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Safety deals show Seahawks not beholden to positions

By Danny O’Neil

Safety first.

That’s not a motto for these Seahawks so much as a blueprint for the future of their defense. That’s the position where Seattle is secure for years to come, extending Kam Chancellor’s contract last offseason and Earl Thomas’ deal just this week.

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With Kam Chancellor making a $7 million a season and Earl Thomas’ new extension averaging $10 million, Seattle has two of the league’s highest-paid safeties. (AP)

This was a big deal. Well, actually two of them, Chancellor signing a four-year, $28 million contract and Thomas setting the bar for safeties with a four-year, $40 million deal.

This is significant not just because of the dollars involved, but because it shows that Seattle’s long-term investments won’t be determined by location. Not exclusively, at least.

In today’s NFL there is a pecking order in terms of salary, and it all revolves around the quarterback. He’s the guy who makes most money, of course. The guy who makes the second-most money on offense? Well, that’s usually the left tackle, whose primary job is protecting the quarterback’s butt or his blindside, depending on the play. Sometimes, it’s the receiver charged with catching the money-man quarterback’s throws.

As for the defensive salary-structure, well, that revolves around the quarterback, too. The most valuable players on that side of the ball tend to be the guys who sack the quarterback (defensive ends) or the ones who defend his passes (cornerbacks).

Safety tends to be a few rungs down on the food chain. It’s why fewer of them tend to be first-round choices and the reason Thomas’ extension is the first contract for any safety that will average $10 million.

Chancellor isn’t all that far behind in the paycheck pecking order at that position. His extension ranks eighth among safeties, averaging just over $7 million annually. It’s a hair more than Tennessee’s Michael Griffin and a tad below Miami’s Reshad Jones.

More instructive: Of the top eight safeties in the league in terms of annual pay, Seattle employs two of them. No other team has more than two of the safeties in the league who rank among the top 20 in terms of pay at that position.

The fact that Seattle would pour so much money into its safeties demonstrates the Seahawks base value on the player, not the position. That may sound kind of elementary, but it’s actually not. Many teams budget strictly according to position, deeming some less valuable than others.

But what if your best players occupy a position that is not typically among the league’s highest paid? Does that dilute the player’s importance or lessen his value?

The Seahawks have decided it doesn’t. Not when you have one safety like Chancellor, whose big-bodied, hard-hitting approach best embodies Seattle’s unrelenting style of defense while Thomas’ speed provides back-end coverage unlike anyone in the league.

The Seahawks didn’t go and find two safeties to fit their system nearly so much as they’ve shaped their defense around the talents and skills of those two players. And now that they’ve each signed extensions, the Seahawks have shown that they don’t view their football team like a real-estate investment because location isn’t everything.

Safeties don’t tend to be among the league’s highest-paid players, but on Seattle’s team, they are. The Seahawks are not afraid of putting safety first.