Yes, it's voluntary. Yes, it's only April.
Yet Earl Thomas may be sending the first of what may become multiple messages that he won't play for the Seahawks this year without a new deal. Or a trade.
The three-time All-Pro free safety began his final contract year by skipping the start of Seattle's voluntary offseason workouts on Monday, according to Brock Huard of the Seahawks' flagship radio station KIRO AM.
The Seahawks cannot fine Thomas because these conditioning workouts and exercises with the team's training staff at its headquarters are voluntary, per the NFL's collective bargaining agreement. So are the organized team activities that will begin on the practice field May 21.
The only mandatory event of the offseason is the Seahawks' lone veteran minicamp. That is June 12-14. The team could fine Thomas for missing that, and any of training camp that begins at the end of July.
The Seahawks have had stars skip these offseason workouts in previous springs. Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett used to stay at his winter home in Hawaii then show up for the mandatory minicamp and training camp to avoid fines. Former cornerstone running back Marshawn Lynch also usually only showed up when he was mandated to, usually by the start of training camp.
Thomas, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, turns 29 next month. He has been talking about wanting an extension from the Seahawks since August--on the day Schneider and Seattle gave safety partner Kam Chancellor at contract extension with $25 million guaranteed at age...29.
“I was watching very closely,” Thomas said Aug. 1 of Chancellor’s negotiations with the Seahawks. “You want to see, because I feel we are all right around the same age. You know, they brought a lot of new guys in.
“If the writing is on the wall, you know, I want to be able to see it. Because I know I’ll be next. ... And when that time comes, it comes.”
It’s arrived--at least for Thomas.
He said in an ESPN interview at his sixth Pro Bowl, in January: “I definitely don’t see myself going out there unsigned” to play in 2018 – that is, while still under his current Seattle deal.
“I want to finish my career there,” Thomas told ESPN after Jan. 26 after a Pro Bowl practice in Orlando, Florida.
“I definitely don’t see myself going out there not signed. But I’m going to continue to work my butt off and enjoy this process at the Pro Bowl.
“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 has said “money talks” before, including after he walked to the Cowboys’ locker room on his way off the field from Seattle’s win in Arlington, Texas, on Christmas Eve and asked Dallas coach Jason Garrett to “come get me.” Thomas explained minutes later that day he meant after the Seahawks were done “kicking me to the curb” in the next year.
The Cowboys released veteran wide receiver Dez Bryant on Friday, saving $8 million against their salary cap in 2018. That move has fueled speculation Dallas is preparing another attempt to trade for Thomas.
Thomas has a base salary of $8.5 million this year, with a $10.4 million cap charge. The Seahawks would save $8.5 million in cap space by trading him. They have been rightly asking for something approaching the moon—two high-round draft choices next week and perhaps more—for Thomas.
In the meantime, Thomas has started using whatever leverage he has. At least while it still doesn't cost him anything.
The last time a Seahawk held out, Chancellor attended offseason workouts but missed all of training camp and the first two games of the 2015 season. His holdout was fruitless. Two years still remained on his contract at the time, and the Seahawks gave him nothing until two years later, last summer. Three months after he signed a deal guaranteeing him up to $25 million, Chancellor got a neck injury that has his career in doubt.
The Seahawks have so many other issues to take care of right now besides extending Thomas--including next week's draft, incorporating a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive coordinator, two other new top assistants and what is expected to be new offensive linemen and running backs in coach Pete Carroll’s vow to return to the run game.
Amid all that, Thomas obviously wants to make sure his concerns don’t get lost.
What else does Thomas want? He sure noticed last year when Kansas City re-signed safety Eric Berry, who was in the same draft class as Thomas, to an extension with $40 million guaranteed.
“There ain’t never,” Thomas said in August, “enough of that.”
General manager John Schneider has set precedents since taking the job in January 2010 of re-signing core starters in the final years of their existing contracts. The Seahawks did that with Thomas in April 2014, entering the final year of his first NFL contract, when they gave him his four-year, $40 million deal.
Schneider said at last month's NFL scouting combine those precedents do not apply in this case with Thomas.
"Well, it's a little different. This would be his third (contract),” Schneider said.
“It's a little different situation than when you have a guy coming off his rookie deal and then you are just going on a second contract.”