RENTON, Wash. — Now that Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor has ended a holdout that went through training camp, the preseason and two games of Seattle's 2015 regular season, the primary question many wanted answered at the team facility on Wednesday was how the three-time Pro Bowler would be received by his teammates. When asked why he picked now to come back, Chancellor spoke to a team-related mentality that would seem to be completely at odds with his protracted absence.
“I think it was that time,” he said. “Talked to a few guys, got some great words from people. I just thought the time was now. I’ve always been a guy who’s followed my heart. Just watching my teammates and my team play week to week, first and second game, watching those losses, you know, it hurt just being the leader that I am. So I think the time is now to come back and put all business to the side and address it after the season.”
You'll have to forgive aggrieved Seahawks fans if they took that talk of leadership with less than a grain of salt. It could be argued, after all, that the 0-2 defending NFC champs would be at least 1-1 were Chancellor on the field — his absence was particularly noteworthy in the season-opening overtime loss to the Rams. St. Louis was able to tie the game with 51 seconds left in regulation when second-year safety Dion Bailey, who was on the team's practice squad in 2014 and was replacing Chancellor at the strong safety position in that game, slipped on the turf and allowed tight end Lance Kendricks to skate away for a 37-yard touchdown.
Bailey and multi-position defensive back DeShawn Shead split reps in the follow-up loss to the Packers, and though coverage wasn't quite as suspect, neither player could match Chancellor's physicality and understanding of the game. That's an inevitable offset of the limited game reps given to Chancellor's replacements, and while it didn't give Chancellor the leverage he desired in the re-negotiation of his current contract, the interesting dynamic is that Chancellor, long a respected and trusted leader in the locker room, was helping his young replacements all along.
Chancellor still had his team-issued tablet throughout his time away, and he would often watch practice tape and give tips and notes to several of the team's younger defensive backs, regardless of position. And when it came time for those young charges to get real game action in his place, Chancellor was always available to them. It didn't replace his presence on the field, but it does explain why none of his teammates have spoken ill of him during his time away.
Bailey, who was obviously distraught after his Week 1 coverage breakdown, was especially grateful.
“He told me that I played my butt off, and that football things are going to happen,” Bailey said Wednesday. “Don't worry about things that could happen to anybody. But from him watching the games and knowing our scheme, he said I played well. There were a few things I could have done better, he said, but it was nothing major. He was very positive with his feedback after the game.”
But did that make Bailey feel any better?
“Uhhh... not really,” he said with a laugh. “Because I was still focused on the slip I could have controlled. It wasn't like I got beat on the play; it was that I didn't give myself a chance. That's what I was beat up about. But to hear him tell me that it wasn't the end of the world, and that I actually played well, it was a relief. It helped my confidence.”
It's an interesting interpersonal dynamic between teammates, and it's why public opinion of Chancellor (which has been profoundly negative for the most part) doesn't line up with what happens inside the building.
“That's just the type of person he is,” Bailey said. “Even when business is in the way of football, he'll still find a way to help others reach their success. Kam is really big on wanting to see everybody else succeed, not just himself, So, that just speaks volumes about the type of person he is, and I'm just really glad to have him back in the building.”
Shead, who has been praised by the coaching staff for his versatility, certainly showed that off against the Packers, getting snaps at cornerback, slot cornerback and strong safety. Richard Sherman said during his Wednesday press conference that Shead may be the first NFL player to play all three positions in the same game, though I wonder if Charles Woodson took on those same three responsibilities during his time in Green Bay's multi-faceted defense from 2006 through 2012. Still, it was impressive, and as Shead told me, Chancellor has been in his ear all the way.
“Kam has been like a brother to us, and just because he was holding out, that stuff goes beyond what happens in the locker room. We're a tight family, but this is a business that we play in. When it comes to business, whatever they had going on upstairs, we still had our relationship. If I did something wrong, he'd let me know about it, and if I did something well, he'd congratulate me as well.
“I've been transitioning from strong to corner for a while, so we've definitely had conversations about it. He's given me tips about the Packers over time — we've played them two times last year, so there was a lot of good film we were able to watch. I watched how he played, and asked him questions about what he'd seen and how he felt. He's definitely been a mentor. We didn't talk too much about the game plan' it was more like, ‘Well, you've got to be a hook player [route defender] most of the time,’ and things like that.”
Many will say that neither side benefited from Chancellor's holdout, and that's true from a player-team perspective. Chancellor didn't get any bump in his deal, and the Seahawks were without one of their best players for a while. The only ones who benefited were the guys who had to play when Chancellor wasn't here, and it's worth noting that they had the holdout's help.
Chancellor showed that there are different ways to be a team player, though despite the advice he dispensed, his way was still flawed, at best.