BY Art Thiel 11:00AM 01/31/2018

Thiel: A Thomas deal is Seahawks’ best option

The Legion of Boom is in tatters, and Earl Thomas floated the idea of a holdout. The money is so large in the Seahawks secondary, a trade may be the best way out.

Richard Sherman, DeShawn Shead, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor will have a hard time taking he field together again. / Art Thiel, Sportspress Northwest

The question before the national baseball house regarding the mid-1990s Mariners — the marketing slogan was, “You gotta love these guys,” and everyone happily obliged — was how could the Mariners afford to keep these guys?

The specific reference was to three guys who were among the best in baseball history — Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson. The specific answer was: The Mariners couldn’t.

The Mariners weren’t yet awash in revenues from a new stadium or a regional sports network, nor did any of the three non-amigos want to stay around each other or Seattle. So Johnson was traded in mid-season 1998, Griffey after the 1999 season and Rodriguez was allowed to go into free agency after 2000.

Disaster, right?

In 2001, the Mariners won 116 games, a season that broke the Old and New Testament’s combined record of miracles by one. I mean, Paul Abbott, 17-4?  After that, he won eight games over his final five seasons in MLB. Loaves and fishes are tied for second place.

Longtime Mariners fans are well-versed in the saga, which grows more bewildering with each passing year’s absence from the playoffs. It also proves that karma is, in fact, a well, and for the Mariners, the ’01 season drained that sucker dry for the current millennium.

But we’re not talking Mariners today. We’re talking Seahawks, because the footballers find themselves in 2018 on a threshold roughly analogous to the one the baseballers faced 20 years earlier.

How do the Seahawks keep the Legion of Boom?

The answer is the same as in 1998: They can’t keep Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman, for somewhat similar reasons.

But regardless of how and why, the trick is for the Seahawks to emerge on the other side in 2018 with 116 wins.  Or in football terms, 14-2.

How’s that, Pete Carroll, for a high local standard? You might need a whole new coaching . . . .

Oh, wait.

Maybe Carroll knows.

The Seahawks are in a bind. The three players upon whom the dreadnought-class defense was built to carry the franchise, are almost simultaneously coming to a contractual crossroads.

Chancellor, 30 in April, actually passed through the crossroads, signing Aug. 1 a three-year contract extension for $36 million, $25 million guaranteed. But he lasted nine steps down the road, then was lost for the season Nov. 8 to a neck injury against Arizona that threatens his career.

Although back to a normal life, he figuratively lies crumpled on the path in front of Thomas and Sherman, no one certain if he wants to play, or should play. And if he does play, will he ever again be The Enforcer, knowing his potential vulnerability to life-changing injury?

Whether sentiment played a role in extending Chancellor’s contract isn’t known. Nor has it been disclosed whether the extension’s guaranteed money was an informally agreed-upon compensation that drew Chancellor back empty-handed from his foolish 54-day holdout in 2015, which played a significant role in the Seahawks’ 0-2 start.

What is known is that Chancellor has a guaranteed $12 million this season if he remains on the roster past a Feb. 9 contract deadline for a decision. His salary cap charge is $9.6 million.

If he retires, he loses the $12 million and the Seahawks will still have a $7.5 million cap charge. Should the Seahawks cut him, they would still owe him $19.5 million through his contract’s expiration in 2020.

So the guarantees and Chancellor’s subsequent serious injury makes the decision to extend him, at the moment, a bad deal for the Seahawks. It also makes a little more odious the idea of extending the deals of Thomas and Sherman. Both are in their final contract years.

Sherman, 30 in March, is in the last of a four-year, $56 million extension, $40 million guaranteed, and will get $11 million this season. He’s coming off surgery to repair an Achilles tendon torn in the same Arizona game when Chancellor went down.

Thomas, 29 in May, is in the last of a four-year, $40 million extension that made him the game’s highest-paid safety at the time. Of that, $25.7 million was guaranteed, and he’ll be paid $8.5 million this season.

He’s the only one of the three to finish the season healthy, and the one speaking out about his demands in order to keeping playing in Seattle, including threatening a Chancellor-style holdout this summer.

“I want to finish my career there,” Thomas told ESPN after Thursday’s Pro Bowl practice in Orlando. “I definitely don’t see myself going out there not signed.

“As far as my future in Seattle, I think if they want me, you know, money talks. We’ll get something accomplished. Other than that, I’m just taking it one day at a time.”

Thomas’s latest salvo in his public try at negotiations (his “come get me” remark to Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was a reckless insult to his teammates) could be another ill-advised blurt, or it could be taken at face value, since another 29-year-old safety was paid well a year ago.

The game’s highest-paid player at the position is Kansas City’s Eric Berry (six years, $78 million, $40 guaranteed), meaning the Seahawks are going to have to go long and go big to keep Thomas around.

As a stand-alone, he’s probably worth it, but the Seahawks already have committed a lot to Chancellor, and they likely won’t know Sherman’s value until after the regular season begins.

It’s possible that all three could open the season in Seattle, at a salary cost of more than $32 million for three positions. It’s also possible that Sherman is the only one left, and he might be limping.

The Legion’s expiration date was always there, but seemingly distant. Events have conspired to make it all of a sudden, instead of the way it played out with the Mariners.

The fact that the Seahawks traded away their 2018 second- and third-round draft picks to fill emergency vacancies in 2017 compounds the problem. Perhaps the quickest, yet most painful, way to improve the draft scenario is to trade Thomas now, when his value is highest. He likely could draw a second-round pick, although having only one contractual year remaining represents a risk for the buyer.

The Seahawks have few cards to play beyond Thomas. Unfortunately for them, they have no Legionnaires in waiting. CB Shaquill Griffin is a star in the making, but he’s already a starter. And the results from hiring veteran free agents to play in Seattle’s secondary have been spotty at best.

Out of stars by 2001, the Mariners pulled off a stunner by going to Japan for Ichiro, who became the Most Valuable Player in his rookie season. So the Mariners/Seahawks analogy ends there.

Although Carroll is in such a desperate mood for change, don’t be surprised to see  tweeted photos of him ringside at a sumo doyho in Tokyo looking for D-linemen.

 


YourThoughts

  • Theyfinallyfiredcable

    Danny O’Neil over at MyNorthwest says we should trade him . I’m seeing a lot of that on some of the blogs . Trading Thomas leaves you with Tedric Thompson and Delano Hill at safety , neither of which saw the field much last season. Losing Earl also means resigning McDougald is a top priority ( which I believe it is anyway ) .

    Carroll loves that Cover 1 single high safety – not sure how you do that without Thomas . So then you’re talking about either replacing ET in the draft ( good luck ) , or changing the basic philosophy of how you play football . Hard to imagine Carroll changing his system , so I’m gonna lay a small bet they get the extension done .

    • Bruce McDermott

      Agreed. I think Pete wants to go out with Earl, and I don’t think Earl is replaceable in the time Pete has left.

      Great handle, by the way.

      • art thiel

        I think Pete may win the in-house argument, but the Seahawks also know the hard miles ET has put on.

        Add a shoulder harness to your seat belt this off season.

    • art thiel

      Carroll absolutely dreads the idea of trading Thomas, for reasons stated. None of those on hand can come close, and they see McDougald replacing Chancellor. So a trade is a huge risk, but going without a second or third round pick looms large too.

      • John M

        It would seem by the info available, much of it yours, Art, they’re going to have to cut Kam just from not knowing if his whole year’s salary will be dead money. And though there’s no doubting ET’s speed and anticipation, he did not look the same at mid-season. He’s had a serious and recent lessor injuries. He said he would love to play in Texas. Earl talks, true, but I think others are listening to offers . . .

  • Ron

    Seahawks Hakuhō Shō and Akebono Tarō

    Dilly dilly!

    • art thiel

      Akebono. Now there’s a large, powerful run-stopper.

      • Ron

        If we can convert a basketball player into an offensive lineman, why not Akebono?

        • art thiel

          The day will come . . .

  • jafabian

    Seems as though Earl has forgotten how Kam’s holdout worked for him. Bennett floated the idea of holding and his wife talked him out of it. The Hawks still remember giving Shaun Alexander a hefty extension after his MVP season and how he was never the same afterwards. (Steve Hutchinson’s free agent departure not withstanding). It’ll come down to what’s more important to Earl: getting as many years as possible or as much money as possible. I don’t see the club offering more than 3 years but they might match Berry’s total contract worth. Especially if Kam retires.

    • art thiel

      Berry set the market, and Thomas is unlikely to take less. The Seahawks hope Thomas can be Ronnie Lott, who played until he was 35.

  • Effzee

    I say keep Earl. Give him what he wants to finish his career here. Trade RWIII and his salary (present and future) for the #1 or #4 pick overall. Shock the world! Keep the Seahawks in the news. They already know they can win quickly with a young QB, and the Browns can’t pass up a SB winning QB in his prime. Put the focus back on Pete and his defense.

    • art thiel

      You’re a human tornado, Zee. You’re going to have a chore convincing Carroll to trade Wilson. He fired all his coaches in order to find someone who can make him better.

      • Effzee

        LOL! My girlfriend thinks your “human tornado” comment is spot on! Well, the Kirk Cousins situation has to make them think about their future cap situation as well. Lots of desperate teams would do anything for a quality QB right now. RWIII could bring a king’s ransom, and the Seahawks could sure use the draft picks. I would think the Browns or Jets would find Wilson hard to pass up with his contact situation and his SB winning status. I’m not predicting a trade will happen, but I certainly think that if it doesn’t, they will draft a QB to bring some competition in the QB room. Its the one position on the team that hasn’t had any competition in 8 years. I think Pete has been pretty clear about his expectation of and disappointment in the QB position after each of the last two seasons.

        • art thiel

          I doubt they’ll draft a QB with so many other needs, and I don’t think Wilson’s issues need the competition. They just need some refinement and some blockers he trusts.

    • DJ

      Shock the world it would. So it was Russell’s fault that the offense struggled and not the cardboard cutouts disguised as offense I’ve linemen……and not the two offensive coaches that could have made the best of what they had with a better game plan instead of putting their franchaise QB in continued peril. The Dude kept them IN games. Russell Wilsons don’t come along very often. Would be hard to start all over.
      I absolutely agree on keeping Earl, however. As Art points out, the timing sucks but his presence alone changes games. He’s worth going to great lengths to keep. Thanks for your thought provoking comments!

      • Effzee

        The habitual desperation and last minute miracles should not have to happen. I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard Warren Moon on broadcasts say “He was open but Russ just didn’t see him.” I’ve heard the same criticisms from the likes of Hugh Millen and Mike Holmgren as well. There is no denying that Wilson took the league by storm when he arrived on the scene, with a lot of help from Beastmode. But sandlot football is not sustainable in the NFL. Yes, they’ve had the worst offensive line for a couple of years, but part of that has to be because what happens on the field at the QB position is rarely, if ever, how it is drawn up in the playbook. Hard to say if a pocket passer who gets the ball out quickly would have made these offensive lines look any better.

        • DJ

          Point well made. I’m totally with you on the last minute miracle thing – drives me nuts that it’s something that has had to happen so many times. It’s not a strong position to have to rely on him that way.

          I just think that if the improvements are made elsewhere to protect Russell as you would pocket passer then he would have the opportunity to take it to the next level. Plus his magicians ability becomes just another threat for the opposition to be concerned with, to go along with the other “common” but formidable threats we would have. He’s shown that he can be an outstanding pocket passer when given a chance. If you want to scare defenses, protect Russell and give him a run game.

          • Effzee

            Cannot argue with that.

        • DJ

          Regarding Russell’s apparent decline – here’s a guy that has amazed us for years with his preparation. He has prepared for every possible scenario – so he thought. The breakdowns have gotten so bad that they are off the charts in predictability. He’s been thrown off his game and he’s not the same, makes mistakes. So I will suggest he has done better than anyone else in those situations, that he has more tolerance for crap coming down on him. Fix his environment and reap the rewards. He’s a unique gift that needs a little care and feeding, and will rise above the rest. Ok – I’m done. Thanks. Hope it’s a good game on Sunday

        • Husky73

          Yes, by all means, trade the QB who, in six seasons, has passed for over 22,000 yards and 161 TD’s with a QB rating of 98, the highest in Seahawks history. He will soon pass Hasselbeck and Kreig in yards and TD’s. He’s the team’s best runner and also was responsible for all but one offensive TD this year. He is the face of the franchise and one of the most popular players in Seattle sports history. Smart thinking….

          • Effzee

            I didn’t say do it willy nilly, just for fun. They’d have a plan. Loads of QBs rack up impressive stats when coming from behind or in garbage time. See Stafford, Matt. They already proved they can win with a rookie 3rd round QB. Don’t forget that the other team who wanted Wilson badly was Funny Oregon Offense Wielder Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles. Yes, the same Chip Kelly of the Excellent Pro Talent Evaluation Group. Russell Wilson is basically the Superhero version of Seneca Wallace.

            The play at QB the last two years was so ugly that the QB’s heroic ability to pull the Seahawks out of holes that he often got them into (interceptions, sacks, inaccurate throws, not seeing open receivers, slow starts, 3-and-outs…) is used as evidence of his awesomeness. But what if its just because the defense has been so good that they’ve kept the teams in games that could be blowouts if the team had a legit pro-style QB? What if Wilson is totally reliant upon pulling it out in the end only when the other defense has been so exhausted that sand-lot football begins to work.

            What if Pete considers Earl to be more irreplaceable than Wilson? This is Russ’s 8th season. There are lots of new young guys around the league having instant success, that our front office has seen first-hand. What if Pete and John are supremely confident in one guy who could be had at #1 or #4. What if they can sign Earl, gather up some more picks to spend on the defense and O-Line, and also get the next NFL stud QB, to step in from day one in Schottenheimer’s system?

          • Husky73

            Willy nilly, or dilly dilly?

          • Husky73

            I believe Johnny Manziel is available. That’s a plan.

          • Effzee

            Right. I believe that would define Willy Nilly. Great comeback. Thoughtful.

      • Husky73

        The fans’ most popular player on the team is always the next quarterback. Visit Husky sites, and you will find that fans are calling for the replacement of the soon-to-be-senior QB who will go down as the greatest Husky quarterback in school history.

        • Effzee

          The saying goes the favorite player on the team is the “backup” quarterback, not the “next” quarterback. Zero people say “the most popular player on the team is always the next quarterback.”

          • Husky73

            I say it.

          • Effzee

            Well, it hasn’t caught on.

        • Effzee

          Also, he will not go down as the greatest QB in school history, unless he does something major in his final bowl appearance. He is going to go down as the leading statistical QB in school history, undoubtedly. You’re putting WAY too much emphasis on stats. Ask Tom Brady if he would trade his playoff record 505 Super Bowl yards for the victory. Browning is breaking Cody Pickett and Keith Price’s records. By your logic, this means Pickett and Price are currently the greatest QBs in Husky history. Zero knowledgeable Husky fans would make that argument. Stop equating stats to greatness.

          “Stats are for losers.” – Chris Peterson.

          “Stats are for losers.” – Bill Belichick.

    • Ron

      Who is RWIII ?

      • Effzee

        Hmm. I always thought he was a “The Third.” Guess not.

    • Ron
  • Kevin Lynch

    Art, this is one of the greatest summations you’ve written in the last 30 plus years. They are in a huge quandary. Really unusual, even for the NFL. A veritable zen koan. They are going to have to act on instinct in management and it’s ‘Johnny, bar the door’. This offseason is going to determine a great many things for the Seahawks future.

    • art thiel

      Thanks, Kevin. The Seahawks are in a bind. Missing two picks, they have to upgrade three units immediately — OL, RB and DB.

  • Husky73

    I don’t care about the money. It’s Paul Allen’s not mine. Carroll cleaned house with his coaches, and he should continue the cleansing with Thomas. He’s been good, but like others, he’s also been a distraction. He’ll bring some good draft picks (oh, wait a minute…considering the Seahawks’ draft success….). He wants to be a Cowboy, not a Seahawk. In the words of the Dixie Chicks, goodbye Earl.

    • art thiel

      The money issue isn’t about the cost to Allen, it’s the cost relative to the cap. The Seahawks were against the cap all season and lost flexibility.

  • 14carat

    Its still hard for me to understand how we could use ’18 draft choices for Sheldon R and Duane B when the obvious problem is OL, has been and continues to be!!! Pete and GM are’nt as smart as made out to be???

    • art thiel

      Duane B is an offensive lineman, and Sheldon R was the emergency DL hire for the absence of top draftee Malik McDowell, which obviously turned into one of the great Seahawks blunders.