The latest knot in Quinton Dunbar's legal entanglement adds uncertainty to the cornerback's availability in 2020.
(Re-)enter Tre Flowers?
The possibility of the Seattle Seahawks having to turn back to Flowers seems even more real with a report of a cover-up in the armed robbery case against Dunbar and New York Giants cornerback DeAndre Baker. Lawyers for both players have denied the report, which alleges a payout to four men who recanted testimony that initially implicated Dunbar and Baker.
The Seahawks acquired Dunbar from Washington in March after Flowers' up-and-down second season as Seattle's right cornerback. It ended on a decidedly down note when he struggled in both of Seattle's playoff games, committing two pass interference penalties at Philadelphia, then allowing a perfect passer rating and at least one touchdown at Green Bay.
But the word from inside the Virginia Mason Athletic Center long before Dunbar's status became a question was that the Seahawks weren't giving up on Flowers, a 2018 fifth-round pick who converted to cornerback as a rookie after playing safety in college. They still believed he would take a jump, though the trade for Dunbar was a reflection of how they couldn't bank on that happening in 2020.
"Come back next year and capitalize on all of the experiences, settle in," coach Pete Carroll said of his message to Flowers a day after the Seahawks' season ended with their loss in Green Bay. "That's what I was talking about going into the game, trying to do a nice job of getting him settled down. This is two big years that he's had. ... He's going to continue to get better. He's a really smart player, he's tough as hell, he really competes and all that. He'll make good progress I think from Year 2 to 3."
Flowers' biggest issue in 2019 wasn't an inability to stay on top of receivers downfield, which is a cardinal sin for cornerbacks in Carroll's defense and the easiest way to fall out of favor. It was finishing.
The way talent evaluators saw it, Flowers would often be in position to make a play on the ball with his 6-foot-3 frame and nearly 34-inch arms, but would panic at the last second with an unnecessary grab. Both of his pass interference penalties against the Eagles were examples. His five DPIs in the regular season were tied with three others for most among cornerbacks, according to ESPN charting.
It's no coincidence that Dunbar's ball skills were the trait that stood out most to the Seahawks, having watched Flowers' shortcomings in that part of his game.
Tackling was another issue. According to Pro Football Focus data, Flowers' 13 missed tackles were tied for third most among cornerbacks (teammate Shaquill Griffin was second with 15).
Even then, Flowers' struggles in the regular season weren't so pronounced as to invite anything close to the level of scrutiny there was on, say, Seattle's ineffective pass rush or Chris Carson's fumbling. It wasn't much of a talking point until the Philadelphia playoff game. Before then, per PFF, Flowers had allowed a lower passer rating (82.6) when he was the nearest in coverage than Griffin (96.3), who made the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement. Flowers had the only three interceptions Seattle got out of its cornerbacks.
No one else in that group stands out as an obvious candidate to challenge Flowers for the starting job if Dunbar is unavailable. Neiko Thorpe is the only other veteran, but he's a special-teams player and is fighting for a roster spot. Ryan Neal, Brian Allen, Linden Stephens and Jayson Stanley have zero starts between them. Undrafted rookies Gavin Heslop, Debione Renfro and Kemah Siverand round out the depth chart.
As far as fallback options go, the Seahawks could do much worse than someone with 30 career starts and, in theory, more room to grow than your average third-year player considering Flowers is still new to his position. Problem is: How much growth can anyone expect from developing players in a year like this one, with no on-field work to date and a shortened -- if not scrapped -- preseason?
The state attorney's office in Florida is still deciding whether to take the cases against Dunbar and Baker to trial, which could be delayed because of court backups amid the pandemic. But that's only part of the availability question.
The NFL could discipline them regardless of legal outcomes, as it did last summer when it suspended Seahawks defensive tackle Jarran Reed for six games. That punishment stemmed from an April 2017 incident in which Reed was neither arrested nor charged. The timing of that suspension -- 27 months later -- makes it even tougher to predict what the NFL will do with Dunbar. The league is still reviewing the matter.
If he has to miss time, be it from legal and/or NFL discipline, the Seahawks and their still-suspect defense will need Flowers to make the most of his unexpected mulligan.