Seahawks Will Boast One of NFL's Most Experienced Safety Duos in 2020
Long gone are the days in Seattle when Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor prowled the Seahawks defensive backfield as one of the best safety tandems to ever play in the NFL.
Thomas just finished up his seventh Pro Bowl season and his first in a different uniform with the Ravens. Chancellor last played in 2017 before a neck injury forced him to retire before his 30th birthday.
With 11 Pro Bowls between them, that is quite the dynamic duo to replace. In fact, they never will be fully replaced, but that doesn’t mean the Seahawks can't have a solid safety tandem once again.
Bradley McDougald and Quandre Diggs have played in 168 games combined over 12 seasons. This makes them one of the most experienced safety teammates in the entire NFL heading into 2020.
Other teams who previously had experienced safeties are in flux this offseason. Eric Weddle finished up his first season with the Rams after nine with the Chargers and three with the Ravens. There seems to be a consensus that Weddle is done in the NFL despite having another year left on his contract.
Devin McCourty is a two-time Pro Bowler over 10 years in New England, but is now a free agent and unlikely to return to the Patriots.
Eric Reid and Tre Boston were a solid companionship in Carolina, but Boston only came to the Panthers on a one-year deal and heads to free agency for a third straight year. Given his struggles to land jobs each of the past two seasons as well as the Panthers current rebuilding effort, it remains unlikely he'll be back.
One safety duo that has a comparable amount of experience to that of Seattle’s pair is currently preparing for the Super Bowl, in Kansas City’s Tyrann Mathieu and Daniel Sorensen. They have combined for 177 games over 13 years, though Sorensen was actually a backup this year until rookie Juan Thornhill tore his ACL in Week 17.
Having two safeties with lots of NFL snaps under their belt can only help this Seahawks defense improve moving forward. Seattle’s defense ranked a disappointing 27th against the pass last season. Those numbers dramatically improved when Diggs, who was acquired from the Lions for a fifth-round pick, entered the lineup for a Week 10 matchup against the NFC champion 49ers.
Diggs collected three interceptions with 21 tackles in the five regular season games he played with Seattle. In the playoffs, he made eight tackles while missing all of one snap in the two contests.
Coach Pete Carroll emphasized Diggs' influence on Seattle's defense in his year-end press conference two weeks ago.
"I think it was pretty obvious. We played cleaner with him. He helped us in a number of ways. I’ll continue to tell you that he’s helping other guys play well. The confidence that he brings in adds to those guys. I thought Bradley [McDougald] played better when he was playing with Q [Diggs] in the game. When he is in the game with the younger kids, he’s got to control quite a bit more as opposed to focusing on his play. I think you can see that help. I don’t know if statistically it shows up as much as it felt different when he’s playing.”
Under contract through 2021, Diggs should be in Seattle for at least two more years. As for McDougald, he has turned into one of the team's best free agent signings since John Schneider and Carroll arrived 10 years ago and has one year left on his contract.
In three seasons in Seattle, McDougald filled in nicely as Chancellor's replacement at strong safety while also plugging holes in the dam as a free safety once Thomas left town. His versatility has been priceless for a defense that has battled sub-par play and personnel turnover, but he has been most in his element at strong safety and the addition of Diggs brought out the best in him.
In 2019, McDougald allowed just a 58.8 passer rating, which is 15th-best in the NFL among defensive backs, a better mark than Pro Bowl safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick, Budda Baker, and Jamal Adams. He notched his first career sack along with two interceptions, 70 tackles, and six passes defensed.
Playing at his best in the postseason, McDougald racked up a season-high 11 tackles and produced a sack in a wild card win over the Eagles. Despite losing to the Packers the following week, he enjoyed another solid outing with four tackles, a tackle for loss, and a pass defensed.
Aside from his solid stats, McDougald has emerged as a leader in the locker room, an important development following the departure of All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman and the rest of the "Legion of Boom."
McDougald's All-Pro teammate Bobby Wagner weighed in on the former undrafted player from Kansas.
"He’s just been great. He’s been more vocal this year, a great leader, a guy you can count on knowing he is going to be in the right spot. A great teammate, a very, very fun person to be around, very entertaining, very energetic, and a great guy to be around for sure.”
Unlike this time last year, with both Diggs and McDougald returning for the 2020 season, Seattle can rest assured their defensive backfield is solidified and the front office can zero in on fixing other areas of deficiency on defense.