Locks: Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Jeremy Lane, Tharold Simon, DeShawn Shead
Bubble Level One: Steven Terrell, Brandon Browner, Marcus Burley, Kelcie McCray, Tyvis Powell, Tye Smith
Bubble Level Two: DeAndre Elliott, George Farmer, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Trovon Reed, Tanner McEvoy
Despite their “Legion of Boom” moniker and reputation, the Seahawks secondary has had depth issues that have hurt them significantly in each of the last two seasons; first against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 49, and then last year with Cary Williams exceeding even the wildest of poor-expectations and Simon missing a season for the second time in his three-year career. That’s why the decisions made in this unit after the top six might be the most important ones made of any position on the team over the next month.
Seattle might end up keeping a corner or safety who ultimately ends up disappointing, but they could almost certainly be giving away one or two defensive backs who end up starting for another team this year. Over the last few seasons, players like Ron Parker, Walter Thurmond (since retired), Jeron Johnson, Chris Maragos, Byron Maxwell, and Browner have either cashed in or graduated to more important roles on other teams. They made sure that didn’t happen with Lane by signing him to a four-year contract that is paying him more for what they think he should do rather than what he’s already done. Meanwhile, Simon has been the starting outside corner in nickel packages all summer, so it appears they could be ready for him to play a significant role on defense if he’s ready to not get injured once again.
(How must those conversations have gone last year in the trainers room when Simon missed 15 games with a toe injury while Lane returned to play in eight games after tearing his ACL and brutally breaking his arm on a single play less than a year earlier?)
People may disagree about Jean-Baptiste being placed on the second level here, but consider the players listed above him and then consider that the team might only keep five or six corners. You love him because he was a second round pick by another team two years ago and was compared to Sherman, but you ignore that he’s one of the quickest second round picks to ever be cut by his team for reasons not related to injury or off-field issues. We’ll see how he develops over the next few weeks, but to earn a job, Jean-Baptiste will likely have to push Burley or Smith out of one.
Either McCray or Powell will make this team, or both of them will, but if there are going to be nine defensive backs on this team, the unit won’t be able to keep both of these players away. I have a hard time choosing a favorite, honestly, but for now I prefer them both over Terrell. Powell may have more versatility than McCray and could backup both safety positions, but McCray — even at age 28, almost — might have a higher ceiling to eventually supplant Chancellor as the starting strong safety.
I highly doubt Browner will be playing much corner anymore, but there’s probably a good chance he makes the team in some capacity. He’s super cheap for a player with his level of experience, especially considering the depth issues I mentioned earlier. This may also be his last chance, as the last few seasons have been marred with suspensions, penalties, and just poor play at times. However, Carroll once put Browner in the best position to succeed of his career, helping him go from the CFL to a millionaire many times over. Can he re-shape his career once again as a hybrid safety/linebacker/corner?
Smith goes into his second season with the team, having been a fifth rounder out of Towson in 2015 and barely getting on the field as a rookie. The fifth round is also where they found Sherman, Chancellor, Simon, and Maxwell. (Less discussed: Mark LeGree, Korey Toomer, Jimmy Staten, Jesse Williams.) He’s been a fan favorite perhaps but make no mistake that Smith has to win a job this year, or he will be on the 49ers in September. (I guess the new “49ers steal Seahawks’ cuts” should be switched to Cardinals, but I can’t imagine they’ll have room to roster a cornerback.)
Burley goes into his third season with the team, but it’s hard to say there’s much left to be excited about. To be fair though, Maxwell played in 18 games over his first two seasons with no starts, no interceptions, and 10 tackles. He was a nobody and we just don’t know yet which, if any, of these corners will step up. But between all of the guys who have barely played, Simon seems to be the one holding something back. Smith could be too, which might give him an edge over Burley, but the fact that Burley has played in 26 games over the last two years might swing it back in his favor.
I don’t have much to say about Terrell or the others right now. Maybe that will change in camp. Terrell has been a backup at safety and now they have Powell, who seems like a more interesting version of that.
I think at cornerback you’re looking at Sherman, Simon, Lane, Shead, Burley, Smith. And at safety you’ll see Thomas, Chancellor, Powell, and McCray. That’s even if they keep 10, but they could let go of Smith, Burley, or one of McCray/Powell. Anyone else breaking through would be a minor surprise at this point.