Improving a pass rush that finished in the middle of the pack in sacks last season remains a top priority for the Seattle Seahawks as free agency approaches.
While this year’s free agent class features several star pass rushers who could be on Seattle’s radar, the Seahawks may have greater interest in signing veteran defensive end Everson Griffen, who reportedly could be cut by the Vikings in the near future as a cap casualty.
Griffen, who turned 31 years old in December, endured a challenging 2018 season for the Vikings. He played in only 11 games and finished with just 5.5 sacks, his lowest total since 2013.
His lack of production on the field wasn’t the biggest concern for the organization, however, as Griffin spent a month away from the team dealing with mental-health issues after allegedly threatening to shoot someone at a hotel in Minneapolis. No gun was found, and he wasn’t arrested following the incident, instead being admitted to the hospital.
Given Griffen’s age, declining production, and the bizarre series of events that led to his extended absence from the team, it’s not a surprise the cap-strapped Vikings don’t want to pay him $11.7 million in 2019.
But if the Seahawks want to get the most bang for their buck in free agency while bolstering their pass rush, signing Griffen makes sense on multiple levels.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has prior ties to Griffen, as he recruited the U.S. Army All-American selection to USC, where he played from 2007 to 2009 before leaving school early to pursue an NFL career. In three seasons with the Trojans, he racked up 84 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, and 18.0 sacks.
After only starting one game in his first four NFL seasons, Griffen has been one of the league’s most consistent all-around defensive ends over the past five seasons. During that span, he accumulated 226 tackles, 49.0 sacks, 114 quarterback hits, and 54 tackles for loss while appearing in three straight Pro Bowls from 2015 to 2017.
Putting aside his disappointing 2018 campaign, Griffen is only one year removed from his most productive season in the NFL, as he earned Second-Team All-Pro honors after registering a career-high 13.0 sacks in 2017. Assuming his mental issues are behind him and he’s solely focused on football, there’s little reason to believe he can’t rebound next year, especially with a change of scenery.
At 6-foot-3, 273 pounds, Griffen also fits what Seattle needs schematically at the other defensive end spot. He’s strong enough to hold serve at the edge as a five-technique defensive end while also being capable of sliding outside and pinning his ears back to pursue opposing quarterbacks.
With general manager John Schneider at the helm, Seattle rarely has gone after big fish in free agency and prefers to wait things out before going bargain hunting. This has been especially true with pass rushers, as the Seahawks signed defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril to team-friendly one-year deals prior to the 2013 season before eventually locking them up to long-term deals.
Since the Seahawks already will be handing out a mega-deal to defensive end Frank Clark, or at the very least placing a pricey franchise tag on him, they’ll need to look for similar value signings to fill the void at the other defensive end spot. Unlike five years ago, however, the cost for pass rushers has sky-rocketed, making deals like the ones Seattle negotiated with Bennett and Avril near impossible to replicate.
Still, other teams likely won’t be lining up to throw $11 million at Griffen after his rocky 2018 season and considering his age, he may need to settle for a one-year deal. Reuniting with his college coach and playing in a system that suits his strengths, Seattle would be an ideal landing spot for both parties.