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Seahawks spending most money at safety position, down to their #4 and #5 options

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Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

For the majority of the last two games, both losses in which they were significantly worse on defense than the expectation, the Seattle Seahawks played Tedric Thompson at free safety and Delano Hill at strong safety. Fourth and third round picks in 2017 respectively, Thompson and Hill were not expected to be playing this much when the season began and you can’t really fault the defense for losing a step without Earl Thomas and Bradley McDougald, because that would be the expectation. Trying to solve the past does absolutely nothing for the Seahawks though, now it’s just a matter of what do they do about the safety position in the future?

Because it’s clearly one of Pete Carroll’s most valued positions and while the focus amid the downfall doesn’t necessarily need to be readjusted to shine a light on Thompson and Hill, it certainly can’t be ignored that Seattle is spending the most money in the NFL at that position but without top-tier results.

The Seahawks are spending $26.2 million at the safety position this season, most in the league by a margin of nearly $4 million, with the New England Patriots coming in second. (The Pats also have one of the longest-running safety duos in the NFL, another sign that Bill Belichick and Carroll are so much more alike than many may realize.) One of the major problems that Seattle has run into of course is the fact that Chancellor is making $9.58 million and not playing, while Thomas is making $10.4 million and will finish the season with just four games played. Now you can add McDougald to that list, a player making $3.33 million who has missed most of the last two games.

That’s over $23 million worth of safety for one season and McDougald has been the most productive by far, and his status moving forward has to be significantly in doubt given that he’s left the game early in consecutive weeks.

Well, there’s no point in complaining about injuries, that’s a huge part of the game. Chancellor wasn’t 35 when he got hurt last season, he was only 29. Keep in mind that if this truly is the end of Kam’s career, it’s one that has ended prematurely. Four-time Pro Bowl, game-changing safeties don’t typically stop short of their 30th birthdays. A year ago, the Seahawks planned for Chancellor to still be their premier strong safety at this stage, and he’s simply not.

That may have been enough for them to remain cautious before extending Thomas, and we saw what happened there. Again, Thomas is 29, not a player who would be expected to start aging out of the league given his pedigree, but his future with the Seahawks looked all but non-existent as he gave them “the Hawk” on his cart ride out of 2018. That brought Seattle down to McDougald and Thompson, and now the former part of that duo could be suffering too much to contribute significantly at a time when the Seahawks are basically do or die.

The Seahawks had a plan at safety and this was not it. Thompson and Hill were the backup plan to the backup plan, even if they were two of the highest-drafted DBs of the Carroll era. Carroll seems to do magic when all defensive backs, and I’m not even sure it’s fair to say that Thompson and Hill are a huge problem, or that they can’t improve to the point of being the planned starters going into 2019 (Kam and Earl were not flawless rookies and needed time to adjust to the pros as well), but Carroll’s plan at safety going into next season (assuming he’s around next season) is perhaps priority one or two for Seattle.

Barring the unexpected, Chancellor will be released and save the Seahawks $8 million against the cap with $5 million in dead money.

Thomas will enter free agency and most certainly talk to as many teams that aren’t Seattle as possible, finding out what the market value is for a 30-year-old free safety coming off of two out of three seasons that were ended early by a broken leg.

McDougald will return on one of the best value contracts in the NFC if he stays healthy and continues to play like he did in the first half of the year.

Thompson and Hill will almost certainly be around for training camp unless they utterly tank the bed in the next two months a la Steven Terrell in 2016. It’s hardly much of a safety blanket though to be a third-year, third or fourth-round pick, so Thompson and Hill will have to play well to end 2018 and/or have a great camp to solidify a spot on the roster; the problem being that neither of them have really screamed “next starter at the caliber that Carroll has demanded from Thomas or Chancellor” though, and if Carroll was willing to make Thomas the 14th overall pick to start his defense in 2010, or to extend Kam for some of the most money a safety has ever gotten in 2017, then clearly he thinks these are two of the most important positions at football.

Can you trust either Thompson or Hill to live up to those expectations?

The Seahawks may need to go back to nurturing that relationship with Earl and seeing what the possibilities are for a reunion in 2019 and giving him a chance to prove himself healthy in the one defense that he’s known for his entire career. I doubt that would be enough given the unpredictable nature of Earl Thomas, but I still see it as something Seattle has to be working on, especially given the obvious dropoff from an ET defense and a Seahawks defense that is sans ET. What’s Seattle’s record today if Thomas never misses a snap in 2018?

The other options of course likely start with the draft. The Seahawks were close to the draft position that could have landed them Derwin James this year (he went 17th, Seattle picked 18th) but there’s no reason to lament that as a “loss.” James did not fall to the Seahawks, we don’t know what a trade-up would have cost, and we don’t know that Carroll felt James would fit into the mold of what he wants in a safety even if it does seem like any coach would want James at this point.

I would imagine though that Carroll still values safety as one of the most important positions on his team, given the history of Thomas and Chancellor, using those two picks on Thompson and Hill, plus a new three-year contract for McDougald and seeing what he’s brought to the team. I think at least one safety will be drafted by the team next year and under-the-radar free agents, plus potential “move position” candidates will be scouted for ultimate value. And if any of those low-key value moves ends up working out, the Seahawks will continue to invest money and draft capital into those two spots.

McDougald seems a good bet to be playing at one of those spots in 2019. The other job is likely something to be heavily evaluated in the next two months.