Seahawks remaking defense from the inside out through free agency

The Seattle Seahawks moved on from established, foundational defenders like Bobby Wagner, Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs this offseason in favor of fresh blood on less-expensive deals.

Now, it will be up to new head coach and defensive guru Mike Macdonald to meld this new group, making it into a more productive unit down the middle of Seattle’s defense. 

Seahawks general manager John Schneider released high-priced safeties in the 28-year-old Adams and 31-year-old Diggs, saving $27 million in non-guaranteed compensation for the upcoming season. And Seattle let both of its starting linebackers — perennial Pro Bowler Wagner (33) and former first-round pick Jordyn Brooks (26) — sign with other teams in free agency.

In their place, the Seahawks inked former Miami Dolphins linebacker Jerome Baker (one-year, $7 million) and Buffalo Bills free agent linebacker Tyrel Dodson (one-year, $4.26 million) to short-term deals. The team will add more competition to that position group through the draft. 

Baker is slated to play Will linebacker while Dodson will slot in as the Mike linebacker, according to Schneider. Baker, 27, was released by the Dolphins in a cost-cutting move when he declined to restructure his contract. The Ohio State product played in 13 games for Miami last season, finishing with 78 combined tackles, two interceptions and 1.5 sacks. 

“Baker has worn the dot [given to the defensive playcaller],” Schneider told Seattle Sports Radio 710-AM. “He can fly. We really liked him in college. He’s just a run-and-hit guy. He’s had a lot of production, a lot of sack production, too. The one thing that really stands out about him is his range. He can really fly around the field.” 

Schneider said former Seahawks personnel man Dan Morgan — now the general manager for the Carolina Panthers — was in Buffalo when the Bills signed Dodson as an undrafted free agent four years ago and had always bragged about him.

“He’s slightly undersized but has great eyes, great feel for flow,” Schneider said about the 6-foot, 237-pound Dodson. “He’ll be able to find the ball inside, run through blocks, and then the coverage stuff is really, really impressive.”

Along with those two, Seattle signed two new safeties to patrol the back end in former Jacksonville Jaguar Rayshawn Jenkins (2-years, $12 million) and former Tennessee Titan K’Von Wallace (one-year deal). 

Jenkins, 30, is expected to pair with Julian Love as a starter, while Wallace, 26, adds competition and versatility to the position group. Seattle also signed 320-pound nose tackle Johnathan Hankins to a one-year deal.

“He’s a really live-wire, cool personality,” Schneider said about Jenkins. “He can play in the hole, play in the box. He’s a physical football player, great ball skills. He’s got a lot of range, gets his hands on balls. He’s always been a fiery, explosive player — lots of juice.”

Seattle allowed 138.4 rushing yards per contest during the regular season last year, second worst in the NFL. According to Next Gen Stats, Seattle allowed 2,197 yards after catches in 2023, No. 23 in the league.

Also, according to Next Gen Stats, Wagner allowed 47 receptions for 522 yards, two scores and a 114.0 passer rating as the nearest defender in coverage.

With Macdonald running the defense, Schneider said the Seahawks expect to run more split safety coverage. According to Next Gen Stats, the Seahawks played Cover 3 with a single-high safety 40.4% of the time last season, No. 3 in the NFL. Under Macdonald last season, the Baltimore Ravens played Cover 3 25.3% of the time. 

So, expect the Seahawks under Macdonald to be a faster, more physical group with the free-agent additions. They’ll join a defense that already has building blocks in defensive linemen Leonard Williams, Dre’Mont Jones and Jarran Reed, outside linebackers Uchenna Nwosu and Boye Mafe and corners Devon Witherspoon and Tariq Woolen.

“We’re obviously trying to get real big up front and strong down the middle of our defense,” Schneider said. “And try to build it from there.”

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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