By Salman Karim – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student
This September Kam Chancellor, strong safety for the National Football League’s Seattle Seahawks, did something that the league’s players have very rarely done in the past. He extended his holdout into the NFL’s regular season and lost significant game cheques for the first two games of the Seahawks regular season.
Chancellor, who has three years remaining on his five-year deal signed in 2013, expressed his displeasure in his contract by sitting out for all of training camp. The Seahawks organizational policy is to not re-negotiate contracts with more than two years remaining.
Kam Chancellor and agent Alvin Keels demanded additional monetary guarantees in the contract, partly due to the compensation Chancellor’s other successful teammates had received. He felt underpaid in comparison to other lynchpins of the vaunted Seahawks defence, such as Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Bobby Wagner. His positon is understandable given the significant risk of injury and the typical short length of an NFL player’s career. Unlike contracts in other professional sports leagues such as the NHL, NFL contracts are not fully guaranteed and thus a player can be cut well before his contract expires and never see a large amount of that money they signed for.
Considering their salary cap structure, the Seahawks were forced to set a strong precedent in this dispute. As a team loaded with young talent, Seattle’s salary cap situation is a very tricky one to manage. By the nature of the business, good players will come and go, but the idea is to keep the core of great players together. Chancellor’s leverage to re-negotiate was weakened due to his 2013 contract compensating him as a top two player at his strong safety position already. Re-negotiating Chancellor’s deal this early would create discontent with other players, such as defensive end Michael Bennett, who also feel that they are worth more. Having signed a four-year deal last summer, the Seahawks management took a firm stance against this and Bennett decided holding out was not beneficial to his position. Although dissatisfied, he attended all of training camp and is honoring his contract.
As the NFL regular season was set to begin, the Seahawks chose to negotiate with Chancellor and proposed shifting $3 million salary from 2017 to 2016, bringing his salary to $8.1 million from the originally scheduled $5.1 million. This would then reduce the 2017 salary from $6.8 million to $3.8 million. Chancellor declined and his camp termed it as “a bandage solution”. As days wore on, the sides got as close as $900,000 apart but could not reach a resolution. It was reported that Chancellor’s camp had called the Seahawks “petty” over this small discrepancy. The owner of the Seahawks, Paul Allen, then publicly stated that they would not give anything more in the negotiations. This was serious given that Paul Allen rarely comments on team issues. It appeared that this holdout was headed for the regular season.
Chancellor missed the first two games of the Seahawk’s season; both losses where his absence was felt. In week 1 against the St. Louis Rams, Chancellor’s replacement Dion Bailey slipped and fell allowing Rams tight end Lance Kendricks to catch the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. This sent the game to overtime where the Seahawks lost 34-31. After their 27-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers in week 2, pressure appeared to be mounting. However, two days after that loss, Chancellor announced he would return to the team.
Chancellor accrued more than $2 million in fines from his holdout and returned without any changes to his contract. Some of the fines will be rescinded by the Seahawks, but how much is to remain confidential. Chancellor has made it clear that he would like to re-address this issue next summer when he has two years remaining on his deal. Precedent for this was set last summer when the Seahawks shifted some money around for running back Marshawn Lynch whose contract had two years remaining. It appears as though Chancellor would have been better off playing through this season and attempting to re-negotiate next year rather than holding out with little leverage. His motivation is understandable but Seahawks policy made the situation a very difficult one. Caving in a situation like this could have been disastrous for the team’s competitive future. In the end, the Seahawks stood firm and set a strong precedent for upcoming contract negotiations.