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Why the Seahawks cut captain Al Woods, where it leaves the D-line and what to expect next

News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. logoNews Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. 3/21/2023 Gregg Bell, The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

Mar. 21—Al Woods seemed surprised by the question.

That in itself was a surprise. He knows this cold business better than any other Seahawk. He'd just finished his 12th season in the NFL.

The big defensive tackle was on his way into a season-ending team meeting inside Seahawks headquarters in Renton on Jan. 15. It was the day after Seattle lost at San Francisco in the first round of the playoffs. Woods, who turns 36 in March, had one year, the 2023 season remaining on his contract. But he knows nothing in this league is guaranteed.

Not even to team captains.

Woods was asked that day two months ago: Do he expect and want to keep playing through the end of his Seahawks contract this coming winter?

He looked back. His eyes got big

"Oh, yeah," Woods said. "I can't go out like that. I've got to finish what I started."

He just went out like that. He doesn't get to finish what he started. Not in Seattle, anyway.

The Seahawks released their co-captain and nose tackle from three of the last four seasons Monday evening. Cutting Woods saves the Seahawks $3.76 million against the 2023 NFL salary cap.

The move came into the second week of the league's free-agency period. That suggests general manager John Schneider asked Woods to restructure his deal or attempted to find other places to save cap space. Usually, the team releases veterans before the market opens, or soon after it does, to give them better opportunities to find new teams before those clubs make other signings.

The overhaul of the D-line

Seattle released veteran tackles Shelby Harris and Quinton Jefferson last week. They signed younger, better defensive linemen Dre'Mont Jones (from Denver in an uncharacteristically large and splashy, $51 million deal) and Jarran Reed.

That plus Monday's re-signing of Drew Lock to a one-year, $4 million contract to back up Pro Bowl quarterback Geno Smith again in 2023 left Seahawks down to $9.16 million in cap space for this year, per The team needs about $10 million for the 10 picks it has in next month's NFL draft.

So Schneider and coach Pete Carroll decided Woods had to go. His scheduled salary-cap charge of $5.42 million was 10th-highest on the team for this year. The only players with higher cap numbers are Jamal Adams, Quandre Diggs, Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, Uchenna Nwosu, Smith, Jones, Will Dissly and Noah Fant. None of them are going anywhere. They are team bedrocks for 2023.

Nwosu was the team's sack leader last season in his first year with Seattle after signing from the Los Angeles Chargers. Just 26, the outside linebacker could be the next source of cap savings with a new contract extension. The Seahawks could lower his $13.01 million cap charge for 2023 to a more team-friendly total by spreading signing bonus money with lower up-front salary across the length of a new multiyear deal.

Pete Carroll's goal

Cutting Woods, Harris and Jefferson is about more than only money. It's part of Carroll's massive overhaul of his defensive front seven. It subverted much of what the offense and Smith did in his record-setting passing season of 2022.

Carroll's stated goal: To get younger, faster and better across the defensive line.

Seattle's run defense in Carroll's new 3-4 scheme spent much of last season allowing the most rushing yards per game in team history, 170-plus yards per game. The 49ers dominated the Seahawks on the line of scrimmage and with the run in all three meetings of NFC West rivals.

Until Seattle fixes that it's not beating San Francisco to even get out of the division — much less to the Super Bowl.

"It's killing me. Yeah, it's killing me. We are going to have to become more dynamic up front," Carroll said Jan. 16.

"We have to.

"We've kind of been in the same mode. We have to get more production out of the guys. They have to be more of a factor. We need to make the position really competitive."

In comes Jones from Denver, for $17 million per year. He's 26. He's considered one of the league's best young defensive linemen, and one of the best available in free agency this month.

Back comes Reed. He signed back with Seattle last week for two years and up to $10.8 million. The Seahawks drafted the defensive tackle and played him in the middle of its front for five seasons through 2020, including a 10-1/2-sack season in 2018, his third NFL season with Seattle.

Carroll and Schneider aren't done remaking the defensive front.

Cutting Woods leaves the team with no true run-stopping defensive tackle on the roster. Myles Adams has played some outside at end, but not much; he's played in 12 career games, none of them starts. Seattle signed 25-year-old tackle Jarrod Hewitt to a futures contract in January. That's a developmental deal for a developmental player.

Jones played his rookie season of 2019 for the Broncos at tackle but has flourished since at end. Reed has played tackle for the Seahawks, but that was in Carroll's old, discarded 4-3 scheme. Part of the Seahawks' task between now and the season beginning in September is to figure out how to better fit Reed, Jones, Adams and the more defensive tackles and ends still to arrive into run-stopping roles in the 3-4, with Nwosu, Boye Mafe, Tyreke Smith and others as the outside edge-rushing linebackers.

The Seahawks have the fifth overall choice in next month's draft. They are in play to select Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson, stock-falling Georgia tackle Jalen Carter or other top prospects for their defensive line. Seattle owns four of the first 52 choices and five of the first 83 in this draft.

The Seahawks also remain in the market for inside linebackers — and remain interested in reuniting with six-time All-Pro and free agent Bobby Wagner. He remains unsigned, with a market that reportedly may include New England.

This story was originally published March 21, 2023, 10:25 AM.

(c)2023 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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