On Sunday morning, big news came out in what’s become a common manner these days: via Twitter. Here’s what Seattle Seahawks All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas informed the world through the social media platform first thing Sunday:
— Earl Thomas (@Earl_Thomas) June 10, 2018
Queue the firestorm.
This tweet was the announcement that Thomas intends to hold out until the Seahawks give him a new contract, beginning with this week’s mandatory minicamp. Thomas, a three-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler, is entering the final year of a four-year, $40 million extension he signed prior to the 2014 season. Having one year remaining on his contract means Thomas has reached the point where the Seahawks will renegotiate deals, but there hasn’t been any movement yet. He is reportedly seeking an extension in the range of the one Kansas City’s Eric Berry signed last year, which averages $13 million a season and is the highest annual salary among safeties.
This puts the Seahawks in a challenging position.
On one hand, Thomas is the gold standard for safeties. A first-round pick in the 2010 NFL draft, Thomas has spent all eight of his NFL seasons with the Seahawks and been arguably the most important player for a defense that became one of the best in league history. The numbers show just how much of a difference it makes having Thomas on the field:
The value of Earl Thomas in 4 images: Thomas was healthy wks 1-11 of 2016 & injured thereafter. Despite the Seahawks playing a substantially easier schedule weeks 12-17, their pass defense fell off a cliff without him. Images via https://t.co/EaHeXCfaMB pic.twitter.com/B5f8UZBNVp
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) May 21, 2018
This season Thomas’ presence may be more important than ever. Seattle’s defense has long been identified by the Legion of Boom secondary, which had a core of Thomas, strong safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Richard Sherman. Well, Sherman is gone, having been released and subsequently signed by the NFC West-rival San Francisco 49ers. Chancellor’s career remains in limbo as he awaits further tests on the neck injury that ended his 2017 season. Therefore, Thomas could be the last remaining link to the LOB.
And we all saw the impact a holdout by a key defensive player can have on a season. Chancellor held out in 2015, missed the first two games of the season, and the Seahawks got off to a stuttering start. Seattle rallied in the second half and was red hot going into the playoffs. However, the slow start meant the Seahawks had to hit the road for the postseason, and they came up just short in their comeback attempt at Carolina.
On the other hand, Thomas is 29, which puts him on the older side in the NFL. While he started his first 118 games in the NFL, he missed the end of the 2016 season because of a broken leg, then missed two more games last season because of a hamstring injury. Can the Seahawks afford to give Thomas a lucrative lengthy contract, knowing he’s at the point of his career where his production could slip either because of age or injury, thus leaving Seattle with an albatross contract?
Then there’s the financial ramifications. Seattle is up against the salary cap, meaning it would be a squeeze to fit Thomas under the cap at a larger number. And every financial decision the Seahawks make has to take into consideration the fact quarterback Russell Wilson will need to be extended next offseason, and he will be in line for a major pay increase given the explosion in the quarterback market.
Further complicating the situation is the question of whether Thomas and the Seahawks want one another anymore. Thomas has shown signs of wanting to return to his home state of Texas, having made overtures to the Dallas Cowboys. Meanwhile, there was much buzz during this year’s draft about the possibility of the Seahawks trading Thomas, though nothing came to fruition. There’s now questions about how much value Seattle could get in a trade for a player who’s holding out.
All of which means Seattle has plenty to think about.
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