Ravens safety Earl Thomas (29) runs after intercepting a pass by Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick during the first half of a game Sept. 8, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Ravens safety Earl Thomas (29) runs after intercepting a pass by Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick during the first half of a game Sept. 8, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Art Thiel: Bad end doesn’t change Thomas’ legacy with Seahawks

The former Legion of Boom centerpiece returns to CenturyLink field Sunday with the Ravens.

However a Seattle fan may feel about the unceremonious end of the Seahawks career of Earl Thomas, you now have the knowledge that at least you’re in his head.

“Yes, I’ve thought about it at night,” Thomas told reporters in Baltimore Wednesday. “Hopefully they respect what I’ve done, and I’ll get a couple cheers, not too many boos. And whatever happens, happens. But hopefully it’s love.”

Nothing would be professionally sweeter for Thomas Sunday afternoon than to register the first interception of quarterback Russell Wilson’s so-far-MVP season, helping his new team, the Ravens, pull the upset in his old football home.

Personally, however, Thomas was never among the sometime-critics in the locker room of Wilson’s oversized role on the team.

“I’m always going to have nothing but positivity when talking about Russ, because Russ has always been good to me and my family,” Thomas said. “My kids and his kids are close. My wife and his wife are close.

“When you think about all the games we played together, there have been some times when we struggled, but there’s been more times when he came through for us when we needed him. So, it’s just the game.”

As the anchor of the Legion of Boom, one of the greatest figures in contemporary Seattle sports and as one of the best safeties in NFL history, his first return to town is nevertheless fraught. Mostly because his last gesture was so graceless.

Carted off the field at Arizona in September 2018 with a broken leg, Thomas gave coach Pete Carroll the finger. It was the gesture many in Seattle want to forget, but can’t unsee.

Then again, longtime sports fans know that Hollywood endings almost always stay in Hollywood. For every Edgar Martinez, there is a Spencer Haywood, a Lenny Wilkens, a Don James, a Randy Johnson, an Alex Rodriguez, a Ken Griffey Jr., a Marshawn Lynch, a Richard Sherman. Controversies, lamentations and wailings.

Matched against the industry’s prime directive to win at nearly any cost, sports sentiment stands almost no chance.

Ticket- and trinket-buying fans are entitled to any reaction they want Sunday at the Clink, but inelegant exits are as much a part of sports as inaccurate officiating.

Thomas, a man often oblivious to the the consequences of his words and deeds, seems almost certain that he will be re-embraced, as he indicated in an April phone interview with Rich Eisen on NFL Network.

“I envision myself retiring as a Seahawk — I would never burn a bridge there,” he said. “I still love my teammates. I envision signing a one-day deal, and hopefully they’ll let me hang my jersey in the rafters.”

While everyone else can see at least scorch marks on the bridge, the dubious exit wasn’t just about the gesture, of course. It was the contract holdout for the 2018 preseason. And before that, in December 2017, it was his highly unusual postgame pursuit of coach Jason Garrett into the Cowboys locker room to “come get me” when the “Seahawks kick me to the curb,” Thomas explained.

But if Carroll was furious then, he wasn’t Wednesday at his weekly presser when he was asked whether the relationship with Thomas changed after that.

“I think he made a mistake at the time,” he said. “At least, that’s what he said. I sat right with him in the training room, and he was still sweating. I said, ‘Hey, I just heard about something you said.’ He said, ‘I didn’t mean for that to happen, or be perceived that way.’

“I trusted that he meant what he said. So, the answer is nothing. It had nothing to do with anything.”

Whatever you believe about that, there was no argument that money, as per usual, was at heart of the split.

In March, Thomas signed a four-year, $55 million free agent deal with Ravens, $32 million guaranteed. Given the huge contracts that the Seahawks were destined to provide over the summer to Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner, while filling other roster holes, it’s clear there was no way to fit a similar deal under their salary cap, particularly when Thomas was coming off a broken leg.

Speaking of which … how’s he playing this season?

Thomas, 30, has started all six games for the AFC North-leading Ravens (4-2). He has 19 tackles and two passes defensed, but a just a single interception for one of the great ball-hawkers in the NFL. Coach John Harbaugh suggested that Thomas isn’t quite at the top of his game.

“I think he’s played well. I think he’s getting healthier,” Harbaugh told reporters in Baltimore. “He had a broken leg last year. Coming back from that is not something that you really should take lightly. I think he gets stronger every week and faster every week, and looks good.”

One of the more significant business decisions in Seahawks history seems, in the early going, to favor Seattle, given the 5-1 record and the re-distribution of payroll to improve multiple positions.

But the Seahawks haven’t figured out his old position at free safety. In Sunday’s win at Cleveland, they rolled through three players — Tedric Thompson, Lano Hill and rookie Marquise Blair.

Nor have they figured how to replace the intangible aspects. As wide receiver David Moore put it, “You always felt his presence, even when he was quiet. He’s a very impactful player.”

Even though Thomas and Wagner sometimes clashed, the Seahawks linebacker Wednesday understood his good fortune to play with the three-time All-Pro.

“Us playing together for seven or eight years is unheard of, but we were able to do that — that’s still something really cool,” Wagner said. “We sacrificed a lot and we were able to put aside a lot of things to make that happen. I think it’s something we look back on and we’re grateful for.

“It was a time in Seattle history that I don’t think anybody will ever forget. That’s something that we are proud of.”

It wasn’t a tidy Hollywood ending. But the beginning and middle were tremendous.

The sequel is must-see.

Art Thiel is co-founder of Sportspress Northwest.

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