Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas warms up before a game against the Cardinals on Dec. 31, 2017, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas warms up before a game against the Cardinals on Dec. 31, 2017, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Art Thiel: Hard to say what’s on Earl Thomas’ mind

The Seahawks safety wasn’t traded during the draft and hasn’t received a contract extension.

Now that star free safety Earl Thomas is likely to be a Seattle Seahawk for the 2018 season — the draft came and went with the Seahawks reportedly getting no better offer than a third-round pick in a trade for him — the question becomes: What does he want?

Teammates, coaches and fans love Thomas, but often they don’t understand him. His inscrutable nature was never more apparent than in a social-media post March 24. In attempting to dismiss the public perception that he wanted out, he professed his love for the team, fans, coaches and Seattle, and included this serious remark:

“I don’t want my comments to get confused with the truth.”

That is so Earl. Can’t wait for the line to show up in a Chris Rock routine.

Despite not owning a haz-mat suit, I’m going to hazard a guess: He wants his cake, and to eat it.

Thomas at 29 wants a contract extension this summer that will make him the game’s highest-paid safety, and seemed sincere in wanting to stay with the Seahawks. In fact, in the same post, Thomas gushed:

“Hold on everyone. Let’s not get it confused. I want to be a Seahawk. I want my jersey retired in the ring of honor with the other greats that came before me. I love being in Seattle! The winning culture we have established I want to be part of it for life! We have the best fan base of the 12s who spend there (sic) hard earned money to pack our stadium every time we hit the grass.”

He went on to write about how his wife and daughter love Seattle, and how owner Paul Allen directed him to helpful videos and books. His post continued:

“When I’m asked tough questions about my future in Seattle, I don’t know any other way but to be honest and to tell my truth about how I see it. Keep in mind when I’m asked ‘what if’s’ I’m always coming for a perspective of a gambling man who’s willing to bet on myself, if my back is against the wall and things are out of my control. But never for a moment think I want to leave this beautiful city.”

I believe Thomas when he says he doesn’t want to leave. But it’s hard to forget his infamous stunt after the Christmas Eve win over Dallas in Texas. He went out of his way, with cameras recording his deeds and words, to chase down Cowboys coach Jason Garrett outside the Dallas locker room and say, “Come get me.”

Who does that? Nobody. It was disrespectful to fans and especially teammates, because he appears to be bailing on them publicly, and put head coach Pete Carroll awkwardly on the defensive.

Afterward in the Seattle locker room, Thomas tried to explain himself.

“I’ve always been a Cowboys fan growing up,” said the native of Orange, Tex. “The biggest thing is when I said, ‘Come get me,’ I mean, I don’t literally mean, ‘Come get me now.’ I’m still in the prime of my career. I still want to be here.

“But when Seattle kicks me to the curb, please, the Cowboys, come get me. That’s the only place I’d rather be, you know, if I get kicked to the curb.”

I sort of get his rationale, but to publicly act on his thoughts in a team sport demonstrates a remarkable obliviousness to consequences. To defend him by saying it’s just “Earl being Earl,” is too easy. It was nearly insubordination.

Nothing came of the episode, at least publicly. From the Seahawks perspective, there wasn’t much point in more than an admonishment. They know he’s the key figure in the defense, and are unlikely to find his equal for the way Carroll likes to prioritize denial of the long ball. They need him from a talent standpoint and a leadership standpoint, especially in this year of big transition.

But now, after the draft, they have to try to satisfy his money demands on an extension. That means paying him more than $13 million a year to top the current leader at the position, Eric Berry of Kansas City (part of a six-year deal worth up to $78 million). That is asking much of the Seahawks with their salary cap issues.

The Seahawks have $7.7 million of space, 22nd in the league and about $10 million under the average per team for the top 51 players. If/when defensive end Cliff Avril retires, that will clear about $6 million, but they have to fit in their draft class, plus extensions for veteran left tackle Duane Brown and perhaps wide receiver Tyler Lockett. It’s possible, but difficult.

Then there is the specter of strong safety Kam Chancellor, who signed a three-year extension a year ago and put in nine games before a neck injury came to threaten his career. If he’s done, the Seahawks must eat $12 million over the next two years. A bad deal. His extension and subsequent injury casts a huge shadow over all players seeking a third contract with the same team.

It influenced in part the decision to release injured cornerback Richard Sherman for no compensation. After he tore his right Achilles tendon and also had less serious surgery on his left ankle, the Seahawks did not want to risk $12 million in salary to see if he makes it back all the way. As with Thomas, they tried a year earlier to deal Sherman, but again, they set the bar high. Too high.

After the draft Saturday, Carroll and general manager John Schneider went to some effort to dismiss the Thomas trade talk as mostly speculation by others. That was rhetorical cover. They really like Thomas’ game, and they really don’t like what his extension can do to the salary structure.

And since the Cowboys wouldn’t even part with a third-rounder pre-draft, the market for Thomas has shrunk.

The Seahawks again are in a tough spot: Ask Thomas to take a discount from top of market, but if he declines, expecting him to give his all in a final season in Seattle knowing what has happened to his fellow Boom Legionnaires, Chancellor and Sherman.

I’d like to know Thomas’ thoughts now, except I don’t want his comments to get confused with the truth.

Art Thiel is co-founder of Sportspress Northwest.

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