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Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks continue to bolster defense, sign versatile safety Julian Love

New York Giants safety Julian Love (20) makes a play during practice on Wednesday, January 4, 2023 in East Rutherford, N.J.  (Tribune News Service)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

The Seahawks continued the makeover of their defense Friday by signing free agent defensive back Julian Love, formerly of the New York Giants.

The team announced the signing Friday afternoon. ESPN reported that Love agreed to a two-year deal worth up to $12 million.

Love was among three defensive players visiting the Seahawks this week. Seattle also signed one of the other visitors, linebacker Devin Bush. The other was defensive back Lonnie Johnson.

While listed as a safety, Love, who started 16 games in 2022, was used all over the back end of the defense by the Giants last year, playing safety, in the box, and as a nickel corner, a versatility that intrigued the Seahawks.

According to Pro Football Focus, the 24-year-old Love played 494 snaps in 2022 at free safety, 154 as a nickel corner and 271 in the box, or essentially lined up as a linebacker.

That Love has shown a lot of versatility could mean Seattle sees him as a candidate to help out at nickel or in the three-safety looks that the Seahawks have begun to use a lot the last two years, and particularly in 2022.

Love could also be insurance if Jamal Adams does not make it back in time for the start of the regular season from a knee injury, defined by the team as a torn quad muscle, he suffered in the season-opener a year ago against Denver.

And once Adams returns, the Seahawks could use him even more as essentially a weak side linebacker, a position he played substantially in camp last year. In fact, he lined up at weak side linebacker on the play in which he was hurt against Denver.

Other than signing Bush, Seattle has done little to address their inside linebacking position, having seen Cody Barton depart for Washington, and with it still unclear when Jordyn Brooks will be available as he recovers from an ACL injury suffered Jan. 1.

While Love’s addition spurred immediate speculation about the future of Adams, who has three years remaining on a four-year, $72 million contract signed in 2021, indications were that Love’s signing was not a sign the Seahawks are preparing to move on from Adams.

Still, that speculation may persist, especially with Seattle having also this week given Ryan Neal a right-of-first-refusal tender to return in 2023 at a salary of $2.6 million.

Adams recently had $2.56 million of his $11 million base salary for 2023 become guaranteed. And if he were to be released before June 1, the team would take a $23 million dead cap hit with no salary cap savings.

However, Adams could be designated a post-June 1 cut, which would save the Seahawks $8.4 million against the cap while taking a $9.6 million dead cap hit (meaning, cap devoted to a player no longer on the team).

Adams has already earned $35.4 million on that contract, and has played just 13 games since signing it.

But the Seahawks remain hopeful Adams will be ready for the start of the 2023 season.

“He’s making his progress,” coach Pete Carroll said at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis last month. “He’s doing his stuff. We’ll see him in the next week or so in person, so we’re anxious to get connected with him. But when he came out and visited with our guys and checked in, everything was going the way it was supposed to go. This is a difficult recovery. … Again, it’s always that you’ve got to avoid the setbacks. So long as we can do that, he should be on schedule to get back.”

And Seattle learned the value of depth at safety last year. After Adams got hurt, the Seahawks started four other players at strong safety alongside Quandre Diggs — Neal, who started 10 games while also battling knee and ankle injuries, Josh Jones, Teez Tabor and Johnathan Abram.

The addition of Love and tendering Neal would give Seattle the best depth it has had in a while at a vitally important position.

And that Love agreed to a two-year contract could give Seattle some options after this season — neither Adams nor Diggs has any guaranteed money in their contracts after 2023.

Love was a 2019 fourth-round pick, No. 108 overall, by the Giants out of Notre Dame. He was largely a situational and special teams player his first three years before becoming a full-time starter last season.

The Seahawks also were enamored that Love was voted a captain of both the Giants defense and special teams in 2022 by teammates and also took over being the “green dot” duties as the defensive play-caller late in the season.

Seattle also was able to get Love for a contract below what many anticipated. Pro Football Focus, for instance, projected Love to get a three-year, $25 million deal with $15 million guaranteed.

PFF had rated Love as the sixth-best safety available in free agency and the most underrated of the free agent safeties.

“Love was a full-time starter in 2022 and, in turn, delivered a career-best 70.9 PFF coverage grade,” PFF wrote. “A more-than-capable tackler, Love has missed just 7.9% of his career attempts. This past season, he tied for fourth among all safeties with 30 tackles resulting in a defensive stop.”

Love is the fifth external free agent Seattle has added since the free agent signing period began Monday, four of whom are defensive players — Love, Bush, and defensive linemen Dre’Mont Jones and Jarran Reed. Seattle also added center Evan Brown.