BY Art Thiel 07:21PM 06/12/2018

Thiel: Hawks need Earl more than he needs them

Thomas officially became a holdout Tuesday, and also unique in the Carroll era, because the team needs him more than he needs the Seahawks.

Russell Wilson doesn’t allow himself to get “crazy emotional” over the departures of teammates. / Art Thiel, Sportspress Northwest

Tuesday was the first official day of FS Earl Thomas as the Seahawks’ Object Of Controversy. As the only one among 90 players not in his assigned seat, the designation is virtually automatic. The three-day mini-camp, in which attendance is mandatory, took off without him. Pete Carroll stayed dry-eyed.

“I wish he was here,” the Seahawks coach said. “That would be nice, but we’re focusing on the guys who are here, and we’ll see how that goes.”

As the camp OOC, Thomas, who announced Sunday morning on social media that he would hold out until he received a contract extension, becomes the energy suck whose absence overshadows the action. The players don’t particularly care — the young guys at his position get the extra repetitions — and in fact are jealous of the fact that he has the leverage to mess with the team.

In the great cultural tradition of sticking it to The Man, Thomas is the anti-hero.

All but a handful of NFL players per team have no control over their professional fates, although the compensation is handsome relative to the ordinary world. Even a player as successful, celebrated and influential as CB Richard Sherman was dismissed injured. The club didn’t even seem to care that they received no compensation other than salary-cap relief for his departure.

The business is as cold as a playoff game in Green Bay.

Hey, Russell Wilson, do the losses of teammates and friends with whom you shared great success ever upset you?

“I don’t think you can,” he said Tuesday after the padless practice. “It’s the reality of the business world in general. Guys have an opportunity to move on, getting a raise or whatever the situation. Sometimes it’s just business.

“Sometimes it’s a loss. You’re happy for them, but ‘Dang, man, I wish you were still on my team.’ You say, ‘That’s a guy where we’ve done a lot of great things together.'”

Career-ending injuries are one thing. But they are an accepted occupational hazard. It’s the management decisions that cause trepidation.

“You have the unfortunate situation of getting cut or traded — those are things that happen in the real world too,” he said. “You have to understand it’s part of the business and not be crazy emotional about it. And understand that those connections and friendships are everlasting. That matters the most.”

That’s probably true personally. Professionally, the Thomas holdout, should it continue into August, strains relations personally and professionally, because his situation is unique in the Carroll era.

It’s the first time the Seahawks have been on a downward swing. They need Thomas more than he needs them.

He is to the defense what Wilson is to the offense — short-term irreplaceable. The fall-off to the next guy is steep relative to game-strategy priorities.

It’s true that they have him under contract for one more year. Most people who know him think that if Thomas returns without an extension, he will remain fully committed to the team.

“(His absence) matters, obviously,” Wilson said. “He’s one of the best players on the team. More than anything else, I know Earl knows how to prepare. Earl knows, more than most of the defensive players I’ve played against, how to be prepared.

“Hopefully we can get him out here. We have great guys who can step up. But we’re talking a Hall of Fame player.”

Wilson is not exaggerating Thomas’s value. But can Thomas maintain his preparedness, his edge, knowing he could be cut after the season like Sherman, who lost millions in his new, incentive-laden deal with the San Francisco 49ers? Or be done at 29 from freak tackles that brought down teammates SS Kam Chancellor an DE Cliff Avril?

Thomas has never before been in this situation, especially after witnessing the distressing fates of his friends, so it’s hard to predict his behavior. Keep in mind that Thomas was already obsessing about his future in December when he chased down Cowboys coach Jason Garrett in a Clink tunnel after the Seahawks beat the Cowboys.

His “come get me” remark, captured on TV cameras, was one of the more astonishing utterances in Seahawks history. When asked about it after the game, the Texas native said he didn’t mean “right now,” but only when “the Seahawks kick me to the curb.”

Thomas’s premise seemed outlandish. But in March, the Seahawks kicked Sherman to the curb.

Does Carroll think that Thomas, absent an extension, still buys into the Seahawks?

“Yeah,” he said. “Earl doesn’t know any other way. He gives you everything he’s got when he’s with you.”

That has been the case. But Thomas has never been in this place.

He knows it’s not about friendships. It’s business, and he was practicing business with Garrett.


  • DJ

    Thanks Art! I agree on the mutual values of the Seahawks and Earl. Certainly Earl has not been in this position before, but also have the Seahawks been in this position with a highly needed player before? The drop off without Thomas is seemingly quite a bit more than with Marshawn or Cam Chancellor and their contract woes. I’ve always looked at Earl Thomas as being worth more than just one player on the field with his unusual speed, intelligence and skills. He’s like having an extra player, or at least half of one. When he’s gone he’s not ever directly replaced. The formulation of the defense changes with his absence. The benefits of his presence indeed are so much greater to their immediate and continued success, especially looking at the example of discipline and standards that he sets for the younger players. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the Seahawks react to this “different” kind of contractual situation.

    • art thiel

      Good points, DJ. Thomas is likely to remains at his peak in 2018, so the departures on defense make his role all the more critical. They took risks on Chancellor and Bennett with extensions and lost, so overcoming gunshy-ness will be hard.

  • WestCoastBias79

    I’m basically just echoing you, but Earl and Wagner are the Seahawks defense. We know what life is like without Earl, pay him, and if they still end up sucking, trade him.

    I’m not optimistic about this year, and the Rams look like a juggernaut, but I’ve also watched enough football to know that if you have a QB, there’s always a shot if the team isn’t garbage–to then lose in the playoffs to a great team that’s great because their QB is on a rookie contract, or Tom Brady.

    • art thiel

      Enough positions are being filled by unprovens or health questions (Fluker, Carson, Janikowski, Marshall) that anything between 6-10 and 10-6 is plausible.

  • Bruce McDermott

    Need him to do what? Win a championship? This season? Don’t think so. Rather, they would be measurably better with him than without him–this season. But Schneider over and over again has said that the goal is to be good this year, AND for years to come–win forever, to repeat a phrase heard around these parts for some time now. Does a big, fat, long-term contract to Earl make that more likely? At the very least, that is debatable.

    So balancing needs is a tricky business here. Right now, Earl needs the Hawks in order to make his money. Never underestimate that need.

    • art thiel

      Earl will make $8.5M this season — as long as he doesn’t hold out in the regular season. Then he likely will be a free agent, and presuming health, an attractive one. The Seahawks need him in order to do well this season, whatever that ends up being.

      You’re right — it’s debatable. And we’ll do so, right here.

  • woofer

    It’s never a good sign when the maneuvering off the field becomes more exciting than the play on it. In the bigger picture, it reminds the observer of how truly brilliant the Patriots have been in sustaining play at a championship level for nearly two decades. In a system dominated by a draft and salary caps, it’s not actually that hard to assemble a championship squad for a season nor two. But it takes real genius to extend that level of excellence beyond a single cycle.

    • art thiel

      If keeping Brady healthy and happy is genius work, then I’ll go in with you. He’s the difference, although I give Belichick great credit for adapting his offense and defense to the players he has on hand.

  • coug73

    No doubt the D is poorer w/o Earl. Earl would run the secondary and mentor. Now this looks unlikely. I hope I’m wrong.

    Sitting out for more money will make it difficult for the Hawks and Earl as the NFL turns. There will be no fair value option.

    • art thiel

      He can play out the season and be a free agent. I think that’s what will happen.

  • Husky73

    Players hold out. It happens every year. The vast majority either come to terms or come back to the team. Losing a good player to a holdout hurts, but life (and the team) go on. The Sonics survived Gus Williams sitting out an entire season. It hurt the team, but life went on. Gus is now revered. There’s a member or two of the Hawks’ Ring of Honor who held out, and they are celebrated. It’s mid June. My guess is that he will be the starting safety for game one….maybe for the Dallas Cowboys.

    • art thiel

      Life always goes on, which isn’t the point.

      Regarding Williams’holdout, he lost big money and the Sonics lost a lot. They finished last in the division two years after winning the title — to that time the steepest fall of a champion in NBA history.

      Thomas’s holdout into the season would be a grim development for the Seahawks in 2018.

  • d3s

    Thomas is smart to do this now, football is a brutal game and he is in a good position to get compensated.

  • mtblaze

    Earl will need the money more than the money needs him if he holds out too long. I say that Hawk’s management just tell him that they will not extend him and then he can play out his contract… there is a contract, remember?