Earl Thomas is back—and says “the disrespect has been well noted and will not be forgotten.”
Hours after posting on his Instagram account that “I’ve never let me teammates, city or fans down as long as I’ve lived and don’t plan on starting this weekend,” the All-Pro safety was in full pads Wednesday practicing with his Seahawks teammates four days before the season opener Sunday at Denver.. So ends his six-week holdout over wanting a rich, new contract.
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“I worked my whole life for this..... I’ve never let me teammates, city or fans down as long as I’ve lived and don’t plan on starting this weekend.” Thomas wrote online, hours before the Seahawks’ first full practice in preparation for the first regular-season game.
Expect Thomas will indeed play. A three-time All-Pro at minimum preparation is better for Seattle than the unknown of having Tedric Thompson as its free safety at Denver. Thompson, the Seahawks’ 2017 draft choice, backed up Thomas last season, played mainly on special teams and was set to start for Thomas to begin this season—until Wednesday.
“It’s great to have him back,” coach Pete Carroll said on a day of verbal bouquets and no Seahawks player or coach saying Thomas’ absence had created a divide or issue within the team.
Top wide receiver Doug Baldwin saw Thomas sitting in the team’s morning meeting and said he was so “ecstatic” he felt compelled to walk up to the free safety and hug him.
“That’s my boy,” Baldwin said. “Love that guy.”
Linebacker Bobby Wagner said he doesn’t have any issue with his fellow All-Pro staying away from all Seahawks activities for more than eight months, from the end of last season in early January until September. Wagner, whose own contract ends after 2019, said he and other Seahawks veterans can separate the business of the sport and the mission and camaraderie within the locker room.
“We ballin’,” Wagner said, now that Thomas is back.
Wagner called Thomas’ preparation “off the charts. His focus and dedication to football is off the charts...I expect him on the football field to be extremely on it.”
Carroll wouldn’t commit to him playing on Sunday. He said he and the team need to first see the condition Thomas is in, and how he feels after practicing for the first time since December.
Thomas declined to talk to media members covering the team Wednesday. On the field, in the first 10 minutes or so of practice the team permits media to view, he seemed like he was to himself, still trying to re-acclimate.
Of course, these Seahawks are far different now than last time he practiced with them. Even with Thomas back, Seattle could have as many as eight starters on defense in Denver Sunday that weren’t starters in the Seahawks’ 2017 opener 12 months ago.
After Wednesday’s practice, Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said with a chuckle, “Oh, my goodness! Really good to see Earl.
“I became a better coach today.”
Throughout the holdout, Carroll said he had no doubts Thomas would stay in peak condition and be ready immediately upon return.
Norton said that knowing Thomas, how fiendishly prepared he’s always been, “he’ll be ready.”
The Seahawks have a roster exemption right now for Thomas, from putting him on the reserve/did-not-report list at the start of training camp in late July. So they have time before they have to release a member of the current 53-man roster to make room for Thomas. But if Thomas is to play Sunday, Seattle has to make that move and put him on its active roster before 1:25 p.m. Saturday, 24 hours before kickoff.
“Our guys will welcome him back,” Carroll said between Thomas participating in a walk-through practice in the morning and a full one Wednesday afternoon.
Kam Chancellor reported on a Wednesday before a Sunday game in September 2015, ending his holdout in week three of that regular season. He then played 40 of 50 defensive snaps against Chicago that weekend.
“I know him so well, I’ve seen him for so many years,” Carroll said of Thomas,” that I just need to see that the work that he’s put in—which he feels like he’d done a really good job of conditioning and staying abreast—if it looks like he’s up to speed. I believe that he believes that. We’ve just got to see that, get him to run around and get him going.
“Normally, when the first time guys play we kind of give them a pitch count, and work our way into it. We’ll see if that works.”
Carroll noted the Houston Texans intended to have now-Seahawks left tackle Duane Brown limited in snaps in his first game back following a holdout last year into late October. But then Brown played all the snaps of the Texans’ win at Seattle days after he reported.
“So we’ll see how it goes,” Carroll said.
For Thomas, pride and principle apparently has a maximum cost. And it was about to get really expensive.
Thomas stood to begin losing game checks of $500,000 per weekend if he does not report in time to be on the active roster for the opening game, that is, 24 hours before Sunday’s 1:25 p.m. Pacific Time kickoff in Denver. He has amassed about $2 million in team fines by missing all of training camp, all four preseason games through August plus Seattle’s three-day, mandatory minicamp in June.
Precedent from Chancellor’s holdout into the 2015 regular season suggested the Seahawks are going to collect from Thomas this time, too. But NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday the Seahawks “did agree to wipe away almost all of his fines, source said.”
“With that being said, the disrespect has been well noted and will not be forgotten,” the 29-year-old Thomas wrote Wednesday. “Father Time may have an undefeated record but best believe I plan on taking him into triple overtime when it comes to my career.”
Thomas has publicly demanded the Seahawks either give him the top-of-the-market contract extension beyond his current deal ending after the 2018 season, or trade him.
The Seahawks did neither.
They and general manager John Schneider have stood their ground of not wanting to re-up with Thomas at $13 million per year with $40 million guaranteed. That’s what Thomas’ draft classmate and safety Eric Berry got from Kansas City last summer, when Thomas said “there ain’t never enough of that.” Such a deal would run until Thomas was 33 or 34 years old, after the team would prorate his rich signing bonus across four or five years for salary-cap management.
Meanwhile multiple NFL teams, most prominently Thomas’ home-state Dallas Cowboys, have not come close in meeting the Seahawks’ demands for a first-round draft choice, another high-round pick and perhaps a veteran player. Schneider and Seattle have stood on the premise they have a future Hall-of-Fame talent under contract for this season, and they didn’t have to do anything short of another team backing up a Brinks truck of enticements to move off that position.
Asked if Thomas’ return Wednesday changes the status of the Seahawks perhaps seeking a trade for Thomas, Carroll said: “He’s a Seahawk. He’s a Seahawk. He’s always been. I want him to be one forever. I’ve already said that.”
That doesn’t exactly answer that, or least does only in the metaphorical sense.
In December, following a Seahawks win at Dallas, Thomas famously went to the Cowboys’ locker room and told coach Jason Garrett to “when Seattle kicks me to the curb come get me.”
Thing is, Thomas eventually had to come back. He knew it. The Seahawks knew it.
And that galls him all the more.
Not only would he be losing $500,000 per game in checks on his $8.5 million salary in the final season of the $40 million extension he signed with Seattle in 2014 to become the league’s highest-paid safety then. Thomas’ contract year in 2018 would not count if he didn’t return before week 10 of this season. In that scenario he wouldn’t have become a free agent in March, not free to get the money in the open market he feels he deserves.
So now he’s back, to prove again what he’s worth. And he’s made it clear to the Seahawks he’s not happy about it.
At this point the relationship between Thomas and the only NFL team he’s known, the Seahawks, Schneider and Carroll who drafted him in the first round in 2010, seems irreparable. And Carroll has a mammoth coaching challenge: keeping Thomas’ anger and feeling disrespected from affecting the locker room.
Even with Wednesday’s news, all signs continue point the way they have for months: Thomas staying angry, playing out the final season of his contract, and becoming a free agent to sign elsewhere in March.