In another of the many unexpected developments for the Seattle Seahawks in 2020, four different players started six games or more at cornerback.
That wasn’t really the plan when Seattle traded for Quinton Dunbar in March to pair with returning stalwart Shaquill Griffin, the hope being that the Seahawks had found a duo that could not only be one of the best in the NFL in 2020 but for years to come.
Instead, injuries changed some things along the way. And with Griffin and Dunbar now free agents, the future at cornerback is one of the bigger uncertainties Seattle faces heading into the offseason.
As we continue a review of Seattle’s position groups, here’s a look at cornerback.
Snaps played: 813.
Contract situation: Now an unrestricted free agent after making $2.133 million in 2020.
Snaps played: 560.
Contract situation: Has one season left on initial four-year rookie contract, due to make $920,000 in 2021.
Snaps played: 397.
Contract situation: Now an unrestricted free agent after making $3.25 million in 2020 in the final year of a contract signed with Washington in 2018.
Snaps played: 551.
Contract situation: Entering third season of four-year rookie contract, due to make $850,000 in 2021.
Snaps played: 578.
Contract situation: Entering final season of four-year rookie season, due to make a nonguaranteed $2.133 base salary in 2021 as part of the NFL’s proven performance escalator.
Seattle entered the 2020 offseason hoping to upgrade the corner spot after the struggles in its divisional loss to Green Bay following the 2019 season.
The Seahawks didn’t bother wading into free agency to get that done, instead making a trade for Dunbar that was widely hailed as a potential steal at the time. They were able to get him for a fifth-round pick from Washington following a 2019 season when he was generally considered one of the most improved players in the NFL.
But Dunbar had a rocky offseason that included charges — that were all later dropped — of robbery, and then showed up to camp with a lingering knee issue.
Despite that, Dunbar quickly beat out incumbent Flowers for the right corner spot. But the knee injury meant he played in just six games, and in only one did he play every snap, with Flowers often subbing in for a few series.
Dunbar was finally shelved for the season after he limped through a game at Buffalo in which the Seahawks allowed 44 points, the most in the Pete Carroll era.
Griffin also suffered a hamstring injury at midseason that held him out of four games. The upshot of those injuries was Flowers starting eight games, until he also suffered a hamstring injury late in the year.
All of that helped open the door for Reed, who was maybe the most pleasant surprise on the team, claimed off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers on Aug. 5 with San Francisco hoping to place him on the injured reserve with a torn pec muscle. Seattle gambled he could get healthy enough to play later in the year, and indeed he did, ultimately starting games at both outside corner spots and nickel and seven overall.
Reed finished the year as Seattle’s highest-rated cornerback by Pro Football Focus, graded 13th out of 121 corners in the NFL and allowing a passer rating of just 75.8 via Pro Football Reference (Griffin allowed a rating of 93.3, Flowers 106.1 and Dunbar 111.0).
Amadi, meanwhile, emerged as the nickel corner following a season-ending knee injury to Marquise Blair in the second game of the season. He missed two games at midseason due to injury, which initially opened the door for Reed, but then re-entered as the nickel when Reed moved outside once Dunbar was sidelined for good.
Amadi allowed the second-lowest passer rating of Seattle’s corners at 86.3.
As Seattle heads into the offseason, it now faces some big questions with both Griffin and Dunbar unrestricted free agents.
Carroll said after the season that Dunbar’s knee surgery had gone well and that the Seahawks hope to bring him back.
Dunbar might want to test free agency. But after the upheaval of the 2020 season and surgery, he may also be amenable to a shorter-term and lower-cost deal than Griffin, who may be more inclined to want to hit the market and see what happens.
What could Griffin and Dunbar command on the open market? Spotrac.com estimated a four-year deal at up to $44 million for Griffin, and three years, $32 million for Dunbar.
Pro Football Focus guessed each will be a little less pricey, intriguingly projecting that Seattle will re-sign each — Griffin for three years, $28.5 million total, $9.5 million average per year), $15.5 million total guaranteed, $8 million fully guaranteed at signing; Dunbar for two years, $12 million, $6 million average, $9.5 million total guaranteed, $7.5 million fully guaranteed at signing.
The only cornerback Seattle has paid more than either of those per-year averages during the Carroll era is Richard Sherman, who got $57 million over four years in 2014.
But with both Reed and Flowers under contract in 2021 — and Reed having shown this year he can be a solid, every-down boundary corner — and only $2.7 million in cap space at the moment, the Seahawks may have room for only one or the other.