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DeShawn Shead shows life at the opposite end of NFL spectrum from Bobby Wagner

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Detroit Lions v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Friday the Seattle Seahawks made headlines when they gave All Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner a contract that made him the highest paid off ball linebacker in the the NFL. Just a day later the Hawks added safety DeShawn Shead to the roster on a minimum salary contract that demonstrates just how difficult it can be to land a lucrative contract as an NFL player.

Specifically, Shead and Wagner both enter the NFL in 2012, with Shead signing with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent out of Portland State, while Wagner was a second round draft choice out of Utah State. The two then attended training camp together in 2012 as they attempted to break into the NFL, but that is where their paths diverged.

Since reporting to training camp in July of 2012, Wagner has been continuously employed by the Hawks, with the recent contract extension representing his third contract with the team. The terms of these three contracts are as follows:

  • 2012 rookie contract: 4 years, $4.308M,
  • 2015 contract extension: 4 years, $43M and
  • 2019 contract extension: 3 years, $54M.

That is a fantastic outcome for Wagner, and his third contract is even more lucrative than his second contract. Meanwhile, on the flip side, since signing his initial contract as an undrafted free agent in 2012, Shead has only played on one year contracts. He’s never had the security of a multi-year deal, and many might have given up long before they reached where he is at today.

Specifically, how Shead has progressed through his career is one of those tales that can be told as a warning to players on the verge of free agency.

After signing with Seattle as an undrafted free agent out of Portland State, Shead he did not survive roster cuts at the end of training camp. After the 2012 season he was signed by the team to a one year deal for the 2013 season, but once again failed to survive roster cuts at the end of camp. After spending the first twelve weeks of the season on the practice squad, he was finally promoted to the active roster for the stretch run just before Week 13. Upon promotion to the active roster he was given a one year contract that would cover the final five games of the year and the postseason.

The timing of that promotion to the active roster is important, because by waiting until after the Seahawks had already played eleven games, it meant that Shead would only be on the active roster for a maximum of five games. Five games on the roster means no accrued season, and means that the Seahawks kept an extra year of team control over Shead. He’d be paid as a second year player in 2014 (salary is determined by credited seasons, which only require being on the roster for three games), but would technically still be a rookie.

After the 2013 season concluded, he again signed a one year contract with Seattle as an Exclusive Rights Free Agent, however, in contrast to both 2012 and 2013, at the end of 2014 training camp he made the active roster. He played only 89 defensive snaps in 2014, but was a significant contributor on special teams, logging 323 snaps on special teams (second only to Mike Morgan’s 333 special teams snaps that season). Having earned his first accrued season during the 2014 campaign, he once again became an ERFA after the year and signed yet another one year contract with the Hawks.

That led into 2015, where his performance in training camp not only earned him a roster spot, it earned him a role as the team’s nickel cornerback. With 2014 nickel CB Jeremy Lane out to start the 2015 season due to the torn ACL he suffered in Super Bowl XLIX, Shead won the competition for the spot coming out of camp. However, as Seahawks fans know all too well, 2015 was also the year of the ill-fated Cary Williams signing in free agency. So, while Shead manned the slot role admirably for the defense, Williams was busy stinking the joint up on the outside, to the point where he was benched during the Week 11 game against the San Francisco 49ers. With Williams benched, Shead slid to the outside and Marcus Burley took over inside covering the slot when the defense went to nickel. The next week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Shead started on the outside and Jeremy Lane started inside in his return from injury.

At the conclusion of 2015 Shead had accrued a second season, and was once again an ERFA. Thus, he signed another one year contract with Seattle for the 2016 season. This contract would be different, however, as at the conclusion of the 2016 season he would be in line to be a Restricted Free Agent. As a RFA, he would have the chance to negotiate with other teams, or at a minimum see an increase in his base salary over the minimum salary contracts he had been signing.

And 2016 went just about as well as it could in his goal of hitting the market as an RFA attractive enough to other teams to warrant either a first or second round tender. He logged 919 snaps as a starter at cornerback during the regular season, added 55 more against the Detroit Lions in the Wild Card round of the playoffs and was on the verge of getting the largest contract of his career heading into the Divisional Round playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons, when just after halftime the unthinkable happened.

And that was it. A torn ACL with just 29 minutes and 29 seconds left in his season destroyed any thoughts of Shead signing a multi-million dollar deal after the 2016 campaign. In fact, Shead not only got injured in that Wild Card game, because of the severity of the injury, the Seahawks non-tendered him as a restricted free agent, making him an unrestricted free agent. No teams expressed much interest in his services for 2017 following the torn ACL, and so the Hawks ended up signing Shead to a one year contract for roughly a million dollars.

Shead spent most of the 2017 season on the PUP list, only making the active roster towards the very end of the 2017 campaign, but then after finally getting healthy signed the largest contract of his career, a one-year, $3.5M contract with the Lions. That contract represents roughly 60% of the money Shead has earned in his career thus far, but after failing to sign with another team after free agency started in March, he ended up signing with the Seahawks for a minimum salary contract once again.

Thus, while Seattle fans are happy to have Shead back, and it will great to see him suit up for the Seahawks once again, it’s important to keep in mind the road he’s traveled to get here. My hope for Shead, as a fan, is that he contributes well as a safety for the Seahawks in 2019, and then is able to sign a modest, multi-year contract, either with Seattle or with another team, to extend his career and make some of that money he missed out on due to his knee injury.