Jul 11, 2018 12:57 PM - 6 days, 13 hours, 55 minutes, 18 seconds ago
Updated at 12:45 p.m. ET
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Are hard-hitting safeties an endangered species in the NFL? That idea might have been reinforced to general managers, coaches and scouts amid Kam Chancellor's recent semi-official retirement announcement.
According to Chancellor, the most intimidating player from the broken-up Legion of Boom, recent scans show the neck injury he suffered in November against the Cardinals has not healed. The news confirmed what Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has been saying all offseason about the likelihood of his four-time Pro Bowl safety's career being over.
A common presumption is that a strong, powerful player like Chancellor is indestructible. At 6-3, 232 pounds, he was a defensive back who kept receivers, tight ends and running backs wary of running routes in his vicinity — more so than any other in recent years.
He was not the league's fastest or most athletic safety. Earl Thomas has always been the smoother, more refined of the two Seattle safeties. Chancellor's style of play was perhaps a better fit for the early years of pro football, when fierce hitters such as Jack Tatum of the Raiders patrolled the secondary, and the Bears' Dick Butkus and the Steelers' Jack Lambert were huge hitters from their linebacker positions. Chancellor very much looked like a linebacker when he attacked the run.
The game is different today, which is a good thing in terms of player safety. But for a player like Chancellor, it creates a conundrum.
If I were a GM today, considering what has happened to players like Chancellor, I would be nervous about drafting or signing hard-hitting safeties. The current rules are such that these players are more prone to suspensions for illegal hits, and they are likely to miss time due to injuries. Any such absence impacts the team, and the player more likely than not will have a shorter career.
When I think of other hard-hitting safeties in recent years who were game-changers, two in particular come to mind: Troy Polamalu of the Steelers and Bob Sanders of the Colts. At 5-10 or shorter, both were smaller than Chancellor, yet they were multiple-time Pro Bowlers; Super Bowl champs who were all over the field making plays and punishing the opposition with huge hits.
But their relentless approaches took physical tolls on themselves, too. Polamalu missed 26 games over his last six seasons, and Sanders only played more than six games in two of his eight seasons. We can't necessarily say Polamalu's reckless style shortened his career, as he played 12 seasons. But for Sanders, that was definitely the case. Even for Thomas, injuries have been more of a factor over the past two seasons.
Part of the conundrum for Seahawks GM John Schneider and other execs who sign hard-hitting defensive backs is the risk-reward factor. Chancellor came into the NFL as an unheralded fifth-round pick, but he developed into a ...
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