Earl Thomas was clear.
As clear about why he came back to the Seahawks to play in their opening game at Denver, that is, as he was writing online last week about the “disrespect” during his just-ended holdout he won’t soon forget.
“Me and my agent talked about it,” Thomas said Sunday following his interception in Seattle’s 27-24 loss to the Broncos, his first game of the final year of his $40 million contract—and his first comments to the media since he ended his holdout in search of a new, rich contract four days earlier.
“We understood that I had a lot of money on the line, and I couldn’t just throw it away.
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“So basically, I decided to come back. I’m glad I did.”
Nothing about being a part of this Seahawks team again, one so changed since he’d been staying away all winter, spring and summer. Nothing about leading.
It was about what his holdout was about. Each game check for Thomas this season is worth $500,000, 1/17th of his 2018 salary of $8.5 million. As long as he was holding out, he would not got $500,000 each week.
That was going to add up, quickly.
In June he said he wouldn’t return until the Seahawks either gave him an extension at the top of the NFL market for safeties—Eric Berry, his draft classmate from 2010, got an NFL-best $13 million per year with $40 million guaranteed last year from Kansas City—or traded him.
Neither happened. Yet here he is.
He was asked Sunday in the visiting locker room at Mile High Stadium if he could put that behind him, and play out his contract toward free agency in March. Can he put aside the disrespect he undoubtedly still feels?
“I’m going to try to do the best I can,” Thomas responded. “I’m going to try to work my way through it. I’ve got a great team behind me.”
Do you still want to stay in Seattle, be here?
“If they want me, yeah,” Thomas said.
He said of his contract situation “during the game, I’m not thinking about it. I’m having fun with B-Mac (locker neighbor and new safety partner Bradley McDougald, Kam Chancellor’s replacement this season) and the guys. So, yeah, I don’t think about it during the game.
“When I get asked about it constantly, yeah, then it crosses my mind.”
Thomas said his Seahawks teammates “welcomed me back with open arms” Wednesday when he reported and rejoined them for the first time since the 2017 season finale, Dec. 31.
“It was a smooth process,” he said. “The coaching staff welcomed me back with open arms. It was a learning curve trying to pick up on all the new stuff.”
That is, his eight different starters on defense and new schemes of Ken Norton Jr., who replaced fired Kris Richard as Seattle’s defensive coordinator in the eight months Thomas was away from the team.
In all, Thomas said he enjoyed his return game Sunday. He played 64 of Seattle’s 74 defensive snaps. Coach Pete Carroll said that was more than he would have liked Thomas to play his first time out. Tedric Thompson replaced Thomas for the start of two drives, once in the first half and once in the fourth quarter. Denver scored the tying touchdown the first time and the eventually winning one the second time Thomas sat out.
Thomas’ value to the defense showed when Norton put him back in on that fourth-quarter drive once the Broncos quickly reached the Seahawks’ 36-yard line. Thomas couldn’t prevent a 15-yard roughing-the-passer foul on Dion Jordan after a Denver reception. That got the Broncos to the Seattle 4. Case Keenum threw a touchdown pass on the next play, the winning points in the 27-24 final score.
Thomas had an interception that set up Seattle’s first score, Russell Wilson’s pass to rookie tight end Will Dissly. McDougald had two more interceptions of Keenum.
Seattle won the turnover battle yet still lost the game, indicative of how poor it played for much of Sunday.
Yet Thomas enjoyed his return game.
“I had a great time out there, man,” Thomas said. “We haven’t had that many turnovers in a while.”
DISSLY’S HUGE DEBUT
Playing before about a dozen family members from his hometown of Bozeman, Mont.—they rented a suite at Mile High Stadium for the occasion—Dissly dominated in his first NFL game.
And in a way he’s not supposed.
The former University of Washington tight end was reputed to be the best blocking prospect at his position in this draft class. Sunday, in less than two quarters of his first NFL game, Disssly set a Seahawks record for receiving yards by a player in his first game: 105
Dissly’s 66-yard reception in the first half was the longest reception by a Seahawks rookie since Darrell Jackson (71 yards) on Dec. 3, 2000, at Atlanta. No Seattle rookie tight end ever had a catch of 66 yards or more before Dissly’s catch and run Sunday.
DICKSON’S WOWS AGAIN
Sunday showed again why the Seahawks traded up and gave Denver a seventh-round draft choice to select punter Michael Dickson in the fifth round this spring.
The Australian Rules Football player for 10 years in his native country punted six times for a 59-yard average, with four of those punts downed inside the Broncos’ 20-yard line. That average was 1 yard off the team record for a game held by the man he replaced last month, Jon Ryan.
Dickson boomed a 69-yard punt out of bounds in third quarter. Yes, a 69-yard net. That one pinned Denver at its own 6-yard line after a three-and-out by Seattle’s offense to begin the second half.
Last year’s league-leader in net punting was Houston--at 45.9 yards.
“Oh my gosh! What a kicker, man! What a kicker,” coach Pete Carroll said. “I don’t know what his numbers wound up at but he is a fantastic part of our team and we are just getting warmed up with him. He is really something.
“I mean, the punts were gorgeous. But not just the distance of the punts, but the placement of the punts too.”
DAVIS A HEALTHY SCRATCH
The Seahawks had two starters from last season inactive for the first game of the 2018 season.
Pro Bowl linebacker K.J. Wright was out of Sunday’s first game at Denver, 13 days after his arthroscopic knee surgery. Extraordinary rookie Shaquem Griffin started for him, in an NFL debut like no other for the fifth-round draft choice this spring.
Griffin started a few yards away from his twin brother Shaquill Griffin, Seattle’s left cornerback.
New right guard D.J. Fluker’s hamstring injury he got in the final preseason game last week had him inactive. J.R. Sweezy, who came back to the Seahawks Aug. 1 after two years away in Tampa Bay, was scheduled to start for Fluker at right guard. Sweezy missed four weeks of August after a high-ankle sprain he got on his first practice day after he re-signed with Seattle.
In the second quarter with the Seahawks trailing 14-10, Sweezy had a brutal foul for holding on a block he didn’t have to make, behind a screen pass Chris Carson took 44 yards. Instead of first down at the Denver 31-yard line, Seattle had first and 20 at its own 15 and punted a few plays later.
The Seahawks’ two backup offensive linemen active in Denver were swing tackle George Fant and Joey Hunt. Hunt is a center by title, but the Seahawks practiced him at guard the past month for cases such as Sunday.
Mike Davis did not dress Sunday as a healthy inactive. He is one of six running backs the Seahawks carried on their first 53-man roster of the season, before they put J.D. McKissic on injured reserve with a broken bone in his foot. Davis was the starting running back at the end of last season, after Carson broke his leg Oct. 1.
Carson, back fully healthy, was the lead back Sunday. But he carried only seven times, for 51 yards. Second back Rashaad Penny, the first-round draft choice, had seven carries for eight yards.
So maybe they wouldn’t have used Davis much, anyway. New coordinator Brian Schottenheimer called 39 pass plays, to 14 runs. Wilson had two scrambles, for 5 yards while getting sacked six times.
Seattle’s other inactives Sunday: undrafted rookie defensive tackle Poona Ford, safety Shalom Luani (acquired in a trade from Oakland last week), defensive tackle Nazair Jones and guard Jordan Simmons. The Seahawks added Simmons off waivers from the Raiders last week.
McDougald left during a couple series at strong safety, replaced by 2017 draft choice Delano Hill. “Yeah, he had a problem,” Carroll said. “it was kind of flaring up in his patella tendon or something like that. He had some tendonitis or something like that.”