When Bradley McDougald met with Pete Carroll and John Schneider following the 2017 season, the Seahawks' head coach and general manager told the versatile safety that re-signing him was an offseason priority. And sure enough, the Seahawks locked McDougald up before he could test free agency, signing him to a multi-year deal in March, just before the start of the new league year.
"It's very refreshing just to be back, knowing the organization and the coaches wanted me back here," he said. "We're not rebuilding, but things are changing around here, and to be a part of the change is an awesome feeling. I spoke with Schneider before I left and I spoke with Carroll and they told me I was going to be one of their high-priority guys as free agency came about, and I'm just happy that we got something worked out."
McDougald was an important player for the Seahawks in 2017, beginning the season as a third safety in sub-packages, and finishing the year as the starting strong safety after Kam Chancellor went down with a neck injury in Week 10. McDougald, who also started two games at free safety in place of an injured Thomas, was also one of Seattle's top special teams players.
And now, with Chancellor's future still uncertain because of that neck injury, and with Thomas absent from offseason workouts as he seeks a new contract, McDougald's value, both in his leadership and his versatility—he has gone back and forth between the two safety spots throughout offseason workouts—is really showing as he prepares for his second season in Seattle.
"Bradley (McDougald) has really taken the lead, and just as he did last year when he played, he just picked right up and came in," Carroll said. "He has started a lot of football games in the league, he's got a lot of background and it shows. He's very confident and he's a good communicator and he helps people, just like our guys need to, so he has just embraced that from the first day. So that's not a problem at all."
With neither Chancellor nor Thomas currently taking part in offseason workouts, McDougald is embracing more of a leadership role this year, even as he credits those two longtime Seahawks safeties with helping prepare him for that added responsibility.
"It feels good to have that role," he said. "I give credit to Earl and Kam, especially Kam, Kam worked with me a lot last year. I credited him last year. When he went down, he was in my ear, I used to go to his house, and we still keep in contact. Just pulling away different things from those two guys right there meant a lot to the success I had last year. I'm just trying to follow in their footsteps and try to keep things going, because this is a big defense for safeties—they've meant so much to this organization—so I'm just trying to follow in their footsteps."
As McDougald pointed out, his re-signing during a time of transition for the Seahawks shows he is viewed as part of the team's future, and he plans on making the most of that opportunity.
"It's a part of the game," he said of the roster turnover. "Coming from a guy who has been on three different teams going on my sixth year, I know it's just part of the game. Great players move on or retire, it's just part of the game. It just gives opportunities for young guys like me or young guys to step up and make a name for themselves. There's a lot of guy out here working hard, and they might not be household names yet, but they're going to relish in the moment and take full advantage of the opportunity ahead of them."
While McDougald feels more comfortable at strong safety, he has shown throughout his career both the ability and the willingness to play both positions, and said he'll be fine doing whatever is asked of him this year. McDougald credits that versatility in part with his playing both receiver and safety in college at the University of Kansas, and he embraced the idea of being versatile in the NFL when he came into the league as an undrafted free agent trying to win a roster spot as a rookie in Kansas City.
"It started back in college," he said. "I played both ways for three years at Kansas, then I was undrafted, so I remember when I was in Kansas City, a coach told me, 'If you want to stay in this league, you've got to find a way to get on the field,' and I took that to heart. Just find a way to stay out there. If you're out there, you've got an ability to make plays, you've got a chance to make plays. So whatever you can do to get out there and make plays to help your team win, that's going to keep you around in this league. So I just kind of took that to heart and ran with it.
To improve on that versatility, McDougald said he talked with Carroll and defensive backs coach Andre Curtis about working on "extending my range" at free safety, especially this time of year when there's a chance to get work in at both spots without worrying about preparing for upcoming games.
"I like to think of myself as versatile," he said. "I can play in the box, I can play deep middle, and I feel like now is the time to work on your weaknesses. I had some things I wanted to work on in my game last year coming out of the middle, because I played more out of the box. So I addressed it with Coach Carroll and with my position coach that I'd like to get more work back there in the post. For whatever reason, whenever you need me to plop back there, I can be back there and feel more comfortable… I let them know, whatever they need me to do—I said the same thing last year and I showed it. I keep going out there trying to correct my craft every day."
Photos from the second day of the Seattle Seahawks' three-day mandatory minicamp on Wednesday, June 13 at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center.