When Bradley McDougald signed with the Seahawks as a free agent in the spring of 2017, he landed in an outstanding situation, providing depth to the NFL’s then-best safety tandem in Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. When Chancellor suffered a career-ending injury in Week 10 of that season and McDougald entered the lineup the following week, he again found a great situation: play alongside Thomas, the best deep safety on the planet, and take care of your responsibilities without having to worry about anything over the top. Over the next two seasons, McDougald’s best form consistently came when he was playing alongside Thomas.
Injuries to Thomas, Tedric Thompson and Lano Hill meant McDougald was forced to go back and forth between free and strong safety sporadically in 2018 and to begin 2019. When paired with Thompson—McDougald’s usual partner during that time—he couldn’t exactly focus solely on his own responsibility; Seattle was playing more two-high and when they weren’t, Thompson wasn’t providing reliable over-the-top coverage. McDougald’s game undoubtedly suffered as a result of the instability next to him at the safety position.
The Seahawks and McDougald finally rediscovered that stable presence in 2019, when John Schneider made the trade to acquire Quandre Diggs. The acquisition of Diggs not only provided Seattle with a much needed presence at free safety, but it allowed McDougald to play exclusively at strong safety, which is what he expressed as his desire.
In Week 10, Diggs entered the lineup alongside McDougald, and both the defense and McDougald felt an immediate impact. Able to focus solely on his own responsibilities and the play in front of him, McDougald thrived. The upturn in confidence, speed and performance was immediately apparent. Pete Carroll echoed the confidence Diggs instilled in everyone, while McDougald laid out Diggs’ impact clearly, saying, “I have found myself being able to play one position, staying in closer (to the line of scrimmage); doing my job. I’ve got less to worry about – less getting people lined up. It’s just less. I can focus on me. That’s the best position to be. I’m moving faster.”
Enabled to stay close to the line of scrimmage, like McDougald said, had a massive impact on the team’s play speed and tackling around the line of scrimmage. McDougald combined a innate ability to evade blocks with sure tackling to give the Seahawks a boost in the box, changing the math which had skewed against Seattle all season.
When McDougald was off the line of scrimmage or in the flats, his presence was still able to be felt. With confidence in the man playing behind him, McDougald could trust his eyes, fly to the ball and make clutch tackle after clutch tackle. After allowing 310 yards after the catch in 2018, that number dropped to just 89 in 2019—which speaks to the confidence with which McDougald would break on the ballcarrier.
Upon joining the Seahawks, McDougald found the field as a sub defensive back, as he combined an ability to play either safety spot as well as cover the slot.
Despite spending half the season in a role he wasn’t crazy about nor best suited for, McDougald’s coverage numbers were improved from 2018 to ‘19. McDougald allowed half a yard less per target in 2019 (6.7 compared to 7.2 in ‘18) and the lowest completion percentage when targeted (53.1 percent) since he has been in Seattle.
Diggs’ emergence as a trusted centerfielder meant that McDougald could return to covering tight ends out of the slot, battling in matchups where he had a large size disadvantage and helping to buoy the Seahawks’ defense in an area that has plagued them for years.
On Tuesday, ESPN’s Brady Henderson suggested McDougald could be a cap causality. The team can save $4.1M by parting ways and a natural successor, Marquise Blair, is already in place. Moving on from McDougald, however, would be a foolish decision. Seattle is hardly pressed against the cap and the $4.1M that would be gained simply would not be worth it.
At the very least, McDougald can provide depth—as he did at first in 2017—behind Blair and Diggs, while being deployed as a matchup dependent defender in a division with chess pieces such as George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Gerald Everett, and playcallers who love to find and exploit matchups.
More likely, though, is that McDougald starts alongside Diggs again in 2020 and thrives in the same manner as he did down the stretch in 2019. The Seahawks have evidence of how effective McDougald can be all over the field when played with a quality free safety; to move on now would be to move on from the player who was their best defender over the final nine games of the season.