JOHN CLAYTON

Clayton: Can the Seahawks keep their all-time great safety duo of Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor together?

Jul 20, 2017, 6:00 AM
Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor have combined for nine Pro Bowls since 2010. (AP)...
Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor have combined for nine Pro Bowls since 2010. (AP)
(AP)

Gil Brandt, the long-time NFL treasure for history and talent evaluation, recently posted his all-time position lists on NFL.com.

He named former Seahawk Kenny Easley No. 7 among safeties. Had he played longer than seven seasons, Easley might have been in the top three. Still, he’s one of the all-time greats and he’ll be deservedly enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next month. The Senior Committee nominated him and Easley breezed his way through the voting in February.

What was also fascinating about Brandt’s safety ratings is that he included Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor as two of the top 31 safeties to ever play in the NFL. Chancellor ranked 23rd while Thomas was No. 19. Those ratings put them in rare territory. In Gil’s opinion, Thomas and Chancellor form the league’s current best safety duo. He considers them one of the best safety duos in NFL history along with Steve Atwater and Dennis Smith of the Broncos in the 1990s and Cliff Harris and Charlie Waters of the Cowboys in the 1970s.

With that type of history, it would be a shame if the Seahawks can’t sign Chancellor to a contract extension. It would help if something could get done before the start of the regular season with Chancellor scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next year.

Sure, Chancellor’s 29-year-old body might be older than 29 because of all the hard hits he’s made during his seven-year career. He’s missed seven games because of injuries over the past two years and he’s coming off double surgery to clean up bone spurs in each of his ankles.

If Chancellor is willing to work with the Seahawks on a fair contract extension that gives him a nice signing bonus, a respectable raise and a decent contract average, it would only make sense for the Legion of Boom to stay together through 2018 and maybe longer.

Chancellor gets plenty of respect around the NFL. He went to his fourth Pro Bowl last year. Thomas has been to five. Pro Football Focus had Chancellor as its highest rated Seahawks defensive player. His leadership in the locker room is always noted.

Extending Chancellor would give Seattle the chance to have a historically great safety finish his career in a Seahawks uniform. Easley had to retire at the age of 28 after he was traded to the Cardinals and he found out he couldn’t continue playing because of kidney problems.

More time also gives Thomas and Chancellor a better chance to go down as perhaps the greatest safety tandem in NFL history. Smith and Atwater combined for 14 Pro Bowls. Harris and Waters combined for eight, one fewer than Thomas and Chancellor.

As you look through the list of all-time great safeties, you’ll notice that in many cases their bodies broke down between their eighth and 10th seasons. Some last longer than 10, but that can be tough at strong safety, Chancellor’s position. Strong safeties play near the line of scrimmage and are involved in some of the hardest hits. The wear and tear can shorten careers.

Here’s where the Seahawks can help. They drafted Delano Hill this year to possibly be Chancellor’s replacement. What Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Kris Richard can do is be smart about how they use Chancellor, dialing back his snaps some in order to preserve his body for the playoffs while allowing Hill to slowly grow into his replacement.

Chancellor was on the field for 731 defensive snaps over 12 games last year and has averaged 836 per season since 2012. Seattle’s coaching staff could find ways to keep him around the mid-700-level and let Hill fill in for the other 250 or so.

Cutting back on Chancellor’s snaps could keep the boom in the Legion of Boom along with keeping a historically great safety duo together for longer.

Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out his all-new “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on 710Sports.com.

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Clayton: Can the Seahawks keep their all-time great safety duo of Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor together?