I have a unique perspective on number 31. For me, Kam Chancellor became a focus in 2011, as I took my second full-season foray into full game break downs. Kam became known as a hard hitter because of the fines levied in those early days following the new rules about launching. It kinda built him a fan base. People were actually adding up his fines and asking if he was going to make any money, considering that his contract was around $500-$600k. This was the foundation on which his legacy was made here in Seattle.
For me though, it was a cool part, but not the best part of his game. I saw him add a quicker, more explosive punch against the run. It was something Seattle lacked since really the Cortez Kennedy days. Kam brought the violence that teams feared and remembered. Linemen trembled and running backs and superstar tight ends had him on their radar.
2011 was a 7-9 season where you really saw Pete Carroll's vision take shape -- with Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, these guys could tackle -- but in the case of Browner and Chancellor, they could leave an impression. For me, it was Kam's slow simmer to getting into the role he would play. I've watched every play he's been involved in -- the big plays, the small plays, the plays where I made responsibility assumptions and was corrected.
I've seen all of it, more than most.
This last season was difficult. I supported Kam through his holdout because I understood the kind of career-shortening play he was employing. The comparisons to Kenny Easley, the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 1984, was not just similar, they were eerie. I defended Kam because I knew his days are numbered playing that style. Easley had destroyed his kidneys just trying to play through pain, and at 6'3" and 206 pounds, he wasn't built like a linebacker, but he played like one. It cost him. In 1988 Seattle tried to trade him to the Cardinals, who would of course find this problem and reject the trade. His career was over.
Kam has it a little easier because pain management is different in this day and age, but he had to see the writing on the wall as he played through the knee injury in the Super Bowl and then decided to make contract demands. Everyone plays a little hurt but, this year Kam just seemed to struggle in ways I hadn't seen. He couldn't break down blockers on screens as often, and his range started to disappear.
A hit on Vernon Davis in 2012 -- one that saw the star freak of an athlete get his future potential knocked right out of him -- was the quintessential Kam Chancellor hit. Clean, violent and memorable. What most people miss about that play was Kam's range on that play to make it. He's inside the numbers, and as soon as Kam sees the pick play by the Niners, he knows the design and makes a direct line to rob Vernon Davis of a catch. Though the play is penalized in the game, it's the illustration of all that is/was great about Kam Chancellor.
Kam, though, should be best known for his thunderous performance in the 2013 playoffs. No other player had the impact he did. As the Saints ran jumbo sets, trying to force Seattle into a different defensive looks, Chancellor stepped up, piling up tackles on the screens and runs. He was all over the place. He made several plays in the Super Bowl, including the hit on Damariyus Thomas that made an early statement in the game. This game included Kam in the single high safety look, designed to tempt Manning into a deep throw over the middle. Kam stayed patient on the play and capped Julius Thomas' route and had the pass come right to him.
Maybe we should slow down just a second before I review Kam's season. I need to tell a short story before I do. Come back with me to the 2010 season.
Seattle is playing Carolina at home. It started out poorly, with the JImmy Clausen led Panthers driving right through Seattle for a 14-0 lead. The Seahawks would pull back to within 4 points with about 10:00 to go in the 3rd Quarter. And then a fading star made a play. Lofa Tatupu read a flare pass to the fullback and began jumping it, essentially at the snap. At the time, I remember sitting a little closer to my TV because, I knew that kind of play. Lofa of course picks off the ball and gives Seattle their first lead of the day. No one saw, not even me at the time, what a difficult play that was.
We knew, those of us that consume way too much media and football in general, we all knew Lofa was playing on bad knees, but I remember breaking down that particular play in one of my first efforts for my This Week in Defense column, and I was stunned by how physically bad the play looked. I described it like this:
"It's just Lofa and his instincts. It's this kind of typical play he cuts off here. However, I couldn't help but notice how hurt he looked. If this play had required him to run 10 more yards I'm not sure he could have made it."
It physically hurt to watch the play more in real-time than in slow motion. I was forced to see that same kind of decline with the vain hope of big plays before Shaun Alexander was cut. Seeing the occasional flash, convincing ourselves that the star still has a little bit of gas. The more I looked at Kam this year the more I see a guy who's best plays were last in the NFC Championship in 2014.
The more I looked at it, the more I realized he just wasn't the same guy. His speed -- which was never going to be amazing for his size -- was just not the same. His punch at the point of attack, breaking down blocks, was no longer consistent. Every star can have those moments where they flash, Bo Jackson did, Lofa Tatupu and Shaun Alexander did. They have these moments and you think, "Yeah, see!" but it never lasts.
I feel like this contract dispute with the Seahawks, which is almost surely ongoing, will end with Kam Chancellor being traded. He doesn't deserve to go out like this, but not everyone is lucky enough to go out like a Matt Hasselbeck, with one last hurrah in the home crowd. Many more times, it's with your head in your hands and the coach's arm around your shoulders and you realize your body has betrayed you.
The thing here is that I'm getting geared up for a future without Kam. From everything with the contract, to the love the Seahawks have expressed for his back up Kelcie McCray, I think we're being signaled that it's over. It's not a surprise to me -- but it is frustrating, as I really want to see him notch a few more awards in a Seahawks uniform. Rarely do contract disputes resolve themselves like the Marshawn Lynch situations have. It's more likely to end up like Percy Harvin or Joey Galloway. I just don't see a scenario where 1) Kam comes back for his current contract and 2) has a brighter future ahead.
I still love Kam, I always will, no matter how it goes from here. If there is one thing we learned it's that this defense is vastly different without him, and lacks something. A warrior who isn't / wasn't just a hitter, he is smarter than your offense and though he never did win that NFL Defensive Player of the Year award I had him pegged for, he deserves more than anyone to have a legacy that is enshrined in this franchise's Ring of Honor.
Cheers to you, Kameron Chancellor. Whatever is ahead for you, whether it's a few more years with the Seahawks, or whether you get a change of scenery for next season, you are, and will always be my favorite safety.