It’s time to consider the previously uncomfortable, if not unfathomable: the Seattle Seahawks moving on past Kam Chancellor.
Wednesday was the 27th day of the team leader’s preseason holdout. It’s 2½ weeks before the real season begins.
On the field the team has been moving on without him for weeks, out of necessity. First DeShawn Shead had Chancellor’s strong safety job. Shead, who also plays cornerback and special teams, even got daily advice from Chancellor, who has been watching daily practice film while entrenched in his stance he wants more than the $4.55 million due to him this year.
For last week’s exhibition game at Kansas City, this week’s practices and Saturday’s third and relatively most important exhibition game at San Diego, Dion Bailey is The Man in Place of Kam.
Bailey’s speed to stay with downfield receivers and his physicality against the run have rocketed him to the most unlikely co-starring role in this unexpected version of Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” secondary.
And he realizes how golden an opportunity this is, how just plain real this is getting to be. The guys who start the third exhibition game almost always begin the regular season as starters; first-teamers barely play in the final exhibition that comes five days later.
“I’m in a position I never expected to be in at this point in my career,” Bailey said.
No wonder. This time last year he was an undrafted free agent out of USC nursing an ankle injury on his way onto Seattle’s practice squad for the 2014 season.
Yes, the 23-year-old has gone from running other team’s plays to prepare Seahawks starters seven months ago to being one for the final rehearsal before Sept. 13 opener at St. Louis. He’s living a self-described “dream come true,” starting for the NFL’s top-ranked defense on Saturday against the Chargers in front of dozens of family and friends who will be there from Lakewood, California — about 90 minutes or so up the freeway from San Diego.
In practices he’s lining up next to All-Pro Earl Thomas, who’s back from shoulder surgery but still in a red, no-contact jersey.
“It was surreal the first time he came back to practice and I lined up with him,” Bailey said, “because it’s a for-real possibility.
“I mean, when I’ve done it in OTAs (organized team activities), but that’s so far out it doesn’t truly mean anything. Doing it now I’m like, ‘Wow! I am really out there playing with Earl!’
“It’s just great, man. Dream come true. And I really, personally don’t want to let those guys down. They’ve set a standard here, and if my number’s called I’m going to give 120 percent to uphold that standard.”
As unlikely as it seemed when Chancellor first took this stance, as unlikely as it might still be with time remaining for an unforeseen break to the impasse before the opener, Bailey’s number — No. 37 — really, actually could get called.
Following Wednesday’s no-pads practice All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said he has talked to Chancellor regularly, the last time on Tuesday. But Sherman acknowledged both sides have “dug in their heels.” Chancellor’s demanding more money now, more commensurate with the $10 million Sherman is guaranteed and the $5.5 million Thomas is guaranteed this year.
The Seahawks have been in regular contact with Chancellor and his agent. But they aren’t budging off not wanting to set the precedent of redoing a deal that has three years remaining.
Sherman said the players aren’t spending time wondering when Chancellor is going to show up.
“I don’t think we are wondering about anything. I think we are focused on what we’re doing here,” Sherman said. “If they work something out with him that would phenomenal; we’ll welcome him back with open arms. But if not we’ll focus on what we have here and continue to play.”
How has Bailey gone from undrafted last year as a fourth-year junior who appeared to have made a mistake by leaving USC a year early to this, poised to start in the middle of the defense that has led Seattle to the last two Super Bowls?
Turns out Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Kris Richard have known Bailey since 2008. That’s when Bailey said they were his main USC recruiters visiting him at Lakewood High School just south of Los Angeles.
Carroll and Richard, then Seattle’s secondary coach, tapped that knowledge and experience when the Seahawks signed Bailey as a rookie free agent in May 2014.
“He’s always been a playmaker. We watched him in high school, a million years ago it seems,” Carroll said. “He always did stuff. He just continues to show that he’s got great instincts.
“He does work with the ones (first-teamers) and will continue to get work with the ones. You can’t deny the production he’s turning out. It’s real exciting.”
Bailey says his best preparation to become Seattle’s strong safety with run-stopping responsibilities came from the staff of Lane Kiffin, who succeeded Carroll at USC. Bailey played linebacker his first two seasons for Kiffin before moving to safety.
“The greatest thing that’s helped me is when I was at SC playing linebacker,” Bailey said. “That gave me experience to see ‘in the box’ (near the line) and to understand fronts. I learned how to move a lot faster near the line and how to get away from blocks. I know where guys need to go up front.
“That really helps me when I roll down as a strong safety.”
That linebacking experience is coming in far handier than the Seahawks could have imagined as Chancellor’s holdout has gone on way further than expected.
“Yeah, no doubt about it. He’s always been an aggressive, tenacious hitter and defender,” Richard said. “I remember him all the way back in high school. We were there at USC recruiting him at that time, so that was one thing that stood out about him aside from the fact that he went out and got the football.
“So those are things that he’s continued to carry over throughout his tenure here. So, yeah, we’re really excited for his future.”
Not as excited as Bailey is. He knows Chancellor will come back someday, either before the regular season or during it. Yet he noted how the entire league will have on tape the plays he is getting with the starters on the league’s top defense. Bailey also knows players who eventually leave Seattle’s defense tend to start elsewhere in the NFL.
“It’s a blessing,” he said. “I’ve been working my whole life to get put in this position. I worry about the things that I can control. Right now I can control the plays I put on tape. I mean, it’s going to pay dividends for me in the future.
“Can you truly be angry if an All-Pro, someone who might go down as one of the best strong safeties ever, comes back and (gets) the job? No, I’m not going to be upset about that. I mean, that’s what I expect. He’s Kam. His presence is huge in this organization.
“I’m just thankful that it’s a Pro Bowler taking my place. Not like it’s a rookie or someone I actually feel like, ‘Oh, I should be out there.’
“I’m just blessed.”
SATURDAY: Exhibition, Seattle at San Diego, 5 p.m., Ch. 7, 710-AM, 97.3-FM