The move, which is expected to happen on Monday, has nothing to do with the purge of veteran Seahawks defenders that has already claimed Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett and Jeremy Lane. Instead, the Seahawks are honoring the promise they made to Shead that he would become an unrestricted free agent.
Shead's free-agent status had been in question after he spent all but two games of the past season on the physically unable to perform list while working his way back from a torn ACL. Per the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, that would technically require Shead's contract to toll, or to roll over to 2018 on the same terms.
The tolling rule applies to players who, in the final season of their contract, remain on PUP as of their team's sixth regular-season game. As in Shead's case, that includes players on one-year deals. A restricted free agent last offseason, Shead signed a one-year deal worth $1.2 million. So if his contract were to toll, he'd be signed for 2018 at the same amount.
Shead's agent, Cameron Foster, told ESPN that the NFL recently informed the Seahawks that Shead's contract was going to toll. But general manager John Schneider had already assured Shead that he would be an unrestricted free agent.
"John Schneider called me saying they were going to release DeShawn on Monday because, per the league rule, it's the NFL's position that DeShawn's contract is to toll," Foster said. "But it's our position, the NFL Players Association's position and the Seattle Seahawks' position that it does not toll. John had already informed DeShawn that his contract was expiring after this year, and the Seattle Seahawks are just living up to their word.
"They called me and they said, 'Just giving you a heads up that we're going to release DeShawn on Monday, but that doesn't mean we don't want him. That means we are living up to our word and we're going to release him, otherwise his contract would be required to toll.' So kudos to the Seahawks for doing the right thing. It's them living up to their word, letting DeShawn test the free-agent world, but they have said they'd like to have him come back."
Once released, Shead would be eligible to sign anywhere without having to wait until the start of free agency March 14. He already has a visit lined up with the Detroit Lions, according to Foster.
Shead, who turns 29 in June, started for a season and a half opposite Sherman at right cornerback before he tore his ACL in a playoff game in January 2017. He has experience at all five positions in Seattle's secondary since the team signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2012. That includes one start at strong safety in 2015 while Kam Chancellor was holding out.
With Chancellor's football future in jeopardy because of a career-threatening neck injury, the Seahawks have approached Shead about possibly playing strong safety next season.
"He's such a versatile player, he's played both for us," coach Pete Carroll said last week at the scouting combine. "We'll see what happens. We know he can play corner, and we like the way he plays at corner, but everything is open. I have not talked directly to him about that, but we have mentioned it to him."
Cornerback has suddenly become a position of need for Seattle following Sherman's release and that of Lane, which had been expected for some time. Byron Maxwell, who was brought back following Sherman's season-ending Achilles injury, is also a free agent. Of the four cornerbacks the Seahawks have under contract for 2018, only one -- 2017 rookie Shaquill Griffin -- has started for Seattle.