An underappreciated feat of the Seattle Seahawks’ 2018 season was twice putting up 31 points on a heralded Los Angeles Rams defense that subsequently held New England to 13 points in the Super Bowl. While Seattle lost both games — 33-31 at the Clink and 36-31 at the Coliseum — it wasn’t the fault of a made-over offense that produced a combined 787 yards.
The issue primarily was a defense operating its first games without any member of the Legion of Boom, free safety Earl Thomas having broken his leg in Week 4.
The defense gave up 914 yards in the losses. A key element was the absence of a rush on quarterback Jared Goff. Combined, he was sacked just three times, hit eight times and threw two interceptions. The Rams didn’t lose a fumble in either game.
In a word, the Seahawks defense, not only against the Rams but generally, was mediocre, even with defensive end Frank Clark.
Its greatest statistical deed was helping the Seahawks lead the NFL in turnover ratio with a plus-15, an accomplishment that even school children know is influenced greatly by the randomness of playing with a ball containing two pointy ends.
Despite the dubious defensive developments, the Seahawks traded away their best pass-rusher in Clark.
This fall, they will play six games in a division whose quarterbacks include not only a more seasoned Goff, but a healthy Jimmy Garappolo in San Francisco, and in Arizona, the presumptively precocious Kyler Murray, the draft’s No. 1 pick who won the Heisman Trophy.
And with each passing year, the NFL becomes a more passing game (almost everywhere except Seattle, of course). Which is partly why three of the Seahawks’ first four draft picks were defenders, including first-round defensive end L.J. Collier of Texas Christian.
The background helps explain the urgency of the Seahawks’ moment. Wednesday evening, ESPN and the NFL Network said the Seahawks were about to sign defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, who might be the only alum in BYU’s football history nicknamed Ziggy. The reports say Ansah will fly to Seattle Thursday to sign a one-year deal that has $5.5 million guaranteed, with up to $8 million in incentives.
Ansah, 30 on May 29 and a native of Ghana, was taken with the fifth pick in the first round of the 2013 by Detroit, where the 6-5, 275-pounder toiled sufficiently well in 2015 to be named second-team All-Pro after a career-high 14.5 sacks.
But in the subsequent three years, he had a total of 18 sacks. Ansah was beset by multiple injuries, including a shoulder problem that limited his 2018 season to seven games and required off-season surgery.
He played his sixth and final season with the Lions on a franchise tag, earning $17.1 million, and became free agent, lasting until now primarily because he was seen as damaged goods. Then again, the same can be said for exactly every six-year veteran of the NFL.
He visited Seahawks doctors in late April and obviously checked out well enough physically to be pursued not only by the Seahawks but Buffalo, Baltimore and New Orleans. NFL.com said a surgeon who examined Ansah reported there was no structural damage to the shoulder, requiring only strength rehab that could have him ready by mid-August.
Now that the Seahawks no longer have to pay Clark his franchise tag of $17.1 million, they have $25.1 million available under the salary cap, according to overthecap.com. Because it came after a May 7 deadline, Ansah’s signing will not cost the Seahawks any of their likely four compensatory draft choices in the 2020 draft that were awarded for the club’s losses during free agency.
Despite the competition for Ansah, the deal seems in line with previous Seattle D-line deals and less than the speculation that included multi-year minimums and bigger guarantees.
Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril each came to Seattle in 2013 on one-year free agent deals, and they were healthy and in their young primes. In 2018, Sheldon Richardson came via trade with one year left on his deal for the New York Jets. Also last season, oft-injured Dion Jordan signed a one-year, $1.9 million free agent deal.
The Seahawks hired an age-30 veteran free agent coming off injury to fill their biggest need, which is a definite risk. But if Ansah returns to full strength by September, the Seahawks are all in with the risk. They will have out-bid others for perhaps the best remaining player in the market.
After the playoff loss at Dallas, where the Cowboys managed 380 yards despite four sacks of quarterback Dak Prescott, three by the since-departed Clark, Carroll talked enthusiastically about the immediate future.
“You can tell that the nucleus and the core of the team that you need to be a championship club is here,” he said. That means he’s not trusting the fix of a significant weakness to a rookie, no matter Collier’s upside. Ansah leads him 48-0 in career sacks.
If the Seahawks believe they can, as Carroll said earlier this month, build a title contender around the world’s most expensive quarterback, they got Ziggy with it Wednesday.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com.