Players to watch: Seahawks vs. 49ers
Earl Thomas. Remember him?
Bradley McDougald does.
In fact, the Seahawks’ starting safety just saw their departed--departing?--after a recent game in Seattle. He remains in regular contact with the All-Pro safety with the expiring contract while Thomas is on injured reserve healing his broken leg.
“I actually saw Earl after the, I want to say, one of our last night games I just saw Earl,” McDougald said before practice Thursday for Sunday’s game at San Francisco.
“He’s in good faith. He’s just getting back, staying in communication, SnapChat and whatnot,” McDougald said. “Yeah, he’s in good faith. He’s in a good space right now. Just getting his body back right, and he’s dying to get back on the field.”
There remains no conceivable scenario that will be for the Seahawks.
Unfathomably, it’s become somewhat easy in the last few weeks to forget about Thomas around this team.
Or at least as easy as it may be to forget about a three-time All-Pro, the best safety of his time in the NFL, a foundation of Seattle’s Super Bowl teams of the 2013 and ‘14 seasons, and a possible Hall of Fame inductee.
Thomas has been out since he broke his leg in the week-four win at Arizona Sept. 30--and flipped off the Seahawks’ sideline while riding on the back of a cart on his way out of the stadium. And likely out of Seattle’s plans for good.
The Seahawks have won seven of 10 games since the moment Thomas broke his leg and Tedric Thompson, their 2017 draft choice, replaced him as the starting free safety. They are where few outside their locker room thought they’d be this season: a win at San Francisco (3-10) on Sunday away from clinching a playoff spot, with still two more games left in the regular season.
The proposition that of the Seahawks being a better--and better-equipped--team without Thomas this season than they were with Thomas, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett in 2017 when they missed the postseason for the first time in six years would have won you a wad of cash in Las Vegas before the season.
The rest of the nation is beginning to believe in Seattle during its four-game winning streak and imminent return to the playoffs. But Thomas’s faith in and toward the Seahawks wasn’t good the last time anyone saw him around the team.
It may be even worse now.
While fellow safety and franchise icon Chancellor, now retired, was been a regular visitor and sideline presence, a resource for younger Seahawks, coach Pete Carroll said Nov. 28 Thomas has not been around the team since that week-four injury.
But Thomas has been around McDougald. If McDougald’s estimate of the last time he saw Thomas is accurate, that would likely have been after the Thursday-night home win over Green Bay on Nov. 15.
Other than that Thomas has been in his native Texas, in Austin (home of his former University of Texas), in Las Vegas. Many more places other than the Seahawks’ locker room.
As you may have heard, this is the final season of Thomas’ contract. The reason Thomas flashed the bird at Arizona was because he knew he had broken his leg for the second time in three seasons, and he knew that was exact scenario he feared would happen before he got a new contract that he wants to be at the top of the pay scale for safeties in the NFL. The injury was why he held out, why he wanted the Seahawks to pay him top bucks or trade him before this season that for him ended before September did.
The broken leg, he knows, will cost him millions in a free-agent deal this coming March.
Asked last month if there’s a scenario where Earl Thomas could return this season, perhaps for the playoffs, Carroll said, jokingly: “March or April or something like that? I don’t know. Climate change. Something could happen.
Then the coach deadpanned: “I don’t think so.”
The Seahawks would defy most logic and their dug-in stance on Thomas over the last year if they were to re-sign him at age 30 coming off two broken legs in three seasons--and after their acrimonious standoff with Thomas all winter, spring and summer.
Thomas ended his holdout days before the opening game Sept. 9 at Denver, to avoid losing a $500,000 game check each week.
After I asked McDougald if he’d stayed in touch with Thomas lately, I asked if Thomas still gives McDougald pointers on football from afar, as Thomas did this summer during training camp while he held out.
“No,” McDougald said. “That’s never been Earl’s style, man.”
During this season, Thomas has let McDougald be himself on the field. That may be Thomas’ last gift to Seattle: McDougald has been one of the best and most consistent Seahawks, as well as an emerging leader this season.
“Earl wants you to play free. Earl just wants you to go out and get it,” McDougald said. “He doesn’t believe on harping on mistakes too long. You go out there you do something, you felt it, there’s a reason you felt it. And you keep going on to the next play. You keep doing that, something good is going to happen.”