Just when Pete Carroll thought he had turned around Earl Thomas’ relationship with the Seahawks, when he thought he and his All-Pro safety were on solid ground to proceed past his holdout and blowing off practices to complete the final season of his contract, Thomas throws a middle finger in the direction of Carroll and his team’s sideline.
About a half hour after Thomas was carted out of Arizona’s stadium and maybe his Seahawks career, minutes after Seattle rallied for a 20-17 victory over the Cardinals on Sunday, the coach reflected on what he’d and Thomas had just done. For, it appears, nothing.
This—a potentially long-term injury while lacking guaranteed money beyond 2018, the final year of his Seahawks contract—is why the 29-year-old Thomas held out and stayed away from the only NFL team he’s known from January into this month.
Thomas got hurt diving over Arizona’s Chad Williams in the end zone after Williams caught a tying touchdown pass in the fourth quarter Sunday.
“I was always counting on me and him figuring out where we are going with this thing,” Carroll said of Thomas’ anger at the Seahawks, he feels, disrespecting him by not giving him a rich new deal or trading him by now. “I knew it was going to take time, and we didn’t have the time when we were together.
“Given the opportunity, we just have so much background and so much history that I thought we could make it, you know. We just talked our way through it, and it made sense with what was coming up. That’s what makes it so...makes it so hard, that this is what happened this week.”
Did Carroll pull off by force of his personality and relationship with Thomas a change that would have U-turned the course the All-Pro and the Seahawks remain on: Thomas angrily ending his contract with no change this season, then leaving in free agency next spring?
“Can it U-turn? I don’t know. We are really never going to know (now). But it’s one that I feel very good in my heart about. I love Earl. I’ve always loved him. I’ve loved everything that he’s ever done for us. Everything he’s stood for. How he’s been a leader. Just a guy out in front, always. His unbelievable heart and competitiveness and drive to be great. To be GREAT. And I’ve admired it the whole time.
“It wasn’t always smooth. But it’s always been good. And I’m proud of the relationship I have with him.
“My heart breaks for him.”
And what did he say to Thomas when he came out on the field as doctors attended to him, or after the game?
“I hugged on him and loved on him,” Carroll said.
Carroll’s words and tone were reflective. There was the unmistakable feeling in the locker room among players and staff this was the last game they will play with Thomas as a teammate.
The praise for Thomas inside there was reverential, almost past tense.
“He’s one of the greatest players ever to play the game,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “And he always will be.”
Asked if he thinks he will ever share the same field with Thomas again as a teammate, Wilson said: “I hope so.”
Thomas’ fellow All-Pro Bobby Wagner said the same thing, using the same words.
But fellow Wagner stopped short of declaring the end for the 29-year-old Thomas, who has earned more than $55 million in his eight years with the Seahawks. That includes $40 million in his contract extension that ends after this season and Seattle has not renewed.
“We play a very, very emotional game. And sometimes, you have to allow people to have their emotions, their feeling,” Wagner said. “Last time he got hurt like this (breaking the same left leg, in December 2016), he retired (on Twitter that night). And, obviously, he didn’t retire.
“He’s got a long road ahead of him, if it’s the injury he suspects. We are going to have his back. We are going to support him.”
Whether as a teammate. Or not.
“It’s puts everything in perspective,” said Pro Bowl wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who in 2011 joined the team one year after Thomas, the longest-tenured Seahawk, did. “In that moment (with Thomas on the ground), it is kind of hard to articulate what goes through your mind or what emotions you feel. It is tough to see that happen to anybody, but especially a guy like Earl, who is arguably a Hall-of-Fame-caliber player.
“This why (Thomas held out and wanted paid). I know surface-level thinking tells you that he’s making a lot of money. But relative to this game, relative to what this world entails, he is a Hall-of-Fame-caliber player. He is the best safety in the league. Just like any other profession, you want to be paid accordingly. Especially when you have such a high risk of getting injured, of having a severe injury like what happened today.
“That is why he had to do what he had to do. It is heartbreaking for me because he goes out there and gives his all every day. He gave it all to his team once again. And unfortunately it didn’t work out this time.”
Asked how he would feel if this was Thomas’ last game as a Seahawk, Baldwin said: “It doesn’t matter. I love Earl as a brother. We have been through a lot together, and it’s not going to change. Nothing is going to change that, whether he is on this team or whether we are on opposite sides of the world, it doesn’t matter.
“If he calls me I am picking up the phone and I know he is going to pick up the phone if I call him, because we are family now.
“It’s never going to change.”
Even though it just did.