As much fun as it is to envision Ndamukong Suh wearing a Seahawks uniform and tearing a hole in the middle of opposing offenses, the probability that everything lines up to make that happen are very small. The good news is that this is a bountiful crop of free agent defensive tackles, and a number of them could make sense in the Seahawks scheme. One that jumps near the top of the list due to potential cost, fit and upside is NT/3T Stephen Paea. The former Oregon State Beaver who set a record at the NFL combine with 49 reps of 225 lbs, has developed into a versatile player who is strong enough to defend the run and collapse the pocket.
A starter at DT
Paea was drafted as a nose tackle, and certainly has the strength for it. But he blossomed when the Bears signed Jay Ratliff to play nose tackle. That allowed him to slide over to the 3-technique defensive tackle and focus more on getting up the field.
One of the surprising things about Paea is that he has yet to post a positive grade against the run in ProFootballFocus.com, but posted the 4th-best pass rush grade of all interior lineman last year. He ranked above players like Aaron Donald, Henry Melton, Suh, Geno Atkin, Nick Fairley and a host of others. Only Gerald McCoy, Kyle D. Williams (Buffalo), and Antonio D. Smith (Oakland) ranked higher. His 47 total pressures ranked third behind only Suh and Williams.
Power and tenacity
He terrorized Josh McCown and the Bucs this year. Watch these two plays to get a feel for how he can impact the passing game.
QB Hurry – CLICK TO WATCH
Strip sack – CLICK TO WATCH
If he can have that kind of juice against the pass, the question is how he can hold up against the run.
Promising run defender
The Bears have had one of the worst defenses in football for a few years. That can make it hard to truly judge individual performances in the middle of the line. It is hard to believe that the strength and tenacity that Paea displays cannot translate into better run defense.
On this play, Paea stands up the center and stones Reggie Bush at the line for no gain.
Stuff – CLICK TO WATCH
That is a classic nose tackle technique where he got under the center, held him up, and then sheds the block to make the play. Take a look at the power on this forced fumble later in the same game.
Forced fumble – CLICK TO WATCH
Paea jolts the guard two yards into the backfield seconds after the snap. That is a win all by itself. Then, he keeps fighting and eventually strips the ball out of the backs hands for a fumble. You see a little bit of the fire he plays with at the end. It is not hard to imagine that kind of player in the middle of a Seahawks defensive line.
Cost of acquisition
Paea is just 26 years old, and will surely get plenty of attention on the open market. One comparable could be former Seahawk DT Clinton McDonald’s contract from last year. He signed a four year, $12M deal with $4.75M guaranteed. McDonald was 27 when signed the contract and had 5.5 sacks to Paea’s 6 sacks last season. Both are similar players who can fill in at either nose tackle or 3-technique.
Assume the market gets competitive for Paea, and he winds up costing closer to $4M per year. Seattle can clear some room by cutting Tony McDaniel to save $3M in cap space this year. McDaniel was re-signed last year to be a run-stuffing 3-technique tackle, but he barely graded higher in run defense than Paea and is 30 years old.
Going after a player like Paea instead of a guy like Suh would leave the door open to adding another player to the line. It would be great to grab a player like Kevin Williams for one more year. Williams has also shown the versatility to play both nose and 3T, and is a better run defender than Paea.
Those two players together would cost less than Suh, and would allow the Seahawks to feature a base defensive tackle rotation of Brandon Mebane, Paea, and Williams. That group would be more run-stuffing with Williams and Mebane, and more dynamic with Paea and either Williams or Mebane. The nickel rotation could also feature Paea, along with Jordan Hill, Michael Bennett and Cassius Marsh, although I prefer Marsh more on the edge.
A player with Paea’s versatility could wind up playing the most snaps of the group. He appears to be the best combination of fit, age, upside and cost for the Seahawks. It may be time for a northwest reunion.