Long lost prodigal son Benson Mayowa has finally returned back home to the PNW having signed a one year deal with $3 million dollar in guaranteed money, and Seattle’s 2020 pass rush is starting to take some form… finally. I’m stoked.
He joins other former Seahawk prodigal son Bruce Irvin on his return home, and I suspect Seattle is one more former Pete Carroll player reunion away on the defensive line to having a set rotation of pass rushers. We will touch more on that later.
Now, go ahead. Laugh all you want to about my abundant enthusiasm over this “journeyman” defensive end coming back to Seattle, but looking at Mayowa’s stats in Oakland last year, he actually put up some impressive numbers. As a rotational player for the Raiders, in 316 snaps, Mayowa had 7 sacks and 12 quarterback hits. Now compare that to franchise tagged Yannick Ngakoue from Jacksonville who Seattle has been rumored to be interested in trading for. In 803 snaps, Ngakoue produced 8 sacks and 17 QB hits in 2019; that’s a significant amount more in snaps that Mayowa and only slightly better numbers to show for it, and that is on a line that had Calais Campbell for goodness sake.
Yet, Ngakoue is franchised, and set to make at least $17 million in 2020. Seattle got Mayowa to come back to the team that signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2013 for a mere $3 million that could escalate to $4 in incentives. That, my friends, is the definition of value shopping.
I like this move a lot in many ways, and allow me to break them down.
Mayowa brings familiarity, experience, and production to Seattle
I mentioned in separate piece on this blog not long ago that I felt there was a strong likelihood that Seattle would seek out familiar faces in free agency to shore up the pass rush and the defensive line (you can click here to revisit it if you like). In short, because Covid 19, there is likely to be no OTAs and mini camps to acclimate new talent to teams. This is going to be especially hard for rookies, but I think it’s going to be a challenge for some veterans, as well. A smart team might look more intently on bringing back it’s own player,s and players that have played in either their system before, or similar systems, as they head into Summer training camp.
Like Bruce Irvin, Mayowa was brought up in the Seattle defensive system. He will know how to play the Leo end spot in Seattle, which is the position that the defense most desperately needs help with.
Also, like Irvin, he is coming off of a productive year as a pass rusher, but unlike Irvin, Mayowa is still relatively young at 28 years of age. Because of that, I am actually a bit more intrigued by Mayowa because there still could be a bit of upside to his game.
Depending on who they further add (I suspect that they will add at least one more veteran piece to the defensive line plus a drafted player or two), I can legitimately see a scenario where Pete Carroll will open up competition between Irvin and Mayowa for the starting Leo end spot in training camp, and honestly, I can see Mayowa potentially beating Irvin out.
It doesn’t really matter who starts between the two, however, as they will both see plenty of time on the field, and probably together at times rushing in the NASCAR package on third downs. Carroll has always favored a deep rotation of pass rushers and this is Seattle’s value shopping way of getting back to that.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see in another day or two they either bring back Jadeveon Clowney, or the reach a deal with star defensive Everson Griffen (who played for Carroll at USC and would probably come in considerably cheaper than Clowney because he is older). At this rate, I’d actually be more willing to bet on it being Griffen over Clowney, but we will soon see.
Another dark horse to keep in mind is bringing back Michael Bennett. For me, it doesn’t really matter who. I think what Seattle needs and likely wants more than anything else is production and familiarity. Any one of these three veteran players will provide that.
Teams don’t generally get better spending big in free agency on outside players
I gotta be honest, as much as I have been desperate for Seattle to hang onto Jadeveon Clowney, I don’t want to see Seattle break the bank on him, and if he goes on to Tennessee making more than $18 million annually, I won’t be too heart broken. For as dominant as he can be, he has a troubling injury history. At $15 million, I’d be more comfortable with it, but even then, I’d have my concerns. It’s a totally overused cliche in sports, but it really is true; your best ability is availability, and I have a hard time seeing smart teams spending big on players with significant injury histories.
I also think, as a general rule of thumb, it’s unwise to over spend on outside players that aren’t familiar with your scheme and your culture. Looking at the Atlanta Falcons in 2019, they went big in free agency to address their offensive line and it didn’t work and they suffered a losing season with a bad offensive line.
A smart team identifies who they need to keep and how to build off of them. The first order of free agent business for Seattle was to bring back starting defensive tackle Jarran Reed, and they were perfectly willing to pay the fair market value for his services.
Now, say what you want about his disappointing 2019 season that was impacted by suspension and ankle injury, but Reed is still a stout run defender who can rush the passer. Those guys don’t grow on trees in the NFL. I consider his extension similar to when Seattle chose to extend Brandon Mebane in 2011, and that move worked out pretty darn well the following few seasons.
Smart teams also stay patient in free agency, find value, and they know how to plug them in. This is what Seattle did in 2013 when they brought in Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett when their markets were cool. Avril was a known pass rusher, but Bennett was thought to be more of a run defender who he didn’t really blossom into a pass rusher until after Seattle brought him in. Seattle found a niche for Bennett to rush inside at defensive tackle. That was smart.
Bill Belichick is fabulous at plucking players from other rosters that appear margin talents at best and turning them into productive players in his system. This is what winning teams do.
So, while it’s fun to suggest that Seattle should pay $18 million plus annually to Clowney and then trade for Yannick Ngakoue and pay $18 million plus annually for him, I think the smarter move might be to search harder for value and volume. For the $18 million it might cost just to sign Clowney, Seattle could have Mayowa, Irvin and Griffen on the roster and therefore, a much deeper and stronger rotation once you mix in the younger players.
Smart teams continue to build through the draft
Even if Seattle finds a way to bring back Clowney, or bring in Griffen, the best way for Seattle to maintain success being a contender is to build off of the players they have drafted and will draft.
If Seattle throws big contracts to Clowney and a player like Ngakoue, what does that say about LJ Collier who was their first round pick in 2019? Is he to be just a role player from here on out? Or does he put on some extra mass and kick inside to play defensive tackle with Jarran Reed? Reed is your starting 3 technique and Collier surely wouldn’t be big enough to play nose tackle. In a way, such moves would be an instant admission that Collier was a busted pick without even giving him much of a chance.
Also, what about Rasheem Green who was actually your most productive pass rusher in 2019? Is he now just forever a role player in your system? That’s kinda seems like wasted potential to me, especially for a player who when he came out of college in 2018, most reports said that he had major upside for a team willing to be patient with him.
By signing players such a Mayowa, Irvin, possibly Bennett or Griffen, you’re probably not giving up on the younger players already on the roster. Even if Griffen comes in with a couple years on a deal, that still gives way for Green and Collier to battle for potential starting spots. I think this is a big deal in the minds of Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider.
Also, by filling your biggest needs with value priced veterans, it lessens the possibility of reaching for needs during the draft. Reaching for talent is never a good way to build a team or maintain success.
For example, this draft class is not thought to be great for defensive line, but it is for other positions like receiver and offensive line. Now, Seattle probably wants to draft a pass rusher type, but if that player isn’t really there when they first pick, they won’t be pressed to take one just to take one. Instead, they can go with a pass catcher, or offensive tackle, or different position all together if there is clearly a special talent there.
I know the San Francisco 49ers are a sexy team right now with that pass rush, but Seattle is likely not going to catch up to them in that department in one off-season, or even two. It took the 49ers years of sucking before they loaded up that line like that, and it was all mostly done with high draft capital. So, Seattle is likely going to have to compete in other ways with that club. Getting Russell Wilson better weapons and blockers and making him more difficult to defend is a great counter to that pass rush.
Continually building through the draft is always a good thing, and with four picks in the first two days of this draft, Seattle is in a decent position to find valuable starting talent on cheap rookie contracts, but they had to nail it. They also have to give players recently drafted opportunities to evolve and flourish.
Seattle has a prototype for the Leo end spot and Mayowa fits it
This is just a thought that I would like to leave you with.
Even since Pete Carroll has taken over the Seattle Seahawks, they have had a very specific type of player they seek out to play Leo end. Generally, that player is about 6-3, 250 to 265 pounds, with at least 33 inch arms, and has had decent times in the forty and agility drills during their scouting workouts. This all started in 2010 when Seattle traded established starting Defensive end Darryl Tapp (who didn’t fit that profile) to Philly for a little known “journeyman” in Chris Clemons ,and they subsequently made Clemons a bit of a star for a few years afterward. It continued through to when they drafted Bruce Irvin, signed Cliff Avril, and drafted Frank Clark.
Stuck in the middle of all of that is Benson Mayowa when he made the team as a little known undrafted rookie free agent out of Idaho in 2013. Mayowa is totally within Seattle’s profile as a Leo, but here’s the more interesting thing to note.
Chris Clemons was 29 years old when Seattle traded for him, and Mayowa is now 28. Now, I am not going to say that Mayowa is the next Chris Clemons. However, I’m also not going to say that he isn’t the next Chris Clemons either. When Philly gave up Clemons for Tapp, the feeling around the Philly media is that they gave up peanuts to Seattle for a really good player. Nobody took Clemons to Seattle seriously.
Should Mayowa beat out Irvin for the Leo spot, and should that lead to 8 to 10 sacks for him in 2020, Seattle might well consider working on an extension him because they will have gotten him for a steel. If Clemons to Seattle at age 29 had him blossom late, who is really to say that the same can’t happen for Mayowa?
Just some food for thought.