Kam Chancellor getting a new Seahawks contract seemed like a certainty.
Now, days before training camp begins, it’s become a curiosity.
How much longer until it becomes a concern?
That is the second of what I see as five primary issues Seattle has entering training camp. The first, which I wrote about on Monday: 5. Establishing trust in Blair Walsh.
Today’s is: Deciding on Kam Chancellor’s contract situation.
The NFC West champions three of the last four years begin their 2017 preseason on Sunday with their first practice of training camp. Chancellor, 29, is starting the final year of a contract most thought the team would have extended by now.
Judging by what coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider said this offseason, they thought so, too.
Last month, Chancellor sounded resigned to faith. And fate.
“I trust their word. I trust what they say,” he said of Carroll and Schneider during June’s minicamp. “I’ll let it happen when it’s supposed to happen, and all I can do is control what I can control right now -- and that’s playing on the field and keeping that camaraderie together with my brothers and just keep building.”
I ranked this fourth on Seahawks’ issues entering training camp. But it could rise, if Chancellor goes through the preseason and especially into the regular season without a new deal.
Put it this way: Russell Wilson is the face of the franchise, but Chancellor is its soul.
He’s beloved and supremely respected as a leader and example for having continued his punishing brand of strong safety through multiple injuries the last three seasons. He decided to have both his ankles operated on this offseason and end up in a wheelchair for a while so he could be ready for this training camp. Teammates come to him for advice on issues about not just football but life.
If he doesn’t have a new deal by the opener Sept. 10 at Green Bay and management leaves him with an uncertain, unrewarded future beyond 2017, there could be some Seahawks in the mood to revolt.
Such as, say, Michael Bennett. This is what the Pro Bowl defensive end posted about the situation:
Bennett got his in December, with more than one season left on his previous deal. His $31.5 million extension has $17.5 million guaranteed.
Bennett’s going to turn 32 this fall. He’s 2 1/2 years older than Chancellor. Yet after having made the Pro Bowl the last two seasons and booming later in his career after Seattle re-acquired him from Tampa Bay in 2013, Bennett is by another contract a clear member of the defense’s core going forward.
Is Chancellor still in that group?
He’s been a full-time starter since the start of the 2011 season. That is, when he hasn’t been hurt. The four-time Pro Bowl selection hasn’t been healthy enough to play a full season since 2013.
Chancellor is scheduled to earn $6.8 million in base pay and $325,008 in per-week roster bonuses this season, with a salary-cap charge of $8.125,008. He’s wanted a new contract for two years, and infamously held out for two months through the first two games of the 2015 regular season in vain to get one. Seattle lost both games before Chancellor returned with nothing more than the contract that is now expiring.
Chancellor watched in March when Miami safety Reshad Jones, who like Chancellor is 29, got a four-year, $48-million contract extension. The Dolphins gave Jones $33 million guaranteed. He got $19,885,000 guaranteed at signing, a $9 million signing bonus and fully guaranteed base pays in 2017 and ‘18.
Jones has been selected to one Pro Bowl in his seven NFL seasons.
But as long as Mount Rainier is still standing, there’s no way the Seahawks want to guarantee $33 million to Chancellor.
How much are they willing to pay him, not necessarily just for what he’s worth now but for what he’s done for the franchise for the last seven years?
That delta between what he’s worth now and what the team can or is willing to guarantee Chancellor is likely why he hasn’t already signed a new deal. And to be sure, at this point in his career with his injury history, this entirely is about the guarantees.
Any deal the Seahawks strike would likely be for a more team-friendly cap number than Chancellor’s $8.1 million for this year. It would likely have signing-bonus guarantees and back-loaded money beyond 2017 that Seattle could easily shed if his performance declines at 30 and beyond.
The longer he goes without a new contract, the more this becomes something in Seattle’s preseason into real season.
Are the Seahawks going to have him play through the final year of his deal, to see if he can stay healthy and productive and he nears 30 years old, then pay him? The Seahawks waited until the final month of K.J. Wright’s previous contract before extending it in December 2014, when the linebacker was finishing his rookie contract. He’s a year younger than Chancellor.
Or will the Seahawks keep this from becoming any issue at all by getting a new deal done with Chancellor perhaps at or just after the start of camp this weekend? Wilson got his $87.6-million, four-year extension on the first day of camp two years ago.
Or could this become being a stinging case of the Seahawks not being able to pay everybody everything forever? Are they going to make a hard choice and let him go after this season, at age 30, to get some compensatory draft choice in return?
This spring Seattle drafted Michigan’s Delano Hill in the third round. He’s 6 feet 1, 216 pounds, and known as an aggressive tackler against the run.
“There’s no question (Hill) can play safety. We would say strong and free. He looks more like a hitter. He’s really physical,” Carroll said upon drafting him. “Might be a little more like Kam’s style.
“So we’ll see. ... We have a lot of hopes for this.”
Chancellor was the first player Carroll mentioned in his postgame press conference following January’s playoff loss at Atlanta. The coach called him the foundation for the Seahawks’ strong leadership base. Chancellor is beloved in the locker room for his intensity, his wisdom and his persona as “The Enforcer.” When he’s healthy and playing his way he emboldens the defense, if not the entire team. Has for six years now.
At the league’s annual scouting combine in Indianapolis this spring I asked Schneider how big a priority it is to get Chancellor a new contract before this season begins.
“We’ve got several guys we’ll get to,” Schneider said. “We want to be able to take care of our team -- and obviously he is a huge part of that.”
For now, on the eve of training camp beginning and Chancellor on expiring deal plus two surgically repaired ankles, what he said to me when I asked him about his contract status on his way out of the Georgia Dome following that playoff loss to the Falcons still is the best description of it six months later.
“Day to day,” he said, with a grin. “Day to day.”