The best NFL defense of this decade is breaking up, while the best defensive line of 2017 is only getting stronger.
Seattle's decision to trade defensive end Michael Bennett to the Philadelphia Eagles on Wednesday is just the first step in dismantling the incredible group of defenders that general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll have leaned on over the past half-decade.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport also reported that cornerback Richard Sherman has started saying his goodbyes to teammates, as the three-time All-Pro doesn't expect to be with the team in 2018. The futures of defensive end Cliff Avril and safety Kam Chancellor also remain very much in question because of health issues.
To acquire Bennett, Rapoport reports that the Eagles only had to give up wide receiver Marcus Johnson and move down two rounds in the 2018 NFL Draft from the fifth to the seventh. While salary-cap space and finances are a huge part of all these decisions, Bennett's $5.65 million in scheduled 2018 compensation is far from exorbitant. This trade signifies that Carroll and Schneider were ready to start over, at least on defense.
Carroll said last week at the NFL Scouting Combine that he felt "it was time" to dramatically change his coaching staff, saying that he was looking forward to the new "challenge" and energy that would come after disrupting his surroundings. That same line of thinking appears to be extending to the team's personnel moves.
Any franchise with a quarterback as talented as Russell Wilson and a coach as resourceful as Carroll can quickly climb back into contender status, but it will be with a different team, a different run. And what a run it was. The Seahawks led the NFL in scoring defense for four consecutive seasons -- setting an NFL record -- from 2012 through 2015. Even some of the greatest defenses of this century -- like the 2000 Ravens, 2002 Bucs or 2015 Broncos -- never came close to sustaining the Seattle's success over such a long stretch.
While Schneider set the initial foundation for this defense by drafting safety Earl Thomas, Chancellor and Sherman in 2010 and '11, this dominant group truly emerged when Avril and Bennett were signed one day apart in March of 2013. Two Super Bowl appearances quickly followed, yielding one blowout win and one narrow, soul-crushing loss. Defense remained Seattle's calling card until this past season, when the injury-depleted unit finished outside of the top 10 in scoring defense and total D -- the first time that'd happened in either category since Carroll's debut season of 2010.
It's tough to pick just one player as the heart and soul of the Seahawks' defense during this stretch of supremacy, but Bennett and Sherman would be high on the list. Due $11 million in salary in 2018 and coming off multiple Achilles surgeries, the soon-to-be 30-year-old Sherman seems more likely to be released rather than traded before March 14, when the new league year starts.
It will be strange to see Sherman wearing another uniform, but something about Bennett joining the Eagles feels right. Philadelphia already has a loaded, versatile and stout defensive line that suits Bennett's skill set perfectly. Thirty-three years old in November, Bennett won't be asked to play as many snaps while rotating with players like Fletcher Cox, Chris Long and Timmy Jernigan. Bennett can help add depth on the interior (where Beau Allen is a free agent) and play on the outside (where defensive end Vinny Curry is expected to be released or traded). Bennett's outsized personality will have plenty of room to flourish in a locker room filled to the brim with great, thought-provoking quotes.
The same can still be said about the Seahawks' locker room, which will continue to boast talented, magnetic defenders like Thomas and linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. I would never count out Carroll and Schneider from swiftly rebuilding, especially with cap space freed up to get aggressive. But the Seahawks are clearly no longer the NFC front-runners, like they have been for so much of this decade. ThatSeahawks team is gone, and the bullies of the conference now live on Broad Street.