BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 05/03/2018

Thiel: The Earl Thomas choice — love or money

Earl Thomas has professed his love for the Seahawks and Seattle, but after he wasn’t traded, he’ll have to decide between affection and top-of-market money.

FS Earl Thomas is a toug  / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

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

Teammates, coaches and fans love him, 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 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 at the Clink. 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, and put 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 DE Cliff Avril retires, that will clear about $6 million, but they have to fit in their draft class, plus extensions for veterans LT Duane Brown and perhaps WR Tyler Lockett. It’s possible, but difficult.

Then there is the specter of SS 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 CB Richard Sherman injured and 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 GM 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’s 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’s thoughts now, except I don’t want his comments to get confused with the truth.


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YourThoughts

  • Bruce McDermott

    Actually, I think the Dallas stunt was pretty low on the Richard Sherman Insubordination Scale, myself. I didn’t really think of it as insubordination, for that matter. More like cluelessness with a healthy dollop of self-absorption.

    The trouble with the dialectic between love and top-of-the-market money you suggest is that at least one of them may well not be available. To get to the top of the market, Earl needs a team to pay him $14 mil/year, no? Safety money seems to be drying up, so I’m not sure that is even in play any more, especially if the Hawks make him play out this last year on his current deal. He’ll be pushing 31 by the end of it, and even if he kicks butt and stays healthy this year the odds that he can make that kind of money thereafter will be pretty long.

    As far as love, what it is and how it is expressed is in the eye of the beholder, especially in sports. Earl has made comments from time to time that suggest dollars are at the very least a crucial portion of the kind of love HE is talking about… :)

    • art thiel

      I don’t know about safety money drying up. This summer is the apex of Thomas’s value, declining thereafter, and he’s worth more to SEA than any other team, so this is his max moment.

      Regarding the Dallas episode, several players had a WTF attitude toward Earl after that. It’s probably passed by now, but in my view, it represents recklessness that could have been disruptive in ways we’re unlikely to know.

  • Theyfinallyfiredcable

    Somehow , I just don’t see Thomas purposely tanking because he didn’t get a contract extension . He’s not built like that . Once the whistle blows and play starts , he’ll lay everything on the line every play because that’s just who he is . Also , his teammates would hold him accountable if they honestly believed he wasn’t giving his all . Not to mention the coaching staff .

    I remember reading somewhere that the Hawks have quite a bit of cap room next year ( ? ) . If that’s the case , I could easily see them working something out before training camp . Perhaps a large signing bonus rather than the actual ‘salary’ ? I don’t know guys , I’m no sports business expert and I’m just throwing stuff at the wall to see if it sticks ..

    Earl Thomas should retire a Seahawk . It’s not a perfect world , but every now and then – like with the Griffin twins – the universe comes full circle and things work out . Here’s hoping .

    • art thiel

      I wouldn’t call it tanking. I’d call it avoiding high impact when an ankle tackle can work — if he doesn’t whiff.

      I think many would be thrilled if he retires a Seahawk. But it’s an expensive proposition.

  • Mark Stratton

    I don’t see Earl tanking, for both of the reasons suggested. 1) His play on the field is too important to him, and 2) he’ll either be playing on an extension from the Hawks or for his next contract somewhere else. Either way he should be motivated. The only downside for the hawks is if he leaves after this season and their only compensation is a compensatory pick.

    • John M

      Earl’s a great player, but he doesn’t seem the same without Sherman and Chancellor in there. They had a certain ryhumn that can’t be designed, it happens, they all developed together. I don’t expect Earl to make plays at quite the same level or consistency this season, more like the last games of last season, but I hope he proves me wrong . . .

      • art thiel

        I didn’t see any change in play by him without his compadres. His words have often been eccentric. If there’s any diminution of play, it could be contract-based.

  • tor5

    I wasn’t too bothered by the “come get me” stunt. I saw it more as immaturity than disrespect or insubordination (there’s plenty of immaturity left at age 29, in my experience). But great dissection, Art, of the unpredictable Earl, and the many money permutations. I’ll remain optimistic that Earl really wants to remain a Hawk, and that the team “reset” has been sobering for vets looking for a huge payday. (Even Sherm’s new deal is largely incentives.) Here’s to hoping that, after another season, the Hawk-Earl love affair evolves into long-term, affordable marriage.

    • art thiel

      Earl is not too concerned with the thoughts of others about his play or actions, but he has to learn there are consequences beyond himself.

      • tor5

        I trust your insight on this, Art. “Not concerned with others” is a pretty harsh character assessment and disappointing.

        • art thiel

          A more refined way to say it is that he is not going to let the judgments of his decisions by others play a big role. It’s not that he doesn’t care what people think, or he wouldn’t have written the social media post.

          • tor5

            Thanks for the clarification. He’s kind of a complicated dude.

  • jafabian

    I find it amazing that as long as he’s been in the NFL Earl was clueless in how to communicate his interest in the Cowboys to them. He has an agent, use him. Now both he and the Seahawks are stuck with each other. If recent history suggests anything the team will let him walk. At the very least they’ll wait until the end of the season to discuss an extension so they can gauge his desire to be a Seahawk and if his skills are diminishing as he approaches age 30.

    • art thiel

      Earl has always been governed by impulse. That’s why it’s so hard to figure him out.

  • Ron

    I wouldn’t be so sure that Earl will be a Seahawk the entire season. The trading deadline is end of October. The Seahawks could have a 3-4 record at that time, and already looking forward to 2019. Some desperate team could be in need of Earl and be willing to part with a first round pick.

    • art thiel

      It also could happen during camp or preseason. The Sheldon Richardson deal happened after the final fake game of 17.

  • Centiorari

    I guess we have 3 realistic options: (1) Pay him a huge sum of money and hope he continues to deserve top safety money for the duration, unlikely for any player much less an aging one with serious recent injuries; (2) keep him but let him walk in free agency for a 3rd round pick, if he goes to the Cowboys it will lessen our GM’s negotiating leverage in the future as his bluff was easily called; (3) Sign him to the deal he wants, play him for the year or part of it and then trade him to an AFC non-contender for a cup of coffee to keep him from playing the Hawks anytime soon. The more this goes on, the more I’m inclined to go with the 3rd which is a sad end to my favorite player in all of football but the team comes first. I don’t see a trade for a 1st or 2nd for next year without an early, severe injury to a star safety and there aren’t many of them out there.

    Side note: I could also get excited about trading within the conference if it was to the Redskins, wouldn’t that be something for the Cowboys to think about. We can still hope that Thomas continues his unpredictable ways and signs a reasonable contract for the Hawks.