Coming off a career year for the Seahawks in 2018, Jarran Reed entered the final year of his rookie contract primed to break the bank as a coveted free agent in 2020.
Shedding the label of early down run stuffer that came with him from Alabama, Reed generated 10.5 sacks and 24 quarterback hits in 2018, ranking second on the team behind only defensive end Frank Clark. He also remained stout against the run, finishing with a career-high 50 tackles and 12 tackles for loss.
Based on his success, some speculated Seattle would push to extend Reed a year early. But with quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner negotiating new extensions and Clark receiving the franchise tag, the organization had more urgent needs to address.
To cement a lucrative deal of his own, Reed would have to earn it by proving his breakout season wasn’t an anomaly. Unfortunately, the 2019 season didn’t pan out as planned on or off the field.
The troubles started before training camp opened, as the NFL slapped Reed with a six-game suspension stemming for a domestic violence incident in 2017. He apologized to friends, family, and the Seahawks organization, but remained steadfast in denying allegations made against him and didn’t agree with the punishment.
Seattle managed to open the season 5-1 without Reed and once he returned in Week 7, he was expected to provide a boost to a pass rush that had struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks. The Seahawks had failed to generate a sack in three of the first six games.
But after sitting out nearly two months, Reed wasn’t able to rediscover his 2018 groove. Aside from recording 1.5 sacks in a 27-24 overtime win over the 49ers, he failed to make much of an impact as a pass rusher, finishing with just 2.0 sacks and eight quarterback hits in 10 starts.
“He never really got started rushing the passer like he was flying last year. He wasn’t able to be as productive, numbers wise,” coach Pete Carroll assessed in his end-of-season press conference.
In conjunction with his suspension, Reed’s diminishing production looked more in line with his first two seasons in Seattle than his sensational 2018 campaign. Nearly 66 percent of his career sacks came in one season, casting doubts about whether or not he warrants a pricey long-term contract.
Nonetheless, based on Carroll’s remarks, it’s clear the organization still holds Reed in high regard. And while his numbers didn’t stack up at all with his outstanding production from the season prior, the statistics didn’t necessarily represent how disruptive he was in the interior.
According to Carroll, the inability to consistently create pressure off the edge didn’t do Reed any favors. With Clark in Kansas City, Rasheem Green led the team with just 4.0 sacks, while Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah combined to make 5.5 sacks on the season.
“He still a really good football player and means a lot to this team and really tough and terrific all-around player. Because he’s an inside guy and plays like he plays, he needs the support around him to open up the rush lanes and things like that. We weren’t able to help him enough.”
Going into the offseason, finding remedies for one of the NFL’s worst pass rushes remains Seattle’s most critical priority. Ironically, trying to address that deficiency could be what leads to Reed’s departure.
Scheduled to hit free agency in March himself, Clowney will likely command north of $20 million per year. Despite his low sack totals, he’s just 26 years old and scored two defensive touchdowns in his first year in Seattle. As one of the NFL’s premier run defenders at the position, the Seahawks value his all-around game and both parties seem interested in a long-term commitment.
If Seattle chooses to re-sign Clowney and pursues another talented edge rushing presence such as Yannick Ngakoue or Robert Quinn in free agency, plentiful cap space will dry up quickly. The front office also has tough decisions looming on whether or not to re-sign tackles Germain Ifedi and George Fant, who could command big bucks on the market, and a potential extension for Pro Bowl cornerback Shaquill Griffin could be on the table as well.
Depending on Reed’s contract demands coupled with all of the other business decisions on Schneider’s plate, he could be priced out of returning to the Seahawks.
Ultimately, Seattle has to determine if Reed’s one sensational season warrants an extension worth at least 10-12 million per year, his likely asking price at minimum. Based on a recent tweet from Reed, such negotiations may not be going swimmingly.
From Seattle's perspective, paying lucrative money for a defensive tackle who hasn’t proven himself as a consistent force rushing the passer presents a great deal of risk. A one-year deal to reassess his value would be the ideal situation for the team, though the franchise tag would be way too expensive at north of $15 million for 2020.
But letting Reed walk would be risky too, however. Veterans Quinton Jefferson and Al Woods are also free agents, leaving only Poona Ford, Naz Jones, and Bryan Mone on the depth chart at the position. None of those players offer the ceiling Reed does and his exit could lead to a one step forward, two steps back scenario for Seattle’s pass rush.
In an offseason full of difficult choices, figuring out what to do with Reed will be one of the Seattle's biggest story lines to watch unfold in coming months.