Yes, Kam Chancellor's Seahawks goodbye was jolting.
The soul of the team detailed in his open letter online Sunday the risk of paralysis had he continued playing. And it asked for prayers, because "I have no clue how these head injuries will go after the game."
Yet the four-time Pro Bowl strong safety calling it quits—while not officially using the word "retiring," to preserve his contract guarantees for this year and next—was not a surprise. Not to the Seahawks.
They've been planning for this for more than a year.
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Seattle's Chancellor succession plan has three options. It includes a former Buccaneer, two recent draft picks, a wild card—and one, gigantic variable.
That variable: Earl Thomas. Whenever the three-time All-Pro free safety finally shows up for preseason practices will solidify who plays where in the back of the secondary to begin 2018.
Coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider began acting to eventually replace Chancellor and Thomas in the spring of 2017. That's when they signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers starting safety Bradley McDougald in free agency. A couple months after that they drafted strong safety Delano Hill of Michigan and free safety Tedric Thompson from Colorado one round later.
Hill remains unproven. The Seahawks selected him in the third round in 2017 because he showed in the Big Ten he could play down close to the line of scrimmage and take on blockers and ball carriers defending the run, a Chancellor specialty. Then Carroll talked last month how Hill, at 6-1 and 216 pounds, has impressed him and his Seattle staff with his coverage skills in pass defense.
But that's been in practices. Hill was a special-teams player for 10 of his 15 games in his Seahawks debut last season, with only minimal snaps in the other five games as a backup on defense. The Seahawks don't know how Hill plays against NFL offenses who assuredly will target him in the middle of the field when and if he plays strong safety for Seattle.
McDougald, 27, is not unproven. He has started 45 NFL games the last four seasons. He showed over the final two months of 2017 when Chancellor was out with his career-ending neck injury that he could ably replace him at strong safety. He also filled in last season at free safety when Thomas was out injured for two games in early November. That was immediately before Chancellor got hurt.
McDougald's value in versatility with Thomas' and Chancellor's futures in doubt is why the Seahawks re-signed him for three years and $13.95 million this spring.
McDougald said last month he prefers strong safety. He also said that's where he expects to be on Sept. 9 when Seattle opens the season at Denver.
McDougald alternated between the starting free safety and strong safety during practices in organized team activities early last month and minicamp a couple weeks ago. Thompson got his first work as the starting free safety last month when McDougald was at strong. When McDougald was the free safety in those practices, Hill was at strong safety.
"Mo Alexander is an interesting kid for us to see," Carroll said. "We haven’t seen anything from him yet on the field so that’ll be one of the guys.
McDougald. Hill. Thompson. Alexander. No, not even close to Thomas, Chancellor, Sherman.
And about Thomas, who has stayed away from all voluntary and mandatory offseason work because he wants a new, top-tier contract beyond his current one that ends following this season. He may continue his stand into training camp that begins July 26, on principle. That's because the Seahawks show no signs of giving him an extension he wants with tens of millions of guaranteed money well into his 30s.
They just did that with Chancellor. They gave him what amounted to a legacy deal at age 30 last August, with $25 million guaranteed, only to have Chancellor's career end three months later. As of now, the Seahawks remain obligated for $12 million they guaranteed Chancellor for 2018 and '19, even though he won't play a down for them in either year.
Logic says Thomas has to report to the team eventually. That is, unless he wants to run up fines well into six figures during August, then lose $500,000 in base pay plus portions of additional bonus money each week he would hold out in the regular season. If he holds out past the seventh game of the 2018 season, this year won't count for him contractually; his contract would "toll" and 2019 will be a repeat final year of his deal. That unlikely scenario would put off for another year the free agency and the new money Thomas is seeking.
So barring a trade for which no other team has yet shown a willingness to make an even remotely interesting offer, Thomas will show up, with or without a new contract, to play free safety this year.
Whoever it ends up being at safety this year, the "Legion of Boom" has undeniably gone bust. Seattle's secondary is starting over. It's being remade by the factor that changes all teams, all lives, for that matter: aging.
All four first-teamers in last month's minicamp were different than the Seahawks who started in the defensive backfield in 2017.
“As you can tell, it’s a different era," McDougald said.
"Things are changing around here."