Now in the third week of free agency, activity has grinded to a halt with few signings made by NFL teams in recent days.
While it’s normal for free agency to slow down after a couple of weeks, this year has been vastly different due to travel restrictions implemented to combat the spread of COVID-19. Players can’t visit with teams at their facility to receive physicals, which has complicated the process of finalizing deals.
As a result, the Seahawks have found themselves in a holding pattern awaiting a final decision from defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who has yet to sign the dotted line and decide where he will play in 2020. Coming off surgery, the former No. 1 overall pick has a lengthy injury history that has reportedly spooked some teams and the inability to bring him in for a physical has been a substantial reason for him remaining unsigned.
All along, Clowney has understandably been Seattle’s top priority and they’re going to continue trying to sign him. But his reluctance to accept a deal well below what he thinks he’s worth prevented the team from aggressively pursuing other pass rushing options, putting the organization in a tough spot.
With the NFL draft now only 24 days away, the time has come for general manager John Schneider to put Clowney on hold and shift course towards a secondary plan of action to address the Seahawks greatest flaw.
By continuing to play the waiting game with Clowney, Seattle has missed out on a number of quality veterans such as Robert Quinn and Dante Fowler Jr. who could have bolstered the team’s anemic pass rush. The market now looks barren for the most part, with Everson Griffen being the other top tier edge defender still available.
With no end in sight for Clowney’s negotiations and diminishing cap space available, Schneider should turn his attention to signing Griffen, who previously was recruited to USC to play for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
Though he’s five years older than Clowney, Griffen would be a reasonable consolation prize for the Seahawks. He made his fourth Pro Bowl in five seasons in 2019, finishing a strong bounce back season with 8.0 sacks and helping the Vikings return to the playoffs.
Reuniting with Carroll in Seattle would be an excellent closing chapter to a stellar career for Griffen, who has seemed like a natural fit since he opted to void the final three years of his contract in Minnesota in February. He recently bid farewell to Vikings fans, making it clear he will be wearing another uniform next season.
If Schneider signs Griffen, that doesn’t mean Seattle can’t continue to pursue Clowney. This isn’t necessarily setting a deadline for him to make a choice, at least not yet. Cap space can be created through a variety of ways, including cutting expensive veterans and turning base salary into signing bonuses for players under contract to defer cap charges to a later year.
Choosing to keep all hands on deck trying to sign Clowney would likely mean Griffen signs elsewhere, leaving Schneider with few reasonable options left in free agency and potentially altering the game plan for next month's draft. If the Seahawks truly want to improve the pass rush, he would then be forced to re-investigate dealing a high draft pick for Yannick Ngakoue or Matt Judon, two franchise-tagged rushers he has already inquired about.
As good as Ngakoue and Judon are, trading away a first or second round pick and handing out a lucrative extension to either player isn’t the most ideal of alternatives. Still, such a bold move may be necessary under such circumstances for a franchise looking to take advantage of the current championship window and shouldn't be ruled out.
Based on how things have played out to this point, Seattle planned to sign Clowney first and then explore the possibility of teaming him up with Griffen. That may continue to be the game plan moving forward in the short term - it's financially feasible and Schneider wouldn't have to surrender draft picks.
At this stage, however, the Seahawks are at risk for striking out on both players and need to be aggressive pursuing the latter to avoid such a scenario.