In the second week of free agency, the Seahawks made fortifying their pass rush a top priority, re-signing defensive ends Benson Mayowa and Carlos Dunlap while also stealing veteran defender Kerry Hyder from the 49ers. But with the organization in the midst of a tight salary cap crunch, those moves came at a cost.
Desperate for financial flexibility to fit Dunlap, Mayowa, and Hyder under the cap, after failed contract negotiations and trade attempts, Seattle unceremoniously released defensive tackle Jarran Reed. Within 48 hours of his release, the former second-round pick out of Alabama had agreed to terms with Kansas City on a one-year deal, reuniting with friend and former teammate Frank Clark.
From an individual standpoint, the Seahawks will be hard-pressed to replace Reed's stellar production, particularly as a pass rusher. Starting with a breakout 2018 season in which he posted 10.5 sacks starring alongside Clark, he amassed 19.0 sacks and 46 quarterback hits from the interior in 42 games over the past three years. In two of those seasons, he finished in the top 20 for quarterback pressures among defensive tackles per Pro Football Focus.
But while Seattle may not have any one player who will be able to fill the major void left by Reed's exit, the team has enough talent, depth, and coaching chops to compensate for his departure, which helps explain why he was deemed expendable.
Just two weeks before Reed received a pink slip following broken down contract negotiations, the Seahawks handed Poona Ford a well-deserved two-year extension. Already known for his stout run defense, he established new career-highs with 28 quarterback pressures and seven quarterback hits, beginning his emergence as one of the better all-around defensive tackles in the NFC.
Only 25 years old, Seattle believes Ford's best days remain in front of him and hasn't come close to reaching his full potential. The former undrafted free agent out of Texas will once again be penciled in as a starter, but unlike the last two years, he will likely see the bulk of his action in the 3-tech role once occupied by Reed. This should further accentuate his quickness as a pass rusher, opening the door for him to blow his previous record of 2.0 sacks out of the water in 2021.
Next to Ford, third-year defender Bryan Mone looks poised to take on an expanded role and the organization remains high on his upside. Though he missed six games with a high ankle sprain last season, the 345-pound nose tackle played a career-high 228 defensive snaps and was surprisingly effective as a pass rusher, producing nine tackles, a sack, and seven quarterback hurries. He also brought down Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott for a safety in a Week 3 win.
Besides Mone, Seattle worked swiftly to add veteran insurance to beef up their defensive line, re-signing 34-year old veteran Al Woods before Reed's release even became official. In 2019, he started five games in place of a suspended Reed and wound up producing 32 tackles, a sack, and two fumble recoveries.
If there's a wild card to watch helping offset the loss of Reed, it's second-year defensive tackle Cedrick Lattimore, who displayed promise in his NFL debut in January. After being signed as an undrafted free agent and not playing a single snap in the regular season, he earned a last minute promotion from the practice squad before the Seahawks 30-20 wild card loss to the Rams, unexpectedly producing six tackles and making two key third down run stops in the second half.
A former high school basketball standout, Lattimore presents intriguing athletic tools at 300 pounds, which could make him an ideal candidate to pick up some of the snaps left vacated by Reed. With a strong training camp and preseason, the ex-Iowa Hawkeye could carve out a significant rotational role behind Ford, Mone, and Woods.
In obvious passing situations, the Seahawks will be able to be creative at the defensive tackle positions as well. With Hyder likely to take over as the starter at base defensive end, former first-round pick L.J. Collier should see even more action reduced inside after logging more than 150 snaps at the 3-tech role in 2020. Rasheem Green could also be utilized in the same capacity, giving the team plenty of athleticism and length to help collapse the pocket from the inside.
In the end, maybe more vital to the Seahawks survival without Reed than anything else, the team will be entrusting their faith in defensive line coach Clint Hurtt to continue excelling at developing talent at the position.
Under Hurtt's watch, Ford has evolved from an undersized, overlooked prospect into a budding star. Mone now has a chance to take his next step progression-wise, while Lattimore might offer the most intrigue if his athletic traits can be translated into a more polished overall game. If all three keep improving as anticipated, the defensive line should remain a strength largely on the backs of undrafted players, a strong indicator of the fantastic job Hurtt has done.
Choosing to move on from Reed carries plenty of risks. He's been one of Seattle's most consistent defenders over the past three years, he's popular in the locker room, and at only 28 years of age, releasing a player of his caliber in the midst of his prime always has a chance to backfire.
But with Ford emerging as an elite all-around talent, Mone and Woods ready to eat up space in the middle, and Lattimore, Collier, and Green providing a trio of athletic pass rushing alternatives coupled with Hurtt coaching his tail off, the Seahawks should be confident the interior defensive line won't miss a beat next season and beyond.