The defending NFC champion Seahawks came into St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome with two primary problems. First, they've struggled to win in the dome recently—they lost here, 28–26 in 2014. And second, they were without safety Kam Chancellor, one of the real table-setters in what has become the NFL's best defense over the last few seasons.
Chancellor is embroiled in a holdout, believing that he's far outplayed the five-year, $29.323 million contract he signed in 2013. That may be true—Chancellor is one of the league's best safeties, and perhaps the best overall at the strong safety position—but the Seahawks are holding firm in negotiations after what they clearly believe to be adequate concessions. According to multiple reports, the team has agreed to roll guaranteed money from his 2017 contract year into '16, and the two sides are about $900,000 apart at this point.
Which leaves the Seahawks with one agonizing question after their 34–31 overtime loss to the Rams on Sunday: How much is one win worth? Because had Chancellor been on the field, it's a fair point to argue the results may have been different.
It's always dangerous to pin the results of the game on one player, but Seattle was forced to replace the three-time Pro Bowler with Dion Bailey, a second-year former practice-squad player from USC. Bailey did the best he could, but when Nick Foles hit receiver Lance Kendricks for a 37-yard touchdown pass with 53 seconds left in the game, it was Bailey who slipped on the turf, leaving Kendricks wide open and cornerback Cary Williams giving chase.
Thus, Chancellor's value as a truly intimidating hitter and vastly improved cover man was illustrated in his absence—and in all the wrong ways.
“The intimidation factor, sure,” said cornerback Richard Sherman mid-week, when asked how Chancellor's absence would show itself on the field. “I mean, we’re still the same team. We’ve been playing eleven-man football and we’re going to continue to play eleven-man football, but yes we can show you better than we can tell you.”
The same team? Not really. Moreso than usual, Seattle's defense allowed voids and gaps in the intermediate areas, which are the areas Chancellor generally patrols. They were not the same defense when Chancellor played through injuries in the early part of the 2014 season, and they're not the same defense now. Coach Pete Carroll is known for espousing the 'Next Man Up' philosophy, but in this case, there is no next man. The Seahawks are packed with unique, irreplaceable athletes—it's one of the keys to their greatness—and Chancellor is one of them.
“I’m concerned about the psychology of the Seattle Seahawks on game day,” said NFL Network analyst and former Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson on Sunday morning. “Kam is a big contributor to that. He’s a guy who speaks to the team before the team goes out. He’s the guy who speaks to the rest of the defensive backs before they take the field, he gets guys lined up.”
As to the progress of the negotiations, Robinson said that everything is still up in the air.
“At this point, they are still at a stalemate despite players going into the offices of GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll and begging them [to] bring Kam Chancellor home. All of that being said, four weeks ago, it seemed that they had a deal in place to bring Chancellor home and end his holdout—it fell apart. Depending on who you talk to, the accounts differ; one side got cold feet, the other side took too long to respond.”
Whoever got cold feet, it's obvious that neither side is benefiting from this. Chancellor is denying himself the pleasure of doing what he does best (and what few can do at his level), and the Seahawks remain without a key cog in a defense that needs to stay strong if a third straight Super Bowl trip is in their future. With a trip to Lambeau Field to face the Packers' incendiary offense up next, and Chancellor's value more clear than ever, it's clearly time for someone to blink.