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Still with Seahawks after trade deadline, can ex-first-rounder L.J. Collier finally see the field?

SEATTLE -- With no trades before Tuesday's deadline, the Seattle Seahawks will count the returns of quarterback Russell Wilson, receiver Dee Eskridge and -- they hope -- running back Chris Carson to be their reinforcements for a second-half push.

There was no move at center, meaning Ethan Pocic replacing Kyle Fuller as the starter will be the upgrade at perhaps the Seahawks' iffiest position.

And there was no offloading of defensive end L.J. Collier, meaning the 2019 first-round pick won't get a fresh start elsewhere. Instead, he'll get a chance to make something of what has been a disappointing start to his career in Seattle -- if he can get off the inactive list and back into the Seahawks' defensive-line rotation.

With how buried he's been on their depth chart, that's a big if.

And that's why Collier's name generated buzz ahead of the deadline, even with general manager John Schneider saying that the trade market seemed "pretty quiet, quite honestly" on his 710 ESPN Seattle pregame radio hit Sunday

Still, you'd think they would test the waters to see if they could get something for a player who isn't giving them much of anything. That went out of the window once the 49ers acquired defensive end Charles Omenihu from Houston for a 2023 sixth-round pick, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Even with no sacks in six games this season, Omenihu has been more productive than Collier since they entered the NFL in 2019. He's two years younger and making less than Collier in remaining salary. So if all he was worth was a Day 3 pick two drafts from now, the Seahawks weren't going to get anything of value in return for Collier. They're not up against the salary cap and he isn't on a bloated contract, making less than $1.5 million this season.

So even as a healthy scratch in six of eight games, it made more sense to keep Collier than to dump him for next to nothing.

Defensive coordinator Ken Norton shed some light last month on why Collier wasn't seeing the field, saying he was playing the same position as defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche in Seattle's new front.

"It came down to competition," Norton said in Week 4, "it came down to being able to play, being able to make quick decisions and right now we felt that Nkemdiche was a little ahead of him."

Collier was active over Nkemdiche in Week 5 and played in Week 2 while another defensive tackle, Bryan Mone, was out with injury. He had a hit on Ryan Tannehill to force an incompletion that week and had another on Matthew Stafford in Week 5 while playing a combined 39 snaps.

Another reason Collier hasn't played is that the Seahawks are running a different defensive front this season. They're using their strong-side linebacker more like another end, essentially creating a five-man line.

"We are playing bigger," Carroll said when asked how Seattle's new front has impacted Collier's place on the depth chart. "We're playing as big as we can get inside."

Collier isn't quite as big as Nkemdiche, Mone, Poona Ford and Al Woods. He isn't as athletic as what they want on the edge. And it doesn't help that the Seahawks are loaded there between Darrell Taylor, Carlos Dunlap II, Kerry Hyder Jr., Rasheem Green, Benson Mayowa and Alton Robinson.

For the longest time, being that kind of 'tweener was actually a good thing in Carroll's defense. That's the kind of body type he's wanted for defensive linemen who play strong-side end on early downs, then rush from the inside in passing situations. Michael Bennett is the classic example.

The Seahawks envisioned Collier filling the Bennett role when they drafted him in 2019.

They went into that draft with an extra first-rounder after trading Frank Clark, with the plan to draft defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence. But he was snagged by the Giants four picks before the Seahawks came up at No. 21. They traded back twice and took Collier with their other first-rounder at No. 29. That was well ahead of where they had him rated, but their defensive line was bare and they believed there was too big of a dropoff in talent from Collier to wait any longer.

Collier missed most of training camp as a rookie and the season opener with a bad ankle sprain. Including playoffs, he was a healthy scratch six times in 2019 and produced next to nothing in 11 games.

He showed promise in 2020 when he recorded three sacks and made one of the biggest plays of the season -- a goal-line tackle in the closing seconds that preserved a Week 2 win over the New England Patriots. But it didn't carry over into 2021.

The underwhelming returns from Collier and several other early picks in recent drafts have held the Seahawks back. They've had some hits within the first two rounds, including a huge one in DK Metcalf. Taylor is breaking out after his lost rookie season. Jordyn Brooks is steadily coming into his own in Year 2.

On the flip side: Malik McDowell never played a down for Seattle after his ATV accident. Pocic has been in and out of the starting lineup. Rashaad Penny has been snake-bitten by injuries and has produced sparingly when healthy. Marquise Blair just suffered his second consecutive season-ending knee injury.

And Collier is hardly seeing the field.

"He's frustrated like he should be and like you'd expect," Carroll said last week. "He wants to play. He practices really hard every day and he's got a great attitude about it, but everybody is here to play, not watch. So it's hard on him."