In a surprising, unexpected twist, the Seattle Seahawks have terminated the contract of defensive end Marcus Smith.
Greg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune initially broke the news and the Seahawks confirmed the report via Twitter.
Along with jettisoning Smith, the Seahawks also waived cornerback Elijah Battle. These moves opened up roster spots for linebacker Erik Walden, who reportedly reached a deal with the team on Wednesday, as well as former Texas Tech running back Justin Stockton.
A former first-round pick for the Eagles, Smith signed with the Seahawks prior to training camp last August and became a valuable reserve pass rusher during the early stages of the 2017 season. After Cliff Avril went down with a neck injury in Week 4 against the Colts, he produced 1.5 sacks as his replacement.
But as the season wore on, Smith saw his snaps dwindle thanks to the signing of Dwight Freeney and eventual return of Dion Jordan off the Non-Football Injury list. The ex-Louisville standout also admitted he played most of the season with torn ligaments in his foot, a devastating injury for a rusher reliant on burst coming off the edge.
After losing Michael Bennett and Avril this offseason, Smith was expected to help fill the void created by their departures. He saw extended work early in camp with the first-team defense, but then a hamstring injury cost him a couple of practices. Most recently, he hadn't been in attendance for the past two practices, though coach Pete Carroll indicated it was to take care of family matters.
By choosing to release Smith, it's clear the Seahawks believe the 32-year old Walden has plenty of tread left on his tires. The 10-year veteran appeared in 16 games for the Titans last year, finishing with 36 tackles and 4.0 sacks. He's played outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme most of his career and enjoyed a breakout year in 2016 with the Colts, recording a career-best 11.0 sacks.
The 250-pound Walden will likely have a shot to earn a role as a situational pass rusher playing the LEO defensive end spot for the Seahawks. Though he doesn't have enough bulk to play as an every down defensive end, he's proven in the past he can pin his ears back and chase down quarterbacks as a speed rusher off the edge.
Stockton, who participated in the Seahawks rookie minicamp in May, served as a Darren Sproles-style weapon for the Red Raiders. Though he never rushed for more than 797 yards in any of his four collegiate seasons, the 5-foot-8, 200 pound back caught 82 passes and scored 10 touchdowns as a receiver in coach Kliff Kingsbury's air raid offense.
With Rashaad Penny out at least a couple of weeks following surgery on his left index finger and both C.J. Prosise and Mike Davis missing practice time this week, Stockton could be in line for some snaps in Seattle's backfield for upcoming preseason games.