Say what you want about Sheldon Richardson and his supposed lack of locker room congeniality, but he’s a game-changing defensive lineman that just made an already terrifying Seattle Seahawks defense that much more.
When the New York Jets shipped the mercurial Richardson to the great northwest for wideout Jermaine Kearse and Seattle’s 2018 second-round draft pick, it might’ve changed the landscape in the National Football Conference West Division. The teams also swapped seventh-round picks, as the Seahawks improved on an already star-studded defense and have made their two-team race with divisional foe Arizona Cardinals that much more intriguing.
Seattle likely plans to use Richardson the same way they use the stellar Michael Bennett – play him up and down the defensive line, starting him inside on early downs and then turning him loose on obvious passing downs by putting him on the edge. It’s the same role the Seahawks had for former Michigan State University defensive lineman Malik McDowell, who was their second-round pick this past April, but is likely lost for the season due to a head injury sustained from an all-terrain vehicle accident.
The trade clears $5.8 million off the Jets’ cap, while the Seahawks are left to foot the bill for the entire $8.1 million tab for Richardson, this season. The Jets are not charged any dead money for trading Richardson, due to the structure of his contract, as he was on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal, meaning New York does not retain any of the cap hit on his deal.
Richardson is in a contract year, is super motivated, and will finally fit a defensive system. He was a star in Rex Ryan’s defense, winning the National Football League’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013 and went to the Pro Bowl in 2014. He never quite reached that status under current Jets’ head coach Todd Bowles, mainly because Bowles’s scheme differed with him moving Richardson around more than the player wanted – even playing him at linebacker sometimes — and because the Jets loaded up their defensive line talent over the years via the draft.
Gang Green’s defensive line already had budding superstar Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson, so it was always difficult for Bowles and co. to get all three players on the field at the same time, given their similar positions. This trade also bolsters Kony Ealy’s chances of making the roster as a nickel-package pass rusher (four linemen and five defensive backs). Ealy was claimed off waivers, earlier this week.
Jets’ general manager Mike Maccagnan reasoned as much during his conference call with the beat writers.
“We obviously think very highly of Sheldon … but we thought it [the trade] was a good fit and a good value for what we’re trying to accomplish, both short and long term,” said Maccagnan. “We have some good, young defensive linemen. Sheldon was part of that, but in return, it allowed us to entertain options. Short term and long term, we’re still committed to building this thing through the draft. It was an opportunity to acquire some draft capital and also acquire an element to our team, not just from a talent standpoint, but from a character and intangible standpoint in the receiver room.”
The Seahawks likely saw more than the immature version that people within the Jets’ walls saw daily and fully expect Richardson to have a big season, particularly playing for a coach like Pete Carroll. Despite his advanced age, Carroll, 65, is a high-energy guy who embraces — encourages even — dynamic personalities and for players to be themselves. Richardson will fit right into the Seahawks’ culture, and Jets’ fans will jealously watch from afar as Richardson once again becomes the player that Ryan once had ascending into stardom.
Richardson, 6-foot-3 and 294 pounds, lined up everywhere in the Jets’ 3-4 defense, last year. Pro Football Focus, a website that extensively rates every player in numerous categories, deemed him as having the fifth-best run defense grade of any linemen. He can also get after the quarterback, as he had eight sacks in 2014 and has 18 for his career.
Seattle’s defensive line is one of the few outfits that’s able to rotate guys in and out of the lineup. Since their Super Bowl-winning season in 2013-14, only Bennett plays more than 57 percent of the snaps, with the average for each lineman being 47 percent. That means there’ll be lots of fresh legs late in the fourth quarter when they need that extra push. Richardson, who’ll team with Bennett, Frank Clark, and Cliff Avril, provides even more…a scary thought for the rest of the league.