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The crucial question surrounding Tedric Thompson’s long-term prospects on the Seahawks

Minnesota Vikings v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

With Earl Thomas set to move on from the Seahawks in free agency, the future at free safety in Seattle is a curious thought. Tedric Thompson stepped in for Thomas, following the All-Pro’s season-ending injury in Week 4, and started the rest of the way except for two weeks missed through injury. Thompson’s performance was up-and-down, with the downs ranging from glaring to catastrophic. Most would like to see the Seahawks address the position this offseason and find Bradley McDougald a long-term partner on the back-end.

(On the topic of McDougald, let’s address this now: Signing or drafting a strong safety and moving McDougald to free safety is not an option. Yes, McDougald is the best safety currently on the roster and would provide the best play at free safety as it stands. However, a full-time move to free safety would require a drastic change in scheme by Pete Carroll. That’s simply not happening.)

Though Thompson may not have instilled confidence in a fan base that has spent nine seasons watching Hall of Fame play at free safety, that doesn’t necessarily mean the coaching staff is in agreement. From the beginning of Thomas’s holdout in August through to the end of the season, Pete Carroll spoke of Thompson as though he’s the long-term plan at free safety. Importantly, he also consistently spoke of how important it was for Thompson to have confidence in his game.

The message from Carroll, particularly in training camp, boiled down to: Thompson produces in practice, sees things so well, but he isn’t reacting accordingly. That idea of reacting slowly showed up in games, as time and time again his game speed appeared to be deficient. Whether that’s a matter of confidence in anticipating and reacting to the ball, or simply a shortcoming in his athletic ability, is an important question to answer. If it’s the former, perhaps Thompson can become a reliable free safety in Carroll’s defense. If it’s the latter, it really is a fatal flaw in this scheme.

By now, we know a large part of what makes Thomas one of the greatest safeties, ever, is his out-of-this-world range. That stems from uncanny anticipation, but it’s aided by his athletic ability. Prior to the 2010 NFL Draft, Thomas ran a 4.37 40-yard dash, with a 1.49 10-yard split. Thompson, meanwhile, ran a 4.6 40-yard dash with a 1.63 10-yard split prior to the 2017 NFL Draft. That tiny difference in burst of .14 seconds can make all the difference when needing to move from the middle of the field all the way to the sideline, with the ball mid-flight.

If Thompson doesn’t possess the range to be a true centerfielder in Carroll’s defense, then he cannot be depended upon to play that spot for 16 games in 2019. It would be a betrayal to both the scheme and the roster; the defense has collapsed before without the correct player at free safety, and it will again. Unfortunately for Seattle, they’re in a position where they may have to roll with Thompson in 2019, regardless of whether his previous struggles come down to confidence or a lack of athletic ability.

For as loaded as the draft is along the defensive line, it’s quite shallow at safety. In the top-60 or so, an argument could be made for two proper rangy free safeties: Delaware’s Nasir Adderley and Alabama’s Deionte Thompson. However, both players have flaws in their games that could cross them off the list. Adderley is a slight 195 pounds—their threshold is 205, and here’s what Carroll had to say about Thompson’s body type prior to the 2018 season: “He’s 208 pounds right now, same weight as guys we’ve had play there in the past.” Adderley is the best safety in the draft, but he isn’t the best safety for this defense.

Meanwhile, Deionte Thompson’s awareness and anticipation is lacking—would it make sense to spend a top-50 selection on a player whose shortcomings are similar to the player he would be replacing in Tedric Thompson?

The options aren’t much better in free agency, either. The safeties headlining the class—Landon Collins, Tyrann Mathieu, Lamarcus Joyner—are more of box safeties than deep-middle roaming defenders. Tre Boston would make the most sense among the group, but that would be much more of a stop-gap than a long-term solution.

All this goes back to how poorly the Seahawks handled Thomas’s situation. Judging by all of their actions up to this point, we know Seattle was quite sure they weren’t going to extend Thomas as early as last offseason. We also know the Cowboys were/are interested in Thomas. The best free safety in last year’s draft, Jessie Bates, is a legitimate centerfielder and would’ve fit into Carroll’s defense wonderfully.

The Seahawks could’ve, and likely should’ve, moved on and used the extra selection last year to select Thomas’s successor. Instead, Seattle’s hands are tied, and their defense is tied to the development of Tedric Thompson and a trait he simply may or may not possess.