Seattle first signed Witherspoon away from the rival 49ers, then rewarded their 25-year-old nose tackle Ford with a significant raise. While neither is the big-name offensive lineman or pass rusher 12s have been clamoring for, both are smart, low-cost signings that fill needs on defense.
Assessing the Seahawks’ First Moves of Free Agency
After Shaquill Griffin’s departure, the Seahawks needed to add least one veteran corner in free agency. Former third-round pick Ahkello Witherspoon will get a crack at replacing the player drafted 24 picks after him in 2017. The deal will cost Seattle just $4 million in 2021, although that total is fully guaranteed according to Spotrac .
I had my eye on his teammate Jason Verrett , but ultimately Witherspoon looks like a better fit for Seattle’s scheme. The 26-year-old meets the Pete Carroll prototype for a corner, standing 6’3″ with long arms at 33 inches. He adds 4.45 speed and can leap right out of the stadium, recording a 40 1/2″ vertical and 10’7″ broad jump at the 2017 combine. Not surprisingly, the Seahawks had interest in drafting him that year. They brought him in for a pre-draft visit before San Francisco wound up taking him with the 66th overall pick.
After a promising rookie season, Witherspoon struggled mightily in coverage in 2018 and 2019. He allowed 13 touchdowns against just one interception on 131 targets over that span. Opposing quarterbacks enjoyed a passer rating of 106.1 when throwing in his direction. In a reduced role last year, however, he appeared to have turned a corner. He allowed only two touchdowns on 32 targets, dropping his opposing passer rating to just 82.4 in the process. He closed the season strong, regaining his starting job for Weeks 15-17 and performing well in Richard Sherman’s absence.
The main knock against Witherspoon as a prospect was his tackling, an area he also appeared to improve in 2020. He missed on just one of his 21 attempts last year after missing 15.6% on average the two seasons prior. That contributed to him allowing just 5.5 yards per target, ninth-best in the league among corners.
Last season’s turnaround is encouraging, but Witherspoon still has to be considered somewhat of a reclamation project at this point. He’s yet to play a full 16-game season and missed eight games due to injury over the past two years. He was also a healthy scratch for three games last season after Emmanuel Moseley passed him on the depth chart. While he clearly responded well to the benching, the 49ers still prioritized keeping Moseley and the 30-year-old Verrett over him, letting him walk to a division rival. Still, the small cap hit and short term nature of the deal makes this a low-risk, high-reward signing by the Seahawks.
Since joining the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent in 2018, Poona Ford has quietly developed into a defensive standout. He’s been a dependable starter at nose tackle the last two seasons, playing in 33 consecutive regular season and playoff games since missing Week 2 of 2019 with a calf injury.
Run defense is an obvious strength, as Ford racked up 72 combined tackles and 13 tackles for loss over his last two seasons. Originally more of a two-down player, in 2020 he proved himself worthy of staying on the field in passing situations as well. While he finished with just 2.5 sacks, he added nine QB hits and 28 total pressures, more than respectable numbers for an interior lineman.
Ford was never in much danger of leaving Seattle, as the team would almost certainly have offered him a second-round tender if they hadn’t worked out a deal. His reported $4.4 million salary in 2021 is over a million more than he would’ve made on the tender, but still well under the value of his play. OverTheCap estimated his worth in 2020 at almost $9.3 million , a huge steal for the Seahawks on his $750,000 salary.
While Ford gets a sizeable increase in pay, this deal still keeps him firmly in bargain territory for the team. The Seahawks keep him around an extra year, and Ford can still test unrestricted free agency at age 27 in 2023. This clear win-win for both sides gets an easy A from me.
With Ford locked down, all eyes will shift to fellow defensive tackle Jarran Reed. Reed will enter the last year of his deal and carries a cap hit of $13.5 million, close to the $14 million total the Seahawks were unwilling to pay Carlos Dunlap. Cutting or trading him saves almost $9 million in cap space, while an extension could free up to $6 million. While no movement on that front has been reported, it seems unlikely Seattle won’t address that contract at some point before the season.