Kam Chancellor has 12 million reasons to not walk away from the Seahawks

On the day that Earl Thomas broached the possibility of a holdout, an Instagram post from Kam Chancellor raised anew the uncertainty over the future of the Seattle Seahawks' other star safety.

Chancellor posted an illustration of his likeness in street clothes, with a backpack slung over his shoulder, midstride with a Seahawks logo behind him. The accompanying caption had no words, just an extended ellipses that made it all the more cryptic.

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A post shared by Kameron Chancellor (@bambamkam) on

Maybe it meant nothing at all. But anyone who remembers Marshawn Lynch "announcing" his retirement with a picture of his neon green cleats hanging on a wire no doubt wondered if Chancellor might be intimating a similar plan after he suffered a career-threatening neck injury this past season. The illustration could be viewed as Chancellor walking away from the Seahawks.

But that seems unlikely, given the particulars of Chancellor's contract -- namely, the $12 million in guarantees that he would forfeit by retiring. That suggests a strong possibility that he'll be with the Seahawks in 2018, even if he's unable to play.

"I don’t think he’s going to be that generous to Seattle and let them off the hook for the injury guarantee," Joel Corry, a former NFL agent who now writes about contract and salary-cap matters for CBSSports.com, told ESPN.com. "I take the whole Instagram thing to mean he knows he can’t pass a physical right now more than anything else. Stranger things have happened, but I’d be surprised if anybody did that: ‘I’m just going to walk away from potentially $12 million.' That’s just not something most people do."

Chancellor injured his neck in November, six weeks after defensive end Cliff Avril suffered a similar injury that also put his career in jeopardy. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was referring to both players when he said at season's end that they're "going to have a hard time playing football again," a comment he later walked back a bit.

Avril's situation is comparatively straightforward. He has one year left on a contract that includes a $7 million base salary in 2018. Seattle would eat $500,000 in dead money by releasing him (he was considered a potential salary-cap casualty before his injury). There are no more built-in injury guarantees in Avril's contract, but according to Corry, he could qualify for a collectively bargained injury benefit worth $1.15 million if his neck injury prevents him from playing again. By releasing him, Seattle would save either $6.5 million against the 2018 cap or $5.35 million, depending on that injury protection.

The three-year, $36 million extension Chancellor signed last summer, on the other hand, includes a combined $12 million that is guaranteed in the event that he is injured. That's comprised of his $6.8 million base salary for 2018 and $5.2 million of his 2019 base salary. The $6.8 million becomes fully guaranteed if Chancellor is still on Seattle's roster by Feb. 10.

If Chancellor were to retire, those guarantees would void. The Seahawks could also go after the remaining $7.5 million of his signing bonus that has yet to be accounted for on the salary cap. Financially speaking, it would make no sense for Chancellor to retire, even if he is convinced that he'll never play again.

Technically, the Seahawks could cut him before his 2018 injury guarantee becomes fully guaranteed, but that seems unlikely for a few reasons.

As Corry has written, Chancellor's 2018 cap charge would escalate from its currently scheduled amount of just under $9.6 million to $19.5 million by releasing him "while acknowledging that the injury will prevent his return." Plus, as Corry notes, that would open the door for Chancellor to file a grievance on the basis that he'd be unlikely to pass the team's physical and therefore should be entitled to his injury guarantee. Chancellor is one of the best players in franchise history and is held in exceedingly high regard in the organization, so the Seahawks presumably will want to tread as carefully as possible.

Another possibility, in theory at least, is that the two sides reach some sort of financial settlement. But as Corry pointed out, Chancellor wouldn't have much financial incentive to meet the Seahawks in the middle.

"Why would he settle if he’s pretty sure he can’t pass a physical?" Corry said. "It’s in the team doctor’s discretion, but Pete ... didn’t help that cause with ‘he’s going to have a hard time ever playing football again’ or whatever his words were. That doesn’t help Seattle in terms of any type of settlement or grievance situation. Because the thing is, if they cut him before the full guarantee kicks in, I guarantee you the union is going to advise him to file a grievance."

If and when a grievance is filed, Corry explained, 40 percent of the disputed amount -- $4.8 million, in this case -- would count against the team's cap until a resolution is reached.

"So that’s no good for Seattle, either," Corry said.

Corry's guess is that the Seahawks will play it patiently with Chancellor, carrying him on their roster through the offseason and putting him on the physically unable to perform list at the start of training camp, assuming that he is unable to pass a physical then. That would entail the team allowing his $6.8 million 2018 salary to become fully guaranteed knowing the possibility -- if not the likelihood -- that he'll be unable to play next season, if ever. The Seahawks would then face a similar situation with the $5.2 million that is guaranteed for injury the following season. That amount would also become fully guaranteed early in 2019.

Chancellor, who turns 30 in April, would count the same against Seattle's 2018 salary cap while on the PUP list but wouldn't count against the team's 53-man roster limit.

"I don’t know how much he listens to his agent, but the agent’s going to tell him, 'Play it out, be patient, let’s wait and see what happens on [Feb.] 9, 10,' whatever the exact date is," Corry said. "If it becomes fully guaranteed, there’s nothing [the Seahawks] can do. Maybe the $5.2 million down the road, but that would probably require them to start him on PUP, carry him all offseason and then see if he could ever pass anything. If he can’t, then you’re going to have to worry about the $5.2 million next year, and if he eventually passes a physical, you’re off the hook for the $5.2 million if you wanted to get rid of him."

Who knows what Chancellor really meant with his Instagram post? It's safe to say, though, that he wasn't hinting at a plan to walk away anytime soon because that would mean walking away from $12 million.

"I have a hard time seeing that," Corry said.