McDougald can play either free or strong safety and he could be asked to fill in for Earl Thomas depending on how Thomas' holdout unfolds.
Something of an insurance policy when he signed with the Seahawks in 2017, Bradley McDougald stood at the top of the Seahawks’ to-do list this offseason.
“They told me I was going to be one of their high-priority guys as free agency came,’’ McDougald recalled on Wednesday of a meeting he had at the end of the 2017 season with coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider.
The reasoning was simple — the team had no idea if Kam Chancellor will ever play again and it knew that the future of Earl Thomas might also turn dicey depending on how Thomas felt about his contract situation.
On Sunday, the importance of having signed McDougald to a three-year deal worth $13.5 million with $6.5 million guaranteed only grew when Thomas announced he is holding out and won’t report to the team until he has a new contract of his own.
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Thomas was still nowhere to be seen on Wednesday as the Seahawks held their second of three minicamp practices this week – if he misses all three he could be fined up to $84,435 — with no indications there will be any thawing anytime soon in the standoff between the two sides.
And with Thomas out, McDougald again ran as the first-team free safety with second-year player Delano Hill at strong safety, a combination that if the season began today might well be how the Seahawks would go.
On Tuesday, McDougald also played plenty of strong safety with Tedric Thompson getting the first reps at free safety.
That McDougald can play both allows the team for now to test out Hill and Thompson and see what they have. Eventually, former Rams starting strong safety Maurice Alexander will also join the mix — he he’s sitting out to continue rehabbing a shoulder on which he had surgery.
Asked after Wednesday’s workout where he envisions starting the season, McDougald painted what maybe was a potentially hopeful picture of things working out with Thomas.
“My guess right now would be at strong safety,’’ McDougald said. “But if I come back in July for camp and they tell me I’m going to be starting at free safety, I’ll be a free safety and we’ll go from there.’’
It was that versatility that first compelled the Seahawks to sign McDougald a year ago after three seasons in Tampa Bay here he started 36 games. Seattle wanted an experienced backup after the defense suffered mightily at the end of the 2016 season when Thomas was hurt and Seattle had to turn to little-used Steven Terrell.
McDougald ended up starting the last nine games of the 2017 season — two when Thomas was injured and then the last seven when Chancellor suffered a neck injury at Arizona that could end his career.
McDougald says he prefers strong safety because he feels closer to the action, and candidly admitted he thinks he has more room to improve at free safety, saying he told coaches to make sure he gets as much work there as possible so he can work on his weaknesses.
“Just better jumps on the quarterback,’’ he said. “Getting more range. Watching Earl, the way he read quarterback’s eyes and got jumps on the quarterback and able to decipher quick game versus drop back pass and just extending my range.’’
Ideally, Thomas will return at some point and he could be paired with McDougald at his preferred strong safety, which was the team’s hoped-for plan a few months ago (on the assumption that Chancellor won’t be back). But McDougald acknowledged he has no idea what will happen.
“Honestly I don’t know,’’ he said. “It’s above my pay grade. But I wish the best for him. I feel like he deserves whatever he is asking for. He’s a great player. But we’re just trying not to let that distraction take away from the guys that are out there working every day. I know we all want him back. We miss him. But I know when he does get back he will be ready to play and he will be in incredible shape and be ready to be the player he has always shown to be.’’
One way or the other, McDougald seems poised to step in for a Seahawks icon, and it’s possible he could suddenly be the glue in a secondary that in minicamp has featured only one player from the team’s two Super Bowl appearances — cornerback Byron Maxwell — with the chance that Seattle could start a season for the first time since 2009 without one of Chancellor, Thomas or Richard Sherman in its secondary.
“It’s just a part of the game,’’ McDougald said. “Great players move on or retire. It’s just a part of the game. It just gives opportunities for guys like me and the young guys to step up and make a name for themselves … before the LOB (Legion of Boom) was LOB they were just a bunch of kids out of college trying to make a name on the field. They had to start somewhere. And I feel like why can’t we?’’