DeShawn Shead had chances to leave the Seahawks' practice squad in 2012 and 2013, but elected to stay -- and now appears set to have a big future with the team.
It was a rare time that Nigel Burton found reason to question DeShawn Shead.
Burton, a former UW standout safety from 1995-96, was Shead’s head coach during his final two seasons at Portland State University.
Burton heaps every praise imaginable on Shead for the way he handled the coaches asking him to change positions from cornerback to safety his final season and says “I don’t know if he has any ego.’’
But on this day Shead was now a member of the Seahawks’ practice squad and told Burton that the Minnesota Vikings had come calling with a chance to join the team’s 53-man roster and get on the field immediately along with a significant pay raise — and that he wasn’t going to take it.
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“I’m not going to lie,’’ Burton said. “My initial reaction was ‘why wouldn’t you do it?’
“And he said ‘you know, these guys told me they really believe in me and they see a future with me.’ And he took that leap of faith.
“But it’s an enormous leap of faith in a business where even in college, coaches will lie to your face — tell you one thing and then do something else. And for them to have that kind of trust and bond between that staff and a player to say ‘listen, we don’t have a spot for you right now but trust us, we believe in you, we really think this could happen for you.’ And for him to believe and trust in them and then for that to actually happen. How awesome is it that things have worked out that way.’’
Shead has long since moved past the practice squad stage, having played in every game for the Seahawks the last two seasons.
Sunday, though, the faith that Shead showed in the Seahawks — he says he had more than one offer to leave along the way — and the team in him was fulfilled like never before as he started at right cornerback and played every snap in a 12-10 win over Miami, earning the highest grade of any cornerback in the NFL from Pro Football Focus, which credited him with allowing just three receiving yards on 53 snaps.
On Tuesday, when the Seahawks waived Tharold Simon — a 2013 fifth-round pick long considered as a possible contender for the other starting outside cornerback spot opposite Richard Sherman — the team’s faith in Shead as the long-term solution at that position was made even more evident.
“He just has a better knack for playing outside and a better feel for it,’’ said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll of Shead. “He’s very productive there.’’
When Shead signed with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent in 2012, the team, though, wasn’t sure exactly what he was.
Shead had played cornerback for three years at Portland State, but at 6-2, 220 pounds he also had the build to be a safety.
Carroll recalled Wednesday that while he thought Shead was best-suited to be a safety, general manager John Schneider thought he was best at cornerback.
So for most of the past four years, the Seahawks asked Shead to do some of both.
Carroll, though, said he noticed that in practice, even when Shead was primarily playing safety “he’d go back and play some one-on-ones and he’d always make plays. … I’m giving John credit. He knew that all along and he had to kind of talk me into it. He was right.”
The Seahawks finally made the move this year to make Shead a fulltime cornerback, with Shead losing about 10 pounds in the off-season to better match up with outside receivers.
Still, Shead entered training camp still working to establish his role. Jeremy Lane signed a four-year, $23 million deal to stay with the team in March, and Simon — apparently finally healthy — were also competing with Shead at the outside corner spot.
But Shead said preparing for this season knowing he was going to be asked to play just one position has allowed him to play cornerback better than he ever has.
“It definitely felt good just to be at one position and be able to perfect my technique and work on just one thing,’’ he said.
The off-season will provide another test of how much faith the team has in Shead. He’ll be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, which means the team will have to decide what kind of tender to put on him and whether to match if he gets any other offers — or, maybe, just pre-empt all that and give him a longer contract.
When Shead was on the practice squad, the Seahawks gave him a few raises along the way, paying him above the minimum, hoping that would be enough to get him to turn down offers from other teams to play immediately.
But while leaving during those years on the practice squad might have meant not only a chance to play earlier but also a raise, Shead says he always had, well, faith that it would turn out the way it has.
“It was definitely a tough choice because I wanted to play, I wanted to get on the field,’’ he said. “But the situation was better for me to be here and just wait for my opportunity here.
“And now today I am sitting here, it was a great decision because I’m sitting here as a starter on the best defense in the league, and I won’t take it for granted.’’