Bradley McDougald had a chance to continue his NFL career close to home. Instead, he went with the place that felt like home, a decision he hopes will pay off both for him and the Seahawks defense in 2017.
McDougald, a starter in Tampa Bay's defensive backfield the past two seasons, narrowed his free-agency choices down to Seattle and Cleveland, the latter team located a two-hour drive from his home town of Columbus, Ohio. But despite the draw of playing at home, McDougald instead signed with the Seahawks Tuesday, at least in part because of the feeling he got on his free agency visit.
"It's a great energy, the team has great energy," McDougald said. "It's a brotherhood, the coaches are very close-knit. It just seems like the whole organization is really close-knit from the bottom to the top. I just felt really at home there."
And of course it also doesn't hurt that he'll get to play for a winning team and for a head coach who is known not just for producing playoff success, but also talented secondaries.
"I'm more than excited," McDougald said. "Any coach who has taken his team to the Super Bowl and to the playoffs repeatedly, you want to play for a guy like that. And he's the kind of coach who goes to bat for his players, makes you feel comfortable. He takes care of his guys, and any player would want to play for a coach like that."
McDougald described the past couple of weeks of free agency as a "kind of a hectic time." When he realized he wasn't going to end up back in Tampa Bay, he looked at other options, and eventually the Seahawks were able to land a player they had been very high on heading into free agency. Similar to when they signed Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril in 2013, the Seahawks had their eyes on McDougald from the get-go in free agency, but they were able to be patient, avoid the frenzy of the opening days of free agency and get their guy this week.
After spending the past two seasons as a starter, McDougald did consider the fact that signing in Seattle meant joining a team with two Pro Bowlers at safety, but after thinking about it, McDougald began to see the idea of playing with the likes of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor as a positive. And while he doesn't yet know exactly what his role will be, McDougald is confident he can make himself a valuable part of Seattle's defense while also contributing on special teams if that is asked of him.
"It's an honor to line up with those guys who have done so much for the game, really revolutionized defense and how it's played these past four or five years," McDougald said. "What these guys have done there is truly amazing. So to go there and know I can contribute with those guys, it's just exciting.
"(The Seahawks secondary) changed the face of defense since I've been playing—how coaches coach defense, how they want their defenses run. I'm willing to do whatever I need to do to get on the field, whether it's line up at a new position or fill in or do whatever I need to do to get on the field and help the team as much possible. That's my only goal."
At the very least, McDougald would be a very capable backup at a position where Seattle's starters missed a combined 11 games, postseason included, in 2016. But with his playmaking ability and experience, McDougald very well could push for playing time even when Chancellor and Thomas are on the field.
"Each situation is different, and I'm not afraid of competition to go in and work and go in there and earn a spot some way, get on the field some type of way," McDougald said. "I talked to the coaches, I talked to (general manager John Schneider) and they made it clear that talent gets on the field, so I just have to go in there and prove myself."
One thing McDougald hopes will help him find a role on the defense is his versatility as a safety.
"That's one thing I try to pride myself on is being versatile, being able to do different things," he said. "Line up at different positions, close to the ball, deep down the field, wherever they need somebody. That's how you get on the field and stay on the field, be able to do a lot of different things… Whatever the coaches need to be done, that's the type of player I am. If you need me to cover a guy, I'll go cover him, if you need me to sit deep in a zone, I can do that. I can come up to tackle somebody. I like to think my game is well-rounded. And I'm high-energy, I play with a lot of emotion, and so do a lot of the guys on the defense in Seattle, so I should fit in well with those guys."
And if you're looking for another reason why McDougald will fit in with the Seahawks, consider that he came into the league as an undrafted free agent, as did some of Seattle's top players like Michael Bennett and Doug Baldwin. In Seattle, McDougald joins a team that has a history of turning undrafted free agents into bigtime contributors, and that last year opened the season with a league-high 24 undrafted players on its roster.
"For sure I have that chip on my shoulder," he said. "And even this free agency process felt the same way. You play your heart out for a team, and they don't bring you back, so you have to find a new home. It definitely gives you that much more motivation to play even harder, it's just a little chip on your shoulder, a little extra motivation."
Take a look back at safety Bradley McDougald's first five years in the NFL.