Training camp means several tough personnel decisions loom for the Seattle Seahawks. We are less than two weeks away from the 53-man deadline; many roster-hopefuls are dreading the words “Coach Carroll wants to see you.” It shouldn’t be surprising that Seattle’s front office has a better idea about who the team is keeping than they’d lead you to believe. The largest modifier to this is preseason injury, rather than so-called open competition. One player’s downfall turns into an opportunity for the next man up. In the case of Seattle’s secondary, availability is the best ability — not only regarding health, but in role versatility.
Just a few months ago, the Seahawks drafted Ugo Amadi and Marquise Blair, highlighting their desire for players able to excel in multiple positions. This wasn’t the first time Seattle sought after such traits. When drafting Delano Hill in April 2017, Pete Carroll mentioned Hill’s multi-positional usage in Michigan’s defensive scheme. Lano was apparently capable of playing both free and strong safety, as well as matching up with receivers in the nickel. Admitting he looked “closer to Kam [Chancellor’s] style,” Carroll said they “wouldn’t hesitate to see how he matched up with receivers.” As we’d later come to find out, this was one of many overstatements Pete would make about the intent for a rookie prospect; his Win Forever philosophy never limits an individual’s ceiling.
Much of the disappointment surrounding Hill has been due to the lack of given opportunity. Heading into 2017, the Seahawks still had best safety duo in the league. A month prior to that draft, Bradley McDougald inked a 1-year ‘prove it’ contract before starting twice at free safety for an injured Earl Thomas that season. Immediately following Thomas’ return, Kam Chancellor would suffer a career-ending injury, leaving behind a sizable void at strong safety. Everyone assumed Hill’s opportunity had arrived, but Seattle decided to start McDougald instead, who finished the season with 75 tackles, a handful of pass deflections, and a 3-year extension, declaring him the leader of the post-LOB secondary. Hill would finish the season with only 5 tackles.
In Week 4 of the 2018 season, Earl Thomas’ saga would come to an end. Just like Chancellor the year prior, the future Hall of Famer would play his final snap in a Seahawks jersey at University of Phoenix stadium, creating an even larger talent void this time. The initial belief was that McDougald would move back to his original position (free safety), allowing the 3rd rounder Hill to finally get his opportunity to start. Instead, the team did not move McDougald. In fact, they named Tedric Thompson, a 4th rounder from the same draft class as Hill, the starting free safety. This indicated nothing more than Tedric being further along at free safety than Lano was at strong safety, as McDougald could plug and play either side. However, McDougald had been carving out a more permanent role for himself. It was apparent he’d settled in at strong safety in Cover 2, 3, and Big Nickel. Had Hill been given the opportunity to learn free safety like Carroll originally indicated, maybe history would’ve broken differently. Maybe he beats out Thompson. Maybe the Seahawks don’t spend a 2nd rounder in 2019 to draft Marquise Blair (who is learning both safety positions).
Delano would get a brief opportunity to start in two games closing out the 2018 regular season for Thompson, who was inactive. In Seattle’s finale against Arizona, Hill was playing the best game of his career before suffering a hip fracture that would designate him to Injured Reserve and end his season. Bypassing surgery, Hill was unable to train for three full months, leading to weight loss, strength loss, and certainly a dip in morale. He waited almost a full two seasons for that opportunity to start. With little to hang his hat on, he’d have to wait out another offseason.
Fast forward eight months. Lano’s weight and strength have returned but his conditioning is a tick behind. With Hill starting training camp on the PUP list, Seattle looked no further than former defensive back DeShawn Shead. In his second stint with the Seahawks, DeShawn is still working to prove he belongs, a spot he’s been familiar with his entire career. K.J. Wright said it best: DeShawn has “experienced everything a football player can experience.” Shead wasn’t highly recruited. He went undrafted. Yet, he made the team and became a special teams captain. He learned not one, not two, not three, not four, but all five defensive back positions. This versatility and drive have resulted in a Super Bowl championship and eight years in the league, doubling the average NFL career length.
It’s my belief that Shead is ahead of Delano Hill on Seattle’s strong safety depth chart. He provides too much value to the 2019 team with a clean bill of health, knowledge of scheme, and status as the most versatile DB in the entire group. We know McDougald and Tedric will start. We know Blair will be the other backup. We know Ugo Amadi is training at free safety even if his permanent home becomes nickel cornerback. Suddenly, it’s become very hard to find room for the former Michigan Wolverine.
Fortunately, NFL practice squad rules allow for two players with two accrued seasons. My estimation is that Paxton Lynch will be one of those players for the Seahawks. Hill would be my other choice. Now in his 3rd season with minimal production and coming off a significant injury, Seattle likely covets him more than any other team. He’d be a little easier to stash than one might assume.
However, I don’t think the team would mind if another squad signed Hill away. In that event, he would likely be given a better opportunity than anything Seattle can provide at this time. I believe Carroll and Schneider would happily support that over flat out cutting him. Hypothetically, a trade would be another option but can Hill pass a physical if they come to terms with another team? Maybe, but “failed” physicals in the NFL are a wishy-washy topic for another time. Brace yourselves. Soon, this squad will be cut nearly in half. And as of now, Delano Hill will not make Seattle’s roster to start out 2019.
CB (5): Shaquill Griffin, Tre Flowers, Akeem King, Ugo Amadi, Jamar Taylor
FS (2): Tedric Thompson, Marquise Blair
SS (2): Bradley McDougald, DeShawn Shead