Julian Love needs to be spectacular for the Seahawks

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Seahawks added an excellent safety in free agent Julian Love. Sadly, they gave up their own budding star in Ryan Neal. Love better be worth it.

I have to begin by stating that I love what the Seahawks have done in free agency this off-season. We at 12thManRising aren't the only ones who think Seattle has done a great job. Jared Dubin of cbssports.com gave the Hawks an A for their FA signings, the best in the NFC West. Great insight by Dubin here; for those of you who can't be bothered to click the link, he gave the Niners a B+, the Cards a C, and the Rams a D. Good to see CBS has writers who know what they're talking about after all. Not that I'm throwing shade or anything.

Keeping Geno Smith was critical to the Seahawks' ongoing success. Bringing in free agent defensive lineman Dre'Mont Jones was a big win for Seattle, just as Lee Vowell envisioned. Ah, those Denver Broncos, bearing sweet gifts to the Hawks over and over. Oh, and getting Bobby Wagner back was a pretty good move too, right, Russell Baxter? But let's get to it; the addition of Julian Love vis-a-vis the loss of Ryan Neal.

Julian Love better be good for the Seahawks in 2023

First, let's look at what the Seahawks are losing in Ryan Neal. Now entering his sixth year in the league, Neal had a breakout season in 2022. As he did in his four years with the Hawks, he was mainly used as a substitute for injured players. The difference last year was that Jamal Adams went down in the very first game. Why the Hawks played Josh Johnson instead of Neal is inexplicable, but once he got the starting gig, the former Saluki standout proved his worth. In 10 starts he broke up eight passes, had an interception and a sack, and a passer rating against of just 63.9. It's definitely worth noting that Pro Football Focus (yeah, I hate paywalls too) rated Neal as the best safety in the league last year. Thankfully you can read all about that via Malik Obee's article on seahawks.com.

Now let's review the Hawks' new safety, Julian Love. The Giants drafted him in 2019's fourth round out of Notre Dame. Like Neal, it took a few years for him to take over as a starter. Love did have 16 starts prior to 2022, while Neal only had 10 in one additional season. In 16 games last year, the former Giant had two picks, broke up five passes, and had a sack. Not quite as productive as Neal, but not bad, either. It's worth noting that Love also had six tackles for a loss, while Neal had four. As for the passer rating against, Neal wins here too, as his 63.9 rating is significantly better than Love's 89.8.

So why did the Hawks add Julian Love, when the Hawks already had Ryan Neal? Love is noted for his ability to play anywhere in the defensive backfield, but so was Neal. Love's PFF grade was 70.0 while Neal posted a stellar 85.6. Love is a standout on special teams; even though he started 16 games in New York, he still took half of all possible snaps on special teams. But Neal was an excellent player on special teams, too.

Seeing that the Seahawks signed Love to a two-year, $12 million contract and Neal just signed with the Buccaneers for one year at just $1.2 million, the move seems incomprehensible. That's especially hard to understand considering that Love is guaranteed just under $6 million, while Neal settled for $260K in guaranteed money. All figures are courtesy of spotrac.com, my go-to source for all things money-mathy.

Love has been more consistent than Neal over his career, that's true. Neal missed over 13 percent of his tackles in 2020 and had a passer rating against of 138.0 in 2021. Love has no such aberrations. Let's look at two more stats. Love is also a better tackler, as he misses at half of Neal's rate. For the record, in 2022 Love misses 3.9 percent of his tackles, Neal missed 8.3 percent. Over their careers, Love's advantage is 5.8 percent to 9.6 percent. Love also makes more tackles per game. In 2022 Love made 10.1 tackles for every 100 snaps, including special teams. Neal made 8.1 tackles per 100 snaps. When you're making more tackles and missing fewer, that's a winning combination for sure.

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I have to believe that the Seahawks see Love as the better player, despite Neal's breakout season. Most of the stats we looked at didn't show that, but the tackling and consistent play definitely move the scale toward Love. We all know there's more to football than stats, though. Neal is an outstanding guy in the locker room; by all accounts, so is Love. I'm not sure signing Love for more than four times what it would have cost Seattle to keep Neal was the wisest move. I'm positive Love will be terrific for the Hawks. But for what they paid him in lieu of keeping Neal, he needs to be spectacular.