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O’Neil: Seahawks lose a unique leader with Kam Chancellor ‘walking away’

Kam Chancellor was a leader for the Seahawks even after a holdout in 2015. (AP)

For something that wasn’t even slightly surprising it still felt sudden.

Kam Chancellor is not coming back for the Seahawks. At least not this season and probably not ever, and while Seattle’s strong safety stopped short of using the word retirement in his announcement on Sunday afternoon, that’s a matter of contractual semantics. He made the finality of his situation pretty clear: “To walk away from the game by choice is one thing, to walk away from the game because of a risk of paralysis is another. My final test showed no healing.”

710 ESPN Seattle reacts to Kam Chancellor ‘walking away’

This should not be a shock to anyone. Chancellor’s long-term future has been uncertain ever since he left Seattle’s Thursday night game in Arizona on Nov. 9. He was diagnosed with a neck condition and ever since his return was not a question of when, but if.

There will be plenty to sort through in the next few days, from the salary-cap costs that Seattle is still responsible for to fact that Seattle’s defense has now lost five Pro Bowlers this offseason with a sixth – safety Earl Thomas – who has said he won’t report for work without a new contract.

All that can wait, though – at least a day, after we’ve had a chance to put Chancellor’s eight seasons with the Seahawks in perspective.

Kam Chancellor was more than just a piece of the most successful team in this franchise’s history. He was the player who – more than anyone else on the roster – embodied first the reasons for that rise and later the challenges that came with that success.

The guy was unflinchingly physical in the way he played the game. That was obvious very early on, and I remember very clearly the first time I saw the unique malice he was capable of.

It was an October game in Cleveland back in 2011, a game that would otherwise best be forgotten given the 6-3 final score. In the second half of that game, Browns running back Montario Hardesty carried the ball up the middle and ran smack into Chancellor, who didn’t make the tackle so much as he drove his shoulder into Hardesty’s midsection, lifted the running back up and spiked him into the ground like a lawn dart.

It was a sign of things to come.

The following season, Chancellor hit San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis so hard in the first quarter of a Sunday night game that it literally looked too vicious to be legal. Seriously. Three different officials threw a flag on a hit that proved to be entirely within the rules. The Seahawks beat the 49ers by 29 points that game, and while San Francisco went on to reach the Super Bowl that season, that game proved to be a turning point within the division.

And when the Seahawks won their first Super Bowl the following season, it was Chancellor’s hit on Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas that set the tone for that 43-8 whupping and a big part of the reason Chancellor received my vote in the MVP balloting for that game.

On a defense known for being brash, Chancellor was the one who provided the bash. A guy who ran back an interception of Cam Newton for a touchdown in a playoff victory over Carolina in which he also leapt over the line of scrimmage in a single bound to foil a field-goal attempt.

He was the baddest dude on a defense full of stars and his importance was made obvious in by his absence in 2015 when he held out while seeking a new contract. But even that – as divisive as it was at the time – became another instance in which Chancellor showed just how unique he was.

Not during the holdout, mind you. That was a mess. Chancellor missed all of training camp and the first two regular-season games of a year in which Seattle started 0-2.

It’s what happened the rest of that 2015 season and the one that followed as Chancellor was able to move past any bitterness he felt over his contract and remain one of the leaders in that locker room.

It’s hard to overstate just how unique that is. Not the contract dispute. Those happen all the time in professional sports. What’s uncommon is that Chancellor didn’t sulk his way out of town after not getting what he wanted, and when the next season started, he wasn’t just ready to play, but he was once again a leader.

And now that leader isn’t coming back. Not this season. Probably not ever, and even Chancellor’s departure will turn out to be symbolic coming as it does during an offseason in which the Seahawks have already said goodbye to Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.

That’s just part of the reason that Sunday’s announcement, as unsurprising as it was, still felt kind of sudden and really, really sad.

More from 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil