Even with two Pro Bowl safeties on their roster, the Seahawks were thrilled to add Bradley McDougald as a free agent last spring. So excited, in fact, that John Schneider compared it to two of the best free-agent signings he has made as Seattle's general manager.
"It was very similar to when we ran into Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril several years ago, it was just a player who we had rated very highly as an unrestricted guy," Schneider said in March at the NFL annual meetings. "We loved what he did last year with 90-some tackles and the guy was still out there (in free agency). It's one of those deals where, again, we have a good relationship with his agent, they reached out to us, his market didn't exactly go exactly where he wanted, so that's where we were able to kind of work out a one-year deal with him and see where it goes."
To be clear, Schneider wasn't predicting the same impact from McDougald that those two pass-rushers, who both went on to become Pro Bowlers in Seattle, have had since 2013, but the Seahawks did see a tremendous value in the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers starter, so they pounced on the chance to sign him. The Seahawks valued McDougald in part because of what he brings on special teams—he currently leads the team with seven special teams tackles—and also because of the flexibility it gives the Seahawks to do some different things on defense, using McDougald along with Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, who when healthy never leave the field. Most notably, McDougald played 29 percent of the snaps against the New York Giants, spending most of his afternoon covering dynamic rookie tight end Evan Engram.
But the Seahawks didn't just sign McDougald for what he has been thus far, but also because they wanted to be well-equipped to handle an injury at safety. Last year Seattle's safety depth was tested, with Chancellor missing four games early in the year, and with Thomas missing seven games, playoffs included. Thomas' absence, the first missed games of his career, was particularly noteworthy down the stretch. So with Thomas now dealing with a hamstring injury that has his status for Sunday's game against Washington in question, the Seahawks feel fortunate to have a player as accomplished as McDougald available to step into the lineup if necessary.
"Very fortunately on our end of it, Bradley has been a starter in the league for years and he's got the experience, the savvy," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He is a playmaker, he is really tough, he's a good tackler, and we have spotted him all over the place to do things in coverage as well as the running game. He's just a really, really good football player to be able to set up. There is no question, we don't have any hesitation in him playing and keeping the plan, principles intact and all of that. This was a guy that we were very fortunate to get in the offseason. John (Schneider) figured this one out early on, and he's been a great addition to our team and now he is ready to go. He is excited about it, and really I'm anxious to see him play."
Defensive coordinator Kris Richard added that he is "extremely confident" in having McDougald start if necessary: "He has been a starter in this league, he has starter ability. He's a multi-talented guy who can do plenty of things out there on the field. So again, we have extreme confidence."
While McDougald understood the situation he was coming into when he signed with the Seahawks, it has nonetheless been an adjustment for him after starting 31 of 32 games over the past two seasons, recording 178 tackles, four interceptions and 14 passes defensed during that span.
"There was an adjustment period," he said. "At one point it definitely was (difficult). It was definitely humbling… But my spirits have definitely been high since I've been here, I'm happy to be a part of this. I've been working to be a starter since I've been here, so this is nothing different.
"It was humbling, but it's kind of what I signed up for. I knew what I was getting myself into, I told them whatever they need me at, and it's definitely been that kind of situation—plug in here and there on defense, cover this guy, run down on special teams and do this, do that, but I knew what I signed up for. I'm just doing it to the best of my ability."
Before last season, Chancellor had never played an NFL game without Thomas, but if he has do that against Washington Sunday, he and his teammates are confident McDougald will be up to the challenge of filling in for one of the NFL's top safeties.
"Bradley does a great job for us when he gets in the game," Chancellor said. "He's always on his fits, he makes his tackles, he does a great job in press coverage, man coverage, he just knows where to be and understands our defense. So if we have to go with Bradley, we'll feel comfortable going with him."
Added linebacker K.J. Wright, "He's a starter in this league. Every time he gets out there, he's a playmaker. I'm glad he's on this team. It's crazy when you have a guy like that who's not even a starter. He's going to step in and be just fine. You guys will see how good he is."
The best photos from the Seahawks' Thursday practice at Virginia Mason Athletic Center in preparation for Sunday's Game against the Washington Redskins.