Bradley McDougald improved his stock, but Seahawks may not have a fit for him

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A series looking at the players on the Seattle Seahawks who are set to become free agents in March, as well as potential trade and cap casualty candidates.

Player: Bradley McDougald

Position: Safety/Linebacker

2017 Cap Hit: $2 million (OverTheCap.com)

2017 Stats: 16 games (9 starts), 67 tackles, four pass defensed (Pro-Football-Reference.com)

Short of a playoff appearance (nothing overrates defensive free agents more than winning a Super Bowl), it’s hard to imagine that McDougald could have done better for himself than the 2017 season. After spending most of his first four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including 31 starts over his final two years, McDougald could not secure a satisfactory offer in either money or playing time in 2017. So instead he signed a one-year deal to backup two of the best safeties in the game in Seattle, with the hope that he’d either get near-starter reps in the slot (or some sort of package) or that his name would be called after Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor had both suffered through injuries in 2016.

As it turned out, the former was not very true, but the latter came to fruition anyway.

Over the first seven games of the season, McDougald recorded five solo and two assisted tackles, and almost all of his snaps came on special teams. There were not really any packages that had Thomas-Chancellor-McDougald, so an injury needed to happen for him to get playing time on defense. That happened with Thomas being unable to go against Washington in Week 9 and McDougald recorded five tackles in the loss.

The Seahawks had a quick four-day turnaround to play the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night, not giving Thomas enough time to return, so McDougald made his second start at free safety in a 22-16 win. Unfortunately for Seattle, Chancellor suffered a neck injury against the Cards and would miss the rest of the season. Fortunately for McDougald, it meant seven more starts and at a position he seemed to be better at than at free safety.

However, the Seahawks went 3-4 in those games, and gave up 30+ three times, including 42-7 to the LA Rams at home.

After Week 16, PFF noted that McDougald may have been one of the best run-stoppers in the NFL at safety (or maybe he just had way more run-stop opportunities than most safeties?):

Seattle Seahawks: Strong safety Bradley McDougald has racked up 17 run stops on his 241 run defense snaps this year, which has resulted in a run stop percentage of 7.1 percent, the best rate among all safeties with at least 210 run defense snaps this year.

PFF also noted that McDougald made plenty of snaps at linebacker in the second half of the year:

From Weeks 1 through 13, McDougald was asked to line up as a linebacker on 35 percent of his defensive snaps; thanks to some injury issues though with the Seahawks’ linebackers in Week 14 he spent 73 percent of his snaps against the Jaguars in a linebacker position, and he appeared to be up to the task. McDougald led Seattle’s defense in terms of overall grade and he also led the team with five stops, giving him ten over the last two games.

En total, McDougald may not be a Pro Bowl-caliber player at any position, but his versatility makes him a viable option to start at more positions than most players. The question then becomes, “What is an “NFL sixth man” really worth?”

2018 contract outlook

Last year, McDougald’s AAV (average annual value) was placed at just $2 million, and that was after two-and-a-half years as a starter in Tampa. In this case, McDougald was only a backup pushed into being a starter by injuries, but with better coaching, teammates, and mentorship from some of the league’s best secondary players. He also won’t turn 28 until November.

A potential comparison for McDougald’s next contract may be Daniel Sorensen of the Kansas City Chiefs; as a 27-year-old restricted free agent in 2017, the Chiefs signed Sorensen to a four-year, $16 million deal with nearly $8 million guaranteed. A $4 million AV ranked Sorensen right around the 30th-highest paid safety in the league last year and I think it would be a safe bet to put McDougald in the range of being a player who is between the 30th and 45th best safety in the league. Sorensen lead Kansas City in tackles in 2017 and played both safety and linebacker.

(Coincidentally, McDougald signed with KC in 2013 after going undrafted out of Kansas and was cut early in the season.)

A team may view McDougald as their “Sorensen option” and pay him in the range of $3-$4 million per season for 3-4 years — so a three-year, $12 million or four-year, $15 million deal seems fair to me. The downside to McDougald is that I think we’ve probably seen the best of him and he’s never going to be as impactful as Kam Chancellor or someone like Reshad Jones. He’s also never going to be as bad as Steven Terrell. He is what he is, which is someone who is probably better than he was viewed as a free agent in 2017, but not as good as the guy we hyped him up as in Seattle, which was “AT LEAST THIS ISN’T AS BAD AS WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAD TO REPLACE KAM OR EARL THE LAST TIME!”

He’s an adequate starter at safety, and with teams constantly bidding for secondary players because of the importance of pass defense and the dearth of quality options, there’s good reason to think that a team will lock him down with enough guarantees to slot him as a starter through 2019, with little guarantee past that. Will it be the Seahawks?

Likelihood to be re-signed: 15-20%

I felt very confident that Seattle would not re-sign Eddie Lacy, but this one is a little harder to judge. (Also want to emphasize how little these percentages actually mean and I’m only going with my gut based on need, cost, history.)

I think that the likelihood of re-signing McDougald is lower than what I imagine others would say. The reasons to believe that the Seahawks will work hard to re-sign McDougald is that Chancellor is questionable to ever play again and McDougald was an adequate replacement. Seattle would not need to push Delano Hill into a starting role to early or spend another draft pick on a safety if they just re-sign McDougald. It makes total sense, and John Schneider/Pete Carroll prefer to retain their own rather than to go out and get someone new.

It’s common practice now for Seattle to sign someone to a one-year deal only to re-up them for 2-3 more years if the season they had was good. McDougald’s season was good, but I don’t think it was quite good enough for him to be imagined as the starter for the next two years.

They do still have Chancellor, and they can’t get his salary off the books. They do still have Hill, who is a recent third round pick, one of the highest selections this front office has ever spent on a defensive back. They do still have Tyrus Thompson, a safety who went shortly after Hill. They could also bring back DeShawn Shead, who has experience at safety, if needed, and may be as adequate as McDougald.

If the Seahawks had the option to bring McDougald back on the same deal, 1 year/$2 mill or even 2 years/$4 mill, then it would make some sense. But I think his value is closer to the $4 million range, and while the difference of $2 million may not sound like a lot, this is still a team that struggled to go look for replacements for Blair Walsh in 2017 because of the cap.

Seattle is in penny-pinching mode and they can’t spend $4 million AAV on a player who made a tiny handful of snaps on defense when Earl and Kam were healthy; it means that he’d be a $4 million sinkhole if Kam and Earl return, and perhaps still would be a sinkhole if Hill outplays him for the strong safety position in 2018, a move that we would all have to be rooting for given the age and contract status of Hill. It would be way more beneficial to the team if Hill was the future at safety than if McDougald is, if only because Hill has more “future” left.

There’s perhaps just too good of a chance that a team like the Browns or 49ers — who each have over $100 million in cap space, way more than any other teams — will over-bid for someone like McDougald and put him out of Seattle’s range anyway. They both also have needs at defensive back and could start him next season for an instant bridge to whatever safeties they may end up drafting this year.

I know a lot of fans are curious about life after Earl, Kam, and Richard Sherman, but I think it’s more likely that Thomas and Sherman get extensions, while Kam is locked in as a huge cap hit for 2018 regardless; that’s enough money to commit to the secondary as is without another $4-5 million going to a potential backup or medium-level starter at strong safety. The defense can survive without McDougald, even if they also have to survive without Kam.

Overall, McDougald played too good to be re-signed by the Seahawks, but also not good enough to be re-signed by the Seahawks.

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