. After sitting out four whole seasons due to an indefinite suspension, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound defender made a remarkable comeback in Dallas a year ago, producing 5.0 sacks and 50 quarterback pressures. He also returned a fumble 72 yards for a touchdown.
Now 31 years old, Smith won't be expected to come in and start. Instead, he will provide the Seahawks with another athletic, lengthy rusher to rotate with Dunlap who can harass opposing quarterbacks while still packing a punch against the run. The former Missouri star earned a respectable 64.1 run defense grade from Pro Football Focus during the 2020 season.
Likely set to play on an incentive-heavy deal due to his track record of off-field problems, it's a true low-risk, potentially high-reward scenario for Smith, Schneider, and the franchise. If he doesn't pan out or gets in trouble again, the team can easily move on with a minimal financial commitment.
However, if there's a downside to the decision to add Smith to a suddenly overcrowded defensive end group, his arrival could create a road block for young players such as Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson to see the field. If he plays inside some, he may further limit chances for former draft picks L.J. Collier and Rasheem Green, who were already facing the prospect of playing less due to Hyder's signing.
Taylor, who the Seahawks traded up to select in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, did not play a single snap as a rookie due to a prolonged recovery from surgery to repair a fractured fibula. He remained on the Non-Football Injury list until the playoffs started and he was able to get on the field for a handful of practices prior to the team's wild card loss to the Rams.
An explosive, twitchy rusher off the edge, Taylor's size and skill set cater well to the LEO defensive end spot. But he will now have to battle against Dunlap, Smith, and Mayowa for reps, which doesn't bode well for his chances of seeing many snaps in the near future. In fact, with K.J. Wright still unsigned, the team may need to consider moving him to SAM linebacker to create an opportunity for him to play.
Despite exceeding all expectations as a rookie by producing 4.0 sacks, Robinson could be at an even greater disadvantage. Along with fending for leftovers against Dunlap, Smith, Mayowa, and Taylor at the LEO spot, he will have to compete against Hyder, Collier, and Green at the base end position. There's a chance he could be at the bottom of the depth chart on both sides, which puts his roster spot in a precarious position.
Green may be the other player who faces an uphill climb maintaining his spot on the roster. Entering the final year of his rookie contract, he has battled through several injuries in his first three seasons and though he's still only 24 years old, his production has been underwhelming and he hasn't been able to carve out a consistent role in the team's pass rushing rotation.
There's no question it's a good problem for Seattle to deal with. As Hyder stated so eloquently earlier this month, the best NFL pass rushes "hit 'em in waves" and his new team should be able to do that by keeping players fresh with a plethora of viable edge defenders to rotate into the lineup. As Carroll will gladly state again, there's no such thing as too much pass rush.
But with eight defensive ends now under contract along with five defensive tackles, the reality is that the Seahawks simply won't be able to keep everyone. Assuming they avoid significant injuries, the flurry of moves that have been made to solidify the defensive line means an intense competition is brewing, undoubtedly ensuring a talented player or two will finds himself on the outside looking in when training camp concludes.