Number 36 is out on the Seahawks practice field, and there’s a hard-hitting strong safety there as well. Neither player, however, is Lawyer Milloy. His absence is confusing to some, expected by others. When I ran an informal Twitter poll a few days ago about whether fans would prefer to have Milloy or Big Play Babs back in the fold, it was a landslide for Milloy. People valued his leadership, big hits, and effectiveness as a blitzer. Milloy wanted to come back as well, so why the split?
You need to turn back the clock to 2009 to get the answer. Milloy had been brought in by then Seahawks coach Jim Mora. They had the strong UW connection, and the hope was for Milloy to help mentor the secondary. It turned out Milloy did not adjust well to being a back-up. He was not a malcontent, but he admitted after that season that being a back-up was not in his DNA. Pete Carroll talked Milloy into coming back for another season with the promise he would compete for a starting role. Milloy won that competition, and was among the best players on a very good Seahawks defense for the first half of the season. He wore down as the season continued, but never stopped being a warrior and leader the Seahawks had rarely seen at the safety position.
The Seahawks front office had a tough, but rather simple, decision to make this off-season. Young Kam “Bam Bam” Chancellor was drafted to play Milloy’s position last year. He was tutored by Milloy all year, and had earned spot snaps later in the year. Enough growth was shown that it was obvious Chancellor would have the advantage in winning the starting strong safety spot this year. Sure enough, the Seahawks coaching staff informed Chancellor of his position at the top of the depth chart when he arrived at camp this week. This was much more about unbridling a promising young player than it was about Milloy’s lack of ability to still play.
Seattle spoke with Milloy this week as well, and likely offered him a chance to sign back with the team. Knowing that he’d be asked to fill a similar role to the one he played in 2009, Milloy chose to walk a different path. It’s always possible he could be back, but only if all 31 other teams won’t offer him consistent playing time. More likely, Milloy retires as one of the NFL’s best safetys. You might find him wandering the sideline of a Seahawks practice or game, but competitors like Milloy are a rare breed. He is addicted to the game he plays, and being that close to it without actually being part of it is more pain than pleasure.
Seahawks fans are lucky to have witnessed what will likely be his last great season. Milloy represents everything that is right about the NFL and leaders. Earl Thomas and Chancellor have a lot to live up to.