The word "stalemate" has commonly been associated with the Seattle Seahawks and their safety Kam Chancellor, who has now missed a regular-season game because of his contract holdout.
When used in a chess context, it's a word that indicates a draw because no moves are available. The result is a deadlock, with no winner or loser. There's no way out and no solution.
Of course, there is an easy middle ground for the Seahawks and Chancellor, a three-time Pro Bowler who allowed a passer rating in coverage of only 75.3 in 2014, per Pro Football Focus.
The Seahawks need to lay down their arms immediately. They need to take a big gulp, swallow their pride and realize that without Chancellor's sledgehammer in the secondary, their defense is missing a core, character-defining asset.
And now it's a unit that allowed 34 points in Seattle's regular-season opener against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, which tied for the most allowed by a Seahawks defense since 2010. The panic alarms become deafening when the points coughed up to the Rams offense—the same offense missing eventual starting running back Todd Gurley—are compared to 2014, when Seattle allowed a league-low 15.9 points per game.
The points alone aren't the problem. No, how they were collected is the main matter of concern to a Chancellor-less defense, as the Rams' weapon of choice directly exploited his holdout.
They used tight ends, targeting Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks repeatedly, including when it was time to tie the game and force overtime.
Above is Kendricks waiting on a 37-yard heave from quarterback Nick Foles. He blew past Chancellor's replacement, Dion Bailey, who struggled to impede Kendricks physically and then stumbled while trying to stay even downfield.
It would be easy to shrug that off as a case of the Buffalo Wild Wings guy having a beef with Bailey and mashing buttons in his evil lair. But the Seahawks' vulnerability against tight ends went beyond one deep bomb during a 34-31 loss and one case of Bailey tripping over himself.
There was a swirling black hole in an area of the secondary where Chancellor is usually leaning on his unique combination of power and speed to neutralize opposing tight ends.
Kendricks and Cook combined to finish with 127 receiving yards. Cook was especially effective, often sauntering up the seam while snatching three 20-plus-yard receptions. Foles averaged 15.9 yards per attempt when targeting his tight ends.
We're not talking about two of the league's top-tier tight ends here. Cook averaged only 39.6 receiving yards per game in 2014, but he posted 85 yards on the Seahawks. Kendricks? His longest reception in 2014 went for 23 yards.
He's already topped that mark now, and it came against an unexpected opponent. Usually, the likes of Kendricks and Cook would be stuffed into Chancellor's back pocket. Instead, he was at home, no doubt getting ready to dive into the sweet, sweet cash that's coming.
Seattle faced a top-10 tight end six times in 2014. With one exception, the result was either a stonewalling or limited damage.
|Seahawks against top-10 tight ends in 2014|
|Antonio Gates (Week 2)||7||96||3|
|Jason Witten (Week 6)||2||24||1|
|Greg Olsen (Week 8)||1||16||0|
|Travis Kelce (Week 11)||3||37||0|
|Greg Olsen (divisional round)||4||58||0|
|Rob Gronkowski (Super Bowl)||6||68||1|
San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates is the outlier of that group, with three of his 12 touchdowns on the season coming against Seattle.
The New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski had a solid outing during the Super Bowl, though he was less than spectacular with 11.3 yards per reception (he averaged 13.7 throughout the regular season). But that came while Chancellor was playing through a torn MCL and bone bruise.
During the Super Bowl, we saw just how much the Seahawks rely on a healthy, fully functioning Chancellor as a cornerstone defensive piece. His importance was evident when the Carolina Panthers' Greg Olsen totaled just 74 receiving yards over two games against Seattle. Olsen was largely blanketed even though he finished the season as one of only two tight ends with 1,000-plus yards.
Seattle's 2014 performances against premier tight ends don't compare favorably to the Week 1 drubbing in 2015, which came at the hands of inferior talents. Overall in 2014, the defending NFC champs allowed only 41.4 receiving yards per game to tight ends, according to Football Outsiders.
Repeated with screaming emphasis: Kendricks and Cook pummeled the Seahawks for 127 yards. So why won't Seahawks general manager John Schneider pay Chancellor, who's clearly a linchpin for his defense? Because of pride and principle, mostly.
Meanwhile, a nation is divided.
Chancellor is currently the league's eighth-highest-paid safety, with a contract that averages $7 million annually and pays him $28 million over four years, $7.825 million of which is fully guaranteed.
That last number has become the main point of contention, which is common in a sport where one bad, noncontact step can end a season.
Only 27.9 percent of Chancellor's contract is guaranteed, which looks tiny next to the secure dollars being earned by teammate and fellow safety Earl Thomas. He signed an extension in April 2014 that made him the league's highest-paid safety based on average value. The 26-year-old was awarded for his three All-Pro seasons with a contract averaging $10 million annually over four years, and 35.6 percent of his deal is guaranteed (all contract details via Over the Cap).
Chancellor saw that cash dump from his own team, and, more recently, the New England Patriots re-signed their stud safety Devin McCourty to a $47.5 million contract with $28.5 million guaranteed, which is 46.3 percent of the overall deal. His response to those market-resetting contracts was simple.
Basically, his holdout boils down to this surely polite request: "Can I get a little more money up front too?"
Chancellor's scheduled 2015 salary of $4.55 million isn't the issue. Instead, he wants more financial security going forward and a portion of his 2017 salary to be bumped into 2016. That's a year when Chancellor is again slated to be the eighth-highest-paid player at his position while earning $5.1 million, per Spotrac.
As NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported, the equivalent of lunch money in NFL terms is separating the two sides.
Among NFL players, $900,000 might pay for their novelty birthday cakes. For perspective, the league's minimum salary in 2015 is $435,000. So the combined salaries of two practice-squad players nearly equals the gap between Chancellor and Seahawks management.
But the Seahawks have a reasonable motivation for the firm line they've drawn. As Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times reported through his sources, there's hesitancy to cave to Chancellor due to the precedent it could set.
From the Seahawks' standpoint, the standoff has become a matter of principle. In the future, other players could point to Chancellor leveraging his holdout into a payday as the 27-year-old's contract was nearing its end. In a salary-cap league where every million becomes precious, the Seahawks don't want to establish a history of being pressured into breaking previous agreements.
Fair enough. But eventually, production will become far more important than pride, and putting your best possible team on the field will outweigh concerns about a poor precedent.
When, exactly, will that time come? Let's go with Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers' constant aerial bombardment.
The Packers don't have an imposing tight end, and they're playing this season without wide receiver Jordy Nelson—all of which mattered little when Rodgers averaged 8.3 yards per attempt in Week 1.
Chancellor allowed only 8.6 yards per completion in coverage during the 2014 season, per PFF, which ranked seventh among safeties who played at least 50 percent of their teams' snaps. He also acts as another linebacker against the run and recorded 28 run stops in 2014, tied for third among all safeties.
That's the sort of multifaceted defensive talent who can limit the blows delivered by both Rodgers and Packers running back Eddie Lacy. Instead, Chancellor will be watching from afar again.
Someone will blink between the two sides with their heels dug in deep. If yards keep piling and footballs keep flying, it'll have to be the Seahawks.